As noted by TWO, Richard Cizik, Washington lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, resigned his post last week because of controversy over his nationally broadcast support of gay civil unions. The NAE and right-wing political organizations are applauding his departure with words both questionable and unkind.
During a Dec. 2 interview on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air,” Cizik told host Terry Gross that he voted for Barack Obama in the Virginia primary and said Christians should not fear supporting pro-choice and pro-LGBT candidates. Cizik also said that his views on marriage were “shifting” and that he supports civil union.
The comments made by the lobbyist — formally known as NAE’s vice president for governmental affairs — caused a huge stir in evangelical Christian circles and the controversy led him to resign his job. In a statement to the organization’s board members, the association’s acting president Leith Anderson explained his departure, saying Cizik’s radio remarks caused “a loss of trust in his credibility as a spokesperson among leaders and constituencies.”
It turns out that Cizik’s views are evolving even more. For years, he has been one of the rare evangelicals banging the drum for addressing climate change. The DC-based Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Mark Tooley told OneNewsNow that “Cizik has been very outspoken and in some ways ‘off the reservation’ for the last five or six years in terms of his global warming activism, which the board of NAE had initially somewhat disavowed — but that had not discouraged him.”
Cizik’s civil-union support was an apparent step too far from the reservation. “The National Association of Evangelicals has official positions strongly supporting traditional marriage and opposing same-sex marriage, and certainly by implication same-sex civil unions,” Tooley said. “So it seemed to be a very clear case where Cizik was ignoring the very obvious and official positions of his own organization, for which he is supposed to be the chief spokesman and lobbyist in Washington.”
Evangelical support for Cizik’s resignation is voluminous, the criticisms harsh.
Ingrid Schlueter, co-host of evangelizing radio show Crosstalk America said, “Those who are at war with God, the author of life, should be publicly confronted by evangelical Christians. Instead, they are aided and abetted in their evil by craven leaders like Cizik.”
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is expectedly meanspirited: “This is the risk of walking through the green door of environmentalism and global warming – you risk being blinded by the green light and losing your sense of direction. How else can you explain enthusiastic support for what will probably be the nation’s most pro-abortion, anti-family president in our nation’s 232 year history?”
Janice Shaw Crouse, director and senior fellow of Concerned Women for America’ Beverly LaHaye Institute, takes a broad swipe: “I think, perhaps, my dear friend Rich has been inside the Beltway for too long and has swallowed too much of the NPR and Vogue magazine Kool-Aid.”
I suppose the nasty talk has to be over-the-top. After all, Cizik has the ear of millions of Americans. People listen to him. You can see it in the responses on the FRC blog, where faithful Christians responding to Perkins’ statement wonder why caring about the environment or supporting Barack Obama contradicts their beliefs. Time magazine even named Cizik one of the world’s 100 most influential people this year. That’s a lot of clout to for the evangelicals to overcome.
Consider the response of NAE supporters of Cizik — and there are many of them. According to US News and World Report, “a coalition of roughly 60 evangelical leaders (mostly of the non-Christian right variety) has written to … Leith Anderson pushing for a successor [who, like Cizik, is] not beholden to the Christian right… [one] who embraces more progressive causes like combating global warming.” Read the full letter here.
David Gushee, a college professor and progressive evangelical activist who helped write the letter to Anderson, said this in an interview with USNWR:
I think Leith and the executive committee are going to take their time and let the furor over this die down. I personally think they need to find somebody who can promote all seven of the policy commitments in the NAE’s Health of Our Nation statement. There’s one on sanctity of life and one on climate change and one on poverty. There are always pressures from the right that the two fundamental issues of our time should be abortion and homosexuality. I think there will be pressure to hire somebody to make those the top priority.
I can tell you from some feedback that if the NAE makes the mistake of rolling back to the classic Christian right agenda, they would lose support of a lot of people who are currently happy to be working with them.
Yes, this comes from within the NAE.
The good news for Cizik, if he is sincere in his evolution, is that his message is being heard across the nation. It’s evident in the growing support for legal recognition of same-gender couples and for humane and just treatment of LGBT citizens. It is reflected in the fact that an increasing number of people are realizing that “gay” isn’t something that needs to be prayed away. Even the vote that passed California’s obnoxious and un-American Proposition 8 was a close one. Cizik is but one of many Americans who are slowly but surely understanding that being a Christian does not require denying compassion and equality to LGBT people.
Let’s hope this good man is snapped up by a progressive evangelical organization so that his vast influence — and his personal evolution — can continue. And let’s hope those questioning evangelicals continue searching their hearts and minds.