Richard John Neuhaus

Richard John Neuhaus (May 14, 1936 – January 8, 2009) was a prominent Christian cleric (first in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, then ELCA pastor and later as a Roman Catholic priest) and writer. Born in Canada, Neuhaus moved to the United States where he became a naturalized United States citizen. He was the longtime editor of the Lutheran Forum magazine newsletter and later founder and editor of the monthly journal First Things and the author of numerous books. A staunch defender of the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on abortion and other life issues, he served as an unofficial adviser to 43rd President George W. Bush on bioethical issues.[1]

Early life and education

Born in Pembroke, Ontario in 1936, Neuhaus was one of eight children of a Lutheran minister and his wife. Although he had dropped out of high school at age 16 to operate a gas station in Texas,[2] he returned to school, graduating from Concordia Lutheran College of Austin, Texas, in 1956. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he earned his BA and MDiv from Concordia Seminary in 1960.[1]


Lutheran minister/pastor

Neuhaus was first an ordained minister in the conservative Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.[3] In 1974, a major schism in the Missouri Synod resulted in many "modernist" churches splitting to form the more progressive Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to which Neuhaus eventually affiliated. The AELC, merged a decade later in 1988 with the other two more liberal Lutheran denominations in the U.S., The American Lutheran Church (1960), and the Lutheran Church in America (1962) to finally form the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for which Neuhaus was a member of the clergy.

From 1961 to 1978, he served as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, a poor, predominantly black and Hispanic congregation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.[4] From the pulpit he addressed civil rights and social justice concerns and spoke against the Vietnam War. In the late 1960s he gained national prominence when, together with Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, he founded Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam.[1]

He was active in the Lutheran "Evangelical Catholic" movement and spent time at Saint Augustine's House, the Lutheran Benedictine monastery, in Oxford, Michigan. He was active in liberal politics until the 1973 ruling on abortion in Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, which he opposed and his perspective changed. He became a member of the growing neoconservative movement and an outspoken advocate of "democratic capitalism". He also advocated faith-based policy initiatives by the federal government based upon Judeo-Christian values.[1] He originated the "Neuhaus's Law",[5] which states, "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed."[5]

He was a longtime editor of the monthly newsletter published in between quarterly issues of the interdenominational independent journal Lutheran Forum, published by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau during the 1970s and 1980s. He was a supporter of the movement to reestablish in Lutheranism, the permanent diaconate (deacon) as a full fledged office in the threefold ministry of bishop / presbyter (priest) / deacon under the historic episcopacy (office of bishop), following earlier actions of the Roman Catholics in the Second Vatican Council and the Episcopal Church in the U.S., along with others in the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Church of England.

In 1981, Neuhaus helped to found the Institute on Religion and Democracy and remained on its board until his death. He wrote its founding document, "Christianity and Democracy". In 1984, he established the Center for Religion and Society as part of the conservative think-tank Rockford Institute in Rockford, Illinois, which publishes Chronicles. In 1989, he and the center were "forcibly evicted" from the Institute's eastern offices in New York City under disputed circumstances.

In March 1990, Neuhaus founded the Institute on Religion and Public Life and its journal, First Things, an ecumenical journal "whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society."[6]

Roman Catholic priest

In September 1990, Neuhaus was received into the Roman Catholic Church.[7] A year after becoming a Roman Catholic, he was ordained by John Cardinal O'Connor as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He served as a commentator for the Catholic television network Eternal Word Television (EWTN) during the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

Neuhaus continued to edit First Things as a Catholic priest. He was a sought-after public speaker and wrote several books, both scholarly and popular genres. He appeared in the 2010 film, The Human Experience, released after his death, where his voice features in the narration and in the film's trailer.

Personal life and death

Neuhaus died from complications of cancer in New York City,[8] on January 8, 2009, aged 72.[9]

Political significance

In later years, Neuhaus compared the pro-life struggle to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. During the 2004 Presidential campaign, he was a leading advocate for denying communion to Catholic politicians who supported abortion and voted against the church's teaching on life issues. It was a mistake, he declared, to isolate abortion "from other issues of the sacredness of life."[1]

Neuhaus promoted ecumenical dialogue and social conservatism. Along with Charles Colson, he edited Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission (1995).[10] This ecumenical manifesto sparked much debate.

A close, yet unofficial, adviser of President George W. Bush, he advised Bush on a range of religious and ethical matters, including abortion, stem-cell research, cloning, and the Federal Marriage Amendment.[11] In 2005, under the heading of "Bushism Made Catholic," Neuhaus was named one of the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America" by Time Magazine:[11]

"Bushism Made Catholic:" When Bush met with journalists from religious publications last year, the living authority he cited most often was not a fellow Evangelical but a man he calls Father Richard, who, he explained, "helps me articulate these [religious] things." A senior Administration official confirms that Neuhaus "does have a fair amount of under-the-radar influence" on such policies as abortion, stem-cell research, cloning and the defense-of-marriage amendment.

