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Written by Jim Jordal   
Monday, 09 April 2007

WHAT GREAT MORAL ISSUES OF OUR TIME?

By Jim Jordal

"More importantly, we have observed that [Richard] Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children."

James Dobson and friends

The above passage comes from a letter by Focus on the Family's James Dobson and friends, to the board of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) asking them to fire Rich Cizik, NAE vice president for governmental affairs, for his stand against global warming. The letter created quite a stir in evangelical circles, and rightly so, since it poses several crucial questions desperately needing attention by Christians everywhere.

What aroused Dobson's ire occurred at the recent annual NAE board banquet, when in a speech Cizik quoted now deceased evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry's challenge to evangelicals some sixty years ago: "The cries of suffering humanity today are many. No evangelicalism which ignores the totality of man's condition dares respond in the name of Christianity."

Speaking of a new generation of evangelicals that has responded to those cries, Cizik went on to say: "We root our activism in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross and are giving it a proper temporal focus by emphasizing all of the principles that are found in the Bible. We come together in a positive way as a family bonded by the love of Christ, not as fractious relatives. We desire to be people known for our passionate commitment to justice and improving the world, and eager to reach across all barriers with love, civility, and care for our fellow human beings."

And for these biblical, heartfelt comments Cizik draws the fire of one of conservative evangelism's most prominent figures. But is Cizik wrong? Is he out of touch with current realities? Or worse, is he a traitor to evangelical Christian principles?

None other than Martin Luther said: "If you preach the gospel in all aspects, with the exception of the issues which deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the gospel at all." So Cizik is not out of step with Luther, or Carl Henry, or any other of hundreds of evangelical Christians calling for a revamping of traditional Protestant evangelical theology, which is now dreadfully out of balance with its myopic insistence, as Dobson maintains, that "the great moral issues of our time are the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children."

It seems to me that most Christians today would agree that the sanctity of marriage and of human life and the teaching of sexual morality are values worthy of serious attention. But are they the only values God cares about? What about idolatry, oppression of the poor, injustice of all kinds, and criminal activity that preys on the helpless?

So what exactly are "moral" issues? I guess that if you define morality solely in sexual terms, then Dobson is right. But my dictionary defines moral matters as "recognizing, conforming to, and propagating principles of right conduct." So not only issues of sexuality, family sanctity, and the preservation of life, but also those issues concerned with war, slavery, poverty, oppression, starvation, and economic marginalization are moral matters. To maintain otherwise is to ignore much of the Bible.

Isn't it a moral matter that 30,000 children die of starvation each day? Isn't it a moral matter that the UN lists extreme poverty as a leading cause of death in the Third World? Isn't it a moral matter, as Noreena Hertz says in The Debt Threat that "for the price of four stealth bombers, 155 million [Third World] children can be sent to school for a year"? Isn't it a moral matter that the Sudanese province of Darfur continues to be ravaged by marauding bands of camel-riding militia? And isn't it a moral matter of extreme importance that our government calls for $100 billion extra funds to escalate the war in Iraq, and for $150 billion over the next 20 years (Complex 2030) to revamp our nuclear arsenal, and for continuing tax cuts for the rich; while balking over a much lesser figure for universal health insurance for all American children?

My view is that you can claim these are not moral matters only if you have so spiritualized and individualized the gospel that its true meaning of good news to the poor and oppressed is lost. The Jubilee message of deliverance, initiated in Leviticus, and carried through the remainder of Scripture, then becomes lost in the many current expressions of salvation and deliverance provided by God only for individuals, and leaving nothing but destruction for the remaining entirely of God's creation.

Note: Information on James Dobson/Rich Cizik issue taken from sojomail, 3/08/07 and 3/15/07.