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Real Answers™
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Copyright: © 2009 Gary Hardaway
700 words

RICHARD JOHN NEUHAUS, 1936-2009:  A RACE WELL RUN

By:  Gary Hardaway

 

On January 8, 1998, for one intoxicating hour, I was immersed in conversation with one of America’s most articulate and influential citizens, Richard John Neuhaus. My doctoral research had led me to this supremely gifted expositor of American democracy.

                 

Now, thanks to his kindness, I was writing down at breakneck speed almost every word he spoke in those sixty minutes.

                 

If I sound awed, there’s good reason for it. Here was a trusted friend and colleague of Pope John Paul II.  Subsequent history would steer him into the same roles with Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush. 

                 

Indeed, RJN, as he was sometimes called, was “one of the foremost authorities on the role of religion in the contemporary world.“

  • Author of over a thousand articles, speeches, and columns,
  • Author or editor of at least forty books.
  • Founder of the highly respected monthly journal, First Things, for which he penned 12,000 words a month.

                 

I asked him to share about his life journey. He replied,   I never seriously doubted the existence of God or that He had a purpose  for my life. It seemed from early on that I would enter something like the  Christian ministry.

After graduating from seminary, for seventeen years he shepherded a Lutheran church in Brooklyn’s black Bedford-Stuyvesant section. He often fondly recalled that time as the “glory years.”

                 

The young pastor soon joined Dr. Martin Luther King, promoting the civil rights cause in the north. He proved himself a tireless soldier for justice. He also vigorously campaigned against the Viet Nam War.

                 

But as early as 1968, he began to feel uncomfortable with his leftist associates. They embraced abortion; he opposed it. He cherished America. He noticed that many anti-war protesters  simply despised America.

                 

Neuhaus found new friends among conservatives. They defended the unborn. They opposed tyranny, slavery, and imperialism. They treasured the divinely ordained institutions – marriage, family, church, faith, and freedom.  They believed that all men are created equal in God’s sight.

                 

Neuhaus emerged a catalyst for restoring religious influence to secular public life. Books, TV appearances, and speeches followed. Publication of The Naked Public Square  lifted him to new heights of influence.

                 

In March 1990, he launched First Things, a journal that immediately exceeded all expectations. In two years circulation rose to 20,000; 30,000 by 1995. Though intellectually sophisticated, the writing was often entertaining and always informative.

                 

Readership included a fair number of movers and shakers –  jurists, legislators, policy wonks, beltway pros, pundits, and academics. The quality and spirit of the argument persuaded many to respect religious voices in public life.  

                 

In 1995 he reported…    In these five years there has been a marked change in thinking about the role of religion in public life. Our protest against “the naked public square” was then a distinct minority position. Today there is much more widespread recognition that the Democratic process requires vigorous engagement of the religiously based moral convictions of the American  people.  He added,    There are now some questions on the public agenda that were not there  even five years ago. Moreover this kind of discussion has become  mainstream . . . . 

In September 1990, Pastor Neuhaus joined the Roman Catholic Church and soon was ordained to priesthood. For the next seventeen years he ministered to a working class congregation in New York, and led Sunday Mass at Columbia University. More than once he declared,  We are called to witness to [God’s] saving truth in Christ.  In heaven and on earth there is nothing, there is absolutely nothing more important than that.

                 

Toward the end of our talk, he reflected on his journey up to then. “I have led a remarkably graced life, far beyond what I ever expected, and if I died tomorrow I would say, “Thank you Jesus.” Exactly eleven years later – to the day -- his seventy-two year journey ended.

                 

I remember him as a Christian soldier who “fought the good fight,” “finished the race,” and “kept the faith.” I trust he has now spoken his words of thanks to Jesus in the city described in Scripture “whose builder and maker is God.”

 

Gary Hardaway, a regular contributor to the Amy Internet Syndicate, directs Summit School of Ministry in Bellingham, WA.

"Real Answers™" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091; amyfoundtn@aol.com

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