Monday, December 26, 2016

Some Thoughts On Russell Moore And The ERLC.

Russell Moore, courtesy of ERLC
I wanted to take a moment to talk about a popular topic among more conservative minded Christians, especially of the evangelical stripe, and that topic is Russell Moore and some of the growing chorus from within the Southern Baptist Convention to get rid of Dr. Moore from the ERLC (the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention), to withhold funds from the ERLC or just get rid of it all together.

The problem some people have with Moore is his very vocal opposition to the support of Donald Trump by evangelicals which contrasts very sharply with the unadulterated endorsement of Trump by evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. Mike Huckabee and James Dobson. What is also happening is an "old guard" versus "new vanguard" thing. Moore gave a speech at the Erasmus Lecture put on by the good folk at First Things. The title of his talk was Can the Religious Right Be Saved? and it was not highlighted by many punches being pulled. Needless to say this didn't sit well with many of the Old Guard Religious Right types, especially since it seems that their gamble (pun intended) paid off and the Trump win heralded a new era of influence for them. I have watched much of his lecture and to be completely blunt, as someone who has been disgusted by the fawning behavior of Falwell and others, I thought Moore seemed a little unpleasant and if I identified with the Religious Right I would have been understandably upset and felt like he was taking shots at the provincial hicks back home while being fĂȘted in Gomorrah, aka New York City. It might make me question why I keep sending checks from our local church budget to someone who seems to dislike me so much.

Shortly after the election, some noise started from prominent leaders in the SBC. By prominent I mean some of the old time power brokers, people I have largely not heard of even though I spent a long time in the SBC. People like William Harrell and Will Hall, guys I had never heard of have vocally expressed concern that Moore doesn't represent the beliefs of Southern Baptists. The thing about the SBC is that it is a grassroots group. Individual churches decide how much to contribute and where. One doesn't get to demand a cut from a massive central budget to be decided by a few executive directors. I am not sure where this fight is going to go but it looks bad all around. People from all over the spectrum from Doug Wilson, a Presbyterian, and Rod Dreher, an Orthodox have weighed in. Mike Huckabee was quoted at NPR as saying: "I am utterly stunned that Russell Moore is being paid by Southern Baptists to insult them,". It certainly doesn't help Moore that he used to work for a Democratic Congressman, which forever leaves him in a place of suspicion for a lot of Southern Baptists.

Dr. Moore has attempted to address these concerns in a post titled Election Year Thoughts at Christmastime. In the most salient part he wrote:

First, try to see where there are misunderstandings. 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. There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience. In a heated campaign season focused on sound bites, this distinction can get lost in the headlines, so it bears repeating.

As for me, I think that is where the rubber hits the road. I did not support Donald Trump, although I considered voting for him and might have if I lived in less of a slam-dunk state than Indiana, and I certainly did not support Hillary Clinton who was as thoroughly corrupt as any politician in my lifetime and was an enthusiastic evangelist for the death cult of abortion. I was pretty critical of evangelical leaders who supported Trump while excusing his behavior or explaining it away or appealing to a sudden conversion he allegedly had. But it seemed at times that Moore, whether intentionally or not, was condemning anyone who voted for Trump. Everyone who was paying attention during this election knows that many people faced some pretty agonizing decisions when it came to who to cast their vote for. If Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had been the nominee, it would have been an easy decision for most of us but faced with the prospect of a dystopian future under Hillary Clinton, a lot of Christians made the decision to vote for a man they had little personal respect for. I don't think Moore fully realized that or at least he wasn't very open about it.

In the part of his Erasmus Lecture speech I watched Moore seemed a little too aware of his surroundings and seemed to be a little too aware of being under the bright lights of big city New York. I found his tone a little off-putting, which is partly why I didn't watch the whole thing. It seems to be part of a subtle shift on Moore's part since moving to the ERLC. I don't agree with a lot of what Tim Bayly says here but I do think there is some truth to this: On a number of levels, Russ's writing and speaking have demonstrated a yearning of the heart to be taken more seriously by the chattering classes of the eastern seaboard. That is a pretty common phenomenon in academia where "Christian" colleges and especially "Christian" academics want to be treated like grown-ups by the real academics and so they slowly but surely jettison orthodoxy hoping beyond hope that if they get rid of just one more doctrine the cool kids at Harvard and Stanford will accept them as one of their own and invite them over to share a microbrew and make fun of people in Oklahoma. I write this as someone who used to listen to Dr. Moore when he was "just" filling in for Albert Mohler's radio program, before his books started coming out and he got moved to the ERLC and I have always liked him, read his books and his blog, etc. I just am concerned about where he is going.

We definitely need voices like Russell Moore to help keep us honest in the days and years to come. His voice is a contrast to the Dobson's and Franklin Graham's and others who embraced Trump so enthusiastically. I would just caution him, if he cared what I thought, to remember that the people he is being critical of are on the same side as him, even when we disagree with them, but the people at the New York Times and the Washington Post and NPR are not on our side, don't want to be and never will be apart from a movement of the Holy Spirit. In our family squabbles which will inevitably happen it helps to remember that after all, we are family.


Curt Day said...

Huckabee's comment indicates that he prefers tribalism to someone speaking out prophetically. Though I have plenty of disagreements with Moore, he was right to oppose Trump. And anyone was right to question any religiously conservative Christian who voted for Trump whether that vote came with the holding of one's nose or was cast enthusiastically.

ELVIS A said...

I watched the first 56 minutes of Moore's speech and I struggled with it. I was fortunate to study for a brief period at SBTS and I do not regret my departure. It is my opinion that they have lost touch with the reality. By reality, I mean the day to day challenges genuine Christians face. Moreover I agree with you in that Moore' was not open to the idea of voting for Trump. I also live in a State where my vote would not make a difference but I would have voted for DT had it been a toss up State. One thing I do not understand from many evangelicals that today a man (husband and less often a wife) has absolutely no say in matters of divorce. It takes one party to dissolve a marriage and I certainly believe that the stigma that comes with it does not need much scrutiny. I am not defending DT and his prior marriages but I am certain that he has no power whatsoever to hold a marriage together in today's legal climate. I have several friends that would have never considered divorce and yet their marriages have been easily dissolved without their consent. Also, I read Wilson's blog and he asks some great questions and ultimately the most important question of all:"By what standard shall we live?". I got lost listening to Moore and see why he might be spoken of this way but this is not a new phenomenon. I feel like many "outspoken" evangelicals share the same boat and cruising along the same waters.