Dozens of evangelical leaders recalled fondly the contribution of Richard Cizik to their movement and have asked the National Association of Evangelicals to continue to support the broad agenda that began under Cizik's leadership.
"We respect the right of the NAE to select spokespersons that represent the organization's stated priorities," the leaders stated in a letter to the NAE president this week. "At the same time, we release this letter in order to show our deep gratitude for Richard's 28 years of leadership at the NAE, in which he has had a guiding hand in shaping a broad Christian moral agenda that has helped define American Evangelicals' public witness."
Cizik resigned last week over controversies involving remarks he made on abortion and same-sex civil unions during an interview with National Public Radio.
The signers – which include Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, and Lynn Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church – asked that the NAE's next vice president for governmental affairs continue to carry out Cizik's "broad Christian moral agenda" that is based on the Gospel and relevant to the many moral challenges faced by people in the 21st century.
Cizik is recognized for placing creation care, climate change, global poverty, foreign policy and other critical issues among the priorities of evangelicals, broadening the movement's agenda beyond abortion and marriage.
David Gushee, one of the four drafters of the letter, said the statement was meant, in part, to remind the NAE that the organization had itself affirmed a "broad, multi-issue agenda" in its 2004 "For the Health of the Nation" statement.
"All of the signers, I think, signed because they supported those two points. Many were looking for some tangible way to express their personal support and love for Rich Cizik, and many are concerned to protect a broader agenda, such as those involved in evangelical relief and environmental work," said Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, to The Christian Post on Wednesday.
Gushee had appeared alongside Cizik earlier this year at an event promoting the idea of centrist evangelicals, a new movement that is still pro-life and pro-traditional marriage but views other social issues as equally important.
Regarding his personal opinion on Cizik's forced resignation, Gushee said he wish it didn't happen and believes "evangelical public witness has been damaged."
"I am very hopeful that Rich will end up in a meaningful new place of service, and also that the NAE as an organization will find someone to fill his slot who carries forward the whole Gospel agenda that the organization has already embraced," the moderate evangelical leader said.
Fellow signer Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, also felt Cizik's resignation was a "loss" and is "sorry" the evangelical leader will no longer be NAE's vice president.
But he said he has "no real worries" that the NAE will abandon its broader agenda with Cizik no longer at the organization. He pointed out that the "For the Health of the Nation" statement was unanimously passed by the NAE board of directors.
"There's certainly some voices around, like Dr. Dobson who tried to get him fired a year and a half ago - who would like it to focus on what he calls the moral issues of our time, and that's abortion and marriage and sexuality," said Sider. "But that's not what the NAE thinks and that's not what I think the vast majority of NAE board members think.
"So I'm not worried it will revert to the earlier position of somebody like Dr. Dobson."
In an NPR interview on Dec. 2, Cizik stated his support for homosexual civil unions but said he does not support redefining marriage.
He also revealed that he voted for now President-elect Barack Obama in the Virginia primary, implying that he voted for him in the general election. Cizik said pro-life Christians, especially younger faith voters, are looking at more than the abortion issue when they cast their vote. Many Christian voters may be against abortion, but could still find reason to support an abortion rights candidate based on other qualities and positions.
On the Web: www.wholegospelagenda.com