AUGUSTA, Maine — The head of the state’s conservative Christian lobbying group has stepped down after nearly 20 years with the Maine Family Policy Council, formerly the Christian Civic League of Maine.
Michael Heath, 48, of China resigned Monday to do consulting work. He said Tuesday that his first project would manufacture and distribute solar cookers in Africa.
Heath said he decided to quit after returning from a two-week trip earlier this month to the United Republic of Tanzania in central East Africa on the Indian Ocean. He accompanied his wife, Polly Heath. A Christian singer, she was invited to perform there two years ago when the couple visited neighboring Kenya.
“I’m 48 and approaching my midlife crisis,” he said in phone interview Tuesday. “I feel it’s time to do something else. I’m excited about the opportunities that are presenting themselves for consulting in board development, fundraising and other aspects of networking. People in Africa are facing a whole different set of things unrelated to the very important and critical issues I’ve worked on here.”
Heath’s decision to work on issues of poverty, sustainability and self-sufficiency in the Third World rather than on social issues at home is part of a growing trend among evangelicals. He said he would be working with Banga kwa Banga, which means Shoulder to Shoulder in Swahili.
“The board accepted Heath’s resignation yesterday during a meeting at the league headquarters building in Augusta,” Mike Hein, administrator for the organization, said Tuesday in an e-mail sent to reporters. “They expressed unanimous and strong support for [him]. Heath pledged his full support to the league.”
A replacement has not been chosen, according to the e-mail.
“No stranger to controversy, Heath is often described as a ‘lightning rod,’” Hein said in the e-mail.
Heath was credited by his adversaries with having stopped a casino from being built in Calais, according to the e-mail. He went on to tackle contentious social issues, Hein said, including opposition to adding sexual orientation to the Maine Human Rights Act and, most recently, same-sex marriage.
“He forced issues into public discussion that might not have been discussed otherwise,” the Rev. Bob Emrich, head of the Maine Jeremiah Project, said of Heath’s legacy. “He forced us to confront and discuss issues that needed to be discussed from gambling to pro-life to the attorney general’s civil rights teams to domestic partnerships to same-sex marriage.”
Emrich, 58, of Palmyra is working on the campaign to repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law. Mainers will vote Nov. 3 on the issue.
Heath said that he did not believe he would be expressing his faith any differently in his new job than he has in the past.
“I see it all as equally important and all part of being a Christian,” he said. “The difference will be when I step into culture and politics [in the new job] there will be less resistance [to what I’m doing].”
The Christian Civic League of Maine was formed in 1897.
Heath began working for the group in October 1989 as the administrative assistant. On Jan. 1, 1994, he was appointed executive director. He also oversaw the league’s transformation last year into the Maine Family Policy Council.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity my ministry [with the council] presented for growth in my faith convictions and in so many other ways,” Heath said.
As for his reputation as a lightning rod, Heath referred to an e-mail he received from a friend Tuesday — “‘Lightning rods don’t melt,’” he said.