September 8, 2017
EPPC scholars and staff mourn the death on August 28 of our longtime friend and colleague Michael Cromartie. We pray for the repose of Mike’s soul and for the consolation of his wife Jenny and their children.
“Mike was at the heart and soul of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for more than three decades,” said EPPC President Ed Whelan. “The beautiful tributes that he has received are an eloquent testament to his special qualities. We will miss him dearly.”
EPPC Distinguished Senior Fellow George Weigel said of Mr. Cromartie:
Mike Cromartie was a pioneer of ecumenical evangelical dialogue and a wonderful colleague and friend. Among his many gifts, Mike had an extraordinary ability to engage all sorts of folks in serious conversation. He made an exceptional contribution to the work of EPPC, and to American public life, for over three decades. That he now lives with the Lord he loved and served is a consolation amidst a profound sense of loss.
In a piece for Christianity Today, EPPC Senior Fellow Peter Wehner wrote:
Mike was a wise counselor, a great raconteur, and a friend of just about everyone he met. He was also one of the most important figures in modern American Christianity. As director of the Faith Angle Forum, which he started in 1999, he worked to strengthen reporting and commentary on how religious believers, religious convictions, and religiously grounded moral arguments affect American politics and public life.
Through his work there, including as moderator and host of his two-and-a-half day retreats with scholars, theologians, and writers, Mike introduced a generation of journalists to the positive role faith can play in the life of our country. He enriched the public dialogue and helped shape American culture.
In addition to that, and in many respects more important than that, Mike enriched the lives of those who became part of his community with his kindness, his genuine interest in others, his light touch, and his joie de vivre. This was obvious based on the outpouring of affection as his health worsened. This was a man who left a deep imprint on people’s hearts and souls.
At National Review Online, EPPC Senior Fellow Mona Charen wrote:
Mike Cromartie was one of the finest men I’ve ever been privileged to call a friend. We all decry virtue signaling in our age – and it’s a good description of a certain kind of vanity. Mike never signaled his virtue, he just lived it. But please don’t imagine a plaster saint. Mike, who served as Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and ran the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forum programs, was funny and lively and loved sports, and politics, and gossip.
Early in life, he had what must be the least likely stint of any Washington, DC think tank denizen: He worked as the mascot for the Philadelphia 76ers. He’d hop the train up to Philly, enter the locker room, and don his special costume as the players were getting into theirs. At halftime (do they call it that in basketball?), he would entertain the crowd with dances, pratfalls, and visual gags.
Yes, that was the fellow who brought many a Washington figure to conferences on the intersection of faith and politics, authored a number of serious books, and seemed to know everyone in Washington.
In fact, it might be one of the saving graces of this city that so many people in it were so drawn to Mike Cromartie. He was not a senator or a TV star. He wasn’t wealthy. He was not a cabinet official. He held no power of the kind that usually attracts people. His power derived only from the warmth of his personality, the depth of his intelligence, his wisdom, and his love of God and country.
Mike’s Christian faith was never syrupy. He was clear-eyed about life and people. When we’d discuss this or that person who had behaved in a seemingly inexplicable way, Mike would say “I’m never surprised by weakness or sin, just by virtue.”
In all the years I knew him, I never saw Mike say a rude word to anyone. On the contrary, to lunch with Mike was to watch the waiter or waitress fall in love. Before the hour was over, Mike would know the person’s name, where they grew up, and their hopes and dreams. His generosity of spirit was a wonder.
Mike was one of the first friends I made in Washington. For the past two years, he was just two doors down the hall at EPPC. I’m Jewish, but when I think of the ideal Christian, Mike is the person who seems to fulfill it most completely.
My heart aches for his wonderful wife Jenny and their three children. Rest in peace, dear friend.
EPPC Hertog Fellow Yuval Levin added:
I heartily second Mona Charen’s lovely tribute … to Mike Cromartie, who died today. It is a terrible loss. Among much else he accomplished, Mike shaped the spirit and character of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where Mona and I are both privileged to hang our hats and where Mike did as well for an amazing thirty years. He was a deeply decent person, and a man of abiding faith who really helped me, through the way he treated others and carried himself in the world, to understand what Christians mean when they say their faith is a form of love. They mean their faith moves them to live their lives as Mike lived his, and no one who really knew him could fail to grasp that this way of life is at its core a form of love.
