When we do get involved, we never know where the process will lead—for ourselves, or the issue we take on. As vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Rich Cizik represented 4,500 congregations serving 30 million members. During the Clinton era, he had begun to expand the organization’s agenda by tackling such issues as human trafficking and global poverty. But he thought little about climate change until 2002, when he attended a conference on the subject and heard a leading British climate scientist, Sir James Houghton, who was also a prominent evangelical.
“I reluctantly went to the conference, saying ‘I’ll go, but don’t expect me to be signing on to any statements.’ Then, for three days in Oxford, England, Houghton walked us through the science and our biblical responsibility. My heart was changed. I could no longer sit on the sidelines. I didn’t want to be like the evangelicals who avoided getting involved during the civil rights movement.”
After leaving the conference, Cizik began reading and learning. He took a group to Alaska to witness the melting glaciers and permafrost, the disruption of native communities, the spruce trees dying because the bark beetles now survived the warmer winters. “What became obvious is that the earth is sacred and that we ought to protect it.”
The more Cizik learned, the more it challenged him to “treat caring for God’s creation as a moral principle.” In 2004, Cizik convinced the NAE to release a paper called “For the Health of the Nation,” which urged its members to live in conformity with sustainable principles. Two years later, he helped organize the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a major statement from eighty-six evangelical leaders.
Although Cizik and others never quite convinced the NAE to take an official stand on climate change, the organization reaffirmed the moral importance of “creation care,” a core perspective that encourages further dialogue.
“The issue shook my theology to its core,” Cizik told me. “It changed me as much as my being born again thirty years before. This threatens the whole planet, so it raises a basic question of who we are as people. Climate change isn’t just a scientific question. It’s a moral, a religious, a cosmological question. It involves everything we are and what we have a right to do.”
Adapted from the wholly updated new edition of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times by Paul Rogat Loeb. Copyright © 2010 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.