After a brave battle with cancer, Michael Cromartie went home to be with the Lord last week, a loss that all of us here at the Colson Center felt keenly. Cromartie was a leader who set an example of Christian faith in the public square for the rest of us to follow.
He was a vice-president at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He directed the Evangelicals in Civic Life program, and the Faith Angle Forum. And, he was a member and, eventually, chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom during the George W. Bush administration.
Plenty of people who have impressive resumes like that are rarely cited as examples for the rest of us to follow. However, I cite Michael without hesitation, because of the way that he lived at the intersections of faith, culture, and politics. He was rightly called an “Apostle to the Fourth Estate,” meaning, the media.
In a moving appreciation of Cromartie, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker noted how he “felt strongly that the public’s perception of journalists as unfriendly toward religion and especially evangelical Christians… was a reflection of the media’s lack of exposure to and understanding of America’s faithful rather than willful animus.”
Case in point: In the late 1990s, while the Southern Baptist Convention was debating the relationship between men and women, a New York Times reporter called Cromartie for an explanation of what was going on.
When he pointed to Ephesians 5, the reporter interrupted him, “‘Who’s the author of that? Who wrote it? Who published it?’” As Cromartie told Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, “I realized I’d have to start at the beginning.”
And that’s what he did. The result was the “Faith Angle Forum,” whose goal is to “strengthen reporting and commentary on how religious believers, religious convictions, and religiously grounded moral arguments affect American politics and public life.”
Of course, this is far easier said than done, and how Cromartie pulled it off is yet another example of his worth following. For starters, the Forum’s events were held “miles removed from Washington’s ideological battlefields.”
Second, according to the Christian Post, he created “a space in which you could share and listen in an atmosphere of mutual respect,” where you could “disagree without being disagreeable.”
And he 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. So socializing played as important a role as lectures and formal discussions.
Of course, this only helps if those flesh-and-blood Christians are the kind of people worth knowing. As the Christian Post put it, Cromartie, “along with his mentor Chuck Colson,” modeled a “political style that was thoughtful and winsome . . . building bridges with an eye toward the public good, rather than an accumulation of political power.”
None of this is possible, of course, without confidence in the truth of Christianity, a confidence that Abraham Kuyper was correct when he said that every square inch of creation was under Christ’s sovereign rule.
Michael Cromartie had that confidence, in his work, in his life, and in his battle with cancer. And so should we, even in the midst of cultural chaos. Ultimately, that the restoration of all things is God’s work, not ours. We cooperate, but it’s still His work. So we have no need to worry, or fret, or to be angry when things don’t go as we would like.
Including in the untimely passing of someone as important to that work as Michael Cromartie.
Check out the BreakPoint podcast for Warren Cole Smith’s 2015 interview with Michael Cromartie about Michael’s work with the media and his work for Chuck Colson.
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Michael Cromartie (1950-2017): “The Apostle to the Fourth Estate”
Check out the links in our “Resources” section to read more about the remarkable work and legacy of Michael Cromartie.