To say Mike’s friends and colleagues are in mourning today is worse than understatement. We will miss him just terribly, and hold his family in our thoughts.
EPPC Lehrman Institute Fellow in Economics John D. Mueller said of Mr. Cromartie:
Mike Cromartie exemplified G.K. Chesterton’s description that ‘the men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.’
Others who knew and worked alongside Mike have honored his memory as well.
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore said in a statement:
I am grieving the death of my friend Michael Cromartie. One of the best men I ever knew, Mike was full of grace, honesty, humility and integrity. In a day when ‘evangelical’ has such a bad name among non-Christians, he represented the best of evangelicalism: intellectual depth, evangelistic zeal, and, most of all, unconditional love.
In a time when many relentlessly blast ‘the media,’ Cromartie built the finest outreach to journalists I’ve ever seen—the Faith Angle Forum. The Faith Angle Forum put religious thinkers and journalists of all sorts together, in a way that helped inform secular journalists about religious people, not just scold them for not understanding us…
Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, said this:
I knew Michael Cromartie only by his sterling professional reputation when I joined the staff of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in 2012. I have lived inside the Beltway for more than 20 years, so I’ve encountered more than a few public figures whose real self is far short of their public persona. I came to know and love Mike because his real self was even better than his reputation.
Mike was a unique force in convincing elite journalists to cover religion fairly because he was brilliant and kind. Both of these virtues are to some extent God-given but they can be cultivated, and Mike read voraciously and treated people well even when there was no benefit to him. Many right-of-center people throw bombs at “secular media elitists.” Mike wooed and persuaded. And succeeded. I work in the field of religious freedom, so I know the shortcomings of religion reporters better than most. But it is much better than it was even a decade ago, and much of that is due to Mike.
Of the private Michael Cromartie—the man I already miss dearly–my friend Mona Charen wrote in her beautiful tribute “I’m Jewish, but when I think of the ideal Christian, Mike is the person who seems to fulfill it most completely.” Mike was a humble man who would have deflected that praise, but it’s spot on. In a city in which connections tend to be made based on usefulness, Mike knew everyone but treated the interns the same way he treated New York Times columnists. Which is to say, like gold.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said of Mr. Cromartie:
Mike was uniquely at his best when advocating a thoughtful, careful, realistic, temperate, non-utopian and above all non-crazy Christian political witness, characterized by what he called an “Augustinian sensibility.”
I implored Mike to write a book on an Augustinian sensibility. He smilingly agreed but never got to it. He was a great writer but it was not his primary vocation. Always full of frenetic energy, he was instead a connector and encourager of people. He knew everybody, and everybody knew him. Instead of writing about an Augustinian sensibility he lived it out. May God continue to bless the fruits of his faithful labors.
Cherie Harder, president of The Trinity Forum, offered this reflection:
In many ways, his creation of the Faith Angle Forum was both a reflection of his character and convictions, and an extension of his contagious love for both people and theology. At a time when many conservative Christians were sinking into curmudgeonly irritability, railing against bias and retreating to right-wing news outlets, Michael chose to instead create a program to educate journalists about the content and nature of faith, introducing journalists and columnists to such scholars and theologians as Father Richard John Neuhas and Bishop Chaput, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Revs. Tim Keller and Rick Warren, Profs. James Davison Hunter, Cornelius Plantinga, and Bill McClay, and many others. And in doing so, he not only cultivated a greater understanding of faith among journalists, he befriended virtually every participant – most of whom lobbied to return for more.
Largely, it was that sense of love and the resulting enthusiasm and zest its overflow brought that so marked Michael as unusual – and endeared him even to the cynical. Mike was neither sappy nor sentimental, but he cared for those he met, even when he disagreed with them (which he was never shy about expressing). As Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic wrote, Michael “Loved journalists. Loved Jesus and Christopher Hitchens, simultaneously.”
