I am familiar with the broad outlines of what is occurring in the Southern Baptist Convention, but that is it—the broad outlines. I don’t know a whole lot beyond that.
I do know that Russell Moore has left his job at ERLC, and is now working for Christianity Today. I would have preferred it if he had gone to work for a more faithful publication like Christianity Yesterday, but that was not to be. I also know that he is apparently in the process of joining Immanuel Nashville, not an SBC church, and one, moreover, that baptizes babies. Now for a Presbyterian like me, this is what we would normally call an “upgrade,” but there is more than a little bit of funny business going on here, right? What would we think if Pope Benedict, right after he stepped down from the papal throne, had started doing pulpit supply for the Assemblies of God? Okay, not the best analogy—but work with me. As Chuck Colson once put it, you can’t work for McDonald’s and sell Wendy’s burgers.
It should be known that I am not the person to come to if you want gossipy tidbits. I don’t have them, and I think it would be a sin to share them if I did have them. So no inside baseball from me. But I am up here in the nosebleeds, and I can see the field. We can talk about some basic baseball.
Written to be Leaked
In the last few weeks, a couple of letters from Moore have leaked, just prior to the SBC convention, and so the letters are now out there, acting like public knowledge, which means they can be analyzed in their own right. The first was a letter to the ERLC trustees that he wrote a year or so ago, but it has leaked now, and the second one is a letter that Moore wrote to J.D. Greear, the current president of the SBC. Moore wrote this second one as he was headed out the door.
And so I do think I can see something of what is going on. Shall I share it with you? If you come with me, I shall focus, weather permitting, on the second letter, the one to Grear.
At the very end of it, Moore explains why he wrote the letter.
I write this letter mainly because I feel conscience-driven to put down in writing what we have seen, if only so that I can be reminded of it myself if ever I find myself in a similar environment.Moore letter to Greear
Now if Moore and Greear have just been through this whole thing together, and then one of them sits down and writes a letter to the other one, summarizing what they have just been through, it is very apparent that this is not a personal note of commiseration, but rather something being written for the record.
Ah, but which record? If Moore had written this letter as a summary of events, and asked the ERLC trustees to enter his letter into their minutes, and if that letter didn’t leak right away, right before an important election, then it would have been an entirely responsible thing to do.
But as it transpired, it is apparent that this letter was composed in order to be leaked. It was written for the cameras. You can even see that the make-up girl put a little bit too much powder on the cheekbones. The letter should be evaluated accordingly—as a calculated and bare-knuckled political move.
Three Options, Not Two
And the fact that this conflict is being handled in this way reveals something. The major crisis in the SBC, according to the letter, is the crisis of sexual abuse. In the lexicon of the “me too” forces in this particular battle, the two alternatives are exposure on the one hand, and cover-up on the other. Those are your choices.
But for those who want to approach these matters in a more biblical fashion, there are three basic options. There is cover-up at one end and trial by public accusation on the other. In the middle is judicious investigation by people who are committed to biblical due process.
Now in this letter, Moore accuses the Executive Committee of the SBC of manifest “wickedness..”
But sooner or later the majority of Southern Baptists will have to decide whether this sort of wickedness can continue to go on under their name.Moore letter to Greear
He does this in a letter that is leaked right after he is out the door, and out of range. This means that the only place where this charge can be adjudicated is in the court of public opinion, which is not an ideal place for that. This is not a move that is conducive to any kind of due process.
If it was true, he should have stayed and made the charges explicitly. If it is not, then what this amounts to is a drive-by smear.
A Really Bad Look
Let me assume, just for a moment, that Moore’s particular charges are true. We can evaluate this on Moore’s own terms. Let me assume that the SBC’s college of cardinals is “wicked,” and that they have been resisting judicious and godly reforms by tooth and by crook, by hook and by nail.
What was Moore doing as he observed all this wickedness going down?
Now, as I said to my trustee officers last year, through all of this I have tried to smile and pretend that everything is alright with me personally and to refrain from revealing the horrific actions you and I have experienced behind the scenes.Moore letter to Greear
But what would we call it if Mike Stone had known of horrific deeds going down in his church, and had “refrained from revealing” them? What would we say if some pastor of an SBC church somewhere had known of some sort of abuse, or abuse cover-ups, and had gone on smiling in order to “pretend that everything is alright” with him personally? What is that called? It is called a prelude to a crucifixion, that’s what.
