NAE VP Resigns after Culture War Controversy

Long-time evangelical lobbyist Richard Cizik has resigned as the vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, the group announced Thursday.

After nearly three decades at the helm of the NAE's political arm, Cizik has decided to leave the organization after a storm of controversy enshrouded him following remarks he made about abortion and gay marriage in a recent interview.

NAE President Leith Anderson explained, in a letter to the group's board of directors, that Cizik in the interview had "responded to questions and made statements that did not appropriately represent the values and convictions of NAE and our constituents."

Although Cizik later expressed regret, apologized, and affirmed the NAE's values, there was "a loss of trust in his credibility as a spokesperson among leaders and constituents," Anderson wrote.

"[B]ecause Richard traveled to a previously scheduled international conference in Europe shortly after the airing of the broadcast it was not possible to meet with him until his return," the NAE president explained. "He and I have recently met together and mutually concluded that his resignation is a difficult but appropriate decision."

In a National Public Radio (NPR) interview last week, Cizik 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.

He also conceded to believe in homosexual civil unions, which the overwhelming majority of NAE constituencies do not support. Regarding gay marriage, Cizik said he currently does not support redefining marriage, but is "shifting" on the issue.

His comments sparked a firestorm of protest and criticism by pro-life, pro-traditional marriage Christians – including NAE members and constituencies - and forced the NAE president to release a letter last week reassuring the group's board of directors that Cizik has confirmed his support of NAE values and positions.

But apparently the letter was not enough to cool down the heat directed at Cizik and subsequently the NAE. Cizik resigned Wednesday night.

The former NAE VP is perhaps best known for his advocacy on climate change – a cause that has inflamed the anger of prominent conservative Christian leaders who declared that he does not speak for them and many evangelicals when he states global warming is real and mainly human-caused.

Arguing that Cizik misrepresented evangelicals, the group of prominent evangelical leaders – which included Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family - attempted to get Cizik fired, but failed in 2007.

Time magazine, however, applauded Cizik for his climate change advocacy and rewarded him by naming him as one of its top 100 most influential people in the world for 2008.

But aside from the divisive issue of climate change, Cizik has been a tireless advocate on behalf of a long and diverse list of issues during his 28-year tenure at NAE. Those issues include anti-persecution legislation, laws against human trafficking, pro-family bills, protection of children, justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable, sanctity of human life, opposition to abortion on demand, and more recently the campaign against the genocide in Darfur.

Prominent evangelical figure Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship, in response to Cizik's resignation, said:

"He was gradually, over a period of time, separating himself from the mainstream of evangelical belief and conviction. So I'm not surprised," Colson said, according to Christianity Today magazine. "I'm sorry for him, but I'm not disappointed for the evangelical movement."

Meanwhile, Mark Tooley of the conservative Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy commented:

"Both Rev. Cizik and the NAE leadership made a wise decision in his departure. Cizik had lost credibility for advocating positions that were not those of the NAE or most Evangelicals," he said.

Speaking on behalf of IRD, Tooley hopes the NAE can "now focus on theological and ethical convictions that evangelicals hold strongly in common."

Tooley added that he wishes Cizik well and expressed gratitude for his "long history of service to evangelicals" that has "laid the groundwork for many opportunities."

The National Association of Evangelicals is composed of over 50 denominations and 45,000 churches, representing about 30 million constituents. The NAE vice president's resignation is the latest leadership controversy for the organization, which was just settling down after its former president, Ted Haggard, resigned due to a drug and sex allegation scandal in 2006.

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