Cizik resigns after controversial interview

WASHINGTON (BP)--Richard Cizik, the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, resigned Dec. 11 following controversial comments about his moral views, including acknowledging that he favors same-sex civil unions.

The NAE's vice president of governmental affairs, Cizik has been controversial among conservative evangelical leaders for several years, particularly for what some leaders viewed as his elevation of the issue of global warming above abortion and "gay marriage." Some leaders, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, even had asked early in 2007 for the NAE board to discipline or terminate Cizik for his sometimes provocative statements on global warming. The board, though, refused.

But a National Public Radio interview with Cizik broadcast Dec. 2 apparently crossed the line for NAE officials. He had worked for the organization for 28 years.

"Richard responded to questions and made statements that did not appropriately represent the values and convictions of NAE and our constituents," Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, wrote in a letter given to NAE board members. "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."

Asked on the radio broadcast if he had changed his position on "gay marriage," Cizik answered, "I'm shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional position, I don't think.

"We have this tension going on in the movement between what is church-building and is nation-building, and I lean in this spectrum at times, 'Maybe we should concentrate on building our values in our own movement,'" he added. "We have become so absorbed in the question of gay rights and the rest that we fail to understand the challenges and threats to marriage itself -- heterosexual marriage. Maybe we need to reevaluate this and look at it a little differently."

On abortion prevention, he said, "I think finding those who are in trouble, helping them through this, and if need be, even supplying what government presently doesn't do, namely contraception, is an answer to reducing unintended pregnancies."

Cizik was asked how he cast his ballot in the general election, and although he didn't give a firm answer, he came close.

"Let me answer it this way: In the Virginia primary I voted for Barack Obama," he said. "In other words, I would rather not say in the election general just whom it is that I did vote for. But that's an indication. But it doesn't say definitively."

He later said that evangelicals in good conscience could have voted for Obama.

"It would be possible, as evangelicals did, to disagree with Barack Obama on same-sex marriage and abortion and yet vote for him," he said. "We know they did, not because of those positions he stood [for] but in spite of those positions."

The Institute on Religion and Democracy, which has been critical of Cizik at times, welcomed the resignation.

"Both Rev. Cizik and the NAE leadership made a wise decision in his departure," IRD's Mark Tooley said in a statement. "Cizik had lost credibility for advocating positions that were not those of the NAE or most Evangelicals. The IRD hopes NAE can now focus on theological and ethical convictions that the Evangelicals hold strongly in common. This is particularly important when those convictions are being challenged in the public square. We wish Rev. Cizik well and know that his long history of service to Evangelicals in Washington, DC will have laid the groundwork for many opportunities. Specifically, the IRD commends Cizik for his partnership on global religious liberty issues."


Compiled by Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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