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Religious Tolerance logo

Gay conflicts within the National Association of Evangelicals

2008: Vice-president Richard Cizik resigns

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About Rev. Cizik:

Rev. Cizik was the vice-president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). He had been active in Washington DC for almost three decades where he communicated evangelical concerns to government leaders. However, in recent years he has become a controversial figure because he has been advocating that the NEA and evangelicals generally broaden their political activities.

In the past, these have been almost entirely concentrated on two hot-button issues:

Cizik had advocated a broader agenda including adding such topics as: concerns over health care coverage, alleviation of poverty, reducing global warming, and caring for the environment in other ways, etc. 1 In 2007, more than two dozen "old guard" conservative evangelical leaders attempted to have Cizik removed from his post because of his "relentless campaign" on global warming. 2

A pivotal radio interview:

On 2008-DEC-02 Rev. Cizik was interviewed on PBS' program Fresh Air by Terry Gross. Most of the episode concentrated on global warming and environmental concerns. However, near the start of the program, when he was asked about government recognition of loving, committed same-sex relationships he deviated from the NAE's position which is to have governments recognize such couples only as roommates, and their children -- if any -- as illegitimate and unprotected.

He said:

"I’m shifting I have to admit. In other words I would willingly say I believe in civil unions. I don’t officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don’t think. We have this tension going on in our movement between what is church-building and what is nation-building. And I lean in this spectrum at times — maybe we should concentrate on building values in our own movement. We have become so absorbed in the question of gay rights and the rest that we fail to understand the challenges and threats to marriage itself — heterosexual marriage. Maybe we need to re-evaluate this and look at it a little differently." 3,2

Rev. Cizik also volunteered information that seems to have come from Beliefnet's God-o-Meter survey of 2008-OCT:

  • 52% of young white evangelicals support either SSM or civil unions for loving, committed same-sex couples. 3,4

He also said that:

  • About 40% of young evangelical Christians know a close friend or family member who is gay.
This is from a  survey that he did not identify. This number is supported by a Pew Research Center poll in 2007-MAY. They found that:
  • 41% of Americans had a close friend of family member who is gay.
  • 39% of Protestants had such a friend or relative.
  • 31% of white evangelicals had such a friend or relative. 3,5

One would expect that more than 31% of young white evangelicals would have a close gay friend or family member; 40% sounds about right.

There appears to be a cause-and-effect relationship between these two items. When an individual befriends a a gay person, the former often abandons their hatred of homosexuality and their homophobia towards homosexuals. They begin to see them as fellow humans whose similarities are much more numerous than their differences. More sympathy towards same-sex couples to gain equal rights, privileges and protections for themselves and their children is an inevitable next step.

On an unrelated subject, Rev. Cizik also said that he favored the government supplying contraceptives to reduce unintended pregnancies and thus reduce the number of abortions.

NAE's position against same-sex marriage and civil unions:

The NAE's issued a statement in 2004 titled, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Public Engagement." It defines many of its policies and positions.

The document defines marriage as "a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman."

It continues:

"... Good family life is so important to healthy human functioning that we oppose government efforts to trespass on its territory: whether by encroaching on parental responsibilities to educate their children, by treating other kinds of households as the family's social and legal equivalent, or by creating economic disincentives to marriage. ... We also oppose innovations such as same-sex 'marriage,' ... We also oppose the expansion of '[human] rights talk' to encompass so-called rights such as 'same-sex marriage' or 'the right to die'." 6

In this document, they followed the near universal evangelical convention of enclosing the word marriage in quotation marks when it refers to same-sex marriage -- as in "same-sex 'marriage'." They appear to do this in order to denigrate the relationships of loving, committed same-sex couples.

Reactions to the Fresh Air interview:

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission holds a position in the SBC similar to Cizik's in the NAE . He said:

"I was stunned when I heard it. I was momentarily speechless, and for me, that’s quite a feat. ... [As spokesmen], we’re not hired to express our personal opinions. Clearly, under Rich’s leadership in Washington, the NAE has increasingly taken positions that have been nontraditional positions for the NAE."

