Acton Institute Powerblog

Dispatches from the Academy 3: Neuhaus’ Choice

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Again reporting from the Making Men Moral conference at Union University . . .

The evening panel featured Robert George, Jean Bethke-Elshtain, David Novak, and Harry Poe. Their primary subject was the life of Richard John Neuhaus. Lots of great material, but Robert George spoke very movingly of Neuhaus’ career.

In the 1960’s, Neuhaus was a friend and associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. During the next decade, Neuhaus moved into position to become the most prominent religious liberal in the United States, perhaps succeeding Reinhold Niebuhr in the esteem of the media and cultural elites. It was a position that would have been attractive to the talented Rev. Neuhaus.

Then, Roe v. Wade happened. At first, there was such a thing as a pro-life liberal. Teddy Kennedy was one. Jesse Jackson was one. Albert Gore was one. So was Richard John Neuhaus.

But the center failed to hold and the pro-life liberals pronounced fealty to Planned Parenthood in serial fashion. Richard John Neuhaus could have done that, too, had he wished to preserve his chance to succeed Niebuhr as the most prominent mainline Protestant.

Abandoning the unborn child, the defenseless and innocent human being who desperately needed protection, was a step too far for Neuhaus. So, he left “the left” behind.

The tenor of the story fit a persistent theme of this conference with speakers cognizant of the presence of young evangelicals in the room. Hold your ideals more dear than your lust for applause. The temptation to make oneself acceptable to the dominant zeitgeist is terrible in its power. Do as Richard John Neuhaus did. Resist.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in Religion & Politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.


  • Keith Toepfer

    Fr. Neuhaus was a considerable inspiration to me. Above all, reading him for four years in ‘First Things’ I came to understand the degree to which the Catholic Church has been completely misrepresented in the public arena. Like him, I had been raised in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in the latter 1950s and early 1960s. Unlike him, following something of several year crisis of faith, I became Episcopalian. In September of last year, realizing that the Episcopal slogan of “not having to leave your brain at the door” was a rationalization for the hubris of [i]progressivism[/i], and having read through three quarters of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I formally renounced my membership in the Episcopal Church and began attending a local Catholic parish. Although not the only person, he was more than any other, the man whose words drew me to the Catholic Church, for which I will be eternally grateful. My only regret is that it only occurred to me to write him and thank him for that inspiration two days prior to the public announcement that he had been admitted to the hospital. I look forward to the opportunity to rectify that omission when we are all raised.

  • Pleased to hear of yoou today through EWTN and the interview, speaking truth and reaality.