With the resignation of Richard Cizik as vice president for government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, we have one more reason why many of us are calling ourselves Red Letter Christians instead of evangelicals. We hold to the same high view of scripture as evangelicals do. We believe in the doctrines of the Apostles' Creed and contend that salvation comes only through a personal relationship with the crucified and resurrected Christ, but we find that the name "evangelical" is too closely identified with the Religious Right. The requested resignation of Richard Cizik is an indication of what we are talking about.
Newsweek magazine noted that Cizik's removal from a major role in the NAE leadership was a victory for the Religious Right, which had long been displeased with Cizik because of his strong advocacy of environmentalism. But the immediate justification for the call for his firing was remarks he made on National Public Radio related to civil unions for gays and lesbians.
While supporting the belief that these unions not be called "marriages," he said that he was rethinking his ideas about civil unions for homosexuals. He was in favor of guaranteeing the same rights for gays and lesbians that married couples presently enjoy. Backing up his beliefs was the fact that he signed on for support of Proposition 8 in California, which required the state's constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Cizik, in retrospect, considered his remarks on NPR inappropriate and not representative of the convictions and the general beliefs of the NAE constituency. He asked for forgiveness, but he was asked to resign anyway. This is what disturbed those of us who are Red Letter Christians. We believe that the red letters of the Bible are filled with calls to forgive and to restore those who make mistakes.
Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but it seems to me that the Religious Right was out to silence the voice of a moderate, and that the leadership of the NAE too readily capitulated to a few strong voices who called for Cizik's demise.
We want Richard Cizik to know that, whether he wants to join us or not, we Red Letter Christians are more than ready to welcome him into our ranks. He's an effective and articulate voice that Christendom very much needs.
Tony Campolo is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE) and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.