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Ousted Evangelical Reflects On Faith, Future
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Of the many interviews I've done over the years, there's only one, that I know
of, that resulted in my guest losing his job. That guest was Richard Cizik, who
at the time of our interview was in his 10th year as vice president of the
National Association of Evangelicals, working as their chief lobbyist.
What he said that resulted in his forced resignation was that he supported gay
civil unions. That interview was broadcast in December 2008.
I'm glad to say that Richard Cizik has returned to our show to talk about being
forced out of the NAE and co-founding a new group, the New Evangelical
Partnership for the Common Good. The group describes itself as an alternative
to the past generations' old partisan and ideological culture wars. In this new
interview that I recorded with Cizik, we also talked about his view of the Tea
Cizik is one of the founders of the Christian environmental movement and has
worked to bring evangelicals and scientists together to address climate change.
Richard Cizik, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I was so hoping you'd come back when
you were ready, and I'm really sorry that you were punished for giving your
opinions on our show. I'm assuming that all the reports I read are correct and
you were forced to resign because of what you said on our show?
Reverend RICHARD CIZIK (Co-founder, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common
Good): Yes, I was asked to resign because of what I said on FRESH AIR. I said
to people, Terry, that I gave too much fresh air. People usually laugh.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rev. CIZIK: And if it's any encouragement, practically all of the evangelicals
now know about your program.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: That's funny. So listen, before we talk about your new organization and
the issues that you're focusing on now, I'd like to talk a little bit about
what happened when you were forced out of your position at the National
Association of Evangelicals.
So according to the reports I read, you were forced out because of your
comments about gay civil unions. So before I play back what you said, let me
just put it in context.
Earlier in the interview, you had said that younger evangelicals disagree
strongly with their elder evangelicals on gay marriage and that 52 percent of
younger evangelicals favor either same-sex marriage or civil unions. This was
in 2008 you said this.
And then later in the interview, you said that you identified with younger
evangelicals. So I asked what I thought was the obvious follow-up.
(Soundbite of archival interview)
GROSS: Let me ask you, you say you really identify with the concerns and
priorities of younger evangelical voters, and one of those priorities is â it's
more of an acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage.
A couple of years ago when you were on our show, I asked you if you were
changing your mind on that. And two years ago, you said you were still opposed
to gay marriage. But now, as you identify more and more with the younger voters
and their priorities, have you changed on gay marriage?
Rev. CIZIK: I'm shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly
say I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage
from its traditional definition, I don't think.
GROSS: Okay, Richard Cizik, that's what you said in 2008, and...
Rev. CIZIK: And I still agree with that.
GROSS: So did you expect to say that? Did you expect to say publicly that you
supported civil unions, or did that just kind of come out?
Rev. CIZIK: It came out. It came out of the depths of the heart the mouth
speaks â that's what the Bible says, and so it just came out. I hadn't planned
on saying it, but I had been thinking about it a long time.
And that was because I had been looking at constitutional arguments that are
even now being weighed by the California Supreme Court and others. In other
words, can we deny rights to others whose rights we don't especially share or,
in fact, may disagree with strongly? And yet, yes I agree with what I said
then. I happen to agree with it now.
And what's changed since then, even over the last year, according to a poll
released just this week by Public Religion Research Institute, Terry, is that a
majority of evangelicals generally, not just younger evangelicals, say that
they agree either with same-sex marriage or civil unions.
That's a majority of white evangelicals in California. And evangelicals around
the country are looking at this in new light and new ways and evaluating it in
light of the Constitution and in light of our Christian values. And that's
good. I maybe precipitated an argument I didn't intend to precipitate.
GROSS: So at the end of that quote, you said: I don't officially support
redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think. And that I
don't think seemed to leave a little door open.
Rev. CIZIK: A little openness, you know, a little opening there. And I was
faulted for that, for example, by the NAE elders. They said, what do you mean
you don't think?
I said, well, I'm still evaluating and I'm still thinking about this. And so
while I haven't come to a conclusion on that, I am convinced that you can't
deny rights to people based on their sexual orientation. It's wrong.
It's even wrong, I think, as Christians to take that position because we should
support rights, human rights for all people even when they don't agree with us,
for example. And for example in Uganda, we have to oppose laws that would
GROSS: Yes, you're referring to â I think you're referring to â the anti-gay
law that was before parliament in Uganda that would have been very harsh toward
homosexuals, so harsh that some homosexuals would have been given the death
Rev. CIZIK: Executed, absolutely, and Christians have to speak out against that
kind of law. I'm doing so right here and now and encourage others to do the
GROSS: So let's get back to the interview of 2008.
