A True Believer
Pew no longer bankrolls the conferences, so Cromartie pulls together smaller grants to keep them going. Recent economic turmoil has made finding funding difficult, but Cromartie remains a true believer. Evangelicals are still misunderstood, but that's only cause for greater engagement. He says, "We're sometimes asked, 'Why are you bringing that person, who wrote some misinformed pieces?' That's precisely why we're inviting them.
"We want them better informed. The argument is not advanced if all you do is curse the darkness."
Ross Douthat, a devout Catholic and the youngest New York Times columnist in the newspaper's history, has become an avid supporter and member of the forums. The conferences "vindicate evangelicals' sense that the media has particular deficits when it comes to understanding religion in general and evangelicalism in particular," and also show that evangelicals "are wrong to see it as a gap forged from malice, bias, and antipathy." If the press "just doesn't get religion," to quote CNN political analyst William Schneider, it's "a deficit of knowledge and not of sympathy or interest," says Douthat.
"Most reporters go into the business because they're curious, and if you present them with something interesting, they'll listen," agrees Brooks, whose late-night conversations with Christopher Hitchens at the forums are the stuff of legend. "You can complain or you can be helpful. Mike has chosen to be helpful."
Tim Keller arrived at the most recent Faith Angle Forum, in March, to explain the faith and future of American evangelicals. He presented an image different from Warren's but no less compelling—more urban, cultured, and intellectual. Today's younger generation of evangelicals, he says, are more complex politically, more multiethnic, more likely to enter the cultural industries and "captivated by the idea of sacrificial service and pouring themselves out for the poor." Pressed repeatedly on Christian opposition to same-sex marriage, he explains that evangelicals see sex "not as a consumer good but a form of self-donation." Evangelicals believe that "male and female have unique glories" and marriage must bring those glories together. This makes sex "a kind of Eucharist for married people, a reunion of the alienated genders."
Whether or not it convinced the skeptics in the room, it was a winsome and impressive response. Afterward, Keller reflected that events like these "destroy stereotypes and clear away the fog." He only wished, he said, there could be more events to accommodate more journalists, and more pastors could experience facing the journalistic firing line and having to justify their views in public language.
Of course, without Cromartie's affable guidance and his enthusiasm for his friends on both ends of the spectrum, the forums could not have navigated the treacherous waters of faith and politics for so long. At the 2005 session, several journalists pressed Warren on the issue of damnation. The questions were pointed, the atmosphere tense. Cromartie intervened: "Questions about eternal destination are best handled over the cocktail hour soon to follow."