Thousands of Southern Baptist delegates, known as “Messengers,” descended upon Anaheim, California, June 12-15 for one of the most crucial conferences in Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) history. The recent Sexual Abuse Report produced by Guidepost Solutions forced the Convention to address the issue in Southern Baptist churches, and to repent of decades-old corruption and cover-up of sexual abuse by church leaders towards women and children.
“Good Faith” is a podcast by The Dispatch on the intersection of faith with politics, culture and law. Host David French is a former staff writer for National Review and current senior editor for The Dispatch. His co-host Curtis Chang is a faculty member at Duke Divinity School and a senior fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. Their guest, Russell Moore, is a former provost at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The episode is titled “Russell Moore Wants Us to Be Strange (But Not Crazy).”
Moore has been the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” regarding sexual abuse and racial justice by calling for accountability, justice, and reform in the SBC for years. As the denomination’s top official for public policy, he was known to criticize SBC Executive Committee silence in matters of abuse, and experienced retaliation from EC leadership during his tenure with the ERLC. In 2021, he left the SBC and now serves as Public Theology Director at Christianity Today.
French and Chang asked Moore why the SBC Conference is important to Christians who are not Baptist. Russell reminded listeners that the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the world, and noted, “So many of the things that are at work right now in the SBC are also happening everywhere else.” French added that the SBC has a network of theological seminaries that are consistently producing scholars and thinkers “at a rate above” that of other denominations, increasing exposure.
Moore outlined the main issues in this year’s Convention. The SBC will address the independent investigation of the Executive Committee, the body of Southern Baptists leaders that operate on behalf of the Convention between annual meetings. “There will be a great deal of work to be done on how to not only respond to the report but also to create structure to prevent this from happening, and all of that has to take place in two days.”
The former ERLC official was closely involved in calling for the investigation into sexual abuse in the SBC, but had to wrestle with his decision to leave the SBC. He encouraged those considering leaving or staying to resist an attitude of hate towards those who do not make the same decision.
Moore is encouraged to see attention to sexual abuse grow in local church grassroots. He focused mainly on SBC leadership, ironically explaining that people who told him not to worry about a “crisis in the church” related to sexual abuse were the same people keeping a updated list of 700 cases of sexual abuse across decades of church leadership. Moore rebuked this, saying, “Among the very first words that we have from Jesus after his resurrection, are rebukes to churches that are involved in really horrific activities. We understand that, we know that. We also know that we have a responsibility.”
The Director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project was supportive of the report’s recommendations but skeptical.
“I think the primary problem here is a cultural problem, in which most of the people are really good, and want to serve Jesus. The problem is that those good people assume that if you just bear with some crazy for a while, then it will eventually go away,” Moore diagnosed. He decried the passivity of reasonable, well-meaning people, encouraging SBC members to stop fleeing from public dialogue.
“This unique sort of dynamic in the SBC, and I am seeing this in a lot of other institutions, is that the healthiest people are disengaging, because they are not the people who want to go through the nonsense that one has to go in these things. So they don’t necessarily leave, but they disengage,” Moore commented.
Chang immediately concurred, “That’s an American crisis right there. That’s the “exhausted majority” concept, that says that people right, left, middle, who believe that there’s a better way, are just pulling away, being cattle-prodded out of the political church community.”
French addressed what he called the “crazy” rhetoric fueling church growth. Because of the anti-elitist thought and political radicalization of the post-2016 Evangelical church, he said, “In American society right now, crazy is really indistinguishable from conviction.” Moore concurred, sympathizing with pastors who are “completely exhausted” from “navigating through political and cultural tumult” while desiring to remain true to the textual Gospel. Chang wondered if pastors long for a return to normalcy, and Moore agreed, but pointed out pastors are discouraged with the never-ending cycle of conflict and unprecedented cultural battles.
Moore condemned the prioritization of unity at the expense of seeking truth. “There’s a lot of people who say “we have to maintain unity” which is a good biblical principle and truth. It’s a good American principle and truth; but what they mean by unity is a sense of just allowing people to run herd over everyone else.” He emphasized the conviction of Billy Graham and Martin Luther King in devotion to God, despite opposition from people on the right and left.
Citing their examples, he said, “I would just encourage people; maintain the strangeness of the Gospel, and keep the reasonableness of sanity. And sanity is itself crazy in a crazy culture.”