Why evangelical opposition to Russell Moore is deluded

Left, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Charleston, W.Va., on May 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Chris Tilley. Right, Russell Moore leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) At first, Russell Moore’s comments about Donald Trump seemed destined to be forgotten.

After all, the New York billionaire-turned-presidential candidate had no shot at capturing the Republican nomination, much less the election.

But now Trump is president, and as the top public policy spokesman for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, Moore’s 2016 critiques of Trump — and Trump’s evangelical fan club — continue to reverberate through the conservative evangelical world.

Moore’s critics say he has alienated white evangelicals and forfeited his opportunity to influence the Trump administration.

They are wrong.

The pro-Trump evangelicals suffer from a spiritual crisis, not a political one.

Moore has challenged the foundations of conservative evangelical political engagement because they desperately needed to be shaken. For 35 years, the old-guard religious right has uncritically coddled, defended and promoted the Republican Party.

It’s true that Moore has spoken more compassionately about migrants than many other Republican faith leaders. But all his words and actions are consistent with resolutions the Southern Baptist Convention has prayerfully and democratically adopted.

The white evangelicals criticizing Moore are more white than evangelical.

Their charge that Moore cannot lead because he didn’t vote for Trump is ludicrous.

If conservative evangelicals think anyone in the White House is waiting for affirmation from Moore, they are deluded.

Moore can and will seek to influence the GOP Congress and the federal courts. He can and will praise Trump frequently. Moore has already approved of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, lauded the president’s decision to reverse Obama-era guidance for transgender children in public schools and praised Trump’s rumored executive order on religious liberty.

It’s unlikely that Moore will lift a finger to challenge GOP orthodoxy on social welfare, health care, taxes, education, income and wealth distribution, the environment or defense.

The fact that Moore may not get invited to White House photo ops or prayer breakfasts is actually a good thing. He can waste less time on the staid civil religion of official Washington and spend more of his considerable talents teaching Christians to connect their faith to politics.

Maybe this is what frightens his critics, who have precious little to show for their four decades of unquestioning loyalty to the party. But they are breathtakingly shortsighted.

Anyone who thinks Russell Moore should lose his job is advancing a vile heresy and a dangerous idolatry — that Christian leaders should ardently praise the Republican Party’s chosen leader no matter how vile, obnoxious and un-Christian he is.

The problem for the anti-Moore set — and it is a small club of crusty old insiders — is not political, but religious. Moore’s critics are blind to the lessons of politics, but they are also failing a spiritual test.

What immoralities would they not abide for a chance to eat crumbs from the president’s table? What sins and crimes would they consider severe enough to split with a Republican politician over?

Churches that would withhold support for denominational agencies also undermine and besmirch the work of Southern Baptists in other areas: evangelism, theological education, disaster relief, etc.

Reasonable conservatives can debate the intricacies of U.S. policy. But no one can say that Russell Moore is anything other than a breath of fresh air in the world of faith-based political advocacy.

Donald Trump will do nothing to make evangelical political engagement great again. Russell Moore already has.

In fact, he seems committed to devoting the rest and best of his life to doing so.

(Jacob Lupfer is a contributing editor at RNS and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University)

About the author

Jacob Lupfer

A contributing editor at RNS, Jacob Lupfer is a writer and consultant in Baltimore. His website is www.jacoblupfer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.


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  • For a person who spent his career supporting every reactionary and discriminatory political position out there, it’s a bit late to pretend to have integrity and moral fiber now.

    Opposing Trump for reasons concerning image and reputation doesn’t suddenly make Russell Moore someone to be admired. He was reprehensible before, he remains so.

  • What happened to those Christians who used to speak of taking up their crosses, who believed that sacrifice was the way of Jesus, who would take on plenty of burdens to witness to the love of God in their lives. Now they are afraid something could happen to them if they care about other people? Now people who were “saved by grace” don’t think other people deserve anything, and they spend their days full of bitterness and resentment? Yes, we do seem to have a spiritual crisis.

  • So what’s your solution Gapaul, and how does Russell Moore fit into it?

    (PS….Spuddie already flunked this question, so please do not copy his answer. Thanks!)

  • I have to ask, while it’s said Moore did not vote for Trump, who did he vote for? Did he say? If he voted for Clinton, that’s why he’s reaping the whirlwind. Some right-wing preachers unfairly attacked the United Methodist also-ran, who’s arguably the most Christian candidate for President since Jimmy Carter. Now, if he voted for Ewan McMullin or Gary Johnson, that’s something which shouldn’t bother them. Neither should if he voted for Clinton, but their hatred of her is so pervasive they don’t see it that way. If he’s terminated, he’s better off. The SBC has no credibility outside right-wing circles anyway.

  • well, the SBC has such a spiritual crisis, anyway Racism and xenophobia are not Christian values..

  • Smug intolerance is not limited to the religious Right as is evidenced by some of the comments below. In a political season where the bulk of conservative evangelical spokespersons endorsed the current chief executive, Russell Moore ought to thus be applauded even by those who do not hold his views, for not hewing to the line. Intolerance from the Left is just as pervasive as any that might be perceived from the Right; it is merely intolerance of a different stripe, but intolerance nonetheless.