Having traversed long spiritual, theological, and political distances himself over the course of his 67 years, he believed in intellectual and spiritual journeys – and was eager to serve as cheerleader, if not guide.
If, to quote St. Irenaeus, the glory of God is shown in a man fully alive, then Michael was a man who daily reflected His radiance, embracing each personal or professional encounter with eagerness and vitality. He lived his final days grateful to his Maker for his life, its challenges as well as graces, even as he would have been eager for its extension.
An obituary by Kate Shellnutt of Christianity Today observed that Mr. Cromartie “evoked theologians and philosophers as he advocated for thoughtful engagement in public policy and civil discourse”:
“It can’t be said of many people, but everyone Mike touched was influenced for the better,” said Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “His passing leaves a huge gap in American public life and in the lives of his friends.
“Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others,” Gerson told CT. “He was a man of great faith, who made it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”
Michael Wear, a former White House faith adviser under Barack Obama, described Cromartie as “one of Christianity’s principal ambassadors in Washington, [representing] Jesus with joyful confidence.”
“I’ve seen the effects of his life and work up close, and both the church and the nation are better off because of him,” said Wear. “Michael was a friend whose encouragement I did not deserve, and whose insight has shaped my work, my life, and my faith. In the days ahead, we should look to Michael’s example to stoke our imagination for what a faithful public witness can look like in this moment.”
“Grieving with many today over the death of the brilliant and gifted Michael Cromartie—a clear thinker with strong character. RIP,” tweeted John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center. “Cromartie was a voice of clarity and reason, thoughtfulness and moral judgment. Brought people together in the best of ways.”
Hadley Arkes, founder and director of the James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding, offered this reflection:
Mike was not only a buoying supporter of that work of mine on the book, but he was a source of instruction through the year, for he read everything. And I mean everything, whether on politics or theology or the “culture.” He had the most remarkable combination—he was joyous and filled with laughter, and yet no one doubted how deeply serious he was on the things that mattered. And never would he let himself get diverted by the laughing banter of the moment.
What I had said of Mike in that preface to my book was that he had been this uncommon source of energy—and judgment—as he managed to connect people and projects and find ways of “putting wind in the sails” of so many people. He had that rare combination of political experience, joined to the passion of an academic to read everything in the literature that bears on questions of consequence. “He weaves it all together,” I said, “with a religious sensibility, always affected by humor and playfulness, but always serious at the core.”
A statement released by Covenant College, Mr. Cromartie’s alma mater, offered additional tributes:
“In so many respects, Michael exemplified the sort of biblically faithful engagement with the world that we hope would be characteristic of all of our graduates,” said Covenant College President Derek Halvorson. “To know Michael was to know a saint who loved the Lord with his whole heart and soul and strength and mind, and whose joyful witness displayed his love for his neighbor.”
Covenant College Professor Emeritus Donovan L. Graham wrote:
“I write this on behalf of myself and my wife Wilma who were privileged to know Michael Cromartie during his days at Covenant College. I think I was the dean of students during his years there. There have been many students who have taken to heart all that the college had to offer, but no one would surpass Mike in that regard as evidenced by what he gave his life to professionally after he left. Washington, D.C., and the USA are indeed the poorer with his departure. Our hearts ache with you his family, and all those who so happily loved him. One thing I can imagine happening now though, is that Jesus’ heart is laughing at some of the many funny, funny comments that Mike was always full of. Pain is gone for Mike, and smiles and laughter abound in heaven, even while tears of grief are shed and hearts empty in his absence grieve deeply. Only God can hold those two things together.”
In a reflection posted at The Gospel Coalition website, Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay recalled:
I first met Mike while I was a graduate student at Princeton. I went to see him as I embarked on a study of American evangelical leaders. I immediately liked him, for he seemed different from so many I’d met in the field. To have spent so much time in Washington, Cromartie had a remarkable ability to eschew the tendencies of well-connected Christians in the nation’s capital. He took a genuine interest in helping someone who had nothing to offer in return, and his generosity of spirit stood out as countercultural—at least to the extent anyone wearing a suit can be countercultural. So many journalists trusted him for a very simple reason: he was a man of great integrity.
