Interview: Russell Moore on religious liberty, Franklin Graham and Moore’s past life as a Democrat

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Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion as David Platt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, listens. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion as David Platt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, listens. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is in the spotlight Tuesday (Aug. 4) interviewing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at an evangelical conference in Nashville. Moore talks with Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt about a range of pressing issues and the message of Moore’s new book, “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.”

Q: Before you became a theologian, you worked in Democratic politics. What drew you to that party in those days?

A: The congressman that I was working for was a conservative pro-life Democrat in exile who was a Republican in everything but name. He is, in fact, now a Republican. But on issues of life, military preparedness and virtually any other issue one could name, he was as conservative as they come.


READ: Is Russell Moore a Pope Francis for evangelicals?


Q: In your book, you argue that we should do away with a “Moral Majority” mindset and adopt a “prophetic minority” mindset instead. What does that look like practically?

A: The assumption that the larger culture agrees with Christians on values issues led to evangelicals’ minimizing the theologically distinctive aspects of Christian witness. It also set up evangelicals to be disappointed when the culture did not turn out the way many expected it to turn out. So our response ought to be that we are always, in every culture, strangers in exile. That’s not a new phenomenon. We’re not exiled from American culture as if we were previously at home here. But now we have a clarity about where we fit in American culture that is appropriate and right, and that gives us an opportunity to speak as a people who are both alienated and engaged.

Q: You also talk in the book about how Christians should interact with culture. Franklin Graham said recently that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to immigrate to America. What do you think about that idea?

A: I am not for deporting or barring Muslims from the United States. It is not because I believe Christianity and Islam are morally equivalent. It is because I believe in the power of the gospel, and the presence of our Muslim neighbors doesn’t threaten that. We should be kind to these Muslim neighbors and share the gospel evangelistically with them. Many of the Muslim refugees in this country may well be our future brothers and sisters in Christ.


READ: Russell Moore to interview Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio at evangelical rally


Q: Religious liberty is very important to you, and you’ve stated that a Christian business owner should be able to refuse service to an LGBT couple seeking to wed. We disagree on this, but can you explain succinctly why you believe this?

A: I think the government should not coerce people with the threat of running them out of business to participate in activities that they believe to be immoral. There is a difference between a business selling a product and a person using his or her creative talents to participate in a ceremony that he or she believes to be immoral.

Q: Why do you think the Christian cake baker should be able to refuse service on religious grounds to an LGBT couple, but should not be able to refuse service on religious grounds to an interracial couple or Muslim couple?

A: I don’t think the issue is refusing service, but participating in a wedding that is a moral violation of their conscience. The belief about human sexuality is one held by every major religion. This is not some novel idea.

Q: But what if, for example, you had a cake baker who was a Bob Jones University graduate that believed the Bible taught that a black person shouldn’t marry a white person. Would you support that cake baker refusing to “participate” in an interracial wedding because it would be “a moral violation of their conscience”?

A: No. Because no one is suggesting that religious liberty is an exemption from all laws and expectations. Rather, we are asking that the government show a compelling interest in why they are violating someone’s free exercise and how they are doing so in the least restrictive means. The government has shown a compelling interest in dealing with racial discrimination because we have a two-century-long history of state coercion of people on the basis of race. So I think the two categories are quite different.

Q: You took heat recently for opposing flying the Confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol. What do you think you understood about this issue that other Christians overlooked?

A: The thing that surprised me was that I wasn’t criticized that much. When I wrote that article, I expected enormous blowback but I believed it was the right thing to do. I was pleasantly surprised that there was very little criticism and almost no criticism from the South. Most of the hate mail I received on the battle flag came from Northern ZIP codes. I think that is because Southern people — white and black — understand the meaning of the flag.

Q: Some people seem to think that America is, morally speaking, getting worse every day. But it seems to me if you asked an African-American woman if we’re better off now than in the 1950s, I think she would have a slightly different answer than a wealthy white male. Do you think America is in moral decline?

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Merritt

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Merritt

A: I think we’re worse in some ways and better in some ways than we were 50 and 60 years ago. Cultural revolutions and moral trends are never permanent. The New Testament speaks about things going “from bad to worse” in 2 Timothy 3, but also says at the same time, speaking of false teachers, “they will not get very far.” So the biblical picture is not one of an upward, linear progress or a precipitous, downward decline. It is a more complicated picture of a fallen world in which there is a gospel of power.

(Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and author of “Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined” and “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.” He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.)

LM/MG END MERRITT

  • Larry

    Russell Moore confuses religious liberty with personal privilege. From the Confederate Flag to the new version of Jim Crow his church is promoting in legislatures and lawsuits, the man was utterly evasive about how discrimination is extolled by his church. The SBC is still a church which panders to bigotry. They are trying to be less obvious about it in this day and age.

