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In late 1989 or early 1990, in my home office north of Chicago, I received a provocative letter from Richard Neuhaus. The name may have rung a bell—I can no longer recall—but more important, his project intrigued me: to put faith first and to organize public life around it. Or, as he later wrote: “Religion best serves public life by relativizing the importance of public life, especially of public life understood as politics. Authentic religion keeps the political enterprise humble by reminding it that it is not the first thing.” I was searching for formative help in faith and life, so Neuhaus’s letter inviting me to become a subscriber struck home. I subscribed and received the inaugural issue of First Things in March 1990, joining the Neuhaus-led conversation.

In that issue, following thoughtful articles by Mary Ann Glendon, Stanley Hauerwas, David Novak, Michael Novak, and George Weigel, Neuhaus used his Public Square to expose patricians “of tested genetic stock” who pollute the conservative movement with “nativism, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, a penchant for authoritarian politics, and related diseases of . . . ressentiment.” The names of offenders have changed but, thirty-four years on, his diagnosis and the challenge hold.

Subsequent issues did not disappoint. A few prophetic articles come quickly to mind: J. Budziszewski, “The Revenge of Conscience” (1998); Daniel Philpott, “Peace After Genocide” (2012); Robert P. George, “Ruling to Serve” (2013); Rusty Reno’s “War on the Weak” (2013, well before the Trump phenomenon). Recent Erasmus Lectures are worth re-visiting, especially: Jonathan Sacks’s “On Creative Minorities” (delivered in 2013); N. T. Wright’s “Loving to Know” (2019); and Carl R. Trueman’s “The Desecration of Man” (2023). For those who share my ecumenical longings, read any statement by Evangelicals & Catholics Together.

For years now I have taken in the magazine cover to cover, and First Things is on a short list of readings that form my outlook and thus my character. With that in mind, I serve on its board, contribute to our mission joyfully, and warmly invite others to join and support the conversation.

Larry A. Smith, a member of the First Things board of directors, is president emeritus of ScholarLeaders and a trustee of Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife live in Italy.

Image by Arthur Bowen Davies via Public Domain. Image cropped.

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