Part I – Learning from the Past
Chapter 2 – A History of the Public Policy Resolutions of the National Association of Evangelicals.
By Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Cizik gives a thirty page chronological overview of public policy resolutions adopted by the National Association of Evangelicals over the last sixty years. This chapter is important because it sets the stage for the present and shows the trajectory of movement within the NAE. I apologize in advance for the length of this summary but I think it is important background. The following headings are the headings Cizik uses in his essay.
Spirit of St. Louis, 1942-1943
Cizik begins his discussion highlighting a speech in St. Louis by Harold John Ockenga, pastor of Boston’s Park Street Church, titled The Unvoiced Multitudes. It was delivered four months after the Pearl Harbor attack. Ockenga compared the state of Evangelicals to the small countries in Europe trampled by Germany. He called for united action against secularism and unbelief. Cizik notes that “Mindful of the absolutist tendencies associated with fundamentalism, evangelicalism’s new leaders promised to ‘shun fall forms of bigotry, intolerance, misrepresentation, hate, jealousy, false judgment, and hypocrisy.’” (36) Ockenga’s speech led to the foundation of the National Association of Evangelicals United for Action which was eventually shortened to National Association of Evangelicals. The NAE came to see itself clearly as an alternative to the Federal Council of Churches (changed to National Council of Churches in 1950) which the NAE believed had a virtual monopoly in American Protestantism and was dominated by theological liberals.
Cizik also relates an interesting story about Charles E. Fuller, founder of The Old Fashioned Revival Hour. The leader of the American Musicians Union threatened to unionize Fuller’s musicians even though they were unpaid volunteers. Elwin Wright was dispatched to Washington to meet with a senior senator who was antagonistic toward the labor leader and threatened Senate investigation if the labor leader didn’t back off. It was a successful move. However, the bigger political issue that seemed to animate the political work was the threat from broadcast networks to exclude conservative broadcasters from their networks.
Concerning the Federal Council of Churches response to the formation of the NAE, Cizik writes “They [FCC] immediately attacked it ‘as giving sectarianism a new lease on life and as encouraging the reactionary and dissident wings of the great Protestant denominations' in the Federal Council.'" (38)
Crusader Decades, 1943-1956
Reverend Clyde W. Taylor, who had been a missionary and a faculty member of Gordon College of Theology and Missions, became the first head of the new Washington Office of the NAE. “Citizens of heaven and earth” began to emerge as a theme for the NAE. Cizik quotes Carl F. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) wherein Henry wrote,
Fundamentalism is the modern priest and Levite, by-passing suffering humanity. The picture is clear when one brings into focus such admitted evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, the liquor traffic, and exploitation of labor by management, whichever it may be. (38)
Cizik also notes that during this period the NAE saw themselves as watchdogs of church and state issues. They perceived three major threats to Constitutional separation of church and state. First, there was concern about Roman Catholics using their size and influence to securing federal funding for parochial schools and hospital buildings. (There was without a doubt a bit of anti-Catholicism mixed in here.) Second, there was concern about atheists and agnostics who wanted to remove religion from government and also a concern about government ownership of resources, industry and property. Third, there was concern about religious minorities that restricted the right of others to exercise their religion. (e.g., Jewish groups that opposed distribution of bibles as sectarian books.) There were other issues that the NAE issued resolutions on like Communism, support for public schools, and opposition to pornography and liquor, but these three issues seem to have been the driving force during the era. Also, all through this time and into the 1960s, there was support for a constitutional amendment that would declare America a Christian nation.
A big moment for the NAE was when leaders were invited to the White House by President Eisenhower in 1953. This gave them a new level of respectability. Life magazine wrote a feature article in 1958 that Evangelicalism was becoming the third wing of Christianity in addition to Mainline denominations and Roman Catholics. Cizik points out that while many politicians saw Evangelicals as potential voting blocks, most were leery of being to closely identified with Evangelicals because of the propensity of many leading Evangelicals to alienate other core constituencies.
