Leaders & Institutions Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

Pity Russell Moore

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

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

 

I feel kind of bad for Russell Moore.

In order to hang on to his job, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has had to prostrate himself before his co-religionists for, well, telling the truth about Donald Trump.

It began back in September of 2015, when he wrote in New York Times op-ed that to follow Donald Trump “would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist ‘winning’ trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society.”

Later, he personally came out as a #NeverTrump voter and criticized Trump-supporting prosperity gospelers with the words, “It is not a far leap from televangelists marketing their vitamin shakes to a political candidate marketing his brand of steaks.”

And he declared, in another Times oped, that Trump’s campaign “is forcing American Christians to grapple with some scary realities that will have implications for years to come.”

But as we know, heaps of Southern Baptists ignored Moore, helping to make Trump the GOP standard-bearer long before Hillary Clinton became the greater of two evils. In the general election, four out of five white evangelicals — the plurality of them Southern Baptists — went with him.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that Moore took it upon himself in December to make it clear that he didn’t mean to denigrate anyone outside the #NeverTrump camp.

I remember one situation where I witnessed a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel. I was pointed in my criticisms, and felt like I ought to have been. But there were also pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald Trump. I told them then, and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize.

But that apology was not enough. As he put it in a statement issued earlier this week, “Some who saw things differently than I did received those words, and we’ve gladly joined arms in unity. Others didn’t receive them, not because of any deficiency of grace on their part, but due to my own fault.”

Personally, I’m not so sure about the deficiency of grace thing.

To its credit, the ERLC’s Executive Committee, in a statement of its own, refused to accept criticism of Moore from those who “voiced objection to stands Dr. Moore has taken in affirmation of our Convention’s stated doctrine, resolutions, and the mission established by the Convention for the ERLC.”

The headline for the two statements was, “Seeking unity in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Anyone familiar with the SBC knows that such a search will reach its object only with the Second Coming. But in the meantime, the problem is that there is some tension between serving the cause of unity and acting like a prophet.

The prophets of old — Amos comes to mind, and Jesus — were in the business not of unity but of criticizing the religious leaders of their day. If you’re a denomination’s paid prophet, however, you prophesy against them at your peril.

Moore’s predecessor, Richard Land, was always careful not to get crossways with his peeps. Notoriously, he turned tail and fled when he got Southern Baptist pushback for putting the ERLC behind the religious liberty of Muslims to build a mosque.

Since the Trump inauguration, Moore has managed to keep his prophetic bona fides intact. He opposed the President’s first travel ban and he’s stuck to his religious liberty guns on mosque-building.

But the Trump presidency is not going to make his life easy. And if he keeps to the prophet’s path, his days at the ERLC’s helm are numbered.

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

29 Comments

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  • Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” — Mark 6:4

  • Looks like Russell Moore has landed on his feet okay. No need to worry.

    Being an overt Trump-Hater may work for penning little RNS commentaries, but it honestly does NOT work for being the Main-Hookup between an entire denomination and President Trump.

    Moore has shown — for now — that he can figure things out and act accordingly, and the SBC leadership have shown — for now — the same thing. Hopefully now the SBC can move forward.

  • Russell Moore doesn’t remind me of the prophet Jonah but all the elements of the story do. You got sailors praying politics will calm their seas. You got sailors ready to throw a man overboard. You got a lot of people who just want to see the destruction of people they oppose.
    I don’t pity Russell Moore and his attempt to unify, but I do pity the beaches we southern baptist can leave behind.

  • Russell Moore was the mouthpiece for some pretty reprehensible positions promulgated by the SBC. His little troubles about not being Republican enough for them garners zero sympathy.

    The fact that just taking a position to uphold and protect constitutional rights of others was enough to remove his predecessors shows a rather vile streak to the sect. The absolute gall to be spouting on about religious freedom (to discriminate) and attacking the rights of others to build a house of worship is too much. These are not people who have respect for religious freedom. They only seem privilege for themselves.

    For Russell Moore to show some measure of propriety now is too little too late. Let the SBC devour it’s own.

  • Russell Moore is nothing but another self-righteous leftist shill. I have for a long time been fed-up with his pontificating.

  • “In order to hang on to his job… [Moore] has had to prostrate himself before his co-religionists for, well, telling the truth about Donald Trump.”

