Some of you may remember what happened to Richard Cizik. He was the vice-president for governmental relations at the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). In an interview with the National Public Radio program “Fresh Air,” he said that he could support civil unions for gays and lesbians. The NAE was not yet ready for one of its leaders to adopt such a position and they promptly fired Cizik. Known best for his call to evangelicals to embrace climate change and creation care, Cizik now runs an organization called the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (NEP).
Over at Religion & Politics, Cizik tells his side of the story about what happened after twenty-eight years of working for the NAE. Here is a taste:
Perhaps most offensive to the board of the National Association of Evangelicals, which had given speaking platforms for Republican candidates for the presidency going back to Ronald Reagan, and whose officials I had joined for election campaigns for these Republican candidates, was that I said I had voted for candidate Barack Obama in the Virginia primary (against Hillary Clinton) for the presidency. Implied, of course, was that I had voted for Obama in the general election of 2008. And Barack Obama is a Democrat.
The impacts were felt personally and professionally. It prompted the president of Houghton College to write and cancel my graduation speech. It prompted Denver Seminary, where I had graduated, to drop me from the Advisory Board of the Grounds Institute of Public Ethics. It prompted the head of a family ministry, Marriage Savers, which I had served as a board member, to call me and tell me, “We’re dropping you from the board of directors.”
Sadly, it prompted friends and colleagues to shun me and no longer inquire about my health and well-being. Even our friends from church, where we had attended faithfully for a decade, didn’t understand.
A poll by America On Line (AOL) asked its readers to weigh in on this question: “Did the National Association of Evangelicals do the right thing in firing Richard Cizik?” Nearly 50,000 cast ballots. By a slim majority the consensus was “yes.”
So who’s to blame? I had lived on the edge of American evangelicalism, speaking out on the need to broaden the movement’s agenda to include issues such as climate change, and, if you will pardon the flat-Earth imagery, tumbled over the edge.
While I didn’t represent the NAE in the interview with Bose-like fidelity, I did represent millions of evangelicals—especially the younger ones. Friends such as Dr. David Gushee at Mercer University and Katie Paris of Faith in Public Life posted a website where one hundred evangelical leaders signed a letter affirming my ministry and principles, and the need for the Association to carry on with these principles.