Moving into the Mainstream, 1957-1967
The NAE commended Bill Graham in 1957, for his New York City Crusade. This began a long association between the NAE and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, as they united in their opposition to the influences of secularism. Cizik believes Graham’s greatest achievement was bringing Evangelicals into the mainstream of Christianity. He helped build on platforms of the NAE and eventually helped them skirt the anti-Catholicism that was evidenced by Evangelicals in the 1960 election. (The NAE issued statements expressing their doubts that a Roman Catholic president could fully separate himself from the influence of Rome.)
The political issues that seemed to generate the most concern were the 1962 Supreme Court rulings of Engle v. Vitale (ruled against school prayers) and Abington School District v. Schemp (ruled against daily Bible readings.) The NAE described this as practical atheism. On civil rights, Cizik notes that the NAE spoke at House Judiciary Committee meetings in 1956 and 1963, and affirmed a call for churches to integrate in both spirit and practice 1964. However, the NAE issued no statements about the 1963 Civil Rights Act or the 1964 Voting Rights Act although they did issue a statement in 1965, saying that they were anguished about those who had been denied civil rights. They also did not issue a statement about the Vietnam War but instead issued statements about the need to confront the Communist Threat.
A Changing Mind-Set, 1968-1980
Evangelicals in the late 1960s were averse to political involvement. Prominent Fundamentalist ministers and Billy Graham routinely held to the strategy of saving the lost instead of social reform. By the late 1970s Evangelicals had done a 180 degree turn. What happened? Social change and emergence of counter-cultural movements happened. Evangelicals determined that they were called to defend and restore traditional morality.
Statements in this era decried the moral decay. Three years before Roe v. Wade, the NAE had declared that abortion, except for certain extreme circumstances, was wrong. As federal control over public schools increased the NAE reversed their position on government support of Christian schools, suggesting that tax credits might be a good thing. They issued statements in the early 1970s that were supportive of environmental protection but it wasn’t until 2004 that they actually began mobilizing for action. Cizik cites a litany of issues that Evangelicals issued statements on during this era, the majority dealing with personal morality matters. However, beginning in the 1970s The NAE began passing resolutions that condemned racism and discrimination. (Cizik writes that statements were issued in 1971, 1975, 1977, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1999.) Internationally the NAE supported Taiwan and Israel.
Two other issues affected the Evangelical world in this era. First, changes in Federal Communication Commission rules contributed to the rise of contribution funded televangelist broadcasting and the rise of the National Religious Broadcasters. Second Newsweek declared 1976 the year of the Evangelical and Jimmy Carter was elected as a “born-again” president. However, support soured for Carter with his support of the Equal Rights Amendment, homosexual rights, and unwillingness to halt federally funded abortions.
Political Insiders, 1980-1992
Attempts by the IRS to impose controversial restrictions on religious organizations galvanized what became known as the "religious Right," the most high profile organization of which was Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. The NAE issued a resolution called “The Christian and His Government” that called on Christians to pray for their government and be politically active. That fall, 61% of “born-again” white Protestants voted for Ronald Reagan. The following year, Francis Schaeffer’s book A Christian Manifesto was published as a treatise against secular humanism. The NAE issued two major resolutions on responding to secular humanism in 1982. Quoting from one of the resolutions, Cizik says the NAE believed that secular humanism led to, “...unrestricted abortion, free love and homosexual practices, permissiveness in divorce, genetic engineering or cloning to help mankind evolve into brave new men.” (51)
Another Supreme Court case, Bob Jones v. United States, created a dilemma for the NAE as concerns over racial equality versus religious liberty were brought into play. The NAE reluctantly filed a friend of the court brief for Bob Jones, fearing government intrustion in religion in other areas. Cizik writes that this is also what led to a statement of official opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment by the NAE as well.
Ronald Reagan made his “Evil Empire” speech in 1983 to the NAE annual meeting in Orlando, Florida. The next year, 81% of Evangelicals voted for Reagan. Cizik writes that, “The NAE staff members were increasingly consulted about administration appointments and policy, and they seized the opportunity to influence government." It was also in 1984 that the NAE published a well received policy series called “Peace, Freedom and Security Studies.”
The NAE condemned South African apartheid in 1986 and called for religious freedom in Nicaragua in 1987. Also, in 1987, they published a resolution entitled “Peace, Freedom and Human Rights” that called on Christians to be peacemakers and to support human rights regardless of the political orientation of the governments involved. Cizik writes that this foreshadowed initiatives on religious persecution, sexual trafficking, and peace in Sudan that would come later.
