I have been wondering for a few months now if there was going to be some kind of Southern Baptist backlash against Russell Moore, and it looks like it may now be happening. For example, The Wall Street Journal has a story on it here, and NPR here. And in the aftermath of the election, Russell Moore himself had some relevant comments here.
As many of you know, I have often been a critic of Russell Moore’s approach to cultural engagement. If you want to know the hows and whys of all that, there are some representative posts here, here, and here. And to set all that in context, while I have not had any direct contact with Moore, I am in ongoing contact with some in his world, and what I hear could be promising, if not encouraging. At the same time, I have also heard rumbles coming from the other direction. The times, as they say, are interesting.
So my reason for writing about this is not to take a passing dog by the ears. Given some of the reasoning I have heard, my motive for writing is to urge—as much as it would be seemly for a Presbyterian with Southern Baptist roots to urge—all sides to be careful in the arguments they use in a debate like this. If the fundamental urge is simply to “get Moore” or to “defend Moore,” then the most likely result would be two-way Machiavellian machinations within an evangelical denomination that would put the cherry on top of a pretty tawdry year over all.
For example, I have seen one argument against Moore that maintains that his strident opposition to Trump during the campaign means that he will be unable to do his job on behalf of Southern Baptists, which is to use the ERLC to represent the concerns and interests of the SBC in Washington. As a stand-alone argument, I don’t think this carries a lot of water, if any. There will be individuals in Trump’s cabinet who were more vocal in their opposition to Trump than Moore was. That by itself should not signify. The issue is not whether Moore could take advantage of Trump’s victory to get some important things done. The only issue is whether he will want to.
The sovereign God draws straight with crooked lines. This is not an argument in favor of drawing crooked lines—we are not to sin so that grace may abound—but it does recognize God sometimes gives us unexpected opportunities, and He may use the compromises of others as a means of creating those opportunities. Thomas Cranmer is a hero of the faith, and a martyr, and deserves the place of honor we give him. But part of the way he got into that position was through some pretty dodgy exegesis on the matter of Henry’s divorce. Separation from Rome, three cheers. Courage at the stake, three more cheers. However, comma . . . Why do we look with contempt on another Henry saying that “Paris is worth a mass,” and look the other way with a prim look on our faces when someone else says that “London is worth a little funny business with the text”?
It is pretty apparent that Moore previously thought that evangelicals were needing to settle in for a long exile, with Hillary likely to consolidate all the predations of Obama. The tactics you adopt reflect the situation you think you are in. But then something else happened. Now that it appears that reversing a number of the leftist legacies might actually be within reach. Replacing Scalia is a front burner issue, and if any of the current liberals on the court resign or die, then everything from Roe to Obergefell could be back on the table. What conservative Southern Baptists need to know is that Moore will be in that gap, fighting for that to happen. If he does so, then he will have plenty of friends inside the Trump administration, his earlier opposition to Trump notwithstanding.
Another argument against Moore is that he had been attacking anyone who voted for Trump. Moore referenced this in his Christmas meditations. But I thought—and this is from a critic of Moore—that he was not guilty of this. He very carefully distinguished those who voted for Trump because Hillary was simply unthinkable and those who just went into the tank headfirst for Trump the Man. And Moore’s criticisms of that latter class carries weight, and does so with some irony.
Part of Moore’s strategy has been to present a softer and kinder face to the LGBTQ types. (I say types here because arbitrary alphabet collections are no more a community than Bruce Jenner is a girl. Communities depend upon heterosexual fruitfulness.) But devotees of Trump the Man can’t complain about Moore’s “kind disapproval approach” because Trump himself has gone in for the personal approval approach. Now there are good conservative men who are going to use the Trump administration to set the sexual revolution back decades, glory to God. But there is no reason yet for thinking Trump himself is one of them (cabinet appointments and all). So the irony is that those religious right types who are supporting the character of Trump the Man are being far less conservative on this issue than is Moore. They are attacking Moore from the left. Moore hasn’t waved a rainbow flag, and Trump has. Moore hasn’t welcomed LGBTs into the Republican Party, and Trump has. You get the point.
But there are bad arguments in the other direction also. For example, I don’t believe that removal of Moore from his position would represent a generational disaster for Southern Baptists. The issue is right and wrong, not what the future looks like in the trajectories of young people. If this election has taught us anything, it should be that the future is murkier to us than we like to pretend it is. Again, Lewis is on point:
“We must guard against the emotional overtones of a phrase like ‘the judgement of history’. It might lure us into the vulgarest of all vulgar errors, that of idolizing as the goddess History what manlier ages belaboured as the strumpet Fortune.”
When it comes to any particular policy, whether we are talking about support or opposition, or when it comes to whether Moore continues with the ERLC, we must be very careful not to appeal to cloudy constituencies. The only question that should matter to us is what the Bible teaches. Are we being faithful to that? If the Scriptures require bold and courageous opposition to the LGBT travesty, then it should be opposed as a sexual travesty, and not as a suboptimal instance of slightly missing an opportunity for human flourishing. In short, if we know what the Bible teaches on a subject, this liberates us from caring what pajama boy might think about it.
One last matter, which is a practical one. The protest against Moore has been coming in the form of influential churches threatening to withhold funds from the ERLC. Suppose the pastors of a number of these churches were in fact the good old boy religious right types that Moore was rightly critiquing. If the criticism was well-grounded, then they should take it to heart. But if it was not, or if those churches believe that it was not, then surely it would be weird for those churches to continue to fund attacks on themselves. If they really are old school bigots, then they should search their hearts. But while they are searching their hearts, as the defendants it would be odd for them to be funding the prosecution. Until this issue is worked out, they should not want to offer the money, and Moore should not want to take it.
Let us hope that it will all be worked out. And there we must leave it for now—I am sure there will be closed door meetings, to which we are not privy, but that we will find out about in due course.
 C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper, EPub Edition (HarperOne, 2014), 102.