Richard Cizik resigned today as vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals after he told National Public Radio that he is shifting his views on same-sex unions. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, explained the turn of events to Christianity Today.

Was Cizik asked to resign?

There was a discussion and a consensus that his credibility as spokesperson for the NAE was irreparably compromised. It was out of reporting that discussion to Richard Cizik that he and I discussed together and mutually concluded that his resignation was appropriate.

What exactly in NPR's Fresh Air interview caused concern?

His role as a spokesperson is to advocate for NAE's values and positions, and that did not appropriately come through in what he said or the way he said it, and it was on several fronts.

Cizik said in the interview, "I'm shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think." Is that the part that caused concern?

What you're asking for is specifics, and I don't think that our discussion was primarily parsing words. It was whether or not he in this interview adequately was a representative for NAE and our constituency, and the conclusion was that he was not. The NAE's position on gay marriage is not shifting. And we are not advocates for civil unions, although many evangelicals recognize the reality that civil unions have become law in many states. But we're not advocating for them.

Most of the interview was about the environment.

It was not the part about the environment. As far as the environment is concerned, NAE, in its "For the Health of the Nation" statement, clearly says that creation care is one of the values that we do espouse.

Cizik has also been criticized for telling NPR that he voted for Barack Obama in the primary. Was that also a concern for the NAE?

Generally in America, people don't say whom they vote for. I think in listening to the interview, it seemed to me that [Fresh Air host] Terry Gross was surprised that he said whom he voted for. And he declined to say whom he voted for in the general election. But for NAE and all of us who seek to be a bipartisan voice, it's generally not in our best interests to declare whom we vote for.

Did he say something in that interview that NAE doesn't support? For instance, is there anywhere in the NAE documents that says the NAE doesn't support civil unions?

Article continues below

I don't know off the top of my head, because [civil unions are] a relatively recent phenomenon. We have had resolutions passed that have clearly declared that our understanding of biblical marriage is one man to one woman. I think … that 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.

He also said in the interview that he would support the government providing contraception. Do you know where the NAE stands on that?

I don't recall that the NAE has ever adopted a specific position on that. What we have strongly spoken to is that abortion on demand is not moral, it is not right, and it should not be legal. We have not weighed out a political or other plan for ways of doing that, except we would call people to not have abortions, to abstain from illicit sex, and to value lives.

In the interview, did he misrepresent himself, or did he misrepresent the NAE?

In my conversations, he did not appropriately represent the NAE or our constituents, nor did he clearly represent his own views. I'm sure there are those who perceive that he did clearly present his own views, but my understanding is he wishes he could do this over again, and if he could do it over again, he would choose different words and would communicate a different message than [what] has been understood.

Cizik has been a strong advocate for creation care and has gone into specifics about whether global warming is manmade and issues like that. Some have said he hasn't been representative of the constituency on that front. What would be your response?

"For the Health of the Nation" does state that creation care is one of our priorities. It does not state in that document that we have a specific position, because we don't, on global warming or emissions. So he has spoken as an individual on that. However, to most of our constituents, marriage and related moral issues are of greater importance and significance than specific stances on the climate.

This came up in 2007, when several evangelicals called for his resignation because of his "relentless campaign" against global warming. How is this time different? Would the complaints from this interview have been enough without earlier pressure from those individuals?

I think there are some differences. The event two years ago was not from NAE members or constituents. This time, there has been concern expressed from those who are from member constituents that have made clear that they are not comfortable with him representing NAE values and positions.

Article continues below

Did any members pull out after this interview?

I don't really know. This is all a week ago, so you know people come and go all the time, so I don't really know the answer to that.

Did any members threaten to pull out because of this interview?

We get hundreds of e-mails all the time, so it is possible that someone did. I don't recall anyone specifically saying to me, or anything that I read saying that they would withdraw membership in the NAE specifically because of the interview. Somebody probably did, but I can't tell you who it is.

Did complaints increase after this particular interview?

E-mails rise and fall; there are days when you get many and there are days when you get none. I don't really know the numbers compared to other times, but I would say there were a large number of e-mails that came from listeners.

