Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Really good news from the Christian Right

An article in today's New York Times describes the most encouraging developments in a very long time. Surely they will be covered more extensively in church publications. This is the best news from the more "conservative" end of the spectrum in my recent memory. It may represent a real breakthrough. If those on the "liberal" end of the church will reach out and nourish connections with Richard Cizik and his like, it could be the best thing that could happen in American Christianity in decades.

Here is the article in the Times:

Evangelical Group Rebuffs Critics on Right
By Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, March 14, 2007

The board of the National Association of Evangelicals has rebuffed leaders of the Christian right who had called for the association to silence or dismiss its Washington policy director because of his involvement in the campaign against global warming.

Prominent Christian conservatives like James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, had sent a letter to the association’s leaders this month accusing the policy director, the Rev. Richard Cizik, of “using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time,” which they defined as abortion, homosexuality and teaching children sexual morality and abstinence.

Board members say that the notion of censoring Mr. Cizik never arose last week at their meeting in Minnesota, and that he had delivered the keynote address at their banquet.

In addition, the board voted 38 to 1 to endorse a declaration, which Mr. Cizik helped to write, that denounces the American government’s treatment of detainees in the fight against terrorism.

The board also voted unanimously to reaffirm the platform adopted three years ago, which enumerates seven policy priorities, including the environment, human rights and poverty. In doing so, board members said they intended to convey that the evangelical movement had a broader agenda than the one pushed by Christian conservatives and segments of the Republican Party.

"There’s one Lord, but not just one issue," said one board member, the Rev. Paul de Vries, president of the New York Divinity School. "I am as much against abortion as Jim Dobson and the others, but I want that baby to live in a healthful environment, inside the womb as well as outside of the womb."

The Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the association, said: "By being able to speak to multiple issues that are impacting our country and culture, we actually increase the credibility of our voice on each of those issues."

The National Association of Evangelicals is an umbrella group for Christian evangelicals, representing 30 million people in hundreds of denominations, organizations and academic institutions.

The only board member who has voiced public criticism of Mr. Cizik is Jerald Walz, who represents the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a resource group for conservatives in mainline Protestant denominations. Mr. Walz said many board members were angry about the letter concerning Mr. Cizik because it was sent to the news media before the board received it. His was the sole vote against endorsing the document on torture; he said he thought it needed more time for consideration.

Jeffery L. Sheler, author of Believers: A Journey Into Evangelical America, said the underlying cause of the conflict over Mr. Cizik was not only about global warming, but also about "who gets to speak to and for evangelicals. We’re talking about at least 60 million people," Mr. Sheler said, “and they don’t all march in lockstep to the religious right."

The association’s declaration on detainees will probably lead to controversy. It says that in the treatment of detainees and prisoners of war, the American government has crossed "boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible."