Michael Cromartie, RIP

Very sad news today of the passing of Michael Cromartie, after a long battle with cancer. 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.

You can read more about Michael from his official biography at the Ethics and Public Policy center here. It is hard to convey how much he will be missed, because there is no one else like him in Washington DC—or anywhere else for that matter.

He received the dread news last week from his doctors that there was nothing more they could do for him. I posted a note on Facebook last week upon hearing the news:

There are not enough words for this extraordinary Christian gentleman, a true Knight of the Faith who wears his greatest Christian virtue—humility—with a lightness that puts the rest of us to shame. It is the key to his large influence in Washington, which is unknown to the wider world in inverse proportion to the greatness of soul that gives rise to it.

I could try to describe his excellence as a human being at more length, and why he was unique to the Washington scene, but I’d rather point to the superb Christianity Today magazine profile of him done in 2013, titled simply, but accurately, “The Shepherd.” The article tells the story of Mike’s creation, the Faith Angle Forum, which brought together mostly secular (and therefore clueless) journalists and theologians of all faiths to decode how religion actually works, as opposed to the cartoon version that reigns in most newsrooms. This paragraph captures Mike’s spirit perfectly:

Of course, without Cromartie’s affable guidance and his enthusiasm for his friends on both ends of the spectrum, the forums could not have navigated the treacherous waters of faith and politics for so long. At the 2005 session, several journalists pressed [Pastor Rick] Warren on the issue of damnation. The questions were pointed, the atmosphere tense. Cromartie intervened: “Questions about eternal destination are best handled over the cocktail hour soon to follow.”

About those cocktail hours: Maybe my fondest memory of Mike—and likely the hardest I have ever laughed in my whole life—was taking in his dead-on simultaneous imitation of the two modes of Jimmy Swaggart—the piano-playing gospel preacher and the seedy motel prostitute customer. (Mike didn’t care much for gross hypocrisy.) Just a couple glasses of whiskey did the trick, and if anyone had ever taped it he could have had a second career on Saturday Night Live. Not that he was without some minor show biz experience: he was the Philadelphia 76ers mascot for a season back in the 1970s.

As the Christianity Today story concluded: “Such is the singular accomplishment of Cromartie, who decided that lighting a candle was better than cursing the darkness.”

Mike sat down with me in the summer of 2016 for a podcast about his work, which I’m happy to repost today in case you missed it.

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