Mike’s Mandate: Augustinian Sensibility
The entire team at Providence joins the many mourning the loss of Michael Cromartie, who died last week at the age of 67 after a two-year battle with cancer. In addition to our own tributes, and at the Juicy Ecumenism site (here and here), among the many memorial comments worth reading, I commend especially Carl Cannon’s “An Indispensable Man”, another by Kathleen Parker, and this one at The Federalist.
For us, Mike was a friend, colleague, collaborator—co-conspirator even—and, always, a wise, generous, and flat-out funny counselor. He was also a founding contributing editor in our little Providence revolution and had invested ample thought, time, and energy into helping it succeed. A favorite day dream of mine has always been to have my own cable show featuring me, a porch in the mountains, and a gaggle of curmudgeonly friends in which nothing much else would happen beyond conversations of consequence, drinks in hand, on any of a broad array of themes. Think Statler and Waldorf at the intersection of Christian intelligence, ethics, and public life. Mike would have had a rocking chair whenever he wanted it.
Mike helped launch Providence, in November of 2015, when he participated in a panel discussion introducing the journal and casting its vision. He took the opportunity to share four “hopes” (I accepted them as mandates) for themes that would characterize our project.
These included, first, that we ought to “always touch on the importance of understanding properly the Just War Theory and its tradition, especially always updating it in our age of terror.” Mike saw this as crucial not simply as a guide to policymakers but in order to go on the offensive against the growing influence of pacifism not just in our Christian pews but our Christian colleges as well. Mike wanted a counter-voice to the moral vacuity of Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder—or even, more popularly, of a Shane Claiborne or Tony Campolo–on matters of war and American power. He wanted this not “because we love war but because we know that there are evil people in the world who would like to kill innocent people.”
He also wanted us to “highlight the sorry state of religious freedom in the world today and the awful persecution believers are suffering as a result.” He advocated for persecuted religious minorities not simply to stand up for fellow believers, nor, even, purely as a matter of justice—though these values were present, of course. More than this, however, was the irrefutable bright line Mike understood to exist between religious freedom and other human goods: reduced conflict, socio-economic advance, and the consolidation of democratic liberalism.
Mike also wanted Providence to operate within that sphere in which he lived his own life, that world of the “now and not yet.” This is a commitment to sober living, to knowing that “the kingdom of God has entered this age now, but the final kingdom has not come, yet.” This recognition that we live in the interim moment between the inauguration of the promise and the promise’s final consummation gave Mike a commitment to “strive to maintain and to create an order that approximates justice and to work fervently to prevent the very worst from happening” without the unnecessary burden of believing that everything depends on human performance. Mike knew that history, if nothing else does, reveals to us the horrors that occurs when human beings strive for utopias in the here and now.
Finally, grounding all of this, Mike hoped Providence would commit to the resurgence among its readers of the love of prudence—toward what Thomas Aquinas called “the perfected ability to make right decisions.” Mike elaborated:
Prudence is defined as practical wisdom and it is the process of moral reasoning by which our ideals are approximated to the contours of a very fallen and imperfect world. So therefore, a prudent person asks what are the ends that we have seen, and then they balance and weigh the ends. And this balancing process may require that we reduce the scope of some of our ends and our goals. The prudent person is not an ideologue but instead is a person who is always open to new facts and new information and willing to adjust their views according to reality.
Mike understood that Christianity is not moralism, it cannot be reduced to a simple moral code characterized by easy claims of “Always do this” or “Always do that.” Ours is a world in which norms conflict and have to be adjudicated through the aid of tools that God has given us, including reason, revelation, and experience. He continued,
Prudent Christians are Christian realists who understand that our ideals must be approximated because we live in an imperfect world. The prudent person realizes that the drawing of relative moral distinctions is a Christian’s social and political responsibility, [and] is prepared, therefor, to make imperfect choices between all terms, including not always the best alternatives we’d like to have.
Providence has done its best to put legs to Mike’s mandate. We recognize that moving morally through this world involves conflict with our best intentions, most fervent hopes, and deepest commitments. We aim to be a resource that brings the wisdom of the tradition of Christian intelligence to bear on those “knotty complexities” that characterize this interim life. Too often, a Christian insistence to maintain “clean hands” allows enormous evils to befall our neighbors. This is not to suggest we do what is morally wrong so that good might result. It is to suggest that much of what we might think is morally wrong is simply a misinterpretation of the data. Which brings us, again, to Mike’s call for prudence and, hard on its heels, for humility in the face of moral ambiguity.
Mike’s early mandate remains an important part of that star that guides this ship. Our mission was made clearer by his participation and guidance. Our memory of him will continue to help us on our way. And, in the end of all things, we look forward to further collaboration in the renewed Heavens and Earth.
Meanwhile, we cherish your continued partnership. There’s always a place on the porch for you.
Marc LiVecche is managing editor of Providence.
This post originally appeared in the Providence newsletter, a weekly wrap up, with original musings from our editors. To sign up, simply enter your email here.