Michael Cromartie: 2017 Young Life Posthumous Alumni Achievement Award

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In a September 1, 2017, “New York Times” obituary article, columnist Sam Roberts wrote, Michael “Cromartie made a career out of collaborating with journalists to demystify his fellow evangelicals’ influence on politics. He pursued a mission not to convert, but to advise — both individually and at dozens of the Faith Angle forums he organized in Maine and Florida beginning in 1999 under the auspices of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, where he was a vice president and director of the center’s Evangelicals in Civic Life project.”


In the same article, Carl M. Cannon, the Washington bureau chief for the website “RealClearPolitics” wrote, “Mike Cromartie did more to ensure that American political journalism is imbued with religious tolerance, biblical literacy, historical insight and an ecumenical spirit than any person alive.”

Echoing these sentiments, in an August 28, 2017, “Christianity Today” article written by Kate Shellnut, Michael Wear, a former White House faith adviser under Barack Obama, described Cromartie as “one of Christianity’s principal ambassadors in Washington, [representing] Jesus with joyful confidence.”

Michael Cromartie’s accomplishments are too numerous to list, and his influence on American media too far-reaching to sum up in a tribute such as this. As you read articles about him, you are overwhelmed by his influence. He was a research assistant for Chuck Colson’s Prison Ministries. He was the editor of more than a dozen books, and was appointed by President George W. Bush to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and was elected its chairman twice. He was a beloved husband and father, and held degrees from both Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, Georgia) and American University. Michael Cromartie was also a Young Life alumnus.

In 1967 Mal and Wanda McSwain moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia, to grow the Young Life work there. Mal remembers walking into the gym late that summer to find a young man shooting hoops all by himself; this young man was Michael Cromartie. Interestingly, Michael had recently also made the move from Charlotte to Atlanta and was beginning his senior year at Dykes High School. McSwain recalls that he and Cromartie struck up a conversation during which Michael asked, “How long are you going to be here?” Thinking he meant at the school that day, McSwain responded, “Until after football practice.” In reality, Michael was wondering if McSwain would be there the entire school year and if this was an adult he could trust. Both McSwain and Cromartie were new to Atlanta and Mal remembers Michael being “easy to like.” Their friendship continued and, eventually, Cromartie began coming to Young Life club.

In 1962, McSwain had created the “Western Tour” in Charlotte; an opportunity for young people to see the western United States while also going to camp at Frontier Ranch. In 1968, the tour was launched in Atlanta and Cromartie took part in the inaugural trip. It was during this tour that Cromartie not only went to Frontier Ranch as a camper, but he also received his nickname, “Pearl.” According to Mal, “While we were in southern California, we played basketball against some college players from a nearby university. Michael played out of his head that day and was given the nickname ‘Pearl’ from an all-American player.” Incredibly, Cromartie didn’t play basketball in high school, but did go on to play in college! Later that summer, Cromartie returned to Frontier on work crew, as McSwain served as camp director.

 

Cromartie would eventually go on several “Western Tours” as a counselor with McSwain, and served as a volunteer leader at Lovett High School in Atlanta after graduating from college. McSwain and Cromartie would have a lifelong friendship — a friendship that would include spouses and children. About Michael, Mal said, “It was amazing to have a front-row seat to see Pearl blossom and grow. He was one of those guys that you could see his life have an impact on others. He had a God-given gift of being able to ask questions and was amazing at bringing people together.” Though Michael’s volunteer involvement with Young Life declined over the years, in the midst of the demands of his career, he was never very far away from the mission via ongoing support of many friends, including McSwain and Lee Corder.

It is an honor to celebrate the life of Michael Cromartie by recognizing him as our very first Young Life “Posthumous Alumni Achievement Award” recipient.