By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The National Association of Evangelicals, the nation's largest evangelical group, announced its new Washington lobbyist yesterday, about six months after its longtime D.C. representative, Richard Cizik, resigned under pressure. Cizik had long been in the cross hairs of Christian-right leaders over his high-profile activism on global warming, but the nail in the coffin was a radio interview in which he expressed support for legalized gay civil unions.
Now, a longtime manager with World Relief, Galen Carey, will run the NAE's Washington office. Christianity Today has some back story. I caught up with Carey yesterday, just after the NAE announced that it had hired him. Excerpts:
What are your top priorities for the NAE?
My first priority will be to get to know the NAE and hold some in-depth dialogues to learn what issues are most important. My role is to represent the churches that are part of it as well as I can. The Health of the Nation Document lays out the seven issues of common evangelical interest.
What are the issues closest to your heart?
I've spent the last 25 years working on issues related to refugees and the poor both domestically and overseas. Those issues fit under the NAE's rubric. That's not to say I don't care about other issues, but there will be more of a learning curve there.
There's been so much talk about the political generational gap between older and younger evangelicals. Will that present a challenge in your new job?
I was recently honored by my college classmates [from Trinity International University], and there was a group there working to prevent the spread of AIDS. When I was a student, there was no program like that. So you do see a broadening of the agenda of younger evangelicals. It's an opportunity to invigorate the evangelical movement, and that is one of our strengths. We have a way of renewing ourselves and continuing to engage the world with the bringing of the good news in all its fullness.
And in my 25 years at World Relief, I've seen expanding interest and concern with issues related to the poor. When I started out in the 1980s, this was seen by some as a diversion from the most important issues. And now there is a strong consensus in what we sometimes refer to as the holistic Gospel or the integral mission, a balanced doctrine for all aspects of life. And that's a change we see continuing.
Your predecessor was best know for his activism in combating global warming, what he called "Creation Care. " Will that continue to be a priority?
It will. In my own experiences working with natural disasters, it's clear that environmental issues are becoming increasingly important, so it's something that we will continue promoting and try to develop further support for in the [evangelical] community.
A lot of evangelical activists are concerned that Democrats are in control of Washington right now. What's your take?
NAE is nonpartisan, so what really matters to us is not whether you are Democrat or Republican but whether they are supporting the values that we think are important. There are a lot of concerns about where we are currently in the abortion area, but one hopeful sign is that we've heard Obama speaking about reducing the number of abortions, and I think that is an area for some common ground. There will be some opportunities to work together and to try to advance that goal.
Given Cizik's experience, do you worry that you're going to be under intense scrutiny from Christian-right leaders as you settle into the job?
In Washington, you always have people coming and going, and I'm just honored to have the opportunity to serve in this role and to build on what my predecessors have accomplished. Some will probably be critical at different times, but I look forward to building a consensus within our community on the issues we're going to be working on.