The Rev. Richard Cizik, the longtime lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in Washington, D.C., lost his job last month after he told a radio interviewer he supports civil unions for same-sex couples.
During a Dec. 2 interview with National Public Radio’s Terry Gross on the show “Fresh Air,” Cizik said his views on civil unions have evolved over the years.
“I’m shifting, I have to admit,” Cizik said when asked about civil unions. “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.”
During the interview, Cizik also criticized Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin over her views on global warming, opined that hard-line evangelicals are hurting the Republican Party and expressed support for government distribution of contraceptives as a means of reducing the number of abortions.
It was Cizik’s comments on same-sex unions, however, that sparked a firestorm of opposition. Religious Right groups immediately began calling for his resignation. Under pressure, NAE President Leith Anderson acquiesced.
Cizik apologized for the comments, but it was not enough. Anderson issued a statement saying Cizik had decided to resign.
“He and I have recently met together and mutually concluded that his resignation is a difficult but appropriate decision,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s statement went on to say that during the interview, “Richard responded to questions and made statements that did not appropriately represent the values and convictions of NAE and our constituents. 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.”
Anderson stressed that the group still opposes civil unions, writing, “our NAE stand on marriage, abortion and other biblical values is long, clear and unchanged.”
This was not the first time Cizik has run afoul of the Religious Right. In the spring of 2007, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association and others wrote to Anderson and demanded that Cizik be fired because of his stance on climate change. (Cizik had been urging evangelicals to take the issue more seriously.)
Anderson rebuffed those calls, pointing out that none of those organizations is a member of the NAE.
Founded in 1942, the NAE represents 45,000 churches and 50 denominations. Cizik, who held the position of vice president of governmental affairs, had worked there for 28 years.