A look at the issue with Russell Moore and his criticism of Donald Trump during the Presidential campaign. This is looking at the way part of the Southern Baptist Convention is reacting to Moore and also Hemant Mehta weighs in on this issue. This blog post is a conscious decision from the depths of my soul to tell the Christian church you can not be outraged about abuse in Sovereign Grace and other organizations while then dismiss allegations of abuse by Donald Trump. Today The Wondering Eagle is standing alongside Russell Moore and looks at him as being a beacon of light in the Southern Baptist Convention.
“These evangelical leaders have said that, for the sake of the “lesser of two evils,” one should stand with someone who not only characterizes sexual decadence and misogyny, brokers in cruelty and nativism, and displays a crazed public and private temperament — but who glories in these things. Some of the very people who warned us about moral relativism and situational ethics now ask us to become moral relativists for the sake of an election. And when some dissent, they are labeled as liberals or accused of moral preening or sitting comfortably on the sidelines. The cynicism and nihilism is horrifying to behold. It is not new, but it is clearer to see than ever.”
Russell Moore in the Washington Post
“There is good news, though, behind all of this, regardless of how this election turns out. The old-school political Religious Right establishment wonders why the evangelical next generation rejects their way. The past year is illustration enough. The evangelical movement is filled with younger, multiethnic, gospel-centered Christians. They are defined by a clear theology and a clear mission — not by the doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural “Christian America.””
Russell Moore in the Washington Post
For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.
Psalm 37:9 NLT
Image from Wikipedia and Theology147
There has been a flurry of activity involving the leader of the ERLC Russell Moore. The issue deserves to be discussed and there are many competing angles on this developing story. But let’s start out by asking the question…who is Russell Moore?
Who is Russell Moore?
Today Russell Moore is the eighth President of the Southern Baptist Conventions’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He comes from Biloxi, Mississippi and earned a B.S. in political science and history form the University of Southern Mississippi. Plus he earned a M.Div from New Orleans Baptist Seminary and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville. In 2001 he was appointed to the faculty at the SBTS, and in 2004 was named to the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President of Academic Administration. In addition he also served as the Executive Editor The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology and currently serves as the Senior Editor for Touchstone Magazine. When he was made the head of the ERLC this Calvinist hired a staff I believe from The Gospel Coalition which was controversial. He has published at least five books including “Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel“,”Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches“, “ Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ“, and “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.” Moore is a prolific writer who has penned articles for the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal and many other publications. He is heavily influenced by Carl F.H. Henry and Abraham Kuyper. In the Southern Baptist community he is viewed as a voice for moderation, who breaks with the past. He has criticized reparation therapy which tries to make gays straight and toned down the language to the gay and lesbian community. Racial reconciliation is important to Moore and he has written in support of resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.
Russell Moore During the 2016 Campaign
The 2016 Presidential race was one of the most divisive in history and no where is that more true than in regards to how evangelicals reacted to Donald Trump. After Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump that opened the door to deep controversy, one of the most outspoken critics would be Russell Moore. Moore penned an article for the Washington Post in February of 2016. The heat increased considerably when on May 6, 2016 in an op ed article for the New York Times called “A White Church No More” Moore took direct aim at Trump. Stop and consider these two paragraphs:
This election has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country. There are not-so-coded messages denouncing African-Americans and immigrants; concern about racial justice and national unity is ridiculed as “political correctness.” Religious minorities are scapegoated for the sins of others, with basic religious freedoms for them called into question. Many of those who have criticized Mr. Trump’s vision for America have faced threats and intimidation from the “alt-right” of white supremacists and nativists who hide behind avatars on social media.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech did not envision that more than 50 years later “Go back to Africa” would be screamed at black protesters or that a major presidential candidate would tweet racially charged comments. Some American Christians may be tempted to ignore these issues, hoping they are just a wave of “political incorrectness” that will ebb in due time. That short of silence shortchanges both out gospel and our future.”
