Richard Cizik

OdysseyNetworksRev. Richard Cizik.

Richard Cizik has a knack for irritating right-wing evangelicals. He knows just how to do it, being an evangelical himself, though no longer one with standard right-wing political views.

Cizik was a key leader of an evangelical Christian movement calling for climate action and “creation care” a few years ago, when he was vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Some religious-right bigwigs tried unsuccessfully to force him out of that job in 2007 because of his environmental activism, and then ultimately succeeded in forcing him out in 2008 because he endorsed gay civil unions (oh the horror!). Cizik bounced back by founding the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which advocates for social-justice causes including human rights, health-care access, and an end to war.

Cizik’s latest campaign is sure to push right-wingers’ buttons: He is advocating contraception as a means to combat climate change (as well as achieve lots of other worthy goals). “Family planning is a green technology,” he told me during a recent conversation.

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But though some conservative Christians will surely recoil in horror, Cizik believes he can convince open-minded evangelicals and other Christians of the rightness of his cause.

Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership has put out a 13-page “Call to Christian Common Ground on Family Planning and Maternal and Children’s Health.” The document focuses on moral rather than environmental arguments, making the case that family planning reduces abortions, improves women’s health, and saves women’s lives.

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Worldwide, about 125 million women face social, emotional, and spiritual trauma — and for some, the life-threatening risk — of not having access to family planning. As a result, one in four births worldwide is unplanned, leading to 42 million abortions each year (half of them clandestine) and 68,000 women’s deaths. Death in childbirth takes one woman’s life per minute … and ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in poor countries. Many more women survive but have their health permanently ruined by repeated childbearing.

Here in the United States, lack of access to affordable health insurance results in an estimated four in ten poor women of reproductive age without family planning services. … Researchers have estimated that publicly-funded family planning helped to prevent 973,000 unintended pregnancies. …

The research is not ambiguous: Contraception is credited with preventing an estimated 112 million abortions worldwide each year.

Cizik recently invited Christians to join the campaign in an opinion piece in The Washington Post:

Preventing unwanted pregnancies, in the first place, is the one strategy that not only unites all Americans but attacks the root of the problem. The choice of not having a baby is always best made before pregnancy. About this there is broad common ground. …

I offer this challenge to pro-life Christians: Please do not block family planning efforts, globally or domestically, because of your opposition to groups that provide both contraception and abortion. Instead, consider how a deeply pro-life moral commitment, focusing on the flourishing of all human beings made in God’s image, actually ought to lead to support for family planning without entangling it in the often partisan, politically motivated abortion controversy.

While the partnerhip’s “call” doesn’t mention green issues, Cizik himself isn’t shy about making the connections between family planning, population, and climate change.

“Voluntary, non-compulsory family planning is a lot less expensive than most other ways of reducing CO2 emissions,” he said. “It’s one of the wedges, so to speak, among many that are needed” — a reference to a landmark 2004 paper that proposed using a number of different, currently available strategies to fight climate change, all represented as “wedges” on a graph that can help us ramp up to steep cuts in carbon emissions. Research published in 2010 found that slowing population growth could be a key wedge, providing 16 to 29 percent of emissions reductions needed by 2050.

“Whether the world population is going to be 8 billion or over 10 billion will depend significantly on the policy and programs we adopt and the seriousness of the international community to make family planning a priority,” he said.

Cizik argues that evangelical Christians can make a real difference by supporting funding for domestic and international family-planning programs. “We think the faith-based voice on this is critical, especially in the United States, because you’re not going to persuade Republican congressmen that they need to change their views from wanting to defund Planned Parenthood, Title X, and all these programs by having liberals approach them,” he said. “The only way you do it is by having conservatives, particularly evangelical conservatives, appeal to them on the basis that this is simply common sense.”

Cizik is convinced that evangelicals who might now reflexively oppose climate action and family planning can be brought around: “I do believe that good ideas drive out bad ideas, that ultimately evangelicals will themselves be persuaded by the evidence of the argument, and people change their minds. I changed my mind, and I used to be part of the group of people that are advocating for cutting Title X funding. I changed my mind because the evidence indicated that I needed to change my mind.”