Opinion

An appeal to the SBC’s Russell Moore

Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion as David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills, listens. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Dear Russell:

Some people get to have their dark nights of the soul in private; others have them in public. I can only imagine what it is like for you as the head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission right now as you struggle to win back favor with your Christian constituency after straying across the line of acceptability during the last election season.

It must be hard at age 45 to live sandwiched between generations of Southern Baptists — those who want to fight the battles of the past and those who long to create a more inclusive Christian community that cares about justice for the future.

I am a child of the church, too, nurtured by the civil rights movement and raised by my father, who taught Old Testament and Hebrew in the Presbyterian Seminary in Louisville, Ky. It was located just a mile away from the seminary of your denomination geographically, but considerably further in other ways.

When I was 16 in the 1970s, I had my own dark night of the soul: trying to take a faith that had been transmitted to me and make it my own. And iwas the pastoral care of Dr. Wayne Oates at your seminary that helped me to remember that I was a beloved child of God and brought me back from the edge of despair.

You and I are both lovers of Jesus, which is why I was heartened during the election season that you spoke out so bravely about how leadership and character actually go together; and about your concern for fellow citizens, who are caught in poverty and racism, America’s original and persistent sin. It seemed as if you heard a still, small voice calling to you that all was not right in the rhetoric of bigotry and violence, of narrow nationalism and militarism that rang out through the land. You were onto something real!

Russell, when I listen for God’s voice, what I hear today are the voices of traumatized children who cry at their desks in school because they fear the deportation of a parent; the senior citizen or person with a pre-existing condition who feels whipsawed by the on-again, off-again repeal of the Affordable Care Act; the homebound person who depends on Meals on Wheels; those who work and remain poor, needing additional support to allow them to stay in their homes; the teachers whose job training will be cut; the young black Americans whose lives are criminalized; the children of the poor who will go to bed hungry; and the spiking number of suicides and drug addictions.

I believe that the voices of the most vulnerable are also crying out to you.  

Now, I am very aware that we disagree on some important issues that face the church and nation. Yet, in these urgent times we all need to look outside of our silos and comfort circles to find new partners and allies. So I feel deeply called to reach out to you to see if there are ways that we might find common ground, and work together in solidarity with and on behalf of those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”

You and I are followers of Christ in a deeply polarized nation, and it is not clear how — or if — we will make it through. In light of this, Christian to Christian, I’m wondering, though the hour is late, if we might have a courageous conversation to pave a way forward together. We are called to be the body of Christ in the world. Could it be that together we have been called to find the moral courage to stand up and to speak truth to power for such a time as this?

Yours in Christ,

Katharine

(The Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson is president of Auburn Theological Seminary)

About the author

Katharine R. Henderson

19 Comments

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  • I feel like I just heard the head cheerleader ask the “rebel” to seminary prom.
    Russell Moore, if you say yes swallow your pride and don’t go Dutch. It really dont matter if the cool guys think you like her or not.

  • Might work….Russell seems more drawn to this religious ideology than that reflected in large part by his own denomination.

  • I think they need each other. They are genuinely different on some issues I’m sure. I think we can get so progressive our brains fall, I think we can get so conservative and closed minded that a new thought becomes impenetrable to our brains. All the while there is this “prom” taking place and nobody is showing up because they can’t share a limo.

  • “You and I are both lovers of Jesus, which is why I was
    heartened during the election season that you spoke out so bravely about
    how leadership and character actually go
    together; and about your concern for fellow citizens, who are caught in
    poverty and racism, America’s original and persistent sin.”

    My response to Russell Moore, regarding his trust in politics to redeem “America’s original and persistent sin,” is that he is engaging in a HUGE exercise in futility! Political leaders like Moore who front this message, get cruelly USED to beat up on those who look at this moral matter through a different set of lenses.

    If Russell Moore can’t put his full faith in the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and return to preaching that Gospel (presumably that’s the reason he has “Reverend” in front of his name!) then he should at least have the courage of his convictions and resign from his well-paying job at the SBC! He would be a better fit, teaching Political Science at a secular university!

  • (Gag me with a spoon.) Why do prog lib post mods sound so arrogant and condescending? What really must seem hard to Russell is to sit quietly and not offer any constructive advice to Katharine. (Geesh…she is disgusting!)

  • “Now, I am very aware that we disagree on some important issues that face the church and the nation.”
    Eph. 4:15 Speaking the truth in love we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him, who is the head, that is Christ.
    “We disagree on some important issues that face the church and nation”-speaking the truth of honest disagreement, in love.

    Can anything good come of this?

