A Titanic Evangelical Ship of Fools: Michael Cromartie’s Doomed Voyage

Politico noted Tuesday  the death from cancer of Michael Cromartie, a longtime staffer at the very right-wing but carefully-high-toned Ethics & Public Policy Center (EPPC) in DC.

I knew Cromartie a bit in the ’80s. He & EPPC even tried to recruit me for their efforts to discredit anti-Vietnam protests (in anticipation of defending new US wars).

Michael Cromartie

Perhaps I seemed a good prospect: I could write; I’d been an active antiwar protester, but had also publicly criticized some of the extremists & crazies in the movement; and (not least, for EPPC’s laserlike focus on the Ivies & their ilk) I had attended Harvard Divinity School.

But it didn’t work out.

I was a critical peacenik, not a turncoat.

Cromartie did succeed with a broader scheme, that of organizing a series of annual powwows [“Faith Angle Forums] that brought together “elite journalists” and allegedly top-drawer evangelicals, especially Ivy-PhD bearing ones.

These sessions aimed to de-fang the evangelicals and educate the mostly secular journalists. The goal (as always), was respectability & credibility for the self-conscious evangelical elite, particularly as they moved ever closer (surely by Divine favor) to taking power in Washington & (yes, someday) even in its media.

Politico linked to a lengthy 2013 profile of Cromartie & his mission from the main intellectual evangelical mouthpiece, Christianity Today. It’s a very interesting period piece, clearly aimed to help Cromartie shore up fundraising for the project in the rocky post-Crash years.
Under the subhead, Michael Cromartie is guiding media elites into a more accurate view of conservative Christians, the article also highlights both the value of Cromartie’s work, and in retrospect its poignant, perhaps even tragic underlying folly:

Tim Keller [founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City] arrived at the most recent Faith Angle Forum, in March [2013] to explain the faith and future of American evangelicals. He presented an image different from [California megachurch pastor Rick] Warren’s but no less compelling—more urban, cultured, and intellectual. Today’s younger generation of evangelicals, he says, are more complex politically, more multiethnic, more likely to enter the cultural industries and “captivated by the idea of sacrificial service and pouring themselves out for the poor.”

Pressed repeatedly on Christian opposition to same-sex marriage, he explains that evangelicals see sex “not as a consumer good but a form of self-donation.” Evangelicals believe that “male and female have unique glories” and marriage must bring those glories together. This makes sex “a kind of Eucharist for married people, a reunion of the alienated genders.”

Whether or not it convinced the skeptics in the room, it was a winsome and impressive response. . . .”

The value here is easy to cite: it’s a cliche that, then and now, most elite media types are either non-religious or hugely ignorant of religion, or both. Yet it’s also still true. It seems clear that some among them shed a few layers of this arrogant ignorance under Cromartie’s “guidance.”

And yet, read in 2017, the article sounds like a sales brochure for berths on the Titanic.

Cromartie & his EPPC pals were sure that, not only were his evangelicals likely to be first in heaven, but they were also the intellectual leading edge, the true vanguard of the “Christian” takeover/renaissance they were confident was about to arrive. And a key part of the underlying message was, “Fear not, elite media mavens; our reign too will be ‘urban, cultured, and intellectual’ too.”

And now, at long last, their vessel has come in. But with few exceptions, Cromartie’s elite evangelical passenger list is missing from the crowded decks of a roaring ship of fools, knaves, mountebanks and monsters.

All the evangelical image burnishing that Cromartie had so long and doggedly pursued went up in the smoke of a single long night last November.

Ever since, alumni of Cromartie’s sessions like David Brooks & Ross Douthat, certified elite doyens at the New York Times, have been falling all over themselves trying to cover their tracks, explain (away?) their multiple prophetic and political follies, and make sense of the bigotry and bloodlust their favored movement has suddenly loosed upon the culture–exactly none of which Cromartie’s gatherings prepared them for.

— Indeed, how “winsome” a spectacle the real leaders made with their tiki torches.

— How “impressive” was their Jew-free Holocaust statement.


But enough. Michael Cromartie did what he could and has gone to his rest; may God have mercy.

Was it his fault that the evangelical movement he worked so long to de-demonize proved, when its moment really came, that even some of the most lurid, most ignorant elite media demonizing had been actually — understated?

And is America’s media elite thereby better-prepared now to cope with its spreading furies?

I wish I thought the answer was yes. No doubt he would too.

But I don’t.

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