Moore continued by talking about how when secular Americans view evangelicals they think of white, old precinct captains or white television evangelists. It was during this that Moore called on Christians to be on the right side of Jesus. He then closed out his op-ed by saying the following:
The Bible calls on Christians to bear one another’s burdens. White American Christians who respond to cultural tumult with nostalgia fail to do this. They are blinding themselves to the injustices faced by their black and brown brothers and sisters in the supposedly idyllic Mayberry of white Christian America. That world was murder, sometimes literally, for minority evangelicals.
This has gospel implications not only for minorities and immigrants but for the so-called silent majority. A vast majority of Christians, on earth and in heaven, are not white and have never spoken English. A white American Christian who disregards nativist language is in for a shock. The man on the throne in heaven is a dark-skinned, Aramaic-speaking “foreigner” who is probably not all that impressed by chants of “Make America great again.”
For a man who has thin skin Trump reacted in anger and on May 9, 2016 at 3:05 in the morning on Twitter the Republican front runner lashed out like a rabid dog. “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!” With class, humility, restraint and decency Moore’s response to Trump was limited to one word. He just said, “Sad.” Many of Trump’s supporters lashed out at Moore on Twitter and social media. You can read about the criticism in this Time magazine article. Moore however continued on the criticism when in June he told an interviewer that Trump needed the Lord and that he was lost. Moore specifically said, “My primary prayer for Donald Trump is that he would first of all repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ.” Also on Face the Nation Moore called Trump’s campaign “reality television raw sewage.” On September 17, 2015 in another article for the New York Times called “Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values?” Moore continued his criticism. To make it simple Moore said that to back Trump would mean that evangelicals would have to repudiate everything they believe. But pay attention to this final paragraph in Moore’s piece.
Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so 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. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.
In October Russell Moore penned another article, this time for the Washington Post that called out the religious right and criticized it. The Access Hollywood tape was leaked and many evangelicals still supported Trump. In an article called “If Donald Trump has done anything, he has snuffed out the Religious Right” consider what Moore says:
Donald Trump once bragged to radio shock-jock Howard Stern about walking through the dressing rooms of his beauty pageants while contestants were getting dressed. He could do it, he suggested, because he owned the place.
This year, religious conservatism stands naked and exposed before the world, while Trump smugly surveys what he has come to own.
Journalist Mark Halperin noted this weekend that virtually all of the “reaffirmation of support” for Trump, following the disclosure of his sexually predatory recorded comments, were from religious conservative leaders. This is a scandal and a disgrace, but it should not be a surprise.
He goes on and talks about the old white establishment evangelical guard.
And yet here stands the old-guard Religious Right establishment. Some are defending or waving this away, with the same old tropes they’ve used throughout this campaign. Trump’s not a Sunday school teacher, they tell us. Trump’s a new King David or pagan deliverer Cyrus. Trump is either a “baby Christian” or the kind of tough strongman conservative Christians need since the Sermon on the Mount isn’t realistic enough for the 21st century.
And then Moore continues to criticize the religious right and points out the BS that exists.
What’s at stake here is far more than an election. In the 1980s, many evangelicals quietly cringed when they saw the endless stream of hucksters called “television evangelists” on the airwaves around them. These figures cried on cue, sold their protein shakes and end-times emergency food packets, and peddled “anointed” prayer cloths in exchange for donations, all while explaining to us what political point God was making with natural disasters. When one after another fell into open scandal, it wasn’t just their prosperity gospel voodoo that was disgraced before the world, but the reputation of the entire church. And yet the damage done to gospel witness this year will take longer to recover from than those 1980s televangelist scandals.
These evangelical leaders have said that, for the sake of the “lesser of two evils,” one should stand with someone who not only characterizes sexual decadence and misogyny, brokers in cruelty and nativism, and displays a crazed public and private temperament — but who glories in these things. Some of the very people who warned us about moral relativism and situational ethics now ask us to become moral relativists for the sake of an election. And when some dissent, they are labeled as liberals or accused of moral preening or sitting comfortably on the sidelines. The cynicism and nihilism is horrifying to behold. It is not new, but it is clearer to see than ever.