I think the consensus of the executive committee was that he did not appropriately represent us. And if he did not appropriately represent NAE, then he has lost credibility as a spokesperson. That has implications [for] the future that are unknown but are important. And out of that came the conclusion in my discussion with Richard Cizik that resignation is best, although a difficult, choice.

Will the NAE take a new direction after this?

Of course, we'll take some new direction on something I don't know anything about yet. But is there some intended redefinition of who we are and what we're going to do? There isn't. I consider that the NAE goes back to 1942. We have been on a similar path with the same beliefs for the entire history of NAE. What we are is primarily an organization of churches and church-related organizations. We are not primarily a political entity. So the backbone of NAE is our 50-plus denominations, and that's a large part of who we are and what we do.

Will you try to fill his role right away?

I think I need to get through today first. It's also important to realize that Richard Cizik has been on the staff of NAE for 28 years and has done great good over that period of time. We want to acknowledge and celebrate that, and not primarily focus on his conclusion of this position. There's a long list of significant accomplishments that he has had on behalf of NAE and evangelicals over a very long period of time.

President of Family Research Council Tony Perkins wrote in a blog post that the lesson of this is to beware of environmentalism. He wrote, "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." Does Cizik's apparent wavering on gay unions confirm the notion in many minds that to embrace creation care is a step toward liberalism?

Article continues below

It's a connection I wouldn't have made. I wouldn't choose the word environmentalism; what we choose to use is the terminology creation care, which is rooted in the Bible. As Christians, we are responsible to God to care for his creation. There may be conflicting views of how that's done, but biblical responsibility is clear.

This will likely raise questions about the reputation of the NAE, both inside and outside the evangelical movement. We still see stories about Ted Haggard. How much does it hurt to have another high-profile staff person leave?

I'm saddened by this, and it's personally painful. I think the long-term credibility of NAE is in our denominations, our members, and our doctrinal statement. That core of who we are is in the NAE doctrinal position, and that has never changed and won't change, so that's not hurt or changed or changeable.

Do you think this raises questions of whether one person can speak for such a diverse group politically, when evangelicalism is not a political group per se?

NAE does not speak for all evangelicals in America. We are an association that seeks to speak for and reflect the values of our membership, and there are millions of evangelicals who are in churches and denominations and associations that are beyond NAE. So in answer to your question, can one person speak for everybody? Obviously not.

Has the rise of the Religious Right made it more difficult for the NAE to try to represent evangelicals?

I don't know. I've never thought about that.

Do you think that people in the Religious Right will see his resignation as their own victory since many of them called for his resignation a while ago?

I have no idea how they'll see it. What I'm concerned about, and what our leadership is concerned about, is that we adequately and strongly voice our values. That's what we're concerned about. We're not concerned about the agenda of those who are not members of NAE.

This week, gay-marriage advocates are attacking Cizik for signing on to an ad that supports the Mormon Church in its work on California's Proposition 8. It sounds like Cizik has been attacked from both sides for 28 years.

Article continues below

That ad reflects where he's coming from when it wasn't the intensity of an interview. Sometimes he just thinks and talks at the same time, and when you're addressing a national audience, that doesn't work well. He's had much higher visibility in recent years.

I know you mentioned his accomplishments, but how has he raised the profile of the NAE and evangelicals?

There's a sense in which he has raised the profile of the NAE, and the NAE has raised the profile of Richard Cizik. That's in part because we're an old organization that has a large evangelical constituency at a time when evangelicals are a very important part of American life.

It seems like the NAE's focus has been to bring evangelicals together to speak on political issues such as creation care and torture and other issues. Does this situation call into question whether the NAE has become too political in the last decade or so?

In our last board meeting, we had a major presentation related to mental and moral health for clergy. The year before, we brought in an expert about church health and church growth. None of those things made news stories, but those are things that we are constantly doing.

In a general election year especially, the interest goes to what is happening in the political scene. Because evangelicals have been a major influence on American culture, obviously there's an interest in this. But it's a misunderstanding of who we are to neglect the core of our beliefs and issues of the church and faith. It would be enormously helpful if people could understand that what we are about is the Bible and personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today also posted a news story with this interview. Please see our special section for more on the National Association of Evangelicals.