An article in the leading American evangelical magazine Christianity Today published some of Rev. Cizik's statement on SSM and civil unions. Two comments posted by readers of the article illustrate a diversity of belief among evangelicals:

  • "Dale" wrote:
    "Ok it is time to look at what marriage is and what it is not. What marriage is is a religious institution ordained by God. It is also cultural, acceptable and valued outside the Christian experiences. It is not a State right or responsibility. The State is setup to only choose to recognize the religious union. In many countries people get married in the church institution of their choosing and then apply for some sort of license of a civil union. The easy way to take care of the problem is for us to encourage the State to develop some sort of legal civil 'family' union (and they would be allowed to recognize what the church unites) and allow the church (religious institution) to have control over whom they choose to join I in holy matrimony. Please remember we are not a Theocracy, we (as the USA) may have been designed on religious principles but we are a Republic Democratic and were never designed to be a Theocracy. Only a Theocracy could mandate a State Religious Marriage System. I do not believe we want to be a Theocracy, that would open up a whole new can of worms, nor is that God's plan for us on this side. Let the Church do their part and the State do Theirs. Think about it."
  • "SReed" wrote:
    "If this is the way Mr. Cizik now believes, it is just as well that he leave NAE and let someone takeover who has not become 'of the world.' In his answer about gay marriage and civil unions he says, 'I’m always looking for ways to reframe issues, give the biblical point of view a different slant, if you will, and look it, we have to. The whole world, literally, the planet is changing around us, and if you don’t change the way you think and adapt ... you may ultimately be a loser' ..."

    "He doesn't just give the biblical point of view a different slant, but instead he abandons it altogether. Jesus said that the world would hate us if we followed Him, if we stood by scripture, but I would rather do this and lose some battles than to unconditionally surrender to those who hate us. He points out that we Christians need to examine divorce and traditional marriage (so true) but that doesn't make homosexual relationships right in any way. I wish Mr. Cizik well, but pray that he rethinks his positions." 2

Cizik leaves the NAE:

Cizik resigned from the NAE, on the evening of DEC-10, effective the next day.

Leith Anderson, president of the NAE wrote to board members on DEC-11

"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 constituencies. ... "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."

Charles Colson, Watergate felon, a recipient of a Presidential Citizens Medal in the week following Cizik's resignation, 7 and the founder of Prison Fellowship said:

"For better or for worse, Rich became a great, polarizing figure. He was gradually, over a period of time, separating himself from the mainstream of evangelical belief and conviction. So I'm not surprised. I'm sorry for him, but I'm not disappointed for the evangelical movement."


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Top evangelical leader resigns over gay unions remarks," ReligionNewsBlog, 2008-DEC-12, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  2. Sarah Pulliam, "Richard Cizik Resigns from the National Association of Evangelicals; Cizik’s resignation comes after he said he was shifting on same-sex unions," Christianity Today, 2008-DEC-11, at: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/
  3. "Rev Richard Cizik on God and global warming," NPR's Fresh Air program, 2008-DEC-02, at: http://www.npr.org/ The data comes about 4 minutes, 10 seconds into the program.
  4. Dan Gilgoff, "Younger Evangelicals More Progressive on Issues. On Candidates, Not So Much," Beliefnet, 2008-OCT-09, at: http://blog.beliefnet.com/
  5. Shawn Neidorf & Rich Morin, "Four-in-Ten Americans Have Close Friends or Relatives Who are Gay. Survey finds Familiarity Is Closely Linked to Greater Tolerance, Pew Research Center. 2007-MAY-23, at: http://pewresearch.org/
  6. "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," Pages 7, 8, and 10, NAE, 2004, at: http://www.nae.net/  This is a PDF file.
  7. Bill Berkowitz, "The Fallen Have Risen: Charles Colson honored by White House," Scoop independent news, 2008-DEC-15, at: http://www.scoop.co.nz/

Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > News > here

Copyright © 2008 by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-DEC-23
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-23
Compiler: B.A. Robinson

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