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.