Rev. CIZIK: Back to that interview.
GROSS: Yes, that you were fired for - fired as a result of. In that interview,
and this was in December of 2008, it was right after President Obama was
elected, and I had asked you if you were willing to work with President Obama
in finding ways to reduce abortions because you're opposed to abortion, and you
said absolutely you were willing to work with him on that.
And then I asked if that was controversial in the evangelical movement, and you
said it was and that some evangelicals saw this as compromising and that this
was an example of the winner-take-all mentality. And then let me play what you
Rev. CIZIK: I think finding those who are in trouble, in crisis, helping them
through this, and if need be, even supplying what government presently doesn't
do, namely contraception, is an answer to reducing, you see, unintended
pregnancies. These are...
GROSS: Wait, wait. I think I heard you say government supplying contraception?
Rev. CIZIK: Yes.
GROSS: That's got to be controversial among evangelicals.
Rev. CIZIK: Among some it would be, but I don't think so. We are not, as I have
said previously, we're not Catholics who oppose contraception per se.
And let's face it: What do you want? Do you want an unintended pregnancy that
results in abortion or do you want to meet a woman's needs in crisis, who
frankly would, by better contraception, avoid that choice, avoid that abortion
that we all recognize as morally repugnant, at least it is to me?
GROSS: So Richard Cizik, did that statement contribute to your forced
Rev. CIZIK: I think it was the sum total, according to the president of the
NAE, who asked for my resignation. It was the sum total of everything. It was
speaking out on behalf of creation care, climate change, a broader agenda,
speaking out on a host of levels that just offended the old guard. And civil
unions, well, that was just one part of it.
But in so many ways, this has been good for me. So I don't blame the NAE.
GROSS: How has it been good for you?
Rev. CIZIK: How has it been good? Well, it's enabled me to move on. I think I
had a vision for the future, and you just helped precipitate it. How about
GROSS: So when you were told that it was time to go, may I ask how you were
Rev. CIZIK: Oh, most certainly. I had just come back from an event which I'm
very proud of, being part of the Global Zero Statement that was released in
Paris in December of '08, just came back from being out of the States for a few
days after the interview where, well, there was a tempest in a teapot in
various parts of the country over my interview.
People were calling the NAE, asking for my ouster. The religious right was
gratified. They loved it. They took it, the things I had said, and ran with the
ball, and I wasn't even here to defend myself.
And so I came back, got on a plane without much sleep, flew to Minnesota and
met with the president. And it became apparent within a few minutes that this
was a done deal. In other words, the executive committee had already met
without my having participated in the conversation and decided I needed to go.
And so I relented.
In other words, what could I do? I decided they were asking for my resignation.
I was going to give it. And so I did. And I've learned some things from it.
Rev. CIZIK: Well, among other things, most chiefly, we have an evangelical
saying, it goes like this: When God closes one door, he opens another. Well,
absolutely right, I found out about that.
I also know that he doesn't say anything about catching your fingers in the
doorjamb as you leave. But what I would say to people who have been sacked,
fired, riffed or whatever: Don't get your fingers caught in the doorjamb
leaving. In other words, don't try to pull yourself back in.
And secondly, I've learned that it'll be hell in the hallways. In other words,
closing one door, opening another, it'll be hell in the hallways. But God is
bigger than those events that precipitate your departure from that job.
And so recognize it as an opportunity and see how God is going to help you in
the future. And that's part of my character, learning how to deal with
adversity, and a willingness to be exposed and vulnerable. And frankly, that's
a part of what real leadership is, I happen to think. It's overcoming the fear
of standing out. It's â you see, it's more than the fear of criticism.
GROSS: But the tricky thing for you, among other things, must have been â I
mean, you were being exiled from an evangelical group, a group of believers,
your community was exiling you. And so you probably had to ask yourself: Am I
really standing up for the Christian thing to do, or are they really standing
up for the Christian thing to do?
Rev. CIZIK: Oh, absolutely. I had to ask myself and be engaged in a kind of a
self-examination that was honest and all the rest. And I concluded, after a
thoughtful year of reflection, that, well, I stood up for what I believed was
right, and I think it's right now.