Tributes also rolled in from journalists and others, including many who have participated in the Faith Angle Forum.
Carl Cannon, a member of the Faith Angle Forum’s advisory council, wrote at Real Clear Politics:
A big-city U.S. newsroom is one of the most secular places on Earth. Whether journalism’s powers that be realize it or not, this is one of the sources of the rift between journalism and our readers, viewers, and listeners. Mike made it his professional mission to bridge that chasm. In a letter to Cromartie, renowned magazine writer Peter Boyer told Mike simply, “You should be named the patron saint of journalists.”
It wasn’t quite like Daniel in the lion’s den when Cromartie ventured into our world — Mike liked reporters too much to use that comparison — but it was unique how much attention he gave us. He was a unique kind of missionary: not trying to convert us, just trying to help us do our jobs better. Along the way he showed his faith to good advantage.
“He made Christianity seem a rational decision, even to non-believing intellectuals, and gave faith an intellectual heft to believing Christians,” longtime NPR religion writer Barbara Bradley Hagerty told me this past weekend. “Mike was the most incandescent Christian I’ve ever known. He was a man of deep faith and deep intellect, but he wore his gifts and his belief so winsomely that he drew everyone to him, no matter what their faith — or lack of faith.”
Hagerty described Cromartie as her “go-to person” to explain politics, religion and culture. Dozens of Washington journalists had the same relationship with this lovely man for more than two decades. Now we’re going to have to find our own way.
Or maybe not.
Michael Cromartie’s really Big Idea was something that came to be known as the Faith Angle Forum. From his perch at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, Mike had for years hosted luncheons and welcomed curious reporters to his office where he’d hand them a relevant book or dispense a quote for our stories. But in 1999, with a grant from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Mike invited a couple dozen journalists to a resort in Maine to sit around a table for a few days and discuss theology and politics with learned scholars. It sounds boring, I know, but it wasn’t.
“It was,” Economist writer Adrian Wooldridge said, “one of the most pleasant, as well as one of the most instructive, experiences in journalism.”
The scholars we invited over the years — Mike put me on a steering committee of journalists to hash out the ideas — ranged from famous evangelical pastors (one conservative, the other liberal) to French scholars on Shiite Islam, to political scientists who study America’s religious attitudes. We’ve had Mormon, Jewish, and Catholic college professors, guitar-playing Christian biologists, presidential speechwriters, atheist authors, devout British scientists, Muslim university chaplains.
The conversation was always civil, always enlightening, and always valuable. Nineteen years and 30 such conferences later, a couple of hundred journalists have imbued thousands of newspaper and online stories, radio and TV broadcasts, interviews, books, and magazine articles with more background and nuance than they would have had otherwise.
Washington Post columnist and regular Faith Angle Forum participant Kathleen Parker recalled:
Cromartie, who was vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of its Evangelicals in Civic Life program, felt strongly that the public’s perception of journalists as unfriendly toward religion and especially toward evangelical Christians, though not unwarranted, was a reflection of the media’s lack of exposure to and understanding of America’s faithful rather than willful animus.
He was, in other words, one of Washington’s relatively unknown elves who work diligently and without fanfare to make the world a better place. The forums, which were his brilliant idea, were held twice a year in Key West and more recently in Miami’s South Beach. In between lectures — three over three days — invitees convened for lunches, cocktails and dinners interspersed with free time for carousing, bike riding — or dancing. Cromartie loved to dance.
Those were glorious, fun-filled, intellectually stimulating days that probably have benefited the country indirectly through the enlightenment of more than 220 journalists from roughly 30 newspapers, magazines and broadcast networks.
And from the Washington Post‘s obituary of Mr. Cromartie:
Mr. Cromartie, a former progressive who eventually came to describe himself as a “Christian in the evangelical, reformed, Anglican tradition,” was part of a wave of evangelical Christians who believed that engagement in politics and public life was a central tenet of the faith.
