A 2006 Vanity Fair photo spread on environmentalist heroes pictured long-time National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) official Richard Cizik walking on water. The New York Times had hailed him as the “Earthy Evangelist” in 2005. He had helped make environmentalism and global warming major issues at NAE. Cizik’s career at NAE ended with resignation after he endorsed same-sex unions during a 2008 NPR interview.
Since then Cizik has worked at Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation and George Soros Open Society Institute. Today he heads the New Evangelical Partnership, which aspires to politically activate evangelicals on climate issues, nuclear disarmament, opposing U.S. “torture,” and Christian-Muslim dialogue.
But the spirit of Cizik’s Vogue hagiographic Vanity Fair photo shoot was revived when the priest of Cizik’s Anglican church in Virginia recently compared his parishioner to Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch heroine who hid Jews from the Nazis during World War II. He also cites Oskar Schindler of “Schindler’s List.” The priest explains:
Another kind of holocaust is going on today, one that touches not just Jews and other people groups. It is environmental and it is global. If you do not think so just take a deep breath while meandering through a Beijing hutong, or grab an unfiltered drink from our capital’s Potomac River.
“What if on your day of final judgment, God brings up how you cared for the earth?” he asks.
As the priest further explains: “One American Evangelical who does not want to be counted as an apathetic bystander with regard to caring for God’s creation is Richard Cizik.” And he quotes Cizik:
When you die, God is not going to ask you, “How old is the planet,” or whether he created it in six days or six billion years. That same God who created us is going to ask, “What did you do with what I created? Did you steward it? Did you care for it? Did you save it . . . or did you destroy it?”
The priest recalls the Garden of Righteous Gentiles in Israel that honors ten Boom, Schindler, and others who risked themselves to save Jews from the Holocaust. He can “picture another sacred memorial, one that God is planning for those non-apathetic bystanders of his creation” to be called “The Garden of Righteous Stewards Among the Nations.” And predictably, he nominates “Richard Cizik’s name to be chizled there (sic).” He concludes his peroration by summoning other parishioners to dedicate themselves to creation care, like Cizik, so they too might be nominated for honor in this garden of righteous environmentalists.
As the priest again warns as part of his Third Reich comparison to current environmental threats:
In Nazi Germany the average way of life was bystander apathy. Most Germans, surrounded by a selective human apocalypse, kept their concerns to themselves, perhaps thinking, “It’s none of my business—others can help.”
Believing the earth is threatened with an impending environmental “apocalypse” unless true believers act in time is not unusual in environmentalist circles, nor is apocalyptic rhetoric foreign to the evangelical environment that produced both Cizik and his Anglican priest.
Whether the earth in fact faces such a somber future if the full environmentalist agenda is not immediately adopted is debatable. The priest mentions the dirty Potomac River, near which I have lived my whole life, and which I know to be cleaner now than ever in my lifetime and probably a century, due to the closure of industries up river and improved sanitation. Our nation, and much of the world, is actually better environmentally than in many decades, thanks to increased regard for clean air, water and green space, facilitated by improving technology and the increased wealth to sustain it. No doubt more should be done.
But the Nazi comparison is egregious, as Nazi citations usually are. Do we really face the moral equivalent of Hitler’s Holocaust, which murdered about 11 million within a few years? Are skeptics of environmental end-times rhetoric the equivalent of Nazi sympathizers or Holocaust deniers? And does Cizik really rank with heroes who risked their lives like ten Boom or Schindler? Cizik did lose his NAE job (over same-sex unions), but not his life, and seems to be doing fine.
Maybe this Anglican priest is just excited about having a well-known personage in his parish and let enthusiasm get the better of him. Let’s hope he, and others who verbally soar in their alarmist environmental rhetoric in the guise of religion, soon return to earth.
Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy.