Obituaries

Michael Cromartie, 67; was scholar of politics and religion

Michael Cromartie, a conservative Christian scholar whose willingness to engage across the political and spiritual aisle helped make him an unofficial spokesman for evangelicals and an indispensable resource for journalists, died Aug. 28 at his home in Arlington, Va. He was 67.

The Ethics & Public Policy Center, where Mr. Cromartie was vice president, said he had cancer.

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Mr. Cromartie was a six-year member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2004, and a singular figure at the intersection of politics and religion. For three decades, he was a go-to source for journalists trying to make sense of the rise of the ‘‘moral majority’’ and the roots of evangelicals’ support for — and opposition to — presidents from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump.

He edited more than a dozen books on religion and politics, appeared on broadcast news and radio programs, and was interviewed by mainstream, conservative, and liberal publications. He offered context on some Christians’ opposition to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race and the supposed biblical grounds for a preemptive strike on North Korea. (A bellicose passage in the book of Romans, he told PolitiFact earlier this month, does not exactly mean ‘‘bombs away.”)

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‘‘Mike Cromartie did more to ensure that American political journalism is imbued with religious tolerance, biblical literacy, historical insight, and an ecumenical spirit than any person alive,’’ wrote Carl Cannon, Washington bureau chief of RealClearPolitics, in a tribute to Mr. Cromartie. ‘‘No one is a close second.’’

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.

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‘‘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.

Mr. Cromartie responded in 1999 by creating the Faith Angle Forum, a multiday retreat, held in Maine and later in Miami, that brings journalists and writers together with religious leaders and scholars.

Held twice each year, the gathering was described by journalist John Micklethwait and columnist Adrian Wooldridge as ‘‘one of the most pleasant as well as one of the most instructive experiences in journalism.’’

Discussions featured writers such as David Brooks, Malcolm Gladwell, Ross Douthat, and Christopher Hitchens (the late author of ‘‘God Is Not Great”) alongside megachurch pastor Rick Warren, theologian Peter Berger, Rabbi David Saperstein, and Focus on the Family chief Jim Daly.

Mr. Cromartie recalled that while conversations grew testy at times, civility eventually reigned, aided in part by the meetings’ beachside settings. When, in 2005, one participant asked Warren to identify which people in the room would be damned for eternity, Mr. Cromartie gently interrupted.

‘‘Questions about eternal destination,’’ he said, according to Christianity Today, ‘‘are best handled over the cocktail hour soon to follow.’’

In recent years, Mr. Cromartie seemed increasingly frustrated by the adversarial tone of political discourse, and he urged his Washington interlocutors to remember that politics was not the most important part of life.

‘‘It’s too easy in this town to get so stirred up ideologically that we forget our prior commitments,’’ he said in 2010. ‘‘The dead are not raised by politics. There are some things that transcend politics that are more urgent than winning political victories. It’s always very important, when Christian politicians reach across the aisle, that if their opponent gets sick in the hospital then they should be the first people there to see them.’’

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