GROSS: So there was a year before you co-founded your new organization.
Rev. CIZIK: It took a number of months to find others, but I have people like
scholar David Gushee; Steven Martin, our executive director. And these are all
people who are leading a new movement of evangelicals just like me, and I'm
really proud to have them, and we're called the New Evangelical Partnership for
the Common Good.
And there's a reason why we say, that is the common good, but we all believe
that we are the future. That alienates some, irritates them, but frankly, we
are the future of evangelicalism in America.
And we stand for a presence in public life that's, as we say, loving rather
than angry, holistic rather than narrow, healing rather than divisive, and most
importantly even of all, independent of sort of partisanship and ideology,
rather than subservient to party and ideology.
And evangelicalism has, well, it's become so subservient to an ideology and to
a political party that it needs, as I say, to be born again. Born again?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rev. CIZIK: That sounds like something evangelicals would say about others, not
themselves. And yet we all need to be and are being born again in a sense when
we change our views, I think, in conformity with what Scripture and with God's
And so yes, the movement may be strong in so many other ways, but in this
sense, and I'm not the only one who said this, it was cited by a writer by the
name of Rodney Clapp. He said evangelicalism needs to be born again, and
Cizik's firing is just a simple explanation of why because the movement
couldn't allow diversity.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here, and then we'll talk some more. My guest is
Richard Cizik, and for 10 years, he was the vice president for government
affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, a post he was forced out
of in 2008 after saying on FRESH AIR that he supported gay civil unions.
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Richard Cizik, and for 10 years, he served as the vice
president for government affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, a
position he was forced out of in 2008, after saying on FRESH AIR that he
supported gay civil unions. He's now the co-founder of the new group the New
Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which describes itself as an
alternative to the past generations' old partisan and ideological culture wars.
Let me read something from the mission statement from your new group, the New
Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. It says: We aim to be an
alternative to the past generations' old partisan and ideological culture wars,
evangelicalism that damaged the evangelistic witness of the church in American
culture and contributed to gridlock, rather than constructive problem solving.
From your point of view as an insider, how did the evangelical movement damage
evangelical witness in American culture?
Rev. CIZIK: It damaged it because it became perceived by millions and millions
of Americans as captive to a conservative ideology, not captive to Jesus or to
the Gospel but captive to an ideology that has departed from, in so many ways,
from historic evangelicalism.
And so the movement has always been susceptible to reactionary movements. It
was born out of reaction to the liberal, 19th-century biblical criticism in
biology in which evangelicals reacted against that and moved away.
And yet the new evangelicals, the new evangelicals of the early 20th century,
they saw the fallacy of that kind of approach towards society. But, ah, after a
number of decades, that kind of neo-evangelicalism that was founded by the
National Association of Evangelicals, well, it's fallen back into the same kind
of subservience to reactionary-ism.
And so evangelicalism is known today by what it's against, not what it's for.
And we're trying to say: We're for these things. And among those is, you see,
this command to first and foremost in everything, follow Jesus, not the
Republican Party or Rush Limbaugh or anyone else, but to follow what the Gospel
GROSS: You mentioned the Republican Party and Rush Limbaugh. Do you think that
some of the positions that evangelicals have been taking politically are to
keep that alliance with the Republican Party and with powerful people with
microphones like Rush Limbaugh?
Rev. CIZIK: Oh, of course. In other words, there are strong forces within
evangelicalism against change. Alfred North Whitehead, excuse me for quoting
him for those of you who don't like him, he said change is inevitable.
Well, it is, and yet these evangelicals aren't willing to change even with the
times about anything, and they've wedded themselves to a conservative political
ideology, and it's impacted their view on things such as climate change and all
GROSS: Okay, you mentioned climate change. In 2007, there was a letter signed
by more than two dozen evangelical leaders, including Tony Perkins of the
Family Research Council and James Dobson of Focus on the Family, criticizing
you for your environmentalism.
You are one of the leaders of the Christian environmental movement, and you
want to work with scientists in trying to reverse climate change, and the
evangelical leadership came down against you for that.
And I guess I'm wondering, since you've been talking about the evangelical
alliance with the Republican Party, if you think that part of the reason why
the leadership of the evangelical community of the Christian right opposed you
was because of the alliance with the Republican Party, which is so, among other
things, pro-drill baby drill.
