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The Future Of "creation Care"

On The Plank, Michelle passes along the news that Rich Cizik has been essentially ousted from his position as top lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Cizik has always been an intriguing and complicated figure. A major proponent of the doctrine of "creation care," he long contended that evangelicals should devote less attention to gay-bashing and focus more on environmental issues—especially global warming. I wrote a piece for TNR a few years ago about Cizik and his ongoing feud with Focus on the Family's James Dobson, who insisted that evangelicals should stick to obsessing over what people are doing in their bedrooms and forget about this green nonsense. (A few years ago, Dobson even hired some of the usual climate-denial suspects to make the biblical case for why manmade global warming was a fraud.) Early in December, though, Cizik went a bridge too far when he told NPR's Terry Gross that he was coming around to the idea of gay civil unions. That's a no-no, and the backlash was predictable, swift, and fierce.

Who knows what Cizik's resignation portends for environmentalism? As I eventually concluded in my piece, it was always unclear how much of an impact the NAE and other "creation care" advocates would have on the broader climate debate—not least because they insisted on maintaining a tight alliance with the Republican Party, which still shows little inclination to take global warming seriously. Even John McCain, one of the rare exceptions, was leading chants of "Drill, baby drill" by the end of his presidential campaign. When we talked back in 2007, Cizik told me he was optimistic that conservative politicians would eventually come around, though he sounded less confident about this than he did on other topics. It's possible his faith in the GOP eventually buckeld: He told Terry Gross that he had voted Obama in the Virginia Democratic primary, though he declined to reveal his choice in November.

Whenever I ask climate campaigners for indications that global warming might be becoming a bipartisan concern, they quickly point to the growing prevalence of faith-based groups that evince some worry about all the carbon we're kicking up into the atmosphere. It's certainly a promising (and popular) story line. But green evangelicals have long followed an uneven trajectory, as Cizik's resignation proves, and I think it's still too early to assess their broader significance.

--Bradford Plumer