Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center did not look much like a basketball player and in one DC pick-up game he was the last player selected. Mike quickly nailed a jump shot, then another, then still another, and so on. The bigger, faster player attempting to guard him got called out.
“He’s schoolin’ you Tony! He’s schoolin’ you man!”
Before he passed away on August 28, Mike Cromartie schooled plenty of others. He schooled them at the intersection of religion and politics, a busy place during the 1980s.
The religious left was then on the rise and many Christians, particularly in evangelical churches, were puzzled by guilt-mongering pacifists such as Ron Sider and old-line leftists such as Sojourners boss Jim Wallis. He was record that the Vietnamese boat people were “fleeing to support their consumer habit in other lands.”
Such writers, and others such as Tony Campolo, were “speaking prophetically” and held that violent Marxist-Leninists such as the Sandinistas advanced a “preferential option for the poor.” This was all part of “liberation theology,” hailed as the wave of the future. The capitalist USA was a vestige of an oppressive past.
That fake gospel took a toll on many Christians and Mike Cromartie was adept at connecting them with writers such as Michael Novak, author of Will it Liberate? Novak, who passed away in February, made the case that democratic capitalism, though imperfect, still promotes peace, prosperity, and human rights better than other systems, especially the Marxist dictatorships so beloved of the religious left.
Mike Cromartie also connected people with Richard John Neuhaus, whose The Naked Public Square assured Christians that, contrary to what they were being told, the First Amendment did not bar them from participation in public life. Christians had much to contribute, and without religious values there would have been no anti-slavery movement, no women’s suffrage movement, no civil rights movement, and no anti-war movement.
Neuhaus, a colleague of Martin Luther King Jr., could tell the difference between those who opposed the draft and those who wanted the Communists to win. On balance, and given the alternatives, Neuhaus would say, America is a force for good in the world. That’s what Mike Cromartie believed.
He connected this writer with EPPC founder Ernest Lefever, and the result was From Mainline to Sideline: The Social Witness of the National Council of Churches, which the late Peter Berger found helpful and may still be in use.
A man of considerable erudition, Mike Cromartie had also mastered a Jimmy Swaggart routine that put people on the floor. He would show up at any event in DC, but back in the day he always found time for basketball.
Mike recalled one pick-up game where NBA players Kevin Grevey and Mike Riordan crushed the opposition but nobody recognized them. As one player said, “you must be somebody.”
Few recognized Mike Cromartie, but he was indeed somebody. And he sure schooled me.
Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation, and Bill of Writes: Dispatches from the Political Correctness BattlefieldGoogle+