    Eph. 4:14 we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

    There is no deceitful scheming in owning disagreements on winds of teaching but there is disunity by allowing them to toss us back and forth like infants. Unity, only in agreement is the deceitful scheme. Katherine and Russell make the 4th chapter of Ephesians describe what you represent, our purpose is to be described by those words, not just teach those words.

  • Do you really believe your harsh tone and rhetoric are pleasing to the Lord, or do you just not care?

  • Let’s see: I read the article, I detected a prog lib post mod (progressive liberal post modern) sound arrogant, condescending and self important and so I said I thought she was disgusting. What is harsh about that? Jesus really let the religious elite of His day have it – do you think He was harsh; and Paul the Apostle really let Peter have it – in public no less – do you think he was harsh?

  • First of all, I believe that as we are not Jesus ourselves, we must be very careful and humble about how we speak to others, especially to those with whom we disagree, for He has told us to love our enemies. He alone knows how to exercise righteous anger without any hint of sin. We do not. Second of all, I would say that the religious Pharisees he chastised would be more akin to the religious right in our time than to the religious left who are all too often harshly disdained by people like you for being “prog lib post mod” (translation: ‘godless secular liberal’, a term I hear often thrown at them by the right). If they are so godless and secular, how then can they be linked so closely to the Pharisees who prided themselves, as most of the religious right does today, in being so much holier than everyone else? As followers of Jesus, we have a responsibility to love those we consider to be our adversaries, always trying to exercise the “fruit of the Spirit” as listed in Galatians 5, in contrast to the “works of the flesh” which include the opposite. We also need to keep Paul’s supreme focus on Christlike love in 1 Corinthians 13. We all fall short in this endeavor, but we must all at least try, for we bear the name of Jesus. Peace.

  • I’ve seen no evidence that he cares for civility, other people, or the God of the Bible from which he has quoted elsewhere. I think he comes here just to be mean. But that’s only a guess, because the values, goals, and character he presents are completely alien to me.
    I wish I knew whether his harshness is real; and if not, how does this facade benefit him?

  • “Prog lib post mod” translation = progressive liberal post modern” and it is what they call themselves proudly. I shorten it to prog lib post mod. Now you can translate it anyway you want to but I know what I mean by it. Please ask for clarification when you don’t know what something means.
    As for linking the prog lib post mods to pharisees is easy: the definition of pharisee is this: “a pharisee is a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.” This easily satisfies the basic description of prog libs post mods. They are pharisaical in their adherence to an extreme unbiblical theology and therefore unbiblical worldview. And they maintain an arrogance and superiority toward those of us who hold a conservative and traditional view of the Bible and Christian morality.
    See Elijah in I Kings 18:27 he was a trash talking prophets to the prophets of Baal.

  • God may have indeed told Elijah to trash talk in that instance, but we are not told that. Also, I wonder if by the grace of God he might not have been able to achieve the same ends without the trash talk. But even if God DID command him to speak exactly in that manner, there are many things the Lord told specific individuals to do in the OT that are not necessarily a blanket command for all his disciples to do; especially since Jesus demonstrated and encouraged far higher levels of behavior for his disciples (see the Sermon on the Mount). Also, you’re missing the biggest point re the Pharisees: that they were puffed up with spiritual pride, holier than thou and hypocritical at that, whereas some conservatives like you do not appear to believe that ‘prog libs post mods’ are in any way spiritual or holy at all to begin with. Don’t forget that Jesus said even the tax collectors and prostitutes would get into the kingdom of heaven before the Pharisees because they (the blatant sinners) tended to be more aware of their own lack of holiness before God than the strict conservative spiritual elders who thought they were all that before God. But the real question here is this: Did God command you specifically to trash talk the writer of the letter to Moore in this forum? If not, then I think it would have been wiser for you to err on the side of caution and do as the NT more generally advises, which is to watch our tendency to use the tongue to serve more of our own pride than to serve God. Again, I refer you to Galatians 5 and 1 Corinthians 13.

  • Hey, Velma, thanks for the advice. Now here’s some advice from me: you comment the way you want to and I’ll comment the way I want to.
    God bless.

  • Thank you for saying this. I have been stunned at the hypocrisy of the Evangelical Christian community as I watched them embrace hate and blatant immorality as they cheered at rallies for Donald Trump. I applauded Russell Moore when he came out with his statement, I was shocked that he was immediately scorned harshly by his constituents – Russel Moore was speaking the truth but the vast majority of the Evangelical Christian community no longer worship Jesus, they worship politics and the GOP. Just the truth. People have so little idea of what Jesus really taught – its stunning. Go read the Sermon on the Mount and tell me it lines up in any way with what Trump and the GOP stand for…I can save you time, it doesn’t.

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