  • “Intolerance from the Left is just as pervasive as any that might be perceived from the Right”

    A phrase often stated, but never substantiated. I can name several examples of conservatives seeking to legislate their prejudices. To give them color of law. But neither of us can come up with examples of liberals doing the same.

  • Except that America exists under a two-party system, with little reason to expect that fact will change anytime soon. So anything that weakens the Republican party or deprives it of support WILL benefit the Democratic party. And what is the Democratic party? The party of abortion. Homosexuality. Gender-bending. Divorce. Drug use. Restriction on prayer in public. Etc.

    Take any personal sin of Donald Trump, multiply it several million times over, and you have both the real and probable outcome of liberal policy.

    Moore allows the perfect to be the enemy of the good, to the benefit of the bad.

  • Reading the comments makes one wonder whatever happened to the biblical idea of being “light” and “leaven” to the world.

  • The SBC has a real problem with even having the office that Moore runs and the entire ERLC needs to go. The righteous -indignation that so many Christians are offering up about Trump is as fake as it gets when you consider their silence on so many other important issues. The worst of is how the clergy in America have abdicated their role to lead God’s people and let secularism run rampant throughout the church. Failure to tend to God’s flock first and then worry about the rest of the world is America’s Christian problem and must be redressed or God will let those clergy go and work through others to fulfill His commands.

  • Drug use is the domain of Democrats? Hah! Come down to the staunchly Republican, pro-Trump state of South Carolina and see the widespread abuse of Meth and Opiods. They are also steadfast (though likely backsliding) Evangelicals.

  • Sure they were. The baptist support for Jim cow and slavery was well known. “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew’.” F. baily Smith, SBC president, circa 1977.

    Now of course, their preferred targets are gay people and uppity women,

  • Drug “use” is not the “domain” of Democrats, but drug legalization is almost exclusively the domain of social liberals. Fair enough, the GOP has a noisome contingent of libertarians…but overwhelmingly, for fifty years, if you heard a person or a politician advocate for a softer approach to drug use, or support recreational use of drugs…that person was pulling the blue lever.

  • Liberals don’t try to “legislate” their prejudices, because they rightly sense they aren’t likely to win if they are put to an open vote. Liberals tend to establish their prejudices by judicial fiat, the case of abortion being just one egregious example out of many. Liberals may not “do” the same, but they accomplish the same by different means.

  • So…you’re saying slavery and Jim Crow WERE Christian values because some people, who took the name “Christian” upon themselves, approved of them? Is that really your standard for distinguishing genuine Christianity from the other kind? The test of authenticity is not based on who believed anything — it’s based on what they believed, according to a measurable standard.

  • So you can’t come up with an example either.

    Judicial fiat bring wingnutspeak for upholding the constitution and more specifically notions of equal protection under the law.

    Anti abortion rhetoric is dependent on attacks on women. Opposing such views is hardly an example intolerance.

  • Some people? How about the entire Southern Baptist sect! The group Russell Moore works for was founded on defense of slavery and later segregation was a holy Christian duty. The largest protestant sect in America.

    Once you start talking about “genuine Christianity” you are slinging complete and utter apologetic bullshit. You will dishonestly take credit for the works that benefitted mankind and ignore all the atrocity and mayhem people also did in the name of Christianity.

    Authenticity meaning whatever you believe.

    No true Christian nonsense. I am sure it sounds plausible in the evangelical bubble. But nobody believes that garbage for a minute. It just pegs you as someone who will lie about history and belief to suit an argument.

  • Translation: “Everything I believe in is right, good and rational. Everything you believe in is wrong, evil and insane.”

    I can see it was a mistake trying to have a rational conversation with you. Please excuse my interruption of your Kool-Aide party — and party on!

  • “… nobody believes that garbage for a minute”
    Breaking news: you don’t speak for everybody and that statement pegs you as someone who assumes his prejudices are universally shared — a defining characteristic of the unconscious bigot. Believe me, there are countless people outside of the”evangelical bubble” who are vitally interested in understanding what “true Christianity” is, and your skewed belief that it’s “garbage” is entirely irrelevant to them.

  • You are giving a well known and thoroughly canned argument. Your dishonesty is so obvious here that it is best to just shut down this nonsense early.

    Your understanding of “true Christianity” is entirely self serving and will be self defined by the argument. You are not giving anything new here.

    If you think it’s bigoted to accurately describe your cliched and overused argument, then it speaks badly of your understanding of the term bigot.

  • Some people? how about the entire SBC? How many denominations split up over the issue of slavery? The “no true Christian” defense is hardly a defense. Who appointed YOU the arbiter of who is a true Christian and who is not?

    However, you can also argue that witch burners and heretic burners were not true Christians. You can call the protestants not true Christians because they’re not Catholics, or just the opposite. Yet, nevertheless, true Christians were murdering the not true Christians for some 200 years. And what about the Christians who supported anti-semitism, a plague upon my ancestors for 1900 years, and still right out there in front of god and everyone, or the Trump Christians, for whom values took a definite back seat to power and money?

