Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Letter to Leith Anderson of the NAE

Late last week, Richard Cizik resigned as the Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) after 28 years of distinguished service. Richard is a man of great courage who embraces a broad, whole gospel agenda. Because of his hard work, issues like creation care, social justice, human rights and poverty became a part of the evangelical platform. Richard was a unifier and a personal friend.

Unfortunately, in Cizik's December 2nd interview with National Public Radio, he placed himself at variance with long-held NAE platforms--most notably, same sex civil unions. Though Rich said he had not changed his mind about traditional marriage, he was "shifting" on the idea of civil unions. Open mouth, insert foot.

Regardless of your position on this issue, you have to understand why Cizik resigned (or was forced to resign, it seems). The NAE must be allowed to require someone serving in such a critical role to speak in harmony with the stated agenda of both NAE and its membership. If Cizik had decided that he was shifting on the abortion issue, the reaction from NAE would have been identical and justifiable. As sad as it is, that's not the end of the story. 

After Cizik resigned, several media outlets including Baptist Press, which is basically the public relations department at the national office of the Southern Baptist Convention, ignored nearly 30 years of Cizik's notable service and instead ran stories calling him controversial and divisive. That isn't so bad when you consider that some on the right have actually called him "Satan's minion" for his strong environmental stance. 

This was a sad development for many reasons, including the message it sends to the world. As someone once told me, "Christians are the only animals who kill their own wounded." Richard Cizik is undoubtedly hurting, and though we must respect the decision made by NAE, our goals as his brothers and sisters should not be to further beat him down. 

It was in response to this and in an effort to see the continuance of Richard's work on a broad range of moral issues that over 50 evangelicals including myself wrote a public letter to Leith Anderson, President of the NAE. Signatories to this letter were from both the right and left; they were both democrats and conservatives; they were both young and more established. Other signatories included Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project, Lynne Hybels of Willowcreek Community Church, Brian McLaren, David Gushee, and Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary

Our letter supports the right of the NAE to appoint spokespersons who support their stated platforms, celebrates Cizik's 28 years of faithful service, and encourages NAE to select a replacement "who will carry out Richard's vision of a broad Christian moral agenda" including the sanctity of life and compassion for the least of these.  

If you too want to sign this letter, you can do so at WholeGospelAgenda.org.

What do you think? Do you think NAE made a good decision? Do you support a broad moral agenda as described in this letter? What do you think about civil unions?


Susan C. said...

I really want to comment, but I need to think more about exactly how I want to phrase my response. You surprise me, but then you don't.

Jonathan Merritt said...


I am interested to hear what you have to say, and I hope you are healing well from your surgery.


Zack said...

While I will not in the least bit hesitate to jump on the SBC for their often stupid (for lack of a better word) actions, I will in this case jump to their defense and say that the Baptist Press article referenced in this blog does not appear as controversial or mean-spirited as you would make it seem.

The simple fact is that Cizik's resignation was predicated, at least in part, on the controversial stances he has taken in recent years. Had he not advocated (or at least personally endorsed) certain positions, I suspect he would not have resigned, and there would have been articles to write about.

With regard to the Baptist Press article: while the article did label Cizik as "controversial," this label was qualified by the fact that he was controversial "among conservative evangelicals" in "recent years" for "controversial comments." And though Cizik "crossed the line," he crossed the line within "the NEA."

Finally, the article is closed with the following endorsement from the IRD, "We wish Cizik well and known that his long history of service to Evangelicals in Washington, DC will have laid the groundwork for many opportunities. Specifically, the IRD commends Cizik for his partnership on global religious liberty issues."

Don't get me wrong---I'm not criticizing your post in general. All I'm saying is that, in this particular instance, the SBC article appears to be a fairly written article addressing the issue at the heart of the resignation.

Though I was not alive at the time, I doubt that, the day after President Nixon's resignation, few articles around the country were running stories about how he opened up relations with China.

Don't worry, the SBC will screw up again anytime soon, likely before the day's end. Perhaps, in this instance, however, you could've referenced to some of the worst articles you alluded to. That article just didn't seem to be that controversial.

Zack said...

And before anyone jumps on the Nixon comment, let me add this: I am in no way equivocating Nixon's criminal actions to Cizik's comments. I was simply pointing out the fact that the current articles about Cizik are merely a reflection of the news story about him. Had he never made controversial comments and had merely retired years down the road due to old age or infirmity, I suppose the articles would've have been vastly different.

Jonathan Merritt said...


