Difficult situations will either bring out the best in people or the worst in people. Difficult situations will either unite people and strengthen their resolve, or sadly and more commonly, difficult situations divide people and cause much finger-pointing. It is the latter that has been shown to be true in this present election season.
The 2016 election cycle has caused much controversy, to say the least.
In the midst of all of the controversy that has been swirling around, some of that has involved Dr. Russell Moore. Russell Moore has been a pastor, professor at Southern Seminary, conference speaker, and commentator on culture as it intersects with the Gospel. Currently, Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which is the moral and public policy agency of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC; emphasis on “moral” is mine). This means that Dr. Moore serves Southern Baptists in being a representative and influential voice in Washington D.C. He frequently engages with the President and other elected representatives as an advocate for Christian values. To sum it up, Dr. Moore is a public figure, and we all know that no public figure is without controversy.
The controversy that surrounds Russell Moore is not moral. He was not caught cheating on his wife. He was not caught charging up his credit cards in order to support a cocaine addiction. He isn’t on video physically abusing one of his sons. Here is the scandal that has many perturbed: Russell Moore spoke clearly, respectfully, and sternly about the two political candidates and some of their words and actions, and did so well within a Christ-centered worldview.
That’s it. That’s the issue. Russell Moore stood for the truth of Scripture without any bias as to who his comments were about.
Let’s continue to unpack the situation as simply and concisely as possible with giving some serious implications for what is going on.
Who are the outraged and offended?
Southern Baptists, the very people who Moore represents. Yes, you read that correctly. The very people who love when Dr. Moore champions the right to life, religious liberty, or racial reconciliation on major television networks are now upset with him. A Gospel minister put the Gospel at the forefront of his thinking and his cultural and political comments, and now, Evangelical Christians (evangelical = gospel) are upset at him for doing so.
Why are they upset?
Russell Moore called out and opposed Republican candidate, and now President-Elect, Donald Trump. As this campaign unfolded, there were some revelations about Trump’s character, speech, and actions, particularly encounters and exchanges with women and minorities. These words and actions contradict Christian values, and therefore, given Dr. Moore’s position, Moore spoke out against those things to the point where he said that he, in good conscience as it is tied to Scripture, could not vote for Mr. Trump. (The ERLC is the moral and public policy agency of the SBC – therefore Moore spoke out about the moral issues concerning the public and political happenings; shouldn’t be too shocking).
It is only fair to mention that Dr. Moore also called out Hillary Clinton for her comments and current views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, as well. Moore, a stalwart of Biblical values, spoke of both candidates with respect, but didn’t pull any punches in order to support one party or the other, and this is where things go downhill. The problem is, though he certainly did not endorse Clinton, he didn’t endorse the new hero of conservatism (really a “conservative” populism), Trump. Though, after the election, Dr. Moore tweeted his prayers and support are with President-Elect Trump and said that he would serve to help in any way he could.
What’s happening now?
There are some well-known pastors and large churches (and some not well-known) in the SBC that have now threatened to withhold funding from the ERLC as a result. Some want Moore removed, and will not support the ERLC until that happens. Essentially, they are contemplating boycotting this ministry of the SBC because the spokesman for that ministry stood on Christian principles.
In a Wall Street Journal article that has recently come out, several pastors such as Jack Graham and Robert Jeffress suggested that Moore does not represent Southern Baptist values. I find this shocking and extremely unnerving. Their shift of support from Russell Moore is not based on a change in his theological or doctrinal orthodoxy, but based on his political opinions, which are clearly informed by the Bible. Anyone who knows Russell Moore or who has sat under his preaching/teaching (I have as a SBTS student) knows that Dr. Moore is a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, Gospel-centered man and minister. And because he is unwilling to compromise biblical convictions he is being reprimanded for it. One expects the culture to call out Christians for their unwavering faithfulness to Christian values, but I’m not sure many expected “Evangelical leaders” to do the same.
The American “Dream”
That is what bothers me. There are many Christians, who instead of taking the truths of Scripture to heart about the realities of persecution and marginalization from culture and government, still believe that the United States of America is a “Christian nation.” This stems from Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” and the belief that “Republican = Christian.” The underlying and telling reality is that many Christians still think that the savior of this country will be a Republican administration/administrator. Many believers think that political conservatism will advance the kingdom of God. Both notions are false. The kingdom of God and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has advanced throughout the centuries, across the globe, in every imaginable circumstance. Communism, native tribalism, capitalism, countries governed by Sharia law, war, famine, poverty, sweeping plagues, and government-sanctioned persecution. You name it, Christians have dealt with it, and God has used it to further his kingdom.
