Cizik’s new evangelicalism

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Richard Cizik, who ably served as the National Association of Evangelicals’ liaison to Washington, D.C. for decades.

In a 2008 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Cizik tested the limits of evangelical political orthodoxy by revealing that he liked Obama and was growing more favorable to civil unions for gays.

Within days, he was out of a job, following in the footsteps of leaders of the National Religious Broadcasters and the Evangelical Press Association who had years earlier been given the right foot of fellowship after angering powerful, conservative gatekeepers within those organizations.

Now Cizik is back with a new organization and a new agenda. He told Newsweek’s Lisa Miller all about it in a Newsweek Web Exclusive.

America’s evangelicals exiled their leader for insufficient orthodoxy. Now he’s back, and he’s unrepentant.

After a year of keeping a low profile, Cizik is “making a comeback,” as he puts it. This week he announces the formation of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a group devoted to developing Christian responses to global and political issues such as environmentalism, nuclear disarmament, human rights, and dialogue with the Muslim world. Cizik’s partners in this effort are David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University who has written extensively on torture, and Steven D. Martin, a pastor and filmmaker. For years, Cizik has been saying that the evangelical right needs to reframe its politics, to walk away from divisive name calling and find common ground with opponents, even on hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage. “We are evangelical in our roots and orientation, but we aren’t going to work only with evangelicals,” explains Gushee.

There are plenty of potential landmines in a story like this, but Miller expertly avoids most of them. Miller does a particularly good job of moving beyond black-and-white stereotypes to place Cizik in a broader context of an evangelical movement that is both evolving and still predominantly conservative on several issues.

Critics will say that Cizik has gone soft or, worse, that he’s allowed himself to be co-opted by the left: he’s the token conservative evangelical with the progressive agenda who gets trotted out as evidence that conservative evangelicals no longer care about the issues that once mattered so much to them. (This broad point of view, though embraced by many in the left-wing press, is not supported by polls. Younger evangelicals are concerned with a broader range of issues than their parents, especially environmentalism and the developing world, but they are more conservative on abortion.) In any case, Cizik shrugs these criticisms off. “I am, at heart, a centrist evangelical. I am more pro-life than [Sojourners founder] Jim Wallis is, actually. I am what we should be–that is, post-ideological. We are to be about healing, not division. We are not to be subservient to ideology, but above it.”

Cizik says he represents a tradition of evangelicalism going back to the beginning of the 20th century–to Francis Schaeffer and Carl Henry, evangelicals who were strictly orthodox, but advocated a broad engagement with the world. “I’m not some upstart who’s trying to conjure up a new vision,” he says. “This goes back a long way.”

Miller’s piece is entitled “Redemption.” It’s unclear who or what is being redeemed. Is it Cizik or evangelicalism?

And it would have been nice to hear what conservative evangelicals think of Cizik’s new venture. (Here Miller’s role as a columnist may be the reason she doesn’t fulfill the obligations of a reporter.)

Still, this is a solid article that successfully guides readers through one side of a very complex story.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    “I am, at heart, a centrist evangelical.”

    Note how he defines “evangelical” in political, not religious, terms.

    “I am more pro-life than [Sojourners founder] Jim Wallis is, actually.”

    Apparently, that’s his own political litmus test for “evangelical”.

    “I am what we should be—that is, post-ideological.”

    And I’m incredibly humble, too. By the way, define “ideological”.

    Cizik says he represents a tradition of evangelicalism going back to the beginning of the 20th century—to Francis Schaeffer and Carl Henry, evangelicals who were strictly orthodox, but advocated a broad engagement with the world.

    Define “orthodox”.

  • tipi tim

    i think maybe she’s confusing redemption as a synonym for comeback.

  • http://theJoyfulCatholic armiger jagoe

    I shout “Amen!” to his statement: walk away from divisive name calling and find common ground with oponents,even on hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage.

    Armiger Jagoe,editor of The Joyful Catholic
    http://thejoyfulcatholic.wordpress.com/

  • Jerry

    Given how often Newsweek has been bashed heavily here, and often with good reason, it’s nice to read that this was a worthy story. Perhaps a bit of the redemption you mentioned applies to Newsweek! At the very least it’s a reminder not to automatically dismiss a media outlet but to judge each story on its merits.

    The story itself is interesting because, in spite of the wishes of some, the theological approach of Christians including evangelicals is diverse and evolving. So it’s important to pay attention to all the streams of thought.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JERRY:

    Actually, this shows you that members of GetReligion have radically different views of the worthiness of this particular article and its use of religious language.

    But it is STEVE’s post.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Comment folks 1-3:

    What do your comments have to do with the journalism in the piece? Aren’t you, in effect, commenting on your views of CIZIK?

  • http://www.epassoc.org Doug Trouten

    Just a quick clarification. I’ve been involved with the Evangelical Press Associaton since the early 1980s, and to my knowledge no leader of EPA has ever “been given the right foot of fellowship after angering powerful, conservative gatekeepers.”

    It’s true that a powerful Christian media figure attempted to oust one of my predecessors as executive director of EPA. However, the board of EPA rejected this effort, even though the result was that all of the publications associated with the powerful media figure in question left the organization.

    –Doug Trouten
    Executive Director
    Evangelical Press Association

  • Chris Bolinger

    Terry, I was commenting on the fact that Miller didn’t ask a enough relevant follow-up questions, give enough context to the quotes, or define some key terms.

    If you are going to hold a columnist to a different standard than a journalist, then I’m not sure why you post a column and comment on it, especially one by Miller on the Newsweek Web site.

  • Jerry

    Terry, I confess I want Steve and someone who disagrees with him to go verbally toe to toe. I find reading multiple differing perspectives on a topic helpful.

  • tipi tim

    actually i don’t know enough about cizik to have an opinion. i could make one up though ;)
    i was saying that i don’t see anything anywhere in the story that looks like redemption except the title. if cizik had returned to his old job that could look like he had been redeemed and re-accepted by the organization that he had lost credibility with. instead of that he started a new organization where it looks like he can set the agenda himself and while that is a return to the public eye i don’t think it is anywhere close to redemption.

    make sense?


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