Election Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Two cheers for Russell Moore

Russell Moore preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on Oct. 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.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

12 Comments

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  • I admire Russell Moore. I may not always agree with him but he has consistency and credibility on his side. As to Falwell Jr, no so much.

  • Yes he is courageous, but in a trivial way. When are these congregational Christians going to stop condemning others to hell? When are they going to try and be examples of good behavior to others, rather than mouthpieces for bigotry? I know their answer: “The Bible made me do it!”, blah, blah, blah.

  • I can accommodate both Land and Moore in the context of the faith, their positions and actions in a large measure are to be weighed and determined by their fellow Baptists first, their common Christian brethren secondly, and others last of all, relative to the proper Christian practice towards Muslims, and any others outside the Christian faith.

  • The man shamelessly recycles old racist rhetoric to use against LGBT people. Which doesn’t really bode well for his racial reconciliation project.

    Which of course isn’t really about racial reconciliation as women are noticeable by their absence in the project. Apparently, non-white women have nothing to say that Mr. Moore wishes to hear. So the project is really about creating a multi-ethnic political coalition of patriarchal minded male pastors.

    The problem is white theology, however whitewashed.

  • Jackie Hill Perry and Trillia Newbill were platform speakers at his conference couple of weeks ago. Newbill is on the ERLC staff. Both happen to be African-American women. Several other women were also on the program. Overall, the conference was fairly racially diverse, men and women. Not sure what you are basing your statements on here.

  • Yes. I’m basing my opinion on what Mr. Moore has put on his Facebook page and from what I’ve read on Baptist Press.

    Ms Hill Perry has made herself into one of those “ex-gay” propaganda people. I don’t care if she isn’t in a Gay relationship or desires one. Her life is her life. I hope her marriage to a man works for her, and him.

    I do care when she hooks up with the likes of the infamously condescending homophobe, Mr. Moore. Someone who will shamelessly and very publicly join with those who have made perpetuating injustice and legal economic disadvantaging of a minority community that she use to identify with, is not a good person for advice on reconciliation.

    Of course Ms Newbell (not “Newbill’) however much she believes what she believes, is nevertheless a functionary in a denomination which discriminates against its own women. If you are denied ordination by SBC churches because of your sex, you can never be anything more than someone who works in, and for, the subordinate roles that are allowed for women by men such as her boss, Mr. Moore. That is not someone who would have good advice on equality, as she is paid to publicly subvert egalitarian demands by Christian women of all ethnicities.

    Those two women don’t quality as token women who, by their very presence in leadership roles, are opening doors to more women in leadership roles. Leadership roles for women are only within subordinate, segregated by sex roles. They are both about ‘creating propaganda for inequality’ roles.

    Since patriarchal institutions are usually threatened by egalitarian movements, Mr. Moore is just building a coalition of sexist men who enjoy the power they have within their religious fiefs, for a greater resistance to egalitarian, anti-patriarchal demands by Christian women and LGBT people.

  • Interestingly, Ms Hill Perry’s Wikipedia page says that she has been greatly influenced by the Calvinist Baptist pastor John Piper, which might explain her idolization of his sexist, self serving “complimentarian” theology, and the internalization of his self-privileging scavenging of scripture to justify inequality for women and his defamation of LGBT people.

    Following people who say that God wants you to be second class because of your sex and sexual orientation (which apparently is bisexuality in her case) is probably not a good thing. (Bisexuals tend to fall in love with the person, regardless of that person’s sex.)

    She seems to blame child abuse for her “homosexuality,” which she then blames for her self destructive slide into dangerous anomie. Abuse, bullying and a heavy burden of minority stress can have tragic consequences.

    Nevertheless, while it’s good that she has left that self destructive period of her life behind her, it’s not good at all that she is now creating the burden of minority stress for others.

  • I see that Ms Newbell was listed for a 20 minute stage panel on the topic of Racial Reconciliation on Day 2. However, the Conference Recap doesn’t mention the panel on that day.

    Day 1 recap does mention the topic, but doesn’t mention Ms Newbell in the text, though there is a Tweet from her on the subject.

    There was mention of women on a panel of the Church and the Arts. As an artist, I’m glad their was one. Having been a graphics illustrator many decades ago, however, I would worry about using the arts as propaganda in the service of a power hierarchy.

    Day 3 was about fighting with the co-sponsoring extremist homophobe group, the ADF, for the ‘religious freedom’ to nullify anti-discrimination law with impunity. Of course if you claim that to justify discrimination against LGBT people, is that the start of some slippery slope?

  • “She seems to blame child abuse for her “homosexuality,” which she then blames for her self destructive slide into dangerous anomie. Abuse, bullying and a heavy burden of minority stress can have tragic consequences.”

    Yes, child abuse can have horrific consequences for the child, none of which is altering that child’s sexual orientation.

  • Blistering, Mr. Peterson. Can’t say that I disagree. Based only on Moore’s efforts against trump, I give Moore .35 cheer.

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