It should be a given that professing Christians are out to love their neighbors, out to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God” as instructed in the book of Micah. As the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Dr. Russell Moore has embodied these most basic of Christian tenets.
As president of the ERLC, Moore leads Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) engagement with public policy and elected officials, and does so to great effect. Moore spent months during the 2016 election explaining why Christians should refuse to accept the either-or choice of Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. He continually used his platform to encourage Christians to raise the level of public discourse and expand the approach to pro-life issues beyond simply ending abortion to including care for the immigrant, impoverished, refugee, and incarcerated.
So it makes no sense that a sharp controversy is now brewing in the Southern Baptist Convention over Moore’s leadership. A small but vocal SBC minority is frustrated with Moore for his opposition to Trump’s candidacy and emphasis on expanding certain conservative assumptions. This minority says Moore should step down because his principled stance during the election will disenfranchise Baptists during the coming administration, limiting their “influence in regards to public policy.” Because some exit polls suggest that 80 percent of white evangelicals supported Trump, they say Moore should just fall into step and toe the GOP party line.
By rejecting Trump’s vitriol and apparent lack of moral character, the thinking goes, Moore and the rest of the SBC will be relegated to backbench status in Washington DC. This “thinking” reveals a dire ignorance of political reality and the ERLC’s mission to “apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty.”
Refusing to Be Partisan Is an Asset
As a fellow evangelical spending most of my day on Capitol Hill advocating for conservative policy issues, I can state for a fact that these indictments are entirely misguided and potentially self-destructive.
There is no more effective evangelical leader than Moore. Under his leadership the ERLC has grown in reach and influence, hosting numerous seminars on a variety of issues with policy-making attendees from both sides of the aisle. Additionally, the ERLC plays a vital role in a number of conservative coalitions. I have witnessed House and Senate leadership offices ask for Moore to personally participate in various events to lend legitimacy and gravitas.
Too often evangelical leaders get pigeonholed into partisan identities. This is not the case with Moore. Both parties see him as a leader transcending partisan divide and stereotypes. This is because Moore and his team balance speaking truth to power while achieving real policy victories.
The idea that Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, will somehow lose their political sway because of Moore is ridiculous. The ERLC is engaging from a place of strength, thanks almost entirely to Moore’s independence and principle. Trump needs the Baptist vote more than any Christian needs a politician, and it is not a two-way street. If Trump somehow convened an evangelical gathering without the ERLC and Moore, it would be like holding a James Bond reunion without Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, and Sean Connery.
Donald Trump Is Happy to Work with Erstwhile Opponents
While some may point out that Trump has tweeted Moore is a “nasty guy with no heart!” as proof that the two couldn’t work together, let me respond that Mitt Romney was seriously considered for secretary of State after Trump called the failed presidential candidate “a fool.” Even more significantly, after leading chants of “lock her up” on the campaign trail, Trump won and then declared that Hillary Clinton had been through enough, so he wouldn’t seek her prosecution for suspected crimes.
If Baptists are truly concerned that the new administration will leave them out in the cold, they could easily designate a disgruntled pastor lacking real moral gumption to be Trump’s pet while Moore continues to speak out for biblical truth and actual justice. Political organizations do this all the time. In almost every group there are those who put on the public face and play nice while others in the organization uphold principles and actually get the job done.
Too often Christians in DC are intimidated by power, bowing down to the next Nebuchadnezzar instead of representing right no matter how hot the furnace. I hope the Southern Baptist Convention will resist this illusion of temporary political expediency and instead stand strong with the ERLC as led by Moore. We need more leaders like him, especially in times like these.