Interview: NAE President Leith Anderson on Richard Cizik's Resignation
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?
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.
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.