Rev. CIZIK: Right. Well, that's part of it, absolutely. It wasn't just, though,
that these evangelicals have been party to an allegiance of the Republican
Party. It's â they have a whole litany, a whole brew of problems that include
the fact that, well, environmentalists are disdained as leftists. Mainstream
science is distrusted on account of evolution and Darwin.
Issues that the media think are important, for example, are perceived as just
being hyped and therefore rejected as scaremongering. A lot of evangelicals
adhere to a free-market economics that's distrustful of government regulation,
hmm, government regulation vis-Ã -vis the Gulf of Mexico, dominion â oh, that
kind of dominionism that they think allows them to do whatever we want with
this earth, and that's untrue.
It's our commitment, you see, born out of the Gospel faith that God owns this
land, and we owe him exactly what he said, which is to care and protect it. And
so, when things like the Gulf of Mexico happen, I think those of us who have
been speaking out have a reason to say, in a certain sense, well, we told you
so. If you're going to oppose any kind of government regulation on drill baby
drill, this is what you get.
GROSS: I'm curious what you think about this. The issue of gay marriage, which
has been such, it's been on top of the agenda for years for the Christian
right, and I've often wondered: Is that purely for their perception of moral
reasons or is for political reasons, too? Because there was a period when fear
of gay marriage was used as a wedge issue. It was a political issue to turn out
the vote, to get people to vote for people who oppose gay marriage.
So do you think it was purely, like, a moral thing for the Christian right, or
do you think it was a political organizing tool?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, it was both. And there are those on the right who still
believe that any acknowledgement of rights by gays, lesbians and others is
wrong, and they're going to oppose that.
The latest survey research, as I indicated, from Public Religion Research
Institute, indicates that 38 percent fall into that category. But what's
interesting is that 60 percent or thereabouts believe that we're going to
acknowledge these rights. And so there's a great shift going on.
I don't regard this as moral compromise, by the way, to acknowledge others'
rights in society, absolutely not. That's not moral compromise. That's simply
living in a democracy. Hello?
GROSS: So if so, why not say that you support gay marriage? Because civil
unions aren't really equal to marriage because they're just recognized in
states, they're not recognized nationally. So all the national benefits of
marriage, people in civil unions don't get.
Rev. CIZIK: So is it â yeah, and so there's a logic to the argument that says,
well, if you're going to grant civil unions, why can't you grand gay marriage?
And I concede that argument. It's a fair one. I'm just not there yet.
GROSS: Maybe someday?
Rev. CIZIK: Of course.
Rev. CIZIK: I'm not of those who think, though, that this, if it happens, is
going to be the loss - the decline of Western civilization. That's certainly
not the case. Evangelicals have lived in a variety of circumstances around the
world and do today in which we face really serious issues. There are real
dangers out there. That's the point of the new partnership that we're talking
There are real dangers out there. There's ethnic conflict, failed states.
Frankly, what happens inside states is as important as what happens between
them. There's catastrophic terrorism that occurs. There's massive abuse of
human rights around the world and breakdown of global economic systems.
And so, there are huge issues that face us on this planet, and I don't believe
that that's one of them.
GROSS: Richard Cizik will be back in the second half of the show. He's the co-
founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and the former
chief lobbyist of the National Association of Evangelicals. You can see him in
the new documentary, "Countdown to Zero," about the history of nuclear weapons
and the risks of nuclear disaster today.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Richard Cizik, the former
chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals. He was forced to
resign in December 2008, after a FRESH AIR interview in which he said he
supported gay civil unions.
Early this year, he co-founded a new organization called the New Evangelical
Partnership for the Common Good, which describes itself as an alternative to
the past generation's old partisan and ideological culture wars.
Now, the evangelical vote was considered a key vote in the Republican Party to
turn out during the Bush-Cheney era, and now I think we're hearing much more
about the Tea Party movement than about the religious right. And I wonder if
you think the religious right has been upstaged a little bit by the Tea Party
Rev. CIZIK: Oh, of course,
Rev. CIZIK: Oh, of course, yeah. And the Tea Party movement is irreligious
significantly so. It's got lots of problems. I wouldn't join it if I were an
evangelical, urge others not to or at least to be suspicious of it, because it
doesn't bring with it in my estimation the whole biblical concept of our
responsibility and the rest to God, and so I'm not a Tea Party fan.
GROSS: So, the Tea Party seems to not as much as the Bible, but to emphasize a
kind of fundamentalist reading of the Constitution.
