Evangelical Leader Chats About Identity Politics
LIANE HANSEN, host:
The National Association of Evangelicals is one of the many groups with a keen interest in the presidential election. It has about 45,000 churches nationwide and tens of millions of members. Joining us now is Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Welcome back to the program.
Mr. RICHARD CIZIK (Vice President of Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals): Thank you, Liane.
HANSEN: This is a very interesting time for evangelicals. In June, Sarah Palin addressed her local Wasilla Assembly of God. That's a denomination of the National Association of Evangelicals and the church she used to attend. She now goes to a nondenominational Bible church. But what are your thoughts on Sarah Palin?
Mr. CIZIK: I like her personality, actually. I'm a bit of a maverick myself among the evangelicals, and she's a maverick in certain ways.
HANSEN: If you could explain.
Mr. CIZIK: She's become a populist hero to millions of Americans, particularly in the evangelical world. They like her. They like her personality. They like her style. They may not agree with her on all the issues, but nonetheless she's a phenom.
HANSEN: Do you think evangelicals identify with her? There's this phrase known as identity politics, and you kind of identify with the politician.
Mr. CIZIK: Yes. She's a reflection of identity politics and even the culture war. We know John McCain doesn't identify with evangelicals, and so he picked someone who does. Now, there are downsides to both culture war and identity politics. The downsides are that - well, experience is denigrated, authority is questioned, and sometimes ignorance even is considered strength. Now, that doesn't mean that she couldn't become a great vice president. But does she have the experience at this point in my estimation? Well, that's a big question mark. It's a risky bet.
HANSEN: You once said that she has a lot of moxie, and the president doesn't need a secretary of state as vice president. Have you changed your mind about that?
Mr. CIZIK: We need someone who will be able to step into the office should something happen to him. That was his criteria. And the question is, does she meet it? He may have changed his mind. It seems he has.
HANSEN: Have you?
Mr. CIZIK: Changed my mind?
Mr. CIZIK: About?
HANSEN: Sarah Palin. Or you've...
Mr. CIZIK: I'm a tabula rasa in the sense that I'm waiting to meet her.
HANSEN: So you fall into the category of undecided.
Mr. CIZIK: Yes. In other words, I'm a conservative, but that doesn't mean I'm going to vote that way. I could disagree with Obama - and do on same-sex marriage and abortion - but that doesn't mean I'll, on those issues alone, vote against him, because I think there are character and integrity issues that are even more important. And I would ask my fellow evangelicals, if not all Americans, what kind of temperament do you want in the Oval Office?
These are two different men. One is a bit of a warrior, we know that. John McCain exemplified that warrior nature in the debate on Friday night. Barack Obama is a healer. He's looking to build common ground even with his opponents. That's my personal style. I'm always looking to find common ground between liberals and conservatives on climate change, international religious freedom, Darfur, genocide occurring there, on all these issues of trafficking. I'm looking to find ways, for example, for evangelicals to bridge the gap, join with, for example, feminists. As we can find common ground, let's do it. That's Barack Obama's forte.
HANSEN: How comfortably do evangelicals fit within the Republican Party these days?
Mr. CIZIK: Less so than in the past. Obviously, George Bush appealed to evangelicals on a variety of levels. He was one of us, so to speak. John McCain doesn't in that sense, so he selected somebody he thinks does, Sarah Palin. But we're not as comfortable as we used to be. The Democrats have as many issues appealing to evangelicals as the Republicans. On some issues of compassion, international religious freedom, justice issues, the Democrats weigh heavily on the sanctity of life, protection of the traditional family. The Republicans are better. And so no party has a monopoly on God, let's face it.
HANSEN: Today, more than 30 pastors plan to endorse a presidential candidate from the pulpit. Now this is in direct violation of federal law. Tax exempt organizations, including religious organizations, are not allowed to get involved in partisan politics. So what do you think about this?
Mr. CIZIK: A bad idea. First of all, a pastor can step out of the pulpit and say I'm speaking to you as an individual, not as the representation of this church, and say whatever he wants to say. He doesn't have to violate the law. And indeed, we don't want churches to become partisan political grounds, actors who are playing the game like everybody else. We should be a bit above the fray. And so it's a bad move. I say, find the yellow bright line and instead of stepping over it, step back.
HANSEN: Richard Cizik is vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Thank you so much for coming in.
Mr. CIZIK: Thank you, Liane.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.