This reaction by Russell Moore did not go over very well with parts of the Southern Baptist Convention as we shall see.
How Southern Baptists are Reacting
The following day after the election Russell Moore talked about how divisive the election became and how Christians should honor their leaders. You can listen to that podcast right here. However within the Southern Baptist Convention there was outrage over what happened and over how Russell Moore reacted during the campaign. In a Wall Street Journal article that came out on December 19, 2016 called “Baptist Figure Faces Backlash Over His Criticism of Donald Trump” some of this resistance and anger to Moore went public. Some Southern Baptists supported ending funding to the public policy agency Moore heads. Or they talked about withholding funds. Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church said the following. “There was a disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present,” and said that his church is “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention.” In addition Graham states that the SBC will not have access to Trump. Meanwhile William F Harrell, who once served on the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee said that the ERLC needs to change or be eliminated. He also stated that he knew of pastors that were considering withholding funds. This was revealed in his blog post which you can read here. Robert Jeffries from First Baptist Dallas also criticized Moore saying, “I’ve had deacons in my church very concerned about the direction of the ERLC…” and “They do not believe it represents our church’s beliefs.“
In response to all this Russell Moore wrote a blog post also on December 19, called “Election Year Thoughts at Christmastime.” In that post Moore apologized for his behavior and said the following:
“A little over a month out from the 2016 elections, this is the question I’ve been thinking about recently. As many Americans travel home to see family, many of you are bound to be on the receiving end of heated political conversations. Some of you may be visiting family who are upset about how you voted. Others of you may deal with family who are upset about things you did or didn’t say. Still others of you may be disappointed with how a family member advocated or debated.
I can understand that. Over the last month, there have been some pointed conversations in my denominational family about the election and the way forward, and some of them have been directed at me. But it also raises a broader question worth considering: as Christians, how should we move forward in this Christmas season and beyond?
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 there has been blow back to Moore a number of people, young Baptist pastors and younger people burned out by the culture wars have gone to Moore’s defense. A new Twitter hashtag called #IStandWithMoore is being used by Moore’s supporters. Others who have publically stood with Russell Moore include Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, as well Ray Outland, musician Derek Minor, D.A. Horton, Justin Taylor, Lauren Chandler, and Liberty University professor Karen Swallow. Also its drawing other coverage such as this article by Jonathan Merritt and the Federalist has come out swinging for Moore in this article by Nathan Leamer called “Christians Need More Leaders Like Russell Moore.”
Hemant Mehta Enters the Fray
I like to write about atheism and secularism because I believe that the topic should be covered. One of my criticisms with many Christian blogs is that they do not pay attention or listen to the atheist community. That is a shame, and I also believe it develops into tunnel vision. How can you effectively cover or write about something and only pay attention to information on one side? This story with Russell Moore will illustrate this problem. As the situation with Russell Moore dragged on after the election Hemant Mehta entered the fray this week. For those of you who do not know Hemant Mehta writes as The Friendly Atheist. He authors probably one of the most well known atheist blogs on Patheos. When the Wall Street Journal wrote about the controversy with Moore Hemant Mehta tweeted the article and added some very insightful commentary. In the tweet he said, “Southern Baptists are more upset with the Christian who denounced bigotry than the candidate who thrived on it.” What Hemant is calling out is how Southern Baptists have no problems with bigotry. Their behavior is revealing themselves now in how many are going after Moore. Hemant I believe is pointing out that many Southern Baptists ignore bigotry when its convenient and when there is a higher calling. In the case with Trump that would mean that bigotry takes a back seat to winning the White House at any and all costs. Hemant Mehta’s tweet is insightful and as I have written about in the past many atheists should be listened. They have insightful perspective and offer an opinion from time to time that is spot on. In this case Hemant Mehta is correct. In how Southern Baptists embraced Donald Trump what it shows is that many Southern Baptists warmed up to their racist past, and obviously feel comfortable with it. After all it needs to be pointed out that the Southern Baptists were formed when they broke away prior to the Civil War. Today the Southern Baptists are just nodding to their heritage and show how they still struggle with bigotry. That was one of the consequences of this election. The Southern Baptist Convention took a major step back when they tied themselves to Donald Trump. That is my analysis of the atheist angle, and I want to thank Hement Mehta for his Tweet in pointing this issue out.