Good post and good comments. You are probably right. The BP article is not so slanted as their usual stories are. The comment about BP ran deeper than this post and should have been qualified. Baptist Press, and I may just collect stories and write on it one day, has tipped its hand as a slanted, bias mouthpiece for the SBC corporate office. While this article was not particularly heinous, you would NEVER see an article telling the other side of the story on Baptist Press' site. I guarantee you (and I say this from experience) that if I called Will Hall today about writing an op-ed or sharing a perspective at variance with this story or others, it would be summarily ignored.

All that to say, you are right. The Baptist Press article is not so bad. I have changed the post to reflect that, and I think it reads more fairly.



Zack said...

Oh you're definitely right: The Baptist Press isn't exactly the most balanced journalistic outlet, but then again, I don't know if they actually put themselves out to be otherwise.

Good post. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

the government should stay out of marriage all together.

Politically, I believe legal (civil) unions by each state should be allowed according to the constitution of any state and the US constitution. The US constitution does not allow the federal government to make a ruling one way or the other on the issue.

Marriage, in my opinion, should be left only to the church. They are extensively different in point and purpose from unions. Should a church dare say they will grant a homosexual couple marriage – then so be it within that church and we (the people and government) should let judgment up to whatever god that church would claim to be serving.

Unions are a contract relationship (sometimes also considered a treaty). And those who want to go into a contract relationship can do that. If the issue for homosexual "marriage" is argued, it is argued more for tax and other financial reasons than anything else. And a contract should grant those privileges. Scripturally - those arguments have no influence.

Marriage is a covenant relationship. Those who have the desire to be in a covenant relationship should first of all, know what that means. And, secondly know how it is vastly different than a contract (union) relationship.

Why were common-law marriages outlawed in most states? I don’t know. And what about Betrothal - I still think that's a good idea and should be allowed as well.

A contract relationship asks the parties involved to follow points outlined in the contract, and if you don’t live up to those established and pre-agreed on points, the contract is null and void.

A marriage covenant (based on scripture) is not looked at in the same sense as a union because it is not based on a contract agreement. A covenant marriage relationship is not based on what I need or what the other party needs. It is based on what I say I will do regardless if the other party keeps up their end (those vows that people say and many forget by the time the reception begins). In sickness and in health, better of worse, etc etc. That means, whatever the circumstances arise I promise that I will keep this promise and stay committed to the promise that I have made to you. No matter if you cheat on me, become an alcoholic or just plain lazy. I will be the mature one and do what needs to be done to make the covenant work. A union contract, if any of the "shortcomings" occur to either side, either party can eradicate the contract.

God made a covenant with His people in scripture - He has kept and will continue to keep His promise even though we, His people, have failed miserably to keep our "end of the deal" - His promise and covenant will still stand. That is the difference between the Biblical understanding of marriage covenant and the American understanding of marriage.

I, personally, would like to see more unions in America and a whole lot fewer marriages. I would like to limit marriage to those who actually have the passion, integrity, maturity, understanding and desire to keep their covenant promises.

Marriage and Unions in our sedated culture do in essence by law carry the same ends. But, a true understanding of marriage is in fact not a contract - whereas if demands are not met the contract is void. What I was trying to show is that in the covenant it is not contingent upon those 'demands' being met, but rather the commitment to the promise. To really be able to explain this in completeness, we would have to walk through much of the scripture of the Christian Bible because the revelation of marriage as a covenant is fully understood upon seeing the fulfillment of the physical aspects expressed in the law and history with the manifestation of the Mashiach in ‘the end of times’.

Our culture has watered down the covenant of marriage to make it seem to be nothing more than a meaningless paper contract that can be voided, a union. It matters not what the law says about my marriage, to me, that's irrelevant. I don't even care if the law would recognize my marriage, that's not what is important to me. What is important to me is that our marriage is a manifestation, in the physical, of the covenant promise the God has made with His people through His Son, Jesus.

Our culture has limited the marriage covenant to a contract state, which diminishes its purpose.

According to Christ, homosexuality is wrong. But, I have not been instructed to condemn those who live in such a way. Regarding unions and marriage: I don't think the state should be granting marriages at all, because the state is to keep itself separate from the Church (at least they say that when it's popular to be separate). The state should grant unions to whom-ever requests a union, because a union can be made void. (Implying that a covenant marriage can not).

In reality…if one man should want to have a union with another man, then let him or a woman with a woman, a man with his dog, a man with 3 women, whatever…since the state is a civil group, for the people, they should have to authority to do so. Sure that doesn't align with what is taught in the Christian faith, but that's not for the government of man to decide.

The Church however, is not for the people - it is for The Lord and should be motivated by and representative of Him, not in condemnation but in life giving. Not acceptance and tolerance, but forgiveness and leadership.