Rev. CIZIK: Yeah. Yeah. In other words, it's a kind of secular
constitutionalism, albeit a false one in my opinion. I have been for many, many
years an advocate of sort of strict constructionism and have supported
conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, some cases made a big mistake
in doing so. Well, you have to repent at times, move forward, and so I happen
to think that it's a kind of - that is the Tea movement, as a regressive
GROSS: Is this a loss of power for the Christian right because the Tea Party
seems to be taking up more of the public face and the public image?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, the Tea Party movement â it may be a loss of power,
absolutely. The Tea Party, moreover, is libertarian. That's why a lot of
evangelicals on the right don't identify with it. I'm not there. I'm not a
libertarian, per se, and so that's one of my problems with the Tea Party
But the religious right may oppose the Tea Party movement to some degree over
loss of power, that's true. But we shouldn't be about this because of our
interest in simply owning and holding political power.
GROSS: So is there a place where the Christian right and the Tea Party come
together? I can't tell how aligned they are. I can't tell how many people in
the Tea Party also indentify as evangelicals.
Rev. CIZIK: There's a certain adherence to traditional value in the sense that
I think most Tea Party movement people say they believe in God and the
Constitution and that's a kind of litmus test for them, the Constitution, but I
don't see how this marriage occurs. Because, fundamentally, the Tea Party is
libertarian evangelical right or not, and I think ultimately, it won't work, in
other words, the merger of evangelical right and the Tea Party movement,
because there are these internal contradictions.
GROSS: Such as?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, that you can't have government action to restrict abortion,
for example, and be libertarian toward the power and role of government. I mean
isn't that an internal contradiction?
GROSS: I see what you're saying.
Rev. CIZIK: And that's why libertarians are common in the Tea Party movement,
and why evangelical right leaders are not libertarians.
If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Cizik. And for 10 years he was
the vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of
Evangelicals. He was forced out of that position after some of the things he
said on FRESH AIR in 2008, including that he supported gay civil unions. He's
now the co-founder of the group the Evangelical Partnership for the Common
So, after you were forced out of the National Association for Evangelicals, and
you went through a period of having to figure out so now what, what was it like
trying to find like-minded evangelicals who wanted to head in a different
direction and emphasize a different agenda, a broader agenda?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, it was hard at first. But not entirely, I need say, because
there were those leaders who immediately stepped forward. They went up on the
Web and said we agree in the broader agenda. And so, we commend Richard for his
courage and the rest and we stand with him and with this new evangelicalism. So
there were those who signed the statement.
But amongst those whom I had worked for and with for so many years, actually up
to 30 years almost, there was not a similar kind of attitude, I hasten to add.
Not because I blame anybody. I don't blame anybody, but there were those who
weren't willing to say even to me why this happened or even to talk about it.
They never did and never have and still to this day have not.
GROSS: So there is a lot of people from your past that you're still not in
Rev. CIZIK: Yeah, that's true. I've tried to reach out. That's my spirit. And
if they want to call me and say whatever they want to say, I'm always open to
that. I'm just saying that there wasn't an outpouring of those with whom I had
worked who said we're with you, Richard. That didn't happen. But that's why
I've created the new organization.
GROSS: My guest is Richard Cizik and he's the co-founder of the New Evangelical
Partnership for the Common Good. For 10 years he served as vice president for
government affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, a position he
was forced out of in 2008 after saying on FRESH AIR that he supported gay civil
Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Cizik. And for 10 years
he was the vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association
of Evangelicals. He was forced out of that position after some of the things he
said on FRESH AIR in 2008, including that he supported gay civil unions. He's
now the co-founder of the group, the Evangelical Partnership for the Common
Are you still lobbying? At the National Association for Evangelicals you were
the chief lobbyist.
Rev. CIZIK: Yes. So I still do that.
GROSS: Yes. So are you lobbying some of same people for different issues?
Rev. CIZIK: Yeah. Different, broader issues, but some of the same too. In other
words, we have a climate bill that's before the Congress. We have limited days
before they go on recess, and so we've got to do this. We've got upcoming
issues, the ratification to the proposed START Treaty and the rest. There are
all these issues, so I do that as well. That's my skill area. I hope to
continue it the rest of my life.
And so, I have this vision and I'm trying to share it with others, and there is
a strategy. So this isn't a hallucination, and the tactics though are really
important. And just coincidentally, your show and what happened to me allowed
me to show look, I'm not what other people say about me. Because if I had
responded to those critics with anger or the rest, then I would have been
living up to what they said about me, that I was, you know, impulsive or that I
was headstrong. Maybe I am still a little bit of that. I'm not ruthless.