There are only two ways to go here. If the accusations are true, and the Executive Committee of the SBC is a nest of evil-doers, then Russell Moore has been radically complicit in hiding that fact from the congregations of the SBC. The other alternative is that the charge is not true, and yet has been leveled by Moore in the heat of an acrimonious departure. In other words, it was the politics talking. And either way it goes, it is a really bad look for Moore.
Here is how Moore describes the rank and file Baptist leaders who do not know of all the dirty deeds being done up at the top.
These are doctrinally orthodox and conservative leaders. They are talking about the sort of thing I am discussing here—and they don’t even know a fraction of a fraction of it.Moore letter to Greear
But here is the problem.
Moore did know of all the dirty deeds being done at the top, and he said nothing. He said nothing until it was too late to hold him accountable for the veracity of his charges. He might reply that during all this time he was pressing for reforms, which were being shot down by the evil-doers, but again . . .
Would that fly if some pastor somewhere knew of abuses in his church, and had suggested necessary reforms to his board, had them denied, and continued on as the pastor, letting the congregation remain in their ignorance, knowing only a “fraction of a fraction”?
Not a snowball’s chance. But . . .
And you know that when their stonewalling has failed, you and I have not called them out publicly on what they did privately.Moore letter to Greear
But this is a serious question. If it was bad as all that, why not? Why didn’t you call them out publicly? And if it was not as bad as all that, why you saying any of this now?
But the strategy is clear—an endless psychological warfare aimed at silencing through intimidation.Moore letter to Greear
So then, again on the assumption that this is an accurate report, the question naturally arises. If that was the strategy, i.e. silencing through intimidation, did it work? Was there silence? Was there silence for eight years?
And if it worked, then how is Moore not complicit in the same way a no-name SBC pastor would be if he tried this approach with a scandal in his church? If it didn’t work, then how is it that we are just now hearing about all this? These charges are either true or false. If they are true, then Moore is complicit. If they are false, then Moore is leveling slanderous charges without accountability.
The same principle applies to other issues. Although Moore’s letter is primarily about the sexual abuse issue, he does mention the race issue. And the same problem applies here as well.
The crisis is multi-pronged as you and I have discussed, as seen in the blatant, gutter-level racism that has been expressed to me behind closed doors along with the reprehensible treatment of my African-American employees and our African-American seminary professors by figures within the Southern Baptist ecosystem.Moore letter to Greear
He is not talking about some low-level pastor out in the hinterlands with some racial issues. No, he is saying that “gutter-level” racism has been expressed to Moore, to his face, behind closed doors. In other words, there is gutter-level racism at the highest echelons of the SBC. And that is right where it stayed—behind closed doors, thanks to Moore.
Back to sexual abuse.
You and I both heard, in closed door meetings, sexual abuse survivors spoken of in terms of “Potiphar’s wife” and other spurious biblical analogies. The conversations in these closed door meetings were far worse than anything Southern Baptists knew—or the outside world could report.Moore letter to Greear
But prior to an independent third-party investigation, why is a Potiphar’s wife scenario not one of the possibilities? Is it not even possible anymore? Only a fool would say that all accusations of sexual abuse are false, and only another fool would say that they all have to be true. This is why due process matters.
What they want is for us to remain silent and to live in psychological terror, to protect them by covering up what they do in darkness, while asking our constituencies to come in and to stay in the SBC.Moore letter to Greear
And again, if that was the plan, did Moore cooperate with it? Did he play ball? On his terms, it would seem to me that he did. The other option, which is one that seems more likely, is that Moore is a partisan, speaking recklessly in the heat of the moment. I don’t believe that his adversaries are as wicked as he is claiming. And that means that I don’t believe that Moore is as cowardly as he is claiming.
At this year’s 2021 Southern Baptist Convention, I had planned to speak to the messengers and ask for an independent third-party investigation of these activities by the SBC Executive Committee, similar to the independent investigation into Ravi Zacharias International MinistriesMoore letter to Greear
And so, here it is. Bottom line. Why didn’t he? Couldn’t CT wait just a couple of months?
A Justice Primer
A basic introduction to the principles of biblical justice, desperately needed in our time.