But while he described himself as right of center, he saw his role less as advocating for a particular position than as pressing for civil dialogue and increased understanding, particularly with journalists who were unfamiliar with evangelical Christianity or religion in general.
“I kept getting more and more calls from very smart writers who knew nothing about faith and religious beliefs,” he told the Weekly Standard in 2010. At one point, he said, he was interviewed by a New York Times reporter who asked him who wrote and published the New Testament book of Ephesians, as though it had recently made its way to print.
From the New York Times‘s obituary of Mr. Cromartie:
The New York Times columnist David Brooks said that when Mr. Cromartie started his forums, “most American journalists didn’t know the difference between a fundamentalist and an evangelical.”
“Over the years, I watched the coverage get better,” Mr. Brooks said.
Mr. Cromartie never minimized his personal faith — he described it as “evangelical, reformed, Anglican” — but he was neither doctrinaire nor defensive. Nor did he take himself too seriously.
New York Times columnist and past Faith Angle Forum participant Ross Douthat praised Mr. Cromartie’s character and work:
Nobody in Washington was kinder to me as a novice journalist, nobody gave me more hope that my own peculiar vocation was worthwhile rather than quixotic, and few men I met in my D.C. years modeled the Christian virtues of faith and hope and charity so ebulliently, without the air of defensive irony that many of us weave around our unfashionable morality and metaphysics.
At Slate, Faith Angle Forum Advisory Council member Will Saletan wrote:
Good religion is humble. It understands that belief and virtue are bigger than any one faith. Cromartie was an evangelical Protestant. At Faith Angle conferences, he hosted speakers who were Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and of other traditions. The point of getting together was never proselytization or vindication. It was to learn about one another. When you accept that you’re fallible and that God is beyond your comprehension, you begin to understand that other people may come to God in ways different from yours.
From an editorial in the Deseret News:
Politics and religion are too often taboo topics better left at the door during family gatherings. But, Cromartie’s work, as an ambassador of faith to the media and political influencers, helped curate the kind of conversations that one writer said were among “the most pleasant,” as well as “the most instructive, experiences in journalism.”
Indeed, he wasn’t just a go-to source for thought leadership on the Christian perspective, he was also able to show “even to non-believing intellectuals” how the Christian life is, as one writer put it, “a rational decision.”
As society slips deeper into secularism, and religion is viewed through a default lens of skepticism in some circles, Cromartie’s work and life stands as a testament of hope that divergent cultures and communities can find common understanding through civil dialogue and the hard work of meaningful conversations. While many will mourn the loss of Michael Cromartie’s participation in the public dialogue on faith in America, in reality his voice will only be lost if believers and journalists cease the conversation.
In his Axios newsletter, Mike Allen wrote:
I was privileged to attend several of Cromartie’s Faith Angle conferences, and asked three of my fellow students for their recollections:
- ABC’s Dan Harris: “Panels on Mormonism, Islam, and the culture wars have informed and deepened my reporting until this day. Invariably, though, the highlight was the casual, interpersonal interactions over meals and cocktails. For reporters who spend much of their time in the Beltway or, like me, on the Upper West Side, the opportunity to break bread, off the record, with faith leaders and scholars was invaluable.”
- Carl Cannon I (Washington editor of Real Clear Politics): “Cromartie and I would arise before dawn and ride rental bicycles all over [Key West]. … He’d keep a running commentary the whole time about things on his mind … It reminded me of that line in the 98th Psalm, ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.'”
- Carl Cannon II: “Tonight, the many journalists whose hearts and minds were opened by this man are saying a prayer for him, too, the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, even the agnostics. He would have liked that.”
- Barbara Bradley Hagerty: “Mike, an evangelical Christian, sought out and earned the trust of some of the most secular professionals in America: journalists. … When I was covering religion for NPR, Mike was on my speed dial, because he could make faith seem reasonable even to a skeptic, and could bring his intellectual acuity to explain religious arguments better than any pastor or theology professor in the land. I know. I’ve called them. I always circled back to Mike.”