I Don’t Understand Parts of My Tribe
This is going to be very blunt but in the commitment to be fair and calling out a situation I need to state the following. I don’t understand parts of my tribe and I can’t believe some of the stuff I have heard over the last few weeks. I am baffled why people would protest a church where a pastor has allegedly engaged in cover up of child sex abuse and then turn around and support a man who bragged about grabbing a female’s pussy. I do not understand why some people are upset with the alleged cover up of child sex abuse in Sovereign Grace and then support a man who bragged of an alleged sexual assault. I can’t believe that some in my crowd were outraged when the pussified nation comments of Mark Driscoll came forward and then turned around and dismissed Donald Trump boasting of “grabbing them by the pussy.” What is the difference between Mark Driscoll and Donald Trump? In the end I would say that it is very little. Plus both the Access Hollywood tape and the Mars Hill bulletin board where all this leaked out happened 10 to 15 years years ago. After al the Mars Hill comments occurred in 2000 and the Access Hollywood tape made in 2005. Both are old…but I can’t figure out why some evangelicals would dismiss one but not the other? Can someone explain this to me? I honestly hope that there hasn’t been Christians bloggers who are outraged about child sex abuse cover up who dismiss the Access Hollywood tape and support Donald Trump. If that happens that would be such blatant hypocrisy and to be honest with you if I poke around I am terrified to find out more. One lasting impact I am afraid of is that I would become a done as I would be so disgusted if I found out the entire story. In my case I invested too much, went through too much hell to hear Christians who are principled support Trump. It leaves me to ask the question…what am I associated with? Watching my personal Facebook feed has been beyond depressing.
Mark Noll is correct about the scandal of the evangelical mind. That was on prominent display this past election. In addition many evangelicals tipped their hat and illustrated how many struggle with cognitive dissonance, reasoning and critical thinking skills. Today because of how many people processed Donald Trump I can now understand why some people just will go from toxic church to another toxic church. They haven’t learned to think for themselves. And they can’t identify toxic leadership at all. From C.J. Mahaney to Mark Driscoll to Donald Trump many of us saw the dark side of evangelicalism recently. Narcissism comes in many forms and many people can’t recognize it at all. I would like to think that my writing kept other people from being hurt, and educated others. But sometimes I honestly wonder if parts of evangelicalism are too far gone to make a difference. But I can’t figure this out at all? After all I would think that rape is rape and sexual assault is sexual assault. I would think that people would be outraged in all forms because of how they feel about this issue. If Christians in my camp are going to be outraged by organizations like Sovereign Grace and their alleged criminal activity and then dismiss Donald Trump’s boasting of sexual assault well that just doesn’t fly. I think a person losses credibility in talking about issues such as Sovereign Grace, as their blind spot handicaps them. I sat and stewed on this issue for the past month but when I saw the controversy spill out into the media, and began watching how atheists are processing it, I realized that I was going to have to act. But I want to explain why this blog supports Russell Moore and why I am calling on him to stand tall.
