Controversy over NPR comments forces NAE lobbyist Cizik out

Backlash over comments about gay rights on a public-radio broadcast has apparently cost a prominent National Association of Evangelicals lobbyist his job.

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WASHINGTON (ABP) — Backlash over comments about gay rights on a public-radio broadcast has apparently cost a prominent National Association of Evangelicals lobbyist his job.

Richard Cizik resigned Dec. 10 as NAE's vice president for governmental affairs, according to a statement posted Dec. 11 on the website of the umbrella group for evangelical churches, denominations and parachurch ministries. Christianity Today first reported the resignation in a story posted on the evangelical magazine's website.

The resignation came after consultation with NAE president Leith Anderson and followed a week of criticism from some prominent conservative evangelical leaders over comments Cizik had made in an interview broadcast Dec. 2 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 the most conservative of Christians — host Terry Gross also asked him about same-sex marriage.

"I'm shifting" stance Cizik said

"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?"

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 more than a week of mounting protests from Religious Right leaders. For example, the Washington-based Institute on Religion & Democracy issued a Dec. 10 press release calling 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.

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Cizik "has moved NAE away from its traditional social conservatism towards issues of the left, especially global warming," the IRD statement said.

Previously tangled with Religious Right 

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 his 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.

Ironically, the resignation comes just days after Cizik was criticized by many gay-rights activists for signing on to an open letter, published in the Dec. 5 edition of the New York Times. The ad, titled "No Mob Rule," decried protests that have been held nationwide in the wake of their support for Proposition 8, the successful ballot initiative that revoked marriage rights for same-sex couples in California.

The ad, gay-rights activists said, unfairly implied that vandalism, violence and intimidation by gay-rights supporters against Mormons and other Proposition 8 supporters had been widespread at the protests. They also said the ad unfairly equated criticism of religious groups that gave millions of dollars to the campaign to revoke gays' marriage rights with "religious bigotry."

Read more

Attempt at dialogue with Muslims inspires further criticism of NAE (1/10)

NAE's Anderson responds to pressure from conservatives on warming (3/5/2007)

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