What I’m saying is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not dependent upon the United States of America. It is the Church, not the American government, whose mission is to proclaim Christ and him crucified, and many Christian conservatives have infused American prosperity and values into their Christianity. One recent example proves this. Franklin Graham, son of the great evangelist Billy Graham (who I deeply admire), said that “God showed up” this election, essentially implied that political conservatism is the hope for Christian prosperity.
Let’s be honest about 2 things here: 1) The American Dream is not the Gospel. No where does Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, or any other writer of the New Testament promise comfort and prosperity for Christians. Why is suffering mentioned so often in the Bible? Because God’s people will endure tremendous suffering. Jesus says, “if they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.” 2) This type of thinking hurts the Church’s witness to those different than the Church, particularly in ministering to those how affiliate with the Democrat party, and the next generation – the Millennials and Gen Z. It leaves one with the impression that in order to be a “real Christian” you have to be a Republican, which is obviously false. More on this below.
The Bigger Picture: Effective Gospel Witness
Russell has been faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that does mean being unpopular, though it is no excuse to be rude or to seek to be divisive, which Moore has repeatedly said he has no intentions of trying to be.
I think there is a bigger picture here that many are missing, and it ultimately it matters for this present time and for generations that are to follow. The main issue is this: what is the message we’re proclaiming? Are Christians concerned about the fading kingdom of America or the everlasting and steadfast kingdom of God? Are we preaching Christ and Christ alone, or Jesus + the American way of living = a nice comfortable “best of both worlds” (literally) dream.
As a millennial, pastor of an SBC church, and SBTS student, I stand with Russell Moore. I do have certain political and social convictions, but ultimately I am bound to the Word of God. I am not interested in red v. blue or in keeping with political party lines. Life is too short, God is too glorious, eternity is too long, sin is too devastating, God’s punishment upon sin is too horrific to worry about buying into and selling others a false gospel of American prosperity and political right-wing Christianity. Democratic nor Republican party can save us. Ultimately, there is no hope to be had in jockeying for political position. Jesus Christ is the Savior of souls and transformer of lives.
Being a millennial pretty much means that most of my friends my age are not political conservatives. In fact, many people that I went to school with and know are not believers, and the message they are hearing (as I hear it from them) is that Christianity = being a Republican, and one at all costs. With that kind of message, they will not be won over to Christ. They already didn’t respond to Trump’s victory well, and they are not reacting well to the Church who rests on political conservatism to advance its mission. As this generation of millennials become more increasingly involved in leading workplaces, public policy, and cultural change, this message of “old guard right-wing conservatism” will not affect them. They will see the Church and her message as an increasingly irrelevant political agenda. Essentially, when we say its the right-wing political gospel that people need to believe in, we are marginalizing ourselves, cutting our influence and reach off to the vast majority of younger Americans.
Russell Moore understands this and therefore he has the ability, as we as professing Christians should, to reach out to people on both sides of the political spectrum. Whereas men like Robert Jeffress and Jack Graham are catering to the outrage of their congregations (towards Moore), Russell Moore and many others (Al Mohler, Ray Ortlund, Mark Dever, Thabiti Anyabwile etc.) are focusing on the best way to move forward as Gospel ambassadors, regardless of who is in office, and to make Christ known to people now and in the generations to come.
Being ambassadors of Christ means we must call it like it is, regardless of political party. We are called to be faithful to Jesus, and clearly distinguish our Christianity from our culture. If we don’t then the clear, convicting message of the Gospel is lost. It’s just another failed social gospel with no otherworldly power.
Here are two tweets from the social media hashtag #IStandWithMoore
Josh Howerton, pastor of the Bridge Church, said:
#IStandWithMoore because he unflinchingly lets the gospel shape his politics rather than his politics shape his gospel.
Jason Meyer, pastor of Bethelehem Baptist Church and John Piper’s successor, said:
#IStandWithMoore because John the Baptist would rather lose his head than lose his prophetic voice in order to gain a seat at Herod’s table.
These two tweets summarize what Russell Moore has done, and serve to remind us that those who oppose social and cultural conventions will be attacked for it. After all, Jesus certainly was. Christ clearly didn’t toe the political party lines of his day. He was always crossing them, even to the point of upsetting the “moral majority;” let us remain faithful to the real Gospel, no matter who is in office, and no matter what opposition stands before us.
Dr. Moore, thank you for your clarity and unwavering faithfulness to to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Word, and even so to the point of risking your own position of influence. May this episode teach us the importance and cost of true Christianity.
* This post is not a reflection of my political affiliation. I am speaking solely to “in house” matters within the church as it pertains to the Church’s reaction to Russell Moore.
** This is not an endorsement or rejection of a particular party of candidate.
*** Another article of interest is this one from Jonathan Merritt (Religious News Service). He speaks about how much of a mistake it would be to dismiss Russell Moore. Worth a read.