But my point is this, when others criticize you, you owe it to yourself and to
your God to at times just keep your mouth shut, which I did for a year. In
GROSS: Was that hard?
Rev. CIZIK: No. I actually needed it. God gave me respite. It allowed me to
spend a lot of private time and think through what really is important to me
and to others around me. And so, it was a valuable time which I look back
GROSS: Did you have a safety cushion, the financial safety cushion to take on
Rev. CIZIK: No, I did not have that. No, I did not have that.
GROSS: So what did you do about that? How did you earn a living during that
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rev. CIZIK: Well, quite frankly, I've been a fellow of the Open Society
Institute, and there were those who called me up and said, what are you going
to do with the rest of your life? And I said well, I'm going to do what I've
been doing. I want to create an organization and these are the issues. And they
said well, why don't you apply for a fellowship? And so, these wonderful people
at the Open Society Institute evaluated me along with a lot of other
candidates, decided to endow me with a fellowship for the past year, so I've
not been without means.
And it's allowed me to put together conversations with Muslim leaders in places
as far away as Casablanca, where we created the Casablanca Institute to build
dialogue with other parts of the world. It's allowed me time to build
conversations with those who don't see evangelicals as a positive influence
upon American society. And so, it's going to be hell in the hallways. It always
is when you're thrust into a new circumstance without a job or the like, and
yet, God is sovereign. He takes care.
GROSS: It's funny. It's the Open Society Institute that funded you.
Rev. CIZIK: Isn't that ironic?
GROSS: Because that's George Soros's...
Rev. CIZIK: Absolutely. There's a...
GROSS: ...George Soros's grant giving organization. And George Soros has been
so demonized by the right.
Rev. CIZIK: Isn't that ironic? In the Old Testament, there was an unbelieving,
in other words, a non-Jew king by the name of Cyrus, who was responsible for
the rebuilding of the temple. And so, my friends across the pond in Great
Britain, they once said to me, Richard, Soros is your King Cyrus. And I
accepted the fellowship and it's been a wonderful year dialoguing with people
who don't share my views, and yet, I think we have so much in common, more in
common than we have apart, than we have that divides us.
GROSS: And who are you referring to there? Are you referring to the Muslims
Rev. CIZIK: My friends at the Open...
GROSS: Oh, you mean at the Open Society.
Rev. CIZIK: Yeah, my friends at the Open Society, we have much more in
Rev. CIZIK: ...than we have that divides us.
GROSS: So one of the things you've been doing is Muslim-Christian dialogues.
Rev. CIZIK: Yeah. And I've also been responsible for a wonderful document out
of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on a new imperative for U.S. foreign
policy called Engaging Religious Communities Abroad.
GROSS: Yeah, tell us what that's all about.
Rev. CIZIK: Well, for two years, 30 scholars associated with the Chicago
Council were led by a colleague of mine, a co-chair, Scott Appleby at Notre
Dame University â wonderful scholar on fundamentalism â the two of us along
with the project director, Tom Wright, we've put together this document
engaging religious communities abroad and it's a wonderful plan.
It's the strategy in the face of a world in which religion is not confined to
the private sphere anymore and that there are these changing patterns of
religion and identity that are impacting local and national societies and
politics all around the world. And so, we're saying that not only is the
salience of religion increasing, but that we're going to have to reach out as a
country and engage with these people and see their involvement.
GROSS: And how are you recommending that we do that? For instance, you're
recommending that the United States create a new position, a distinguished
Rev. CIZIK: Well, there is one...
GROSS: ...official. Yeah.
Rev. CIZIK: ...already appointed. And so, that was begun actually, under
President Bush and a new appointee under this president. And so, there are
these strategic challenges that require us to engage with religious communities
abroad on the basis that secularism is the worst approach. In other words, the
old idea that we've had in certain circles that as societies have all become
more modern they would become more secular is frankly the opposite of what's
And so, in the year 1900, for example, 67 percent of the world was part of the
four main religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. And by 2050,
80 percent of the world will be comprised of these four main religions. And so,
with these religions around the world, especially in times such as ours now,
periods of economic and political stress, they play a role where governments
GROSS: Now, one of the things that you say is that in some parts of the world,
like the Middle East, China, Russia, India, people are particularly sensitive
to the U.S. government's emphasis on religious freedom and see that as a form
Rev. CIZIK: Yeah, I do. I've said that.