Time Magazine, Feb. 5, 2005[11]

Neuhaus was criticized for his political engagement as "theoconservatism."[12][13] In contrast, theologian David Bentley Hart describes Neuhaus as

"a reflective, intelligent, self-possessed, generous, and principled man," "is opinionated (definitely), but not at all spiteful or resentful towards those who disagree with him; words like "absolutist" are vacuous abstractions when applied to him. His magazine publishes articles that argue (sometimes quite forcibly) views contrary to his own, and he seems quite pleased that it should do so.[14]



  • Movement and Revolution (co-authored with Peter Berger, 1970)
  • In Defense of People: Ecology and the Seduction of Radicalism (1971)
  • Time Toward Home: The American Experiment as Revelation (1975)
  • Against the World for the World: The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion (co-authored with Peter Berger, 1976)
  • Freedom for Ministry" (1979)
  • Unsecular America (1986)
  • The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1986; ISBN 0-8028-3588-0)
  • Confession, Conflict, and Community (co-edited with Peter Berger, 1986)
  • Dispensations: The Future of South Africa As South Africans See It (1986)
  • Piety and Politics: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Confront the World (co-editor with Michael Cromartie, 1987)
  • Democracy and the Renewal of Public Education (editor with author Richard Baer, 1987)
  • Jews in Unsecular America (1987)
  • The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World (1987; ISBN 0-06-066096-1)
  • Believing Today: Jew and Christian in Conversation (co-authored with Leon Klinicki, 1989)
  • Reinhold Niebuhr Today (1989)
  • Guaranteeing the Good Life: Medicine and the Return of Eugenics (editor, 1990)
  • Doing Well & Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist (1992)
  • America Against Itself: Moral Vision and the Public Order (1992; ISBN 0-268-00633-4)
  • Freedom for Ministry: A Guide for the Perplexed Who are Called to Serve (1992; ISBN 0-06-066095-3)
  • To Empower People: From State to Civil Society (co-authored with Peter Berger, 1996)
  • The End of Democracy?: The Celebrated First Things Debate, With Arguments Pro and Con and "the Anatomy of a Controversy" (co-edited with Mitchell Muncy, 1997)
  • The Best of the Public Square (1997)
  • Appointment In Rome: The Church in America Awakening (1999)
  • The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying (editor, 2000; ISBN 0-268-02757-9)
  • A Free Society Reader: Principles for the New Millennium (2000; ISBN 0-7391-0144-7)
  • There We Stood, Here We Stand: Eleven Lutherans Rediscover Their Catholic Roots (co-authored with Timothy Drake, 2001)
  • The Second One Thousand Years: Ten People Who Defined a Millennium (editor, 2001)
  • The Best of the Public Square: Book 2 (2001)
  • Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (2001; ISBN 0-465-04933-8)
  • As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning (2002; ISBN 0-465-04930-3)
  • The Chosen People in an Almost Chosen Nation: Jews and Judaism in America (editor, 2002)
  • Your Word Is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (co-edited with Charles Colson; 2002; ISBN 0-8028-0508-6)
  • As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning (2003)
  • The Best of the Public Square: Book 3 (2007)
  • Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth (2007; ISBN 0-465-04935-4)
  • American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile (2009)


Further reading

See also


  1. Dennis Sadowski, "Fr. Neuhaus, adviser to George Bush, dies aged 72.", The Catholic Herald, London, January 16, 2009, p. 6.
  2. George Weigel: "An Honorable Christian Soldier", Newsweek, January 19, 2009
  3. Neuhaus, Richard John (2007), The Best of the Public Square, 3, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 0-8028-2720-9.
  4. "Rev. R. J. Neuhaus, Political Theologian, Dies at 72", New York Times, January 8, 2009
  5. First Things. "The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy", First Things, February 2009
  6. "Mission Statement" Archived June 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, First Things
  7. Neuhaus, Richard John (April 2002), "How I Became the Catholic I Was", First Things
  8. Richard John Neuhaus, 1936–2009 Archived January 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. "News of Fr. Neuhaus' death", First Things, January 2009.
  10. Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, Thomas Nelson, 1995, ISBN 0-8499-3860-0.
  11. Time Magazine. The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America – Richard John Neuhaus 2005
  12. Linker, Damon (2007). The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. New York: Anchor Books. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
  13. Wooldridge, Adrian (September 24, 2006). "Church as State". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
  14. Hart, David Bentley. "Con man". The New Criterion. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
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