Southern Baptists everywhere took exception to Dr. Russell Moore’s comments in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, which featured a full profile of the new President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The eruption of shock, confusion, and concern is leading Dr. Moore to respond in hopes to set his message straight.
The mistitled article, “Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars,” aimed to use Dr. Moore’s comments to diminish the Christian conservative powerhouse engaged in the national same-sex marriage, abortion, sexual exploitation and religious freedom debates. However, had the WSJ journalist, Neil King Jr., paid close attention to Dr. Moore’s words, he would have realized that the tone might be different, but that the unyielding stand for traditional values remains the same.
“I am not calling, at all, for a ‘pullback’ from politics or engagement” Dr. Moore wrote in his official response to the public backlash. He continued, “If anything, I’m calling for more engagement in the worlds of politics, culture, art, labor and so on. It’s just that this is a different sort of engagement. It’s not a matter of pullback, but priority.”
Rest assured that Dr. Moore is not a closet liberal who plans to incorporate the Emerging Church into the Southern Baptist Convention. If any Southern Baptist should have cause for concern regarding Dr. Moore’s priority of the culture wars, it is Kenda Bartlett, Executive Director of Concerned Women for America (CWA). For the past thirty years she has advocated for traditional family values in the halls of state legislatures and Congress while serving on staff CWA, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.
Mrs. Bartlett confirmed that Dr. Moore is not “going soft.” She explained that he recognizes that “there must be a balance of both grace and transformation.” The language historically used by evangelical leaders is viewed by many today as hostile and must change in order to reach the younger generation.
The WSJ article cited a Pew survey that found Baptists, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, are departing from their religious traditions faster than any other evangelical group.
Dr. Moore is concerned with the number of young Christians leaving the church. “Millenial and post-Millennial Christians are walking away from the political process, and this is what alarms and motivates me” wrote Dr. Moore.
According to Dr. Moore, the pro-life movement should serve as a guideline for Christians engaged in other areas of social policy. Pro-life activists are not only lobbyists on behalf of the unborn, but they are also concerned for the woman who considers abortion. There are an estimated 4,000 pro-life ministries committed to caring for women, their unborn babies, and their health. In the United States alone, there are over 2,500 Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) offering free sonograms, pregnancy tests, parenting classes, STD testing, and after-abortion recovery counseling and ongoing resources and support to women in crisis pregnancies.
“That’s the reason the pro-life movement continues to resonate, with growing numbers, among young Christians.” Dr. Moore is correct. The compassionate, yet solid pro-life platform resonates with young Americans. According to a Gallup survey, 72 percent of teens in America believe that abortion is morally wrong, while only 19 percent support its legalization.
Still, there is a fear among the mature generation that evangelical leaders will sacrifice traditional doctrine for the sake of youthful congregations, a concern not totally unfounded.
We are seeing concerns about this possible trend within the Catholic Church. Liberal elites have praised Pope Francis for his claim that Christians have become “obsessed” with abortion, birth control and same-sex “marriage.”
Pope Francis seems to be shifting how his church speaks. He has said, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” reports the New York Times.
In response to the Pope’s surprising comments, Dr. Moore wrote, “I think he is quite right about the primacy of the gospel over culture wars.” He continued, “Our mission ought to be toward reconciliation, not the vaporization of our perceived enemies.”
But who can forget the controversy that flared after the Pope said, “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.”
By no means did Dr. Moore run to the Pope’s defense. Referring to his comments instead as a “theological train wreck,” he said, “I’m with Pope Francis on the need for kindness, but I pray it will be a convictional kindness that addresses both the reality of God’s holy justice and his reconciling love.”
Yes, Dr. Moore is moving away from the language used by conservative Christian leaders — Dr. Richard Land, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Mrs. Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly — on the fore-front of public policy during the 1970s and 80s. But that does not mean he is giving up ground on the cultural front. Instead, he is attempting to mirror the Gospel and balance a message of grace, repentance and reconciliation in a troubled post-modern world.
Protestants and Catholics must continue to engage, equip and inspire others to boldly obey God’s commandments and spread the Gospel. So in the words of Dr. Moore, “Onward Christian soldiers.”