At Education and Culture, scholar and author Grant Wacker wrote:
A true servant he was, to journalism and the world of public policy, and even more so to the uncountable people whose lives he blessed with his wit, his deep knowledge of Christianity, his astute perceptions of how American public culture really works, and his unfailing grace among people of diverse points of view. He showed us how to shoulder the challenge of living faithfully on the small planet we all share.
Napp Nazworth wrote at the Christian Post:
You’ll find few mentions of Michael in much of the media’s work on faith and politics, especially evangelicals and politics, but his influence is there. Twice a year he gathered reporters for a three day conference, Faith Angle Forum, to listen to scholars discuss issues of faith and public life. The reporters who attend these events often produce works of empathy and insight, which is too often missing in today’s media, awash in partisan jeremiads.
Michael understood, though, that it wasn’t just the seminars that reporters would find valuable, but the socializing. He made sure that each Faith Angle Forum included Christians and non-Christians, liberals and conservatives. Under Michael’s guidance, the Forum was a “safe space,” but not in the “protect you from ideas you disagree with”-sense, popular on college campuses these days. Michael created a space in which you could share and listen in an atmosphere of mutual respect. We disagreed without being disagreeable.
Besides helping non-evangelical reporters understand evangelicals, he helped evangelicals understand the proper role of their faith in politics. Michael, along with his mentor Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, helped younger evangelicals develop a political style that was thoughtful and winsome (one of Colson’s favorite words), that worked on building bridges with an eye toward the public good, rather than an accumulation of political power.
Another Christian Post article noted:
In 2004, President George W. Bush appointed him as a commissioner for USCIRF, where he served three two-year terms and was twice made chair of the commission.
As part of his work with USCIRF, Cromartie testified before Congress on multiple occasions regarding religious freedom issues in nations like Vietnam and Iraq.
In 2008, then USCIRF Chair Felice D. Gaer spoke highly of Cromartie’s work with the commission, stating that he had an “unfailingly humane perspective” and a “generous commitment of time and energy.”
At the Weekly Standard, Terry Eastland wrote:
I’ll remember Mike Cromartie as a fellow Christian and my friend. I met Mike in the early 1980s. We were roughly the same age and had some of the same interests—at the top of the list, politics and religion. Mike became a master of evangelical Christianity and its involvements in politics in his work at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Mike knew everybody in the fields he plowed, and over the years he put together dinners, meetings, and conferences that effectively provided a remedial education in things religious and theological for a generation of media elites that had grown up seldom going to church.
Mike understood the subversive nature of his work, but that he was a Christian was the most important aspect of his life, as it is for all Christians. He understood saving faith as a gift of God. He believed in providence and saw the cancer that took his life permitted by a God who has his own inscrutable ways. Mike, you might have guessed, was Reformed in theology, a Calvinist to some degree, if you dug down with him. In terms of church he was a theologically conservative Episcopalian, and he went every Sunday. He was not shy about discussing what he believed in public settings, and by God’s grace he was a good man: Recently he went to the funeral of a friend’s wife who had died from cancer and spoke encouraging words to the family. Not of himself and his own condition did he think first.
Soon after I met Mike we were on a court, shooting hoops. He loved basketball, having played some at Covenant College in Chattanooga (before entering the NBA as the official mascot for the Philadelphia 76ers). When his boys were in high school, he bought one of those big outdoor shooting machines—and used it a lot. Not many people would so adorn their driveway. But that was Mike. And Jenny, Mike’s fine wife, didn’t seem to mind.
Mike was rarely down. He had a laugh that came easily, and a big smile, and he could talk about most anything; no one was a better companion. A friend of ours once told me that the one thing that could ensure the quality of a party was Mike’s presence. There was never any doubt about that. And I’ll concede: this man of cultural influence, this believer in Christ, the Son of God, was the better shot.
Rod Dreher wrote on his blog at The American Conservative:
I did not know Mike well, but you didn’t have to know him well to recognize his deep humanity and great good cheer. He was one of those rare people who was at the nexus of so many things in the shark tank of Washington, DC — but had no enemies. Who does that? That man walked in the light, and shined the way forward for all who knew him.
