Dr. Russell Moore is the leader of my denomination’s “Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” (ERLC), which exists “to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing.”
While charming, good-natured, and seemingly harmless in his demeanor, Dr. Moore has been the subject of controversy ever since he first took the office. Using his unique position as ERLC president, Dr. Moore has wasted no time in making enemies by attacking the “golden calves” of white conservative evangelicalism.
He challenged our concepts of “American Exceptionalism” by encouraging us to keep our worldview Kingdom Centered. He confronted the long unquestioned “Moral Majority Movement” by reminding us that true Christianity has always been “a prophetic minority.” Dr. Moore intentionally moved the political conversation away from the comfortable echo-chambers of “pro-life” and “traditional marriage”, and challenged us to look squarely at the issues that make white conservative evangelicals squirm (racism, immigration, poverty, religious liberty for non-Christians, etc…) But Dr. Moore’s most unpardonable sin against the status quo seems to have been openly criticizing Donald Trump and the Christian leaders who were quick to endorse him.
The Southern Baptist Convention has been on a politically conservative bend for several decades, due in large part to the idea proposed by Jerry Fallwell in 1979 that Christians could build a godly society by voting for right-wing evangelical candidates. In the last election cycle, Dr. Moore was quick to point out the hypocrisy of claiming that “character matters” in our politicians while simultaneously and unapologetically supporting a candidate who spoke and acted in ways that would not be tolerated in almost any other context. If the 2016 election cycle proved anything, it was that many evangelical leaders were willing to set aside moral convictions in order to maintain a seat of political power and influence. Dr. Moore turned a mirror on this hypocrisy, and as a result, many have been calling for his resignation.
I say “many” but in actuality, it is a little more than 100 of the denomination’s 46,000 churches that have threatened to cut off financial support for the SBC’s cooperative program in protest of Dr. Moore. The reason this is noteworthy is that several of those 100 churches are very large, and at least one of which is withholding over $1,000,000 in funds.
Because of this, many were concerned that Dr. Moore might be asked to step down when a meeting was called between himself and Southern Baptist Convention leader Frank Page earlier this week. Fortunately, it seems that this was not the focus of the meeting:
“We fully support one another and look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come,” the two men said in a joint statement. “We will collaborate on developing future steps to deepen connections with all Southern Baptists as we work together to advance the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
– Dr. Frank Page
So why am I taking the time to write this? While Dr. Moore’s position as ERLC president seems secure (for now) I think we must reflect on why Dr. Moore matters. For me, Dr. Moore is more than just another ERLC president. He represents a much-needed changing of the guard in Southern Baptist life. As is the case with just about every church and denomination, the SBC is prone to wander and go astray from its true calling.
As Dr. Moore has noted in the past when speaking of the church of his youth:
“My faith was being used as a way to shore up Southern honor culture, mobilize voters for political allies and market products to a gullible audience.” – Dr. Moore
Even though I am a generation younger than Dr. Moore, I know exactly what he is talking about. We must always be about the work of reforming the church. Idols need to be broken. Assumptions need to be challenged. The SBC has done amazing good for the Kingdom of God, but to be satisfied with the status quo is to be apathetic towards our calling. To be nostalgic for a time long gone (and which likely never was) is to weaken our commitment to the present.
Dr. Moore is just one of the many voices in the SBC who have been bold enough to challenge areas of Southern Baptist life that deserve serious and sober evaluation. He is not trying to change our core doctrines or challenge what we profess to believe, rather Dr. Moore is simply seeking to refocus us and recommit us to the true faith we profess. We need voices like Dr. Moore’s to be heard in the SBC, lest we become complacent and irrelevant. A quick reading of the epistles of Paul will show that there has never been a church that didn’t need to re-evaluate its ways. The church has always needed prophetic voices to shine a light on our faults and failures. If the SBC is ever going to “engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ” we must be willing to look ourselves in the mirror, see our flaws, and repent.
Lord willing, I hope we in the SBC are always blessed to have voices like Dr. Moore within our ranks.