My Response to Russell Moore

This week, in a Washington Post editorial, Russell Moore, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, explained why the current election cycle has led him to reject the label of “evangelical.” Given the way in which the term has been co-opted for political expediency, Moore has opted to distance himself from the term altogether, instead referring to himself as a “Gospel Christian.” While I appreciate what Moore is saying, and that is something I can rarely say, I also find myself somewhat frustrated.If you read my recent BNG article on evangelicals and their role in the rise of Donald Trump, you’ve got a bit of an idea of why Moore is upset. The term “evangelical” loses meaning in the context of a presidential race like this. For polling purposes, anyone who thinks they are a born-again Christian is counted in that number as an evangelical, whether they truly are one or not. There is also a fair amount of room for criticism in the fact that born-again Christians are the only faith group surveyed in most exit polls. There are Christians beyond born-again/evangelical Christians. There are also religious people beyond born-again/evangelical Christians. But, this is beside the point I’m going for.

Russell Moore is speaking out now, when everything is spiraling out of control. This is not a new phenomenon, though. This is not the first time the evangelical voting bloc has been used by the GOP through their Southern Strategem to gain votes. This is not the first time a candidate lacking conviction has risen to the forefront as a product of great coaching (ala Ronald Reagan having to be taught how to speak the born-again language). This is just the first time that the majority of evangelicals polled are supporting a candidate who is blatantly off the charts ludicrous in the form of Donald Trump, which has terrified most of the country, including Russell Moore.

For decades, the majority of the SBC and other evangelicals were completely comfortable in their state of protestant privilege. While there was some debate over the evangelical moniker, for the most part it was accepted and worn as a badge of pride. The term “evangelical” was not simply “co-opted by heretics and lunatics;” rather, sincere evangelical Christians took up the banner willingly and eagerly in response to the call of the New Religious Political Right. All the while, the fact that the GOP simply used evangelicals as a means to an end was ignored time and again.

I’m glad to see Russell Moore taking this stand, but I think it is too little too late from a Baptist group which has continually shown no reservations regarding political involvement. His predecessor, Richard Land, did a great deal of damage in his time at the helm of the ERLC. I wish that, instead of relenting and calling himself a “Gospel Christian,” he would attempt to reclaim the title as a symbol of born-again identity, rather than the mark of a voter group.  However, to do this, he would need to go beyond merely this election cycle. In order to remove all the baggage that’s been applied to evangelicals over the years, one would have to do a lot of work to reverse great deal of history.  I think we’ll see that, unless a sea change takes place, the traditional understanding of “evangelical” may be completely lost. As long as politicians view them as a voting bloc, and those voters do nothing to disabuse them of that notion, nothing will change.

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4 thoughts on “My Response to Russell Moore

  1. You and I got something completely different out of Moore’s column.

    If I read your post correctly, you believe that he’s trying to separate Christianity from being seen as a voting bloc, that he’s trying to not be a voting bloc anymore. (If I read you wrong, I apologize for my misunderstanding.)

    I took a much more cynical approach. As the head of the SBC, he’s a part of the Religious Right leadership. They’ve clawed hard to get the Republican Party to kiss their rings, and that power rests on their ability to deliver votes. In this year’s cycle, a good portion of their voters are going against the leaders’ wishes.

    Last week, they used articles to try to convince the flock to abandon Trump. Given the Super Tuesday results, it doesn’t appear to have worked.

    Now, Moore is trying to distance himself from those labeled evangelicals. The cynic inside me thinks that his motivation is to be able to say, “See, I’m still the leader. I can still get the flock to vote for who I say. You just measured my flock wrong.”

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    1. It’s a mix. I do think he’s trying to separate evangelicals from the evangelical voting bloc, but I think he’s doing that because of reasons such as those which you cite. The GOP was able to count on the evangelical vote for so long, and the evangelicals could count on a candidate they were more or less comfortable with. That isn’t the case this year. Moore has seen the evangelical vote hijacked by Trump, and now the candidate that the majority of evangelicals (according to exit polls) have been supporting is someone the SBC is uncomfortable with.

      But, I do think Moore is sincerely perturbed by Trump and wants to reclaim the evangelical mantel. I’ve met him once, and compared to his predecessor, Richard Land, he does take a much more even-keeled and common-sense approach. I believe this is a situation where the SBC and other evangelicals within the NRPR rode the coattails of protestant privilege without worrying about where it might take them. Unfortunately, now it’s too late to get off though. They reaped the benefits without considering the consequences. The greatest consequence is a candidate like Trump who’s learned to speak the right language in order to draw evangelicals in, mixed with an electorate angry enough to follow. This was a long time in coming. That’s what I mean when I say that he’s reacting too late. This is not new, it simply isn’t going the way he would’ve liked this time around.

      Also, slight distinction, he’s the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, which is their religious liberty/first amendment lobbying arm. So, not in quite the same position of power as the president of the SBC, but he’s actually in a more influential position in relation to political action.

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      1. I laughed at this:

        “The greatest consequence is a candidate like Trump who’s learned to speak the right language in order to draw evangelicals in,”

        What was it Trump said, “Two Corinthians”?

        I don’t even think he talks the language. He’s say. “Yeah, I’m a Christian.” That’s it. He’s barely giving lip service to the evangelical movement.

        I really think therein lies the true problem – he’s a candidate who isn’t kissing the leaders’ rings.

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        1. I wouldn’t say he’s doing it well, but he is doing it. Reagan was uncomfortable calling himself born-again, but was coached and performed well. Trump’s staff clearly googled “Bible and liberty,” and Trump dropped the ball. He is speaking the language in terms of claiming religious liberty is in danger, being pro-life, etc. But, the Two Corinthians incident made clear his lack of familiarity with the Bible, which is why folks like Moore are upset. You’re right, he’s not kissing their rings because he doesn’t need to. The people are eating his stuff up anyway.

          Also, speaking the right language goes beyond merely religious rhetoric. Being able to tap into the anger of the electorate is equally important, and Trump is definitely excelling at speaking their language in this regard. On Mar 4, 2016 8:17 AM, “Musings and Impromptus” wrote:

          >

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