Amid a bracing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” Russell Moore was inaugurated today as the chief political witness spokesman for America’s second largest religious body. He succeeds Richard Land as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Both men spoke today during a 2 hour service at Capitol Hill Baptist Church before an audience filled with Southern Baptist and other religious notables, such as Jim Wallis, White House faith-based office director Melissa Rogers, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler.
Prominent Roman Catholic thinker Robert George of Princeton University, a personal friend to Moore, was among the speakers, emblemizing the common witness of Catholics and evangelicals in defense of religious liberty, marriage and human life.
Other speakers included Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter, former Mississippi Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor, Kings College President Gregory Thornbury, Oklahoma Republican Congressman James Lankford, plus Land and Mohler, among others.
The former dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moore spoke against a “sour, dour, gloomy, pessimism about culture,” insisting Christians should be “filled with optimism and joy.” We are “not slouching toward Gomorrah but marching toward Zion,” he declared. “We are not losers in the arc of history,” but rather future kings and queens in God’s Kingdom and need to act like it, he urged.
Moore lamented the “liberation theologies of the right and the left,” pointing to a new era of Christian witness in a secular age when the church is a “prophetic minority.” He lamented that “many of our churches are slow motion sexual revolutionaries,” facilitating debate over same sex marriage by earlier acquiescence to divorce and cohabitation.
“America is important,” and the recipient of great blessings, Moore said. “But the goal of the Gospel is not a Christian America,” warning that “we can’t be longing for Mayberry.” Instead the church should speak with a “voice that is spattered with [Christ’s atoning] blood” and working for “reconciliation.”
As religious liberty is under increasing threat, Moore warned of a future when the “consciences of many will be paved over.” Christians are called to defend their liberties while also recognizing that “we are not Americans first.”
Foreshadowing Moore’s remarks, Robert George also warned that “persecution is coming” for religious believers in America, citing the HHS contraceptive/abortifacient mandate. “We Christians can’t fight alone,” he said, urging alliances with members of other faiths amid “our duty to engage the culture.” George concluded: “Let’s cling to Jesus.”
With a similar foreboding, Mohler said, “Our confidence in American exceptionalism is now shaken,” amid a “great moral revolution,” leaving many Christians “bewildered and fearful” as they confront a “great civilizational peril.” Yet amid the “new paganism” whose gains are foremost the church’s failure, Mohler said the looming crisis offers the “optimal conditions for Christian witness.”
Moore’s predecessor similarly cited threats to nation and culture while emphasizing the church’s centrality. Recalling his own inauguration 25 years ago amid the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence, Land said his two more liberal predecessors had refused to attend. “We have been preserved in order to serve,” he surmised. Citing the demise of denominational loyalties, he said the “institutional gravitas of a great denomination” is irreplaceable by parachurch alternatives.
The concluding hymn for Moore’s inauguration was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”