Russell Moore Is a Beacon of Hope for the Next Four Years and The Wondering Eagle Supports Him
First let me state that I am not a Neo-Calvinist at all. I have written about how Neo-Calvinism/Reformed theology makes the problem of evil worse when I wrote about Newtown and John Piper’s reaction to it. I was asked to tell my story at The Wartburg Watch which can be read here. Plus I know how close Russell Moore is to Al Mohler. So I want this to be crystal clear as I do not think in black and white. Today The Wondering Eagle is standing alongside people like Ray Outland, and Lauren Chandler and others to say that I stand with Russell Moore. I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is fortunate to have him and this writer is grateful that he leads the ERLC.
But before going further lets stop and look at the people who are critiquing and challenging Russell Moore. Robert Jeffries is basically the Pat Robertson of the Southern Baptist Convention and not someone who can honestly be taken seriously. He is long remembered for one of the largest spectacles in the Southern Baptist community, and that is the $130 million he spent on a construction project. Stop and consider what a lot of that money could have gone for in Africa, the construction of wells, or taking care of the poor in Dallas. Honestly does one have to say any more about Jeffries?
Then there is Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church. Jack has been a vocal supporter of Donald Trump. I believe Jack stated that it was a sin not to vote for Donald Trump. I recall reading that somewhere but I am struggling to find that. I have news for Jack….I boldly sinned in how I voted. After all doesn’t Martin Luther say that when it comes to sin one should sin boldly? Well sin I did! Then there is another factor about Jack Graham which maybe helps put his support for Donald Trump in perspective. There is the issue of John Langworthy who was allegedly involved in sexual abuse at Prestonwood Baptist. He quietly resigned in 1989 I believe and then Prestonwood allegedly covered it up and let him go. Langworthy left Texas and became involved in a church in Mississippi where he went on and engaged in child sexual abuse. Its my understanding that Amy Smith is the person to go to on this issue and you can read about it in greater detail in this Dallas Observer article. But given the track record of the alleged cover up of child sex abuse at Prestonwood Baptist…is that why Jack Graham had no problem supporting Donald Trump? After all why care about child sex abuse if you throw your support behind a Presidential candidate who boasts of grabbing someone’s pussy? Does Jack Graham believe that alleged sexual crimes are normal and okay? Apparently in reading about his reaction to Trump in this past election the answer to that question is yes. So when you stop and consider the source of the criticism against Moore that helps put much of his in a different light.
The Wondering Eagle is profoundly grateful that Russell Moore heads the ERLC. This non Calvinist who disagrees on some theological issues with Russell Moore finds him to be refreshing and a relief in the Southern Baptist Convention. His boldness to take on Donald Trump was necessary and essential. I believe that he is right, and that people who voted for Trump voted against everything that they profess as Christians. They compromised their Christian faith. I am also calling on Russell Moore to stand tall, be proud and carry the torch. Russell Moore is needed now more than ever and I believe that he will be the heart and conscious of the Southern Baptist Convention for the next four years. He needs to be even more vocal and challenge Trump now more than ever. For those of us who are younger I look up to Moore and his engagement and challenging Trump with awe, and a profound sense of gratitude. At a time of criticism I hope that Moore and parts of The Gospel Coalition find this post encouraging. While I disagree with The Gospel Coalition when parts of them are right then I believe they should be commended. I am asking The Gospel Coalition to be loud and vocal these next four years. I still believe we have to discuss the C.J. Mahaney issue but in areas where The Gospel Coalition takes on Trump I want to encourage them forward. But getting back to Moore I want to take a moment and say brother, I stand with you.
I know some people who are close to me are going to disagree with this post. Some are going to think I lost my mind. This post was driven by my conscious. I am a free spirited person and this post will only display that issue further. Its harder to stand up to your enemies and those you disagree with, but its even harder to stand up to your friends. Yet out of love I need to communicate my thoughts and feelings. I hope people understand this and know that this is not being done in a flippant manner, this is being done by a guy deeply concerned. Christians cannot be outraged in abuse in one area and then go and dismiss it in another. If that happens then I propose that the Christian community shut down and crawl under a rock and disappear off the face of the earth. You are free to communicate and speak your mind either down below or behind the scenes. Again I love you guys!