Richard Cizik, the National Association of Evangelicals long-time vice president for government affairs, resigned today. Cizik has been an enlightened voice of conscience, unafraid to stick to his guns, and his politics haven’t always played well with some evangelicals. That was definitely the case when Cizik told NPR’s Terry Gross that his views on same-sex marriage were “shifting.”
“I was stunned when I heard it. I was momentarily speechless, and for me, that’s quite a feat,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Christianity Today “[As spokesmen], we’re not hired to express our personal opinions,” Land said. “Clearly, under Rich’s leadership in Washington, the NAE has increasingly taken positions that have been nontraditional positions for the NAE.”
After hearing of Cizik’s resignation—that’s what they’re calling it—CT spoke with NAE interim President Leith Anderson:
Was Cizik asked to resign?
There was a discussion and a consensus that his credibility as spokesperson for the NAE was irreparably compromised. It was out of reporting that discussion to Richard Cizik that he and I discussed together and mutually concluded that his resignation was appropriate.
What exactly in NPR’s Fresh Air interview caused concern?
His role as a spokesperson is to advocate for NAE’s values and positions, and that did not appropriately come through in what he said or the way he said it, and it was on several fronts.
Cizik said in the interview, “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.” Is that the part that caused concern?
What you’re asking for is specifics, and I don’t think that our discussion was primarily parsing words. It was whether or not he in this interview adequately was a representative for NAE and our constituency, and the conclusion was that he was not. The NAE’s position on gay marriage is not shifting. And we are not advocates for civil unions, although many evangelicals recognize the reality that civil unions have become law in many states. But we’re not advocating for them.
Most of the interview was about the environment.
It was not the part about the environment. As far as the environment is concerned, NAE, in its “For the Health of the Nation” statement, clearly says that creation care is one of the values that we do espouse.
Cizik has also been criticized for telling NPR that he voted for Barack Obama in the primary. Was that also a concern for the NAE?
Generally in America, people don’t say whom they vote for. I think in listening to the interview, it seemed to me that [Fresh Air host] Terry Gross was surprised that he said whom he voted for. And he declined to say whom he voted for in the general election. But for NAE and all of us who seek to be a bipartisan voice, it’s generally not in our best interests to declare whom we vote for.
Did he say something in that interview that NAE doesn’t support? For instance, is there anywhere in the NAE documents that says the NAE doesn’t support civil unions?
I don’t know off the top of my head, because [civil unions are] a relatively recent phenomenon. We have had resolutions passed that have clearly declared that our understanding of biblical marriage is one man to one woman. I think … that the role of an NAE spokesperson is primarily on behalf of what we have said, not on behalf of what we have not said. It’s also to represent our constituency, and our constituency does not favor civil unions.