From Steven Hayward at PowerLine:
I’ve known Mike for 30 years, and he was always my favorite person to encounter on the street or anywhere else in Washington. No one had a more infectious sense of joy and delight, which was the obvious product of his deep Christian faith, which he nevertheless applied with flinty realism in our always troubled world.
At Patheos, Jacob Lupfer wrote:
Given my academic and journalistic interests, Mike was an invaluable source of inside information and considered, judicious reflection on the Washington faith-and-politics world. On several occasions, I asked him pointed, difficult questions that invited him to dish on some organization or express dismay at some Christian leader. Mike never took the bait. He was unfailingly kind, always striving to see the best in allies and opponents, while never straying from the convictions of his well formed Christian conscience.
Perhaps my highest tribute to Michael Cromartie is the fact that, whenever I ask DC insiders or faith leaders who best exemplifies conservative evangelical political engagement, they all mention his name. He was not just on everyone’s list. He was at the top of everyone’s list.
From a piece by Mindy Belz for WORLD Magazine:
Ernest Lefever at EPPC hired Mike in 1985 as director of evangelical studies, a looming subject area with the rise of the Christian right. Mike devoured every new book and conversation on the topic, and his Rolodex became sought-after for reporters and public officials. He shared it generously when it was in the service of good causes, recalled World Journalism Institute (WJI) founder Bob Case: “Mike had established relationships with all the influential Christian and honestly reflective non-Christian journalists. No one had a better reputation, and he was tireless in his willingness to mentor aspiring journalists.”
At GetReligion, Terry Mattingly said this of Mr. Cromartie:
For a long time now, the First Amendment has been a kind of painful blind spot – a blind spot with two sides. On one side there’s the press and, on the other, there’s the world of religion. The problem is that these two powerful forces in American life just don’t get along.
Yes, there are lots of journalists who just don’t “get” religion, who don’t respect the First Amendment role (that whole “free exercise of religion” thing) that religion plays in public and private life. We talk about that problem a lot at this website.
However, there’s another problem out there, another stone wall on which I have been beating my head for decades. You see, there are lots of religious leaders, and their followers, who just don’t “get” journalism, who don’t respect the First Amendment role that a free press plays in American life.
Some people can see one side of that two-sided blind spot and some people can see the other.
We just lost one of the rare people in Washington, D.C., who saw these problems on both sides of that blind spot with a clear, realistic and compassionate eye. That would be Michael Cromartie, who for years organized constructive, candid, face-to-face encounters between mainstream religious leaders and elite members of the Acela Zone press.
Josh Good of the Kern Family Foundation, which has supported the work of the Faith Angle Forum, wrote at The Federalist:
Everyone who knew him knew Mike’s laugh—which wasn’t showmanship. It instead came from what Mike termed in his later years “an Augustinian sensibility”: a deep conviction that the City of Man and the City of God are not yet in harmony with one another, but that we can nonetheless pursue proximate justice, with courage and joy. We live in a kind of exile, between two worlds, Mike wrote for the C.S. Lewis Institute, meaning that we can go about our daily work without an all-or-nothing approach. Evil exists in the world, but we can still confidently practice faithful presence, without pretending all the world’s needs are resting on our shoulders.
Or, as David Brooks sums up Mike’s modesty and work, “You can complain or you can be helpful. Mike has chosen to be helpful.” To the very end, those of us privileged to visit or talk with Mike observed this faithful joy. “Pray like a Pentecostal!” he would ask friends. And as he told Politico’s Dan Lipmann (a frequent Faith Angle attendee), even last month Mike kept up his daily morning routine: “Pray. Read the news. Then pray all the more!”
One other consistent trait Mike incarnated was his genuine interest in young people. “When you get to DC, find Michael Cromartie—he’ll help you,” one friend recalls. For many of us (myself included), this was true. While many inside-the-Beltway types tired of meeting young newcomers, preferring instead to climb the DC power ladder, Mike played by a different set of rules.
