WASHINGTON (ABP)—Backlash over comments about gay rights on a public-radio broadcast cost a prominent National Association of Evangelicals lobbyist his job.
Richard Cizik resigned as NAE’s vice president for governmental affairs after consultation with NAE President Leith Anderson and following criticism from some prominent conservative evangelical leaders over comments Cizik had made in an interview broadcast on the National Public Radio program Fresh Air.
While most of the interview dealt with Cizik’s strong stance in encouraging evangelicals to fight global warming—also controversial among some conservative Christians—host Terry Gross also asked him about same-sex marriage.
“A couple of years ago when you were on our show, I asked you if you were changing your mind on that. And two years ago, you said you were still opposed to gay marriage,” Gross said. “But now as you identify more with younger voters, would you say you have changed on gay marriage?”
"Shifting" on gay marriage question
Cizik responded: “I’m shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. I don’t officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don’t think.”
Anderson said that response “did not appropriately represent the values and convictions of NAE and our constituents. Although he has subsequently expressed regret, apologized and affirmed our values there is a loss of trust in his credibility as a spokesperson among leaders and constituents.”
The resignation came after an attempted clarification by Cizik and mounting protests from Religious Right leaders. The Washington-based Institute on Religion & Democracy called for Cizik to be replaced as the chief public-policy spokesman for NAE, which claims tens of millions of members in more than 40,000 evangelical congregations nationwide.
Cizik “has moved NAE away from its traditional social conservatism towards issues of the left, especially global warming,” the IRD statement said.
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Cizik has received criticism from those on the far evangelical right before. A group of prominent conservative religious leaders, including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, tried unsuccessfully last year to get Cizik disciplined for his activism on global warming. More recently, he was criticized—along with other centrist evangelical and Catholic leaders—for involvement with an attempt at Muslim-Christian dialogue.
Cizik’s resignation ends a 28-year career as NAE’s chief public-policy representative. His activism on global warming and other issues have earned him—and the NAE—an increasingly high profile among politicians and journalists seeking to understand evangelicals.
Anderson praised Cizik’s tenure in the NAE statement. “Over the past three decades, he has been a tireless advocate for a broad variety of issues important to the evangelical community, including passage of anti-persecution legislation, laws against human trafficking, nurture of family life, protection of children, justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable, sanctity of human life, opposition to abortion on demand, peace and the restraint of violence in our world, creation care and others,” he said.
Letter asks NAE to broaden agenda
Fifty-nine evangelical leaders signed a letter requesting that whoever is chosen to replace Cizik at the NAE carry on the commitment to a moral agenda broader than opposition to homosexuality and abortion.
In a letter to Anderson, the evangelical leaders expressed gratitude for Cizik’s “broad Christian moral agenda that has helped define American Evangelicals’ public witness.”
The letter from evangelical leaders acknowledged the NAE’s right to choose its own spokesperson, yet urged that Cizik’s replacement support “a broad Christian moral agenda” including not only the family and right to life but also human rights, peace and the environment.
Baptist signers included David Gushee, president of Evangelicals for Human Rights; Jonathan Merritt, spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative; Carey Newman, director of Baylor University Press; and Glenn Stassen, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.