Friday, January 09, 2009

richard john neuhaus r.i.p.

I was saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Richard John Neuhaus, editor and founder of First Things (see link to the right), and Catholic priest and theologian. I first encountered Neuhaus by reading Freedom For Ministry in preparation for ordination interviews in the early and middle 1980s. It remains one of the very best texts on the practice of ministry. I followed his writing over the intervening years, as he made the transition from liberal activist to neo-conservative, and, concurrently, from Lutheran pastor to Catholic priest in the 1990s. I subscribed to First Things, not because I agreed with its content (often I did not), but because it was the most intellectually engaging periodical devoted to Christianity in North America. Neuhaus himself could be, and I choose my word carefully here, arrogant, in person (I met him at an excellent gathering around the "Princeton Proposal For Christian Unity") and in print (note, for example, his response to N.T. Wright's recent book on Easter). In his defense, he was brilliant, and secure in his convictions, and happy for you to come to embrace them!

Neuhaus saw his journey from liberalism and the civil rights movement to support for the pro-life cause as a natural progression, and for this I give thanks (I also note that he mentored Paul Stallsworth, good friend, United Methodist pastor and editor of Lifewatch). For me this is coherent with a consistent ethic of life. I was more at odds with him in his uncritical support for the neo-conservative (or theo-conservative) movement, and his unwillingness to reflect fairly on the pain caused by the priest abuse scandal.

One of the reflections on his life notes that there were two Neuhauses, the one who could write brilliantly about matters of faith (Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on The Last Word of Jesus From The Cross is another example), and the one who through his writing consistently incited the culture wars. This is true. I can give thanks for his substantial witness to the gospel of life, while at the same time lamenting his role in the politically divisive culture that characterizes American political and denominational life. His larger contribution, however, must be in pointing all of us to the one church that embraces all who call upon the name of the Lord. For Neuhaus this was a lifelong journey, and I am confident that he goes before us, and that we will someday resume our lively conversation around the banquet table.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.


Blogger Tim said...

How does calling the dead Father "arrogant" "bear witness to the love of God in the world"?

See Matthew 7:3.

8:49 AM  
Blogger ken carter said...

you make a good point

4:14 AM  

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