Although Pat Robertson ran for president in 1988, polls of NAE leaders placed Robertson fourth in their list of preferred candidates. Bush won with 82% of the Evangelical vote in 1988. However, Bush’s favorability began to wane as gay-rights activists were invited to the White House for bill signing ceremonies and Bush took no action against the National Endowment for the Arts for funding pornographic art. NAE and Southern Baptist leaders began to feel they were being taken for granted and asked for a meeting with Bush. They received no apology from him as he pointed to other policies he had accomplished on their behalf. The “no new taxes” flip flop further strained relationships. Bush and Billy Graham spoke at the fiftieth anniversary of the NAE and Bush reiterated his support for family values. However, with the economy having soured, Bush lost the election to Bill Clinton and the NAE began to rethink its connection with Republicans and the “religious Right.”
Evaluating Partisan Politics, 1992-2000
President Clinton’s capacity for outmaneuvering Republicans on Capitol Hill, referred to as “triangulation,” or winning of votes from conservatives to pass innovative legislative efforts such as welfare reform that liberals opposed, meant that he would assiduously court certain religious conservatives. The end result was that there was always an open door for the NAE staff members at the White House. (55)
NAE President Don Argue called for evangelicals to distance themselves from GOP partisanship. That didn’t stop the NAE from passing resolutions opposing homosexuals in the military or opposing Clinton’s healthcare reform. They did however find a partnership with Clinton on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, even though the law was eventually ruled unconstitutional. They also supported Clinton’s efforts to open trade relations with China. Cizik notes that Argue and he, along with a rabbi and an archbishop, were invited to go to China in 1998, to talk to President Jiang Zemin about religious persecution. The National Council of Churches lobbied Clinton to have a representative present but to no avail. Clearly there was a shift underway in religious political influence.
Cizik writes that Evangelicals began to distance themselves from Clinton after the sex scandal. By 1999, many on the religious Right were urging retreat from politics but the NAE was firmly committed to political involvement. Cizik cites a study the showed,
In 1990, 75 percent [NAE leaders] believed ‘changing individuals’ one by one through evangelistic means was the best way to change society; by the year 2000, a nearly identical number of leaders (64 percent) had concluded that ‘changing both individuals and the institutions of society’ was the preferable and most effective way to translate biblical values into a secular society.” (57-58)
A study I read in 2004 about an NAE member denomination called Fundamentalism in the Church of the Nazarene showed a similar shift from 1996 to 2004, indicating that something significant happened in the last decade.
New Internationalism and Faith-Based Initiatives, 1996-2004
Cizik mentions a Nicholas Kristof’s May 2002, New York Times column called, “The New Internationalists.” Kristof wrote that there was a new breed of Evangelical activists replacing the likes of Robertson and Falwell and they were influencing US foreign policy. They were focused on a broad range of human rights and religious freedom issues. Cizik points back to “A Conference on the Global Persecution of Christians” on January 23, 1996. It was a joint event by the NAE, the Institute on Religion and Democracy and Freedom House. Cizik writes,
“Released that day was a document entitled The National Association of Evnagelical’s Statement of Conscience on Worldwide Religious Persecution and helped launch a movement that would rattle diplomats in foreign capitals. After two-year battle that included opposition by the Clinton administration, the State Department, the business lobby, and the National Council of Churches, the International Religious Freedom Act was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress in 1998 and signed by President Clinton.” (59)
Cizik goes on to highlight a number of other international policy achievements.
On the domestic front, the NAE has been a big backer of Bush’s “Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.” They have been active in exploring how best to have Christian-Muslim dialog in the wake of 9/11. They have also been supportive of Bush’s Partial Abortion Ban Act and the federal marriage amendment.
The influence of the NAE continues to grow. In March 2005, the NAE issued a document called For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility to draw other people into the discussion about how to address what Mark Noll called “the scandal of Evangelical thinking." That was the purpose of this book as well.
(If you are interested in NAE policy statments or some of the statements mentioned in this summary, many of them can be found at the NAE website under the "Governmental Affairs" link in the Resolutions/Documents section.)