God's Green Soldiers

In a town where access is every-thing, the Rev. Richard Cizik's calendar would be the envy of even the hardest-hitting Washington player. One day last week his schedule included the National Prayer Breakfast with President George W. Bush, a luncheon with King Abdullah II of Jordan and a cozy evening reception at the home of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Between meetings, Cizik hobnobbed with U2 lead singer Bono, in town to advocate for Third World debt relief. Shaking the rock star's hand as eager senators circled for their photo op, Cizik managed to swiftly preach his own gospel. "Global hunger and global warming are inescapably linked. You know that," Cizik said. "Absolutely," replied Bono.

Cizik, who first arrived in Washington in 1980 as a foot soldier for the Moral Majority, is a self-described "Reagan movement conservative" and Bush supporter, who opposes abortion, gay marriage and embryonic-stem-cell research. He promotes those positions as vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the lobbying group that represents 30 mil-lion American Christians and more than 50 denominations. But in recent years, Cizik, 54, has also been at the forefront of a Biblically inspired environmental movement known as Creation Care, which holds that Christians have an obligation, described in the Book of Genesis, to "replenish the Earth" as God's stewards. "This is not a Red State issue or a Blue State issue or a green issue," Cizik says. "It's a spiritual issue."

And a controversial one. Until now, the movement has emphasized the individual responsibility of Christians to conserve. But this week a coalition of leading evangelicals will issue "An Evangelical Call to Action," asking Congress and the Bush administration to combat global warming by restricting carbon-dioxide emissions. "Christians must care about climate change because we love God the Creator," it reads. The challenge to the Bush administration--which rejects mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions as economically harmful--has caused a major rift within evangelical circles. Last week the president of NAE, the Rev. Ted Haggard, announced that the group would not endorse the document, since it was not unanimously approved by members. And Cizik says NAE executives instructed him to remove his own name from full-page newspaper ads promoting the "Call to Action."

Conservative critics of the document, including the Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, say the global-warming science is inconclusive and the issue doesn't belong on the evangelists' agenda. "It's a distraction when families are falling apart and abortion continues as a great evil," says Tom Minnery, director of Dobson's political-action group. But the "Call to Action" has been endorsed by dozens of Chris-tian heavy hitters, including the country's leading megachurch pastor, the Rev. Rick Warren, as well as the presidents of major Christian colleges and denominations.

Roman Catholic and Jewish groups have also embraced the cause, but it's the evangelicals, with their close ties to the GOP, who "have the power to move the debate," says John Green, of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "They could produce policies more palatable to people who have not been moved by secular environmental groups." The eco-evangelists tend to favor market-based approaches. "We are all for doing this in the most efficient, technological way that creates jobs," says the Rev. Jim Ball, of the Evangelical Environmental Network, who helped draft the document.

Cizik, who came to believe the global-warming science only in recent years, says stirring the debate is his Christian duty. "Isn't it the task of the Biblical believer to warn society, not just about sin, but about mortal threats to our very being?" If it is, he's up to the job.

Copyright 2006 Newsweek: not for distribution outside of Newsweek Inc.