  • Going with a personal attack. You still can’t name an example of rampant liberal intolerance here. So you just sling catchphrases to cover up the lack of substance of your position.

    No worries, you weren’t trying to have a rational discussion anyway.

    Ooh “Kool Aid”, another bingo square filled.

  • It’s clear you discredit most of what I stand for, and your response is padded with rejective invective, but… substance? “I’m right and you’re wrong” is all you’ve really got to say. I got it. Now, back to your bubble.

  • “Kool-Aide” is a perfectly usable slang shorthand for having completely bought in to a systematic way of thinking.

    As for “personal attacks,”I suppose you don’t see “wingnutspeak,” and claiming the anti-abortionists’ position is “dependent on attacks on women” as “attacks” — just as plain descriptions of reality. And THAT would be the “Kool-Aide.”

  • As cliched as the rest of your spiel.

    You are just a cornucopia of talking points, canned positions, nonsense declarations and euphemisms. Oh well.

  • Yes we disagree, but that doesn’t mean your view is of equal merit. Nor do you seem capable of defending your position in any reasonable manner.

    Well at least you are saving us the nonsense of historical revisionist apologia. You are working off a pretty old and not very original playbook.

  • As I wrote elsewhere.

    Speaking of Southern Baptists…The Atlantic has a piece on Russell Moore. I’m not a fan of Mr. Moore, even if we both don’t care for Pres. Trump. But, apparently influential Southern Baptists care a great deal about Pres. Trump.

    ‘Russell Moore and the Fight for the Soul of the Southern Baptist Convention
    The backlash against the conservative evangelical leader reveals deep tensions in his denomination,’ by Emma Green.

    What I wrote on the Atlantic comment section.

    Mr. Moore talks about “homosexuals” like old school Southern Baptists use to talk about “Negroes.” His racial reconciliation project looks like multi-ethnic political coalition building for patriarchal minded, some openly homophobic pastors…and he apparently doesn’t seem to think that women could have anything to add to a conversation on racial reconciliation.

    Am I really suppose to care if this condescending, sexist bigot looses his job because he just isn’t extremist enough for the denomination?

  • As you could predict, sexist, homophobic Black Southern Baptist leaders are on Moore’s side.

  • The prejudice need not come in the form of legislation, it comes in the form of the sneering and vituperative remarks and conduct that masks itself righteous indignation resulting in riots and bonfires, looting and vandalism, when someone from a different point of view is offered the opportunity to express themselves in a public forum. Further, to effort to punish “hate” speech through legal codes certainly falls under the color of law, as does the effort to subpoena minister’s sermon’s and remarks from the pulpit to sift them for any speech not deemed acceptable by the Left. I believe the technical term for that is censorship.

  • 1. So what you have are people disagreeing with you in obnoxious manners. Plenty of that going around on both sides. Not so much intolerance as incivility.

    2. Gross exaggerations and misrepresentations of certain incidents. I have no idea what you are referencing in terms of riots and vandalism.

    3. Defense of abusive behavior towards others. Although Hate Speech legislation is one of those things you see far more evidence of opposition to it than actual existence.

    4. As for the minister, it had to do with abusing the position to engage in electioneering activities. I guess it’s intolerance to uphold laws of general application.

    5. Show me one example of censorship you are claiming is so pervasive.

    Pretty weak stuff in comparison to attacking the ability of people to live normal lives, work, engage in commerce, seek medical care…

  • A good article overall, but with one problematical sentence: “The white evangelicals criticizing Moore are more white than evangelical.” As if the only reason anyone would have for supporting Trump is that they’re racists. I did my best to convince Christians not to vote for Trump, both during the primaries and the general election, but I never had any trouble understanding why they did and it had nothing to do with race.

  • Dismissing the head of a baptist political lobby group would be “heresy”? My, the bible has changed on its teaching regarding that matter I suppose. LOL

  • “Smug intolerance” is exactly what Russell Moore is on record for with regard to the “religious right”. He taunted a bull he thought was dead or sleeping and got the horn end he rightly deserved.

  • I am not sure where you got that from. I agree the SBC is a lobby group that pretends to be a church.

  • “It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

    (Billy Graham, Parade, Feb 1, 1981)

    What prophetic words from Billy Graham! When Watergate broke, he learned a painful lesson from a serious error in judgement re Richard Nixon. Would that his son Franklin would learn the same lesson in his blind support of Donald Trump. Christianity is conservative in some ways, liberal in others and more, so much more than the sum of those two parts. How could these evangelicals discredit the gospel of Jesus Christ by reducing it to the merely factional/sectarian? How could they support a man like Donald Trump so foolishly? How dishonoring to the Lord Jesus! I hope and pray Russell Moore continues to stand his ground.

  • In reference to point 2, then you have not been watching the news. On point 4, the effort was directed to substantially more than one minister. To the rest, as usual we view the world through different lenses, I have not proved my point to you, and you have not proved your point to me. Pax.

  • Right there in the article are the words stating people who believe Moore should be fired are guilty of heresy. Read the article.