Two cheers for Russell Moore

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Russell Moore preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on October 9, 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Russell Moore preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on October 9, 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s hard not to admire Russell Moore. The head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has been the most stalwart Trump recusant of any American evangelical leader.

Call him the anti-Jerry Falwell Jr.

Falwell, who is leading Trump’s amen choir, has gone so far as to suggest that Moore is a “closet liberal.” While he doesn’t deserve that indignity, Moore has had the guts to stand up for traditional Baptist principles against the prejudices of many of his co-religionists.

Like on religious liberty.

Five years ago, Richard Land, Moore’s predecessor at the ERLC, cut a profile in pusillanimity by resigning from the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, an organization he helped found the previous year to support the right of Muslims to build their houses of worship.

“While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship,” Land wrote in his resignation letter, “they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is ‘a bridge too far.'”

By contrast, Moore’s ERLC signed on to a legal brief supporting a New Jersey group’s right to build a mosque — a move he staunchly defended in the face of opposition at the Southern Baptist Convention in June.

Did I mention that Richard Land is supporting Donald Trump?

Given the big love Trump is currently getting from white evangelicals, Moore must be glad that his mentor Al Mohler has his back. Mohler, who presided over the conservative takeover of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, appeared with Moore on a panel in late July at which both said why they wouldn’t be voting for Trump in November.

For Mohler, the problem was Trump’s bad moral character, which he said “eclipses Bill Clinton.” Moore, more impassioned, cited Trump’s campaign rhetoric:

When you have someone who is standing up race baiting, racist speech, using immigrants and others in our communities in the most horrific ways and we say ‘that doesn’t matter’ and we are part of the global body of Christ simply for the sake of American politics, and we expect that we are going to be able to reach the nations for Christ? I don’t think so, and so I think we need to let our yes be yes and our no be no and our never be never.

Each insisted that the abortion issue could not be allowed to, well, trump all other considerations.

Which brings us to last week’s annual conference of the ERLC, at which Moore lamented the extent to which politics has become key to evangelical identity in America.

“Part of what we have to do is to dethrone politics as a religion and as a source of identity while at the same time remaining engaged in our responsibilities as citizens, in communities and neighbors, which includes the political process,” he said.

But problem for (white) evangelicals is not politics as a religion so much as Republicanism as a religion — the legacy of nearly four decades of concerted activism by the organized religious right. What has emerged this year is the extent to which issues like abortion and gay rights have been a pretext for supporting the GOP.

Jerry Falwell Jr., scion of the founder of the religious right, rationalized the situation as follows:

Because the country is in such dire straights, many pastors tell me, “What difference does it make what happens with social issues if we lose our country”…And so, evangelicals and Christians, they’re voting as Americans this time. And maybe in the future when things aren’t so chaotic, maybe they will vote more on the social issues again.

In other words, whether you’re Moore or Falwell, the social issues are irrelevant when it comes to Donald Trump. Somewhere, Jerry Falwell Sr. is rolling his eyes.