They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush.
Russell Moore is the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. And he is in trouble.
The Evangelical branch of Christianity in the United States was painfully split during the last election. The majority went with Donald Trump, but there were a few dissenters.
Russell Moore was probably the most visible among the critics. He was critical of Mr. Trump and he was critical of those Evangelicals who were willing to give up long held principles in order to support him.
In September of 2015, he published an op-ed piece in the New York Times asking, “Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values?”
He began his essay by recounting an episode from the television comedy “The Office,”
“. . . one of the characters, Dwight Schrute, nervously faces the prospect of delivering a speech after winning the title of top salesman of the year for his company, Dunder Mifflin. As a prank, his co-worker preps him for his moment by cribbing a speech from a dictator, coaching him to deliver it by pounding the lectern and waving his arms wildly. Dwight does it, and the audience gives a standing ovation to a manic tirade.”
“Watching a cartoonish TV character deliver authoritarian lines with no principles, just audacity,” he observed, “was hilarious back then, but that was before we saw it happening before our eyes in the race for the United States presidency.”Moore was willing to give Trump a pass on his newly proclaimed and politically opportunistic affirmation of Evangelical Christianity. What bothered Moore was his personal morality, or lack thereof.
“We should not demand to see the long-form certificate for Mr. Trump’s second birth. We should, though, ask about his personal character and fitness for office. His personal morality is clear, not because of tabloid exposés but because of his own boasts. His attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord. He tells us in one of his books that he revels in the fact that he gets to sleep with some of the “top women in the world.” He has divorced two wives (so far) for other women.”It is important to remember that he wrote those words more than a year before that famous tape surfaced in which Mr. Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women.
A number of Evangelicals who at first shared Moore’s critique eventually came to support Mr. Trump as “the lesser to two evils.” But Russell Moore never wavered.
Interestingly, almost all of the backlash directed against Moore is about his failure to represent the clear majority of Southern Baptists and Evangelicals who voted for Trump. No one is arguing that he is wrong in principle. He has committed the great sin of being out of touch with his constituency.
I have major disagreements with Dr. Moore on everything from marriage equality and abortion to biblical interpretation and theology. But I have always respected his clarity of vision and I understand his dilemma.
These are perilous times for those of us who are pastors.
We have a responsibility which is unlike any other. We have to say something. It’s part of the job description.
Not only are we supposed to say something. We are supposed to speak the truth. Not just any truth. We are specifically charged with speaking the truth of the Gospel, regardless of the circumstances.
It is challenging in the best of times. Jesus called his disciples to take up the cross and follow him. In first century Israel the cross was a symbol of treason and a means of executing those who were guilty of that crime. To stand up for justice and peace and non-violence is to stand against the normalcy of violence and injustice, and to move in a different direction.
Authentic preaching is never easy.
Karl Barth said that we need to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. In the digital age, of course, we can have both in the same tablet or phone, but that does not make the task any easier.
We are always tempted toward timidity. We want to avoid conflict.
We want to say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”
The Gospel is always at odds with the culture. But in a time of great divisiveness, the gap seems even greater. And the divisions are within the church as well as outside of it.
Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.