President Trump may have called Russell Moore a “nasty guy with no heart,” but that’s mild compared to the pressure the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has experienced recently.
Moore was vocal in his opposition to Trump during the 2016 election, and he’s continued to criticize some of Trump’s statements and policies. Moore’s comments during the election caused a significant backlash from some Southern Baptist pastors and leaders, and the pressure hasn’t subsided now that Trump is President. Over the past few weeks, a few Southern Baptist churches have announced they’ll be withholding funds from the SBC’s Cooperative Programs fund because of disagreements with the ERLC, and the SBC announced that they’ll be studying the issue.
Irrespective of the internal governing and decision-making of the SBC, these developments are troubling because of the deep need that U.S. evangelicals have for leaders like Russell Moore.
Young evangelicals are growing increasingly disillusioned with the political engagement legacy they’ve inherited. The Moral Majority, with its “culture war” mentality and exclusive focus on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, represents an approach many young believers are rejecting. Moore’s method of political engagement avoids much of the outright hostility toward the broader dominant culture that has characterized the Religious Right over the past few decades, while still maintaining its fundamental convictions.
He’s just as willing to criticize expanded access to abortion as he is to promote adoption and foster care. He fights for many of the same religious liberty issues that the Moral Majority championed, but he’s also fought for the rights of Muslims. The addition of these issues and the nuance with which he defends them has provided much-needed consistency to faith-based political activism. His thoughtful and fair approach, and his willingness to advocate for refugees and the rights of Muslims, has resonated with many evangelicals who may have otherwise drifted from conservative theology or their faith entirely.
This isn’t an exaggeration. For young believers who support racial justice, care for refugees, or religious freedom for non-Christians, aversion to the Religious Right’s legacy is a strong deterrent against remaining in conservative churches or institutions. For many young evangelicals, the 2016 election revealed what appeared to be two distinct and warring camps in their faith: the 80% of white evangelicals who supported Trump in spite of evidence that he represents a sexual ethic and morality their faith should lead them to reject, and progressive Christians who strongly opposed Trump but who’ve also advocated for a rejection of traditional biblical views on sexuality and abortion.
For some, the temptation to abandon conservative theology, especially considering the controversies surrounding an orthodox sexual ethic, is strong.
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