Richard John Neuhaus, 72, editor in chief of First Things, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, and author of numerous books, died Jan. 8 in New York City. He was hospitalized the day after Christmas with side effects from cancer and did not recover.
Neuhaus began his ecclesiastical career in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and led an African-American congregation in Brooklyn, where he became a civil-rights advocate, marching in Selma, Ala., alongside Martin Luther King Jr. He became a national figure when he broke with the conservative Protestant denomination to join the Roman Catholic Church. John Cardinal O'Connor received Neuhaus into the Archdiocese of New York in 1990.
"Neuhaus in those years was an interesting combination of liberal and conservative," noted WORLD contributor and former Time religion editor Richard N. Ostling. "He was skeptical of the right wing of his denomination but also of the National Council of Churches and mainline denominations. As a Roman Catholic, he became a real leader of the conservative, pro-Vatican, traditionalist flank of the Catholic Church." That included becoming "a powerful voice in the pro-life movement, particularly after Roe v. Wade," noted Ostling, which led more recently to his advising President George W. Bush on issues including abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage.
His book The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America helped to further redefine the conservative/liberal divide by taking on secularism and the departure of faith from public life. Michael Cromartie, director of the Evangelical Studies Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where Neuhaus served as a board member, said Neuhaus "was without peer in his ability to formulate a response to the theological, ethical, foreign policy, and domestic issues of the day. He could think deeply on a broad range of issues and be penetratingly insightful."
In 1994, Charles Colson and Neuhaus convened a group of Catholic and evangelical leaders to produce a manifesto called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." The document drew criticism from both sides, with evangelicals maintaining that Neuhaus was trying to persuade evangelicals to dilute the doctrine of justification by faith alone in order to find common theological ground. Time magazine, failing to note the divisions between the two groups, in 2005 named Neuhaus one of the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America." But it was a rarity indeed for anyone on either side of the divide to charge Neuhaus with unfairness in his portrayal of friends or foes-a record that was more remarkable because of the sheer volume of his literary output and notable for his kindness in engaging opponents.