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Richard Neuhaus, 1936-2009

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, the founder and editor of the monthly journal First Things, died on the morning of Jan. 8, 2009, at the age of 72, the victim of cancer that he had fought for several years. The son of a Lutheran minister and himself a longtime Lutheran pastor, Father Neuhaus was received into the Catholic Church on Sept. 8, 1990. A year later, he was ordained a priest by the late Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop of New York.

The author of several books, including The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1984), Father Neuhaus insisted, both before and after entering the Catholic Church, on the legitimacy of including faith-based perspectives in the civic debate on public policy. Never one to shy away from controversy, his own style of commentary was sharp and pointed, not averse to occasionally caricaturing an opposing viewpoint.

In 2005, although by then many years a Catholic priest, Father Neuhaus was named one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” by Time magazine. One reason for this designation was the fact that Father Neuhaus was an unofficial adviser to President George W. Bush on such questions as abortion, stem cell research, cloning and the defense of marriage amendment. Long active in ecumenical dialogue, Father Neuhaus collaborated with Charles Colson in developing common bonds between Catholics and evangelicals.

A respected though controversial public intellectual, Father Neuhaus will be remembered for his passionate Christian witness. His absence from the public square will be noted and mourned by many. R.I.P.

Playing Politics With Religion?

As evidenced by his insightful books, frequent interviews and a lengthy discussion on faith with Newsweek in July, President Barack Obama takes his Christianity seriously. He also takes his politics seriously. When it came to the inaugural prayer last week, politics won out.

Last August, Rick Warren, the founding pastor of an evangelical megachurch in California and author of the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, hosted Senator Obama and Senator John McCain at a “Civil Forum” before the election. It was an important event for Obama, who was seeking ways to reach evangelical voters. A few months later, the president-elect tapped Pastor Warren to deliver the opening prayer at his inauguration.

Was this political payback or simply an example of Mr. Obama’s laudable outreach to evangelicals? Hard to say, though on a similar topic—whether he would award ambassadorships as political rewards—Mr. Obama said it was “disingenuous” to pretend otherwise. Either way, some Obamaphiles were dismayed: Warren had compared same-sex marriage to child rape, incest and polygamy. Then, a few days before the inauguration, it was announced that Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopalian bishop of New Hampshire, would lead a prayer on the Sunday night before the inaugural festivities. Robinson’s ordination as bishop in 2003 was the catalyst for chaos within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Neither choice was prudent. There are many other reasonable mainstream clerics (or laypersons) Mr. Obama could have chosen who would not have raised suspicions that he was playing politics with religion.

Failure and Success in Africa

The tragedy in Zimbabwe, once an exemplary and proud nation, deepens beyond our worst fears. Today it is the exemplar of a failed state. Can health care, the economy and political leadership get even worse? Cholera, which has already killed 2,000 people, has now spread to surrounding countries. Inflation is so extreme the government has issued a 100 trillion dollar bill. The latest effort to form a unity government following a faulty election last March has ended in failure. The horrific news from Zimbabwe may no longer make the headlines, but it is the reality the people of Zimbabwe suffer daily.

Bad news from Africa seems ubiquitous. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group from Uganda, murdered over 500 people in neighboring Congo. In Darfur the Sudanese army admitted renewed bombing attacks against rebel populations. Tribal/religious/political riots in Jos, Nigeria, resulted in 400 killed. In Guinea a military coup followed the death of the dictatorial president, Gen. Lansana Conté. In Somalia uncertainty reigns about the future after the figurehead president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, resigned and Ethiopian troops began a withdrawal ending a two-year intervention.

In Ghana there is a glimmer of hope. The opposition candidate, John Atta-Mills, won a close, hard-fought contest in the run-off election of Dec. 28. Mr. Akufo-Addo, the losing candidate, and the outgoing president, John Kufuor, graciously conceded defeat. It was a victory for the Ghanaian people. Ghana was the herald of African independence in 1957. We hope it will usher in a new era of democracy in Africa’s troubled history.

 

Comments

LARRY | 6/14/2010 - 6:44pm
President Obama's first concern in choosing a priest, minister, rabbi or imam to offer a prayer on national occasions, as did all U.S. presidents before him, should be that his choice be religiously impartial and representing the variety of religious institutions in our country, letting each one express what his own faith in God prompts him to say. As an American Roman Catholic, I would find it both inspiring and enriching to hear the personal expression of faith of other fellow Americans.
michael baland | 2/14/2009 - 11:27pm
So President Obama should have chosen some safe, middle of the road ("mainstream") clerics who would have delivered mind numbing, meaningless prayers that would have offended no one. God forbid that anyone should stand up for anything. I am not an evangelical, nor was I a supporter of candidate Obama, but at least he is willing to make some waves.
JPM | 1/30/2009 - 12:14am
Was President Obama "playing politics with religion" by inviting the Revs. Warren and Robinson to offer prayers at his inaugural? I think not. I believe his message was to demonstrate a broad inclusiveness and a willingness to listen to many religious viewpoints with respect. The lesson was spiritual, not political. Sure, there were a lot of safer, more "reasonable" (centrist) clergy to pick from, but that would have entirely negated his point.

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