GROSS: Could you explain what you mean?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, they look upon our advocacy on behalf of religious freedom as
our intervention and they resent that. And so we have to really be careful in
engaging overseas that we understand how these pivotal players in these
religious communities view us and not attempt to manipulate them, but to
understand their importance. We just can't view religion through the lens of
counterterrorism policy. We have to understand that religions play pivotal
roles on all these issues of development, poverty, disease and the like, even
climate change, and we need to engage with these leaders. And they're the
pivotal players you see, from peace building to stewardship in the environment.
And what we've said by a kind of secular approach in the past in my opinion is
these religious leaders and policies or organizations overseas don't matter.
GROSS: So do you think President Obama has been responsive to religious
leaders? And I am wondering if you've personally met with Obama.
Rev. CIZIK: Yeah, that's part of the Cairo speech. That's the Cairo speech that
the president gave in initiating a whole new way of approach. He isn't solely
responsible for this development in the sense that Madeleine Albright, in the
previous Clinton administration, she understood it and wrote about it in a
book, "The Mighty and the Almighty."
In other words, there's a gradual progressive understanding of the role of
religious faith, and Obama has put it together. And he's asked frankly for the
various department heads to all come together in a forthcoming report to him
about what we are and are not doing in the way of civilian engagement, in
places as far-flung as South Asia and Afghanistan where it's really important,
because we're not going to win these wars of the 21st century by military
power. It won't happen, can't be done.
GROSS: You've changed some of your views. You've allowed your views to change.
And I think change is very hard, especially when you lobbied for those views.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I mean you were before the government saying this is what you need to do
and here's why. So I think change is hard because it means if you believed one
thing and then you change your view to something else, that maybe you were
wrong when you believed the thing before. So, it makes it really hard to
change, because what does that mean about the view you held before you changed?
So can you talk about whether it was hard for you to change your views on
things like gay civil unions and climate change?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, in both cases I had epiphanies. I just came to the conclusion
based upon a lot of evidence over the course of the years that these were the
right decisions to make. In the case of climate change, based on science, I
don't have a conflict, internal religious conflict with science per se. And so,
I came to that conclusion on climate change after a presentation of the
arguments and the evidence. And I happen to believe those arguments and
evidence for climate change, global climate change, are real and very important
and the impacts are going to be enormous on the planet.
I also came to the conclusion based upon my gut sense, that is, on civil
unions. Gut sense that we can't deprive people of their rights in society, even
if we happen to disagree with them. And so, it was an evolution of sorts.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rev. CIZIK: Not saying, it was everything. But I did change my mind. And I say
look, if you've not changed your mind about something ever, pinch yourself. You
may be dead.
GROSS: How come you have no disagreements with science when so many of your
fellow evangelicals do?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, I just happen to believe that science is given us by God.
That science enables us to see what the creation is telling us about itself but
GROSS: And what about that...
Rev. CIZIK: In other words, science helps us to understand what's happening to
the world and the flora and fauna that can't speak to us directly, but we can
through science understand what's happening and thus act in order to protect
it. So, I consider my fellow scientists, like Dr. Chivian, with whom I've
collaborated, and with others, E.O. Wilson, I consider these people fellow
laborers in the work even of the Gospel. They might not regard it that way, but
that's what I view it as, fellow laborers on behalf of the mandate to protect
Now, I know they agree with that. They believe we are co-laborers. And this is
the challenge for evangelicals, to reach beyond themselves out of their corner-
dwelling habits. And a lot of the leaders in American evangelicalism are still
corner dwellers, talking to each other in a corner as opposed to talking to
others. And so, we need to get out, bridge outward, as Robert Putnam has said,
bridge outward in order to talk with others and find ways of common ground in
order to protect the creation, for one, and the planet from nuclear terrorism
on the other. And is this is what God has called us to do and it's the right
thing to do.
GROSS: Richard Cizik, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. It's
very â I'm so glad you came back on our show. Thank you so much.
Rev. CIZIK: It's my pleasure.
GROSS: Richard Cizik is the co-founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for
the Common Good. He's featured in the new documentary, "Count Down to Zero,"
about the risks of nuclear weapons.