From a post at the blog of the Democracy Fund, which has supported the work of the Faith Angle Forum:
Michael’s genuine desire to learn from others, and to bring the rest of us along with him, made him an ideal convener. His good nature was evident whether talking with titans of the media industry, think tank presidents, or with the hotel staff at Faith Angle Forum, all of whom he knew by name. In addition to his work with Faith Angle Forum, Michael was a central part of Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group. With Michael’s help and unique ability to bring people together, we gathered researchers and analysts from a broad section of the political spectrum to collaborate on a project designed to listen to the American people.
At First Things, John Murdock recalled of Mike:
Michael Cromartie’s bibliography was nothing to sneeze at. He wrote many fine articles, edited over a dozen books on religion and public life (one with Richard John Neuhaus), and gave fine talks on weighty matters such as Augustinian ethics. But Mike’s real triumph was his Rolodex. He seemed to know everybody, and he knew them because he was gifted at the art of friendship. Mike took a genuine interest in all he met, from the waiter serving his salad at Bertucci’s to media all-stars like David Brooks.
The EPPC is titling its collection of the many tributes, “Michael Cromartie, R.I.P.” But the chances of Michael’s resting seem slim. If there is a bicycle in heaven, he has found it and is already scouting the grounds. Michael Cromartie was always on the move, and we on earth are sorry to see him go. By the time the rest of us get to where he is now, I have no doubt that Mike will again be the guy who knows everybody.
In a commentary posted at BreakPoint, Roberto Rivera wrote:
Cromartie, while unsparing in his criticism when the mainstream media got things wrong, preferred to (though I suspect that he would have hated being compared to Eleanor Roosevelt) light some candles instead of settling for repeatedly cursing the darkness. He never assumed malice when ignorance and/or a failure of imagination could suffice to explain the problem. So a large part of his apostolate was acquainting the Fourth Estate with Christian ideas and the Christians who articulated them best.
This is a lot harder than it sounds. (Yet another reason that Mike will be missed.) What’s involved is an exchange of viewpoints in which your interest in what the other person has to say—as Douglas wrote—and your trust in their good faith is never in doubt. Without these, it’s just another instance of (to borrow a phrase from Mike’s favorite sport) “working the refs, ” which, however successful in the short term, does little to help the press “get religion.”
What’s also required is an acceptance of what Mike once called “the sociological fact of pluralism,” i.e., the fact that we live in a society made up of people and groups with diverse opinions and convictions. The same Abraham Kuyper who famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” is the same Abraham Kuyper, whose “greatest significance for our own religiously and culturally fractured world,” in the estimation of his biographer James Bratt, was “the way he proposed for religious believers to bring the full weight of their convictions into public life while fully respecting the rights of others in a pluralistic society under a constitutional government.”
See also John Stonestreet‘s reflection at BreakPoint, which noted that Mr. Cromartie “understood that knowing about Christians and Christianity was impossible if you don’t actually know any flesh-and-blood Christians, as opposed to those outliers and caricatures you read about in the media.”
Art Lindsley, Vice President of Theological Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, remembered Mr. Cromartie’s influence:
He used his creative, fun nature to be an engaging moderator and a disarming conversational partner on tough issues. In fact, he was by far the best moderator I ever encountered.
Karl E. Johnson, Executive Director of Chesterton House at Cornell University, wrote:
Mike was opinionated but humble. When I challenged him on his critical assessment of a mutual colleague, he stopped talking for a while and just listened. Later he thanked me—“I needed to hear that,” he said. If one of the hazards of spending a lot of time with really smart people is that you might become like them in their insistence on being correct, Mike was a rare and refreshing exception.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the “Michael Cromartie Faith Project” at Langham Partnership. Along with the Cromartie Family’s donation of Mike’s extensive personal library in religion and public life, the project will provide Bible Study resources (books and literature) for theologians, strategic thinkers and school libraries in 80+ nations around the world. Memorial contributions to the project may be made online at www.langham.org or sent to Langham Partnership, P.O. Box 189, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.