I don't understand the terms "gay rights"…

Regarding rights…There is no right that has been granted by the governments and laws of man that will not be taken from me, and for those rights - I will not fight - as they are but fleeting. My rights come from the Lord that which no man can take from me, (also here). For I know where and in whom my authority is governed. And there is no amount of "rational" thinking or tangible evidence that will disprove or convince me otherwise.

About the SBC, or the NAE - I don't really have an opinion on that at all...they have little to no influence or value to me anyway....

Jonathan Merritt said...


There is clearly a religious and civil component to marriage. Even the most ardent libertarian wouldn't oppose tax benefits for married couples. There is no biblical support for restricting such a thing. So even though marriage is primarily a spiritual institution, you cannot deny the government the ability to offer a civil incentive for healthy marriage relationships that contribute to the common good of our society.


Jonathan Merritt said...


The problem with Baptist Press is not what it is, but what it is with regard to what it once was. At one time, Baptist Press was a solid and credible news organization, but one of the few negative fallouts of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention was that loss of credibility. In 1988, Ed Briggs, who was the President of the Religious Newswriters Association, sent a letter to the chair of the SBC executive committee. The letter commended Baptist Press as a historically reputable news organization, but when on to warn against the trend of biased, slanted and apologetical reporting: "We are concerned any time efforts are made to stifle freedom of expression and place restrictions and limitations on news organizations," he wrote.

That is what is sad. What was once a nationally-respected news organization is now merely a PR department for a denomination with an image problem. Sad indeed.


Anonymous said...

I agree Jonathan...If the government should want to offer a civil incentive for healthy marriage relationships that's fine...

It matters not in the light of God's Kingdom (ever increasing without end).

The problem I see is that we consider marriage to be a voidable contract...(even more so in the church these days).

In regard however to the government incentives - that's not a matter for me at all - If they want to or not - to either hetero or homosexual relationships. If the government wants to "acknowledge" a homosexual relationship and give them the same benefits as a hetero relationship - that's fine with me. It makes no difference.

The governments and laws of man have no influence over my marriage....and when they should decide to remove the "law" from my marriage - I will still be married, for it matters not what the government would issue or institute.

Jonathan Merritt said...


Again, we must not blur the civil with the spiritual. Marriage is a spiritual covenant that cannot be broken, except perhaps in a few cases. It can be nullified from a civil perspective only. From a spiritual perspective, it doesn't matter how we view marriage. It matters how God sees it. And he sees it as permanent.


Anonymous said...

It matters how God sees it. And He sees it as permanent.

That's precisely what I am saying...

Culture (civil) does not see marriage in this way. Our culture sees marriage just as a union.

There in lies an issue I believe that has ensnared much of our modern a-moralized, desensitized, western-theology - we too often separate things into secular and sacred - civil and spiritual.

Jesus is Lord of ALL...

Katie Corbett said...

I am torn in my opinion on gay marriage and civil unions as an American and as a Christian...As an american (and a history teacher), I can't help but think that denying this right to all people is going against Thomas Jefferson's words in our Declaration of Independence. My
6th graders can tell you that each of us has 3 "unalienable rights" to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...so in my civic opinion denying people the right to live in happiness, or at least their percieved happiness violates this basic right.

On the other hand, as a christian woman I know the heart of God is breaking over the sin in our country...but not just over homosexuality. God is crying out of us to take care of the poor, and the orphaned, to care for his earth, to stop talking behind each other's backs and to get bold w/ his Gospel...these are all sins, that most of us are guilty of...but I'm not gay so i'm ok.

Honestly I am not sure if I am for civil unions or not. What I am sure of is that God is no more displeased with a person who mistreats another human being than he is with someone who is gay.

cara harjes said...

the issue of civil unions is an interesting one. it was on the ballots here in colorado a few years ago. my husband and i spent a lot of time going round and round on the issue - really trying to make the best choice.

our vote, as christians, regarding civil unions is not so black and white. what makes me sad is that many make their choice at face value - an adament NO - because it deals with homosexuality. this issue is NOT black and white. there are so many levels of gray, it is like spending a day walking the foggy streets of seattle! it is not as simple as saying "god is against homosexual relationships, so i HAVE to vote no on this issue". hopefully, we will consider the other issues involved here that are VERY important to god.

there was a lot involved and the implications of a vote either way were complex. we considered that having your loved one by your side while dying in a hosptal might be something god would want for everyone - even if the choice in loved one grieved him.

i think a child who was adopted by one gay parent that dies should not be taken away from the other one because they are not legally theirs - even though they have known that person as parent their entire lives. orphans grieve god. and those parents were going to be gay and live together whether or not i voted for civil unions.

the thing is, people are making choices regardless of my morals and values. so, i have to make my choices and cast my votes in light of what people ARE doing and not what i WISH they WERE doing.

cara harjes (friend of levon hd)