Richard Cizik, ex-vice president of the nation's largest evangelical body, is a "real hero" and "pioneer" in the "new evangelical" movement, said a progressive, left-leaning evangelical leader in response to Cizik's resignation this week.
Jim Wallis, founder and president of the Christian social justice ministry Sojourners, praised Cizik for putting creation care and climate change among the priorities of the evangelical movement, and for broadening the group's agenda to include global poverty, human trafficking, religious liberty, the genocide in Darfur, and foreign policy issues like torture and nuclear weapons.
"Rich Cizik has been a pioneer in the 'new evangelical' movement and a real hero, especially to the next generation of young believers," said Wallis in a statement Friday.
"The agenda of the evangelical world is deeper and wider because of Rich Cizik," he added.
Cizik resigned this week over controversies involving remarks he made on abortion and same-sex civil unions during an interview with National Public Radio. He said that a pro-life Christian could still find reason to support an abortion rights candidate, and admitted he voted for now President-elect Barack Obama in the Virginia primary.
But perhaps his most provocative comments were his belief in homosexual civil unions - which the majority of NAE constituents are against – and that he is "shifting" on the issue of gay marriage.
Following the interview broadcast, conservative Christians as well as NAE members and constituents raised concerns that Cizik was not speaking for them despite his role as the evangelical spokesman.
Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, discussed the situation with Cizik and the two decided it was in the best interest of the organization for Cizik to resign as the group's vice president.
"Richard responded to questions and made statements that did not appropriately represent the values and convictions of NAE and our constituents," Anderson wrote in the letter to the group's board of directors. "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."
Cizik's resignation was effective Thursday.
"All of this is very sad for many reasons. Rich has served the NAE, the evangelical movement, the wider church, and the wider world in such a dynamic, creative, and courageous way for 28 years, and for that to end over the words of an interview is sad indeed," Wallis responded.
The progressive evangelical leader - considered by many the face of the Christian left - said that while Cizik will not be part of the religious left he will continue to be a leader of a new emerging faith coalition – the evangelical center.
"Pioneers sometimes get into trouble and even pay a price for their explorations into new territories," the Sojourners president commented. "But in the new moral center that is now visible, Rich's prophetic voice and leadership will continue to be heard and felt."
Christian leaders who approved of Cizik's resignation also wished him well in his future endeavors, noting his contribution to the visibility of evangelicals in media and politics.