By Dana Milbank
Friday, October 12, 2007
In the wildly popular "Left Behind" series of evangelical Christian novels, the Antichrist takes the form of the secretary general of the United Nations, sets up an abortion-promoting world government and becomes the Global Community Supreme Potentate.
Last night, the National Association of Evangelicals met for dinner at the Sheraton in Crystal City. The keynote speaker? Why, the Antichrist himself.
Actually, the NAE, the umbrella group for the nation's evangelical denominations, brought in the real U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, not his fictional satanic equivalent, Nicolae Carpathia of Romania. But for the Rev. Richard Cizik, the NAE official who invited Ban, it was just about as daring. Evangelical Christians regard the United Nations' blue helmets with about as much enthusiasm as Satan's red horns.
"My joke is, some people will say the evangelical Christians have invited the Antichrist to the Last Supper," Cizik said, enjoying a chuckle before the Author of All Evil arrived.
Lest anybody miss the humor, Cizik paused. "Let's clarify the record," he said. "We're inviting a Christian man."
It was a sensible precaution. Pat Robertson, speaking for many religious conservatives, has warned of the menace of a "one-world government controlled by the United Nations." In a Fox News poll last month, Republicans (including the vast majority of evangelicals) took a dim view of the United Nations by 2 to 1.
So how do the NAE's members feel about the Global Community Supreme Potentate being invited to dinner? "I haven't heard anything," Cizik reported last night. On reflection, he added: "Maybe they don't know about it yet."
Cizik, a lean and demonstrative figure with a ready smile, has been down this path before. He drew the ire of many conservatives for speaking favorably of population control. A photo of him in Vanity Fair magazine, in which he looked like Jesus walking on water, further aggravated his critics. And his outspokenness on climate change led Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) to brand him "a global-warming alarmist" who "does not represent the views of most evangelicals."
Two dozen prominent evangelical leaders, including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, wrote a letter earlier this year demanding that the NAE silence Cizik's "relentless campaign" on climate change or force him to resign.
But Cizik, neither silenced nor fired, offers no apologies for his view that Christians must be as serious about healing as they are about preaching if they are to follow Jesus's words. "Jerry Falwell . . . said the only people who believe in this climate-change business are the blue-state Democrats, the U.N. types and misinformed evangelicals," Cizik recalled last night. "Well, Jerry Falwell can ask the Lord now himself about this matter of climate change."
Cizik believes that evangelicals are warming to climate change and to those "U.N. types" Falwell derided. "Evangelicals are not what people think they are," he said. "We aren't the Hummer-driving, Wall Street-Journal-reading armchair armageddonists that we're characterized as."
To prove that, Cizik invited Eric Chivian, a Nobel laureate and Harvard scientist, to address the NAE's board of directors before dinner. Chivian told the directors about how global warming is driving polar bears to extinction. "These majestic animals have been on Earth for probably 100,000 years," he said.
The listeners were sympathetic. "We just finished a 122-page audit of our church to lower our carbon footprint," one pastor told the crowd. Another minister, Joel Hunter, rose to recommend his booklet, "Creation Care: An Introduction for Busy Pastors."
After the session, Cizik took on his critics with confidence. Sen. Inhofe? "God bless him," he said. And those who would have similar criticism about the dinner with Ban? "I would appeal to them to listen to his speech," Cizik said.
NAE President Leith Anderson has supported Cizik throughout, but he seemed a bit defensive when asked before the speech about the Ban invitation. "We're not here for the secretary general -- we're here for the people who are poor and hurting and war-torn."
After exposing the secretary general to some deafening Christian rock music ("I am a friend of God -- He calls me 'friend' "), Anderson gave him a brief and neutral introduction as "arguably the most visible leader of the world today." The 400 in attendance climbed slowly to their feet.
Ban may have confirmed some of his hosts' fears at the start of his speech, when he reminded the gathering that "the United Nations is a secular institution." He continued: "We have six official languages but no official religion. We do not have a chapel -- though we do have a meditation room."
Ban devoted himself at length to Cizik's pet subject: protecting "God's creation" from global warming. He urged the evangelicals to call for "local and national policies that will help solve our global problem."
But the secretary general knew his audience, and the bulk of his words were about what he called the "common cause" of his organization and evangelicals. "The United Nations is dedicated to ending war and building peace -- to making swords into plowshares, if you will. We are dedicated to helping the poor, to aiding the victims of conflict, famine, disease and disaster."
Ban then quoted from Isaiah: "If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday."
Strange words, coming from the Antichrist.