Evangelical Lobbyist Resigns Over Comment Backing Gay Unions

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008

A prominent evangelical lobbyist resigned yesterday over his remarks in a National Public Radio interview, in which he said he supports permitting same-sex civil unions.

The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), later apologized for the remark, said the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the 30 million-member organization.

But, Anderson said, "he lost the leadership's confidence as spokesman, and that's hard to regain."

Asked by Terry Gross in a Dec. 2 interview on NPR's Fresh Air whether he had changed his position on same-sex marriage, Cizik responded: "I'm shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. . . . 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 reevaluate this and look at it a little differently."

The remark, anathema to most evangelical Christians, who believe that the Bible permits marriage only between a man and a woman, caused an uproar in the group and in other evangelical organizations.

Cizik did not return calls. Anderson said he met with Cizik on Wednesday at Anderson's Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn. Cizik's decision to resign was "reluctantly mutual," said Anderson, "by that I mean from me as well as from him."

This isn't the first time that Cizik has offended evangelicals, particularly conservatives. In recent years, he has taken a leadership role in the growing religious movement to curb global warming, calling it "an offense against God."

More than two dozen evangelical leaders -- including James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council -- complained in a letter last year to the NAE leadership that Cizik was "using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time," which they defined as abortion, homosexuality and sexual morality.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Cizik's beliefs had diverged too far from those of the NAE membership.

"There's been some concern from the constituents that he was at least some distance from where the constituency was, but this is a whole different order of magnitude for his constituency on the gay-marriage issues -- it's a mega-issue," he said.

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