Russell Moore is not surprised. In 2015, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention warned his fellow conservative evangelical Christians about a political candidate whose entire life was devoted to egotism and materialism and whose “attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord.”
Leading Christian conservatives, such as Tony Perkins and Jerry Falwell Jr., didn’t steer clear of Donald Trump. They laid hands on him, eager to deploy him as their newest battering ram in the culture war. They stuck with Trump through racism, sexism, dishonesty and even the publication of his third wife’s mid-1990s girl-on-girl porno shoot. They’re sticking with him now, even as more sensitive Republicans flee.
Trump’s march through the nation’s dark side has left destruction, seen and unseen. The raging conflict within the Republican Party is mirrored in another battle over the soul of conservative Christianity. Moore, who has made it clear he’s looking for Christians to elevate church above party, Jesus above Trump, is not shrinking from the fight. I spoke with him by telephone on Friday. The transcript is lightly edited.
Q: What will evangelical conservative politics look like after November?
Russell Moore: Deeply divided. This year has illuminated the division more than anything. There’s a clear generational and theological divide within religious conservatism. The engagement of the old-guard religious-right establishment is very different from that of the younger, more theologically oriented, multi-ethnic, religious conservatives of the next generation. That’s a process of change that’s been going on for some time.
Q: The balance of power is not yet in your favor, is it?
Moore: I think the fundamental issue is that younger, gospel-centered evangelicals tend to be much more suspicious of overt political activity. The sort of pastor who will hand over a church directory to a political candidate, or have a candidate speak in the pulpit, is very much in the old-guard line. The sort of evangelicals who are going to be at a Passion Conference or participate in a Gospel Coalition around the country would never do that. So the question is going to be how to harness genuine political engagement without losing the gospel in the process. That’s something the new generation of evangelicals are working through.
Q: Some evangelicals have called for retreat from popular culture and politics. That’s not what I hear from you.
Moore: No, but I do think we must have the understanding that politics is not ultimate. There’s often a kind of identity that comes with politicization in various movements. I think that’s harmful for the church. Being treated like another political interest group has not been good for evangelical Christianity. We need to be engaged, but as people who have our priorities right. And our top priority is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Q: What are your three biggest public policy priorities?
Moore: Abortion — the sanctity of human life. Religious freedom — for everyone. And racial justice and reconciliation.
Q: In the early 20th century, the Social Gospel movement tried to fuse Christianity with social and political activism. What do you make of that?
Moore: I reject the Social Gospel because the Social Gospel in the early 20th century diminished and in some cases even denied the necessity of personal faith in Jesus Christ and turned Christianity into a political program. That was wrong-headed theologically. We’ve seen social gospels on the left and the right that have eclipsed the genuine gospel; the necessity of personal faith in Jesus Christ is essential. There are social implications from the gospel, and we need to be very clear about them, but the implications are not the gospel itself.
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