You can find a link to my 2008 interview with Richard Cizik, the interview that
resulted in his forced resignation from his position as chief lobbyist for the
National Association for Evangelicals, on our website, freshair.npr.org.
Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead had an appreciation of the Dutch
musician, composer, and bandleader Willem Breuker, who died last week. This is
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Remembering Dutch Jazz Musician Willem Breuker
(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Dutch composer, saxophonist, bass clarinetist, and bandleader Willem Breuker
died in Amsterdam last Friday at the age of 65. He was best known for leading
the tight and frequently hilarious little big band, the Willem Breuker
Kollektief, though he also composed music for film, theater and classical
Our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead, who's just back from Holland, says Breuker
helped shape and define modern Dutch music. Kevin has this appreciation.
(Soundbite of music)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD: That's the classic sound of the Willem Breuker Kollektief:
precise, forceful and a little jokey â like Spike Jones. I'd been thinking
about Breuker, who was in a hospital and dying of cancer, during the World Cup
mania that gripped his hometown of Amsterdam a few weeks ago. The sound of
swarming B-flat horns streamed out of most TVs in town, and solitary horn
blasts echoed down the canals at any hour. It made me wish for the music
Breuker surely would have written for vuvuzelas. Street music was one of his
key inspirations â in particular, the sound of mechanized barrel organs that
get wheeled through the city's open-air markets. Early on, he wrote music for
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Willem Breuker made a name for himself as a bad boy of Dutch music
in the 1960s, playing noisy versions of pop songs in talent contests. He soon
teamed up with drummer Han Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg as the Instant
Composers Pool. Together and separately, they helped establish European
improvised music, with jazz as a key ingredient, alongside marches and other
The main countries involved developed their own styles. The Germans played loud
and free, the English were quiet and cooperative, and the Dutch were the funny
ones, the ones with a little ironic distance from their material, no matter how
much they might respect it. Sometimes, in a Willem Breuker solo, he'd sound
like a really good free-jazz saxophonist one moment, and the next he'd appear
to mock free-jazz saxophonists for not knowing how to play at all.
This is "Interruption" from 1981.
(Soundbite of song, "Interruption")
WHITEHEAD: Willem Breuker with his 10-piece band, the Kollektief. The first
time they toured North America in 1977, they were an instant hit: funny,
energetic and recognizably European, with those echoes of barrel organs and
Kurt Weill's theater music, as well as American composer Carla Bley's
arrangements of revolutionary anthems. The Kollektief toured a lot after that,
and were very entertaining, performing comic routines within the music. Willem
might banish seemingly incompetent musicians from the stage, in a spoof of
Breuker was a self-taught composer who often wrote for the theater, and as a
theater guy, he had no problems repeating a joke. I once attended a New York
gig where some audience members turned hostile: We saw these gags on their last
tour. But Breuker's irreverent attitude epitomized Dutch jazz for American
audiences, for decades.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Willem Breuker with Louis Andriessen on piano and Han Bennink tap
dancing on drums in 1973. The year before, Andriessen had asked Breuker to help
collect players for a mixed jazz and classical orchestra, de Volharding.
Writing for that ragged band, Andriessen began blooming into Holland's most
acclaimed composer. He once said, Willem's lousy wooden-shoe timing was very
helpful in developing the musical language of Holland. Breuker's rough staccato
saxophone sound carried through Andriessen's music to his disciples among
downtown New York composers.
When the Bang on a Can All-Stars attack Andriessen's Volharding piece,
"Workers' Union," there's a little Breuker bluntness in it.
(Soundbite of song, "Workers' Union")
WHITEHEAD: In the 1970s, Willem Breuker also helped shape Holland's celebrated
subsidy system, where jazz improvisers and composers got modest government
stipends. His own musicians stuck with him for decades. Breuker got
commissioned to write for chamber ensembles, but didn't take himself so
seriously even then. The words to one choral work came from the choir
director's frantic letters, wondering where the score was.
Breuker was a keen student of the music of Gershwin, Weill and Italy's Ennio
Morricone, but he also loved trashing the popular classics. It was one way to
connect with the working-class people he came from. One of his Dutch obituaries
quoted him as saying, "My music is for the guy from my neighborhood, for you,
and for the Waterlooplein flea market." Willem Breuker was both a typical gruff
Amsterdam type, and an unforgettable one of a kind.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Person: (Singing foreign language)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the jazz columnist for eMusic.com.
You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm
(Soundbite of music)
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