(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)