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  • Larry

    Go away Fran-bot.

  • Theophilus

    I very rarely disagree with Russell Moore. Why? Because we are good buddies and belong to the same denomination? No — because he is fully committed to the Scriptures has a straightforward hermeneutic. LIberals would have you believe there are a variety of valid biblical positions on just about any issue you care to name, but it just isn’t so.

    I will say, though, that Mr Merritt’s question about racial intermarriage was very clever and that Moore’s answer was weak.

  • “It is not because I believe Christianity and Islam are morally equivalent.”

    No – They are equally immoral and insidious.

    “We should be kind to these Muslim neighbors..”

    YES we should.

    “and share the gospel evangelistically with them.”

    How annoying.

    “Many of the Muslim refugees in this country may well be our future brothers and sisters in Christ.”

    Yuck.
    How about just accept them as brothers and sisters of humanity as science demonstrates is already the case. What do you need the divisive Christ nonsense for?

    This is a perfect example of how religion adds up to a useless, needless caveat – it does not help anything.

  • Eric

    “LIberals would have you believe there are a variety of valid biblical positions on just about any issue you care to name, but it just isn’t so.”

    Gosh darn it you’re smart! I love the way you make generalizations without evidence! And assertions as if they were facts! Now that’s a “straightforward hermeneutic” one can be proud of! So blessed by your “full commitment to the Scriptures!” You don’t let a commitment to Jesus get in the way of putting your own thoughts on the Word of God, no sir, and that’s an example all real Christians should follow!

  • “Execute them” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    “Love them” – JESUS (Mark 12:31)

    Toss a coin.
    Then realize you have not a god.
    But a coin.

  • Susan

    Well, Max I agree with you on somethings. It’s not just annoying, it’s arrogant and offensive.

    Religion should tell us that we are all children of God and we are equal. Human beings are not just rational creatures. I sometimes think that atheists lack social and emotional intelligence.

  • “Atheists lack social and emotional intelligence”

    That is just bigoted. You have crossed the line.
    I hate smoking – not smokers.
    I hate religion – not believers.
    I would never make a blanket statement about believers!

    But you have gone farther saying you don’t like Atheism AND you don’t think much of Atheists. We are somehow less than you because we lack something do we?

    You think you are especially sensitive do you? You have a better insight into reality somehow do you?

    “Kill homosexuals” – Yahweh (Leviticus 20:13)
    “Kill all infidels” – Allah (Surah 9.5)
    “Execute them” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    I can’t think of a kinder, more humane thing to do
    than to challenge the claims about God – mercilessly and relentlessly.

    Where is this ridiculous god you keep defending? The less you show, the less smart, socially aware and the less emotionally intelligent you look.

  • Susan

    You missed my point which is that people have needs which are not rational and cannot be answered by rational thinking or science. It’s not so much whether you believe in God or not. It’s that you think that religion offers nothing good to people. I have personally seen that it does and that it is independent of whether there is a God or not.

  • LLoyd

    You keep quoting the “execute them” as if Jesus said that in His earthly ministry. The statement comes at the end of a parable in which Jesus is telling about a nobleman who gave servants money to invest while he was gone. When the nobleman returned he held them accountable for how they had invested. It is a parable, a story with a lesson, illustrating the whole picture of history in which each person is accountable for what they are given. Jesus did not come the first time for judgment. He came to reveal His mercy, grace and forgiveness and offer Himself as the way that will be accomplished. The next time He comes it will be for judgment of those who reject Him. I suggest you examine what you believe in the light of the obvious evidence of who Christ was and is. One day it will be very important to you.

  • “I suggest you examine …who Christ was…One day it will be very important to you.”

    Excuse me?
    IS THAT A THREAT?

    Funny how you disown “Execute them” as if it is not the veiled threat it is!
    Yet two seconds later you claim it to be true by hammering me with it!

    I have no fear of this childish nonsense. Because I am a grown up.
    Frightening and sad to think people who are otherwise functioning normally would cower in pathetic fetal position when hearing the word ‘Hell’. And you dare to think this noble? Or righteous?

    Utterly disgraceful. Shame on you.

  • Susan,

    You condescend to believers. You really do.
    How arrogant.

    I try to open their eyes to the truth.
    You coddle their pathetic beliefs as if they can’t handle the truth. Shame on you.

    Those believers need help – as I did when I was a believer!
    Under your guidance, I would still be sap – sucking up to Jesus for my “need for irrational baby talk”

    Really, you are extraordinarily cruel.

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