    After “feeling bad” for Russell Moore, your column begins with an absolutely atrocious misrepresentation about why the president of Southern Baptists’ ERLC has had to “prostrate himself” as you put it. What is it with you people who seem to be addicted to popping off about matters you’ve obviously not attempted to understand. I was among the first Southern Baptists who raised questions about how Moore was not only publicly harassing a public figure by perpetually demoralizing him almost exclusively apart from critically evaluating his public policies, but also doing something you yourself cannot do your employer and expect to continue unabated drawing your weekly paycheck–i.e. demoralizing RNS. No one–and I mean no one–from our ranks desires or expects Moore to “prostrate himself” for truth-telling about Trump.

    Furthermore, to assume such as you do implicates guys like me as somehow being soft on Trump’s morals, an assumption that is insulting and frankly, dead wrong. We ALL criticized Trump. What we ALL did not do was publicly harass Trump like some junior-high heckler would a clown at a school event. Moore did. And in doing so made a fool of himself and the entity he represents.

    Hence, please stop with the untruthful rhetoric about Southern Baptists expecting Moore to “prostrate himself” for nothing more than “telling the truth” about Donald Trump.

    With that, I am…
    Peter

  • Russell Moore has demonstrated what it means to be a biblical Christian in a denomination that takes conservatism more seriously than the Bible. Thank you, Dr. Moore!

  • Don’t be such a Donald!
    So, in short, all of the Baptist whining about everyone else’s morals are off the table when power, money, and dominion are at stake, and so it is thus practically holy to ignore four times bankrupt, three times married, two Corinthians…
    one and only Donald trump.

  • Would Moore being a leftist mean that you are somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun? Or am I being poe’d?

  • The SBC has once again sold its soul to the idolators of money just like they did when they first formed.

    Their lack of faith in the Lord God and his ability and desire to provide for them has lead them into the hands of the the idolators of money.

    The path is narrow and hell is hot and Trump is not Jesus.

  • The term leftist refers primarily to the politics of money.
    So what is money to you? Are you a follower Jesus Christ?

  • Sadly, this article diverts attention away from the fact that many Christians distance themselves from Moore because of his complacency toward false gods, not his remarks against Trump. His Friend of the Court brief in support of an Islamic mosque is the prominent issue. In this regard he may be rightly considered a prophet, as many are referring to him, but it is the Scriptural definition of a false prophet, of which Christ warned there would be many.

    “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
    ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭2:20‬ ‭NASB‬‬

  • Pity Russel Moore? I don’t! Every denomination has the right to determine it’s beliefs and positions on all matters affecting them. If Moore isn’t a fit with the SBC, he should have the courage of his convictions and join up with a mainstream denomination that affirms his positions on matters political. Of course he wouldn’t start out at such a high, well-paying position like he now has, but sacrificing for one’s beliefs is as old as Daniel in the lions’ den!

  • You are spot on Pete. The author appears to know just enough about the subject to be extremely dangerous and loose with facts.

  • Russell Moore has both my sympathy and respect. Don’t agree with him on all matters political, but do recognize his integrity in the position he holds. He has been a shining light amid so many other conservative Christian leaders who failing to see the irony of their Pharisaical position in supporting a man who appears to have conned them all in the name of the Lord. Trump may not be the Anti-Christ predicted in the Bible, but I think he may well be a foreshadowing. For all his flaws re Richard Nixon, after Watergate broke, Billy Graham practiced genuine spiritual discernment along with some serious soul searching. Unlike the son Franklin who appears to have the spiritual depth of a gnat, none other than father Billy made the following prophetic statement: “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)

  • 100% in agreement here, though I would go a lot further. But the I would be accused of hating the church.

    You made a response to me a few days ago. I will try to answer it later. I’ve been travelling, and have had little time.

  • I can’t seem to find “conservatism” in my concordance. Oh, wait. You’re ignoring me.

  • ‘These are not people who have respect for religious freedom. They only seem privilege for themselves.” Such has been the history of the SBC. For at one time they were the American Talaban, up until the mid 1960’s or early 70’s.

    “For Russell Moore to show some measure of propriety now is too little too late.” Why is it too late?

  • It’s too late because you can’t suddenly develop a reputation for integrity for what amounts to a token action after a career of disreputable actions.

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