Speaking of the NAE

Last night we listened to the NPR show Speaking of Faith. The full hour was an interview with Richard Cizik.Cizik is vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals and editor of its monthly publication Washington Insight. You can listen to the show here.

And now for my confession: when I heard that a guy from the National Association of Evangelicals (a Presbyterian at that) was on, I almost switched it off. I was doing dishes. Things were bad enough. I didn’t want to hear an intolerant, know-it-all theologian rant and rave against gay marriage, evolution, liberal policies, and the rise of secularism in America. Two or three minutes into the show I realized that I, an evangelical myself, don’t know too much about where evangelicals are heading today. I know that I have a more liberal leaning on many issues. I just didn’t realize that I’m more mainstream evangelical than I had suspected.

First of all, Cizik is well aware that Evangelicals have done a lot to give themselves a bad rap. For example, he disapproves of angry confrontation with those who teach atheistic evolution or with gay rights advocates. He’s far more interested in dialogue, and that is the general tone of the movement. Many evangelicals have been involved in dialogue with Muslims as a way of trying to heal some of the wounds caused by the Iraq war.

Yet, when asked what he would say to people who have been hurt by Christians, his reply was, “Just look at Jesus.” That’s not good enough for me. I think we must acknowledge that some Christians fail miserably, but some really do imitate Jesus. We need to point to Jesus, but we can’t just overlook the role of Christians as salt and light. I think he could have mentioned something to the effect of: look to Jesus and then look for people who are like Jesus. That strikes me as more complete.

Secondly, the issues at the top of Cizik’s list are surprising. He has buried the hatchet on the intelligent design/evolution issue. It’s never been important to him in fact. You can check out a list of important issues at the NAE web site. You’ll find topics such as Darfur on the list. In addition, Cizik spent a lot of time during the interview talking about climate change and the current concern of many evangelicals with global warming and it’s effects on some of the poorest people in the world. He made the interesting comment that when Jesus returns he won’t ask us how the earth was created, he’ll ask us what we did with it.

Finally, I was impressed with his commitment to the Gospel that was not blinded by affiliation to any one political party. Cizik was clear about his allegiance, and it’s not to George W. In fact, he even admitted that he had trusted GWB on the Iraq war and was flat out wrong to do so. That is something I don’t hear many conservatives say these days.

I have to admit that I do have some reservations about the way he spoke of the Bible and his characterization of the Gospel. I may be too reactionary, but he didn’t mention God and specifically the Holy Spirit very much. It was ALL ABOUT THE BIBLE. The Bible is central and important, but I would have felt a bit better if he had said something, anything about where the Spirit of God is leading the church. And his Gospel was all cross. We need the cross. The cross is where Jesus laid down his life for our sins. But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus rose from the dead and will return to this world. We need his new, resurrection life to give us hope and to bring the life-giving Holy Spirit. And if we believed that Jesus was coming back, then perhaps we’d take better care of our world.

All in all, I was very impressed with Richard Cizik. If he’s an evangelical Christian, that I guess you can count me in.

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