Russell Moore to ERLC trustees: ‘They want me to live in psychological terror’

In February 2020, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission defended himself after a second task force was mounted to investigate complaints against him.

Russell Moore to ERLC trustees: ‘They want me to live in psychological terror’

In February 2020, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission defended himself after a second task force was mounted to investigate complaints against him.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, speaks June 12, 2019, during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Alabama. RNS photo by Butch Dill

(RNS) — The below letter, recently obtained by Religion News Service, was sent in early 2020 to the trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission by its then-president, Russell Moore. We publish it here without changes or corrections, including Moore’s misspelling of Rachael Denhollander’s name.

February 24, 2020

Russell D. Moore
President
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention
901 Commerce Street, Suite 901
Nashville, Tennessee

Executive Committee
Board of Trustees
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention
901 Commerce Street, Suite 901
Nashville, Tennessee

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This past week all I could think about was the Jordan River.

This is because I realized that the twentieth of this month was the thirty-seventh anniversary of my baptism at Woolmarket Baptist Church, my home congregation in Biloxi, Mississippi. I remember that day well. I remember the way the heated water bubbled around me, as I trembled with nervousness. I remember hearing those words from my pastor, words that I would in later years say myself over and over again: “In obedience to the command of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and upon your profession of faith in Him, I baptize you my brother, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But what I remember, right before being plunged beneath that water, was looking at the painted backdrop of that baptistery: a scene of the banks of the Jordan River, reminding me, and all of us, that where I was then, Jesus had been before me.

Because I had heard the gospel in that church, had met Jesus there, and because I had seen so many signposts of love and integrity there — even when I couldn’t see it elsewhere — I responded to the call of God to serve Jesus in vocational ministry, preaching the gospel and serving alongside the people I loved — Southern Baptists.


RELATED: Leaked Russell Moore letter blasts SBC conservatives, sheds light on his resignation


And over the past twenty-five years, that’s what I have done. God gave me the opportunity to lead people to Christ and to baptize them in Southern Baptist churches, to help people through their marriage crises in Southern Baptist churches, to help welcome orphaned children into families in Southern Baptist churches, to do evangelism and Bible teaching in prisons and homeless shelters, through Southern Baptist churches. And God allowed me to teach and to lead in the training of young pastors, leaders, and missionaries — with my students scattered all over the world.

And, of course, seven years ago, you were kind enough to elect me to serve as your president. Since then, thanks to you and to the team we have assembled here, we have seen incredible things happen.

Before I say anything else, let me say “thank you” to every one of you. Your support in the letter of the past week brought Maria and me both to tears of gratitude. More than that, even, your pastoral care for us, each one of you, is something I will never ever forget. Because in my talking with you at our meeting, my mind was so scattered by the stress of all that happened, I wanted to take the time to write down for you all some of the things I tried to communicate then, but don’t know if I was calm enough to be able to communicate adequately.

At every single vote of the Southern Baptist Convention since I have been president, the messengers of the SBC have encouraged us and affirmed us overwhelmingly, unanimously or virtually unanimously every time. A tiny minority in our denomination knows that, which is why they choose to wait until as far out from a Southern Baptist Convention meeting as possible to do what they do.

Last week’s action of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, which you know all about, was just such an action, motivated by an individual, the current chairman of the Executive Committee, who was also involved in a similar action when he had leadership in the Georgia Baptist Convention. This person not only drove the motion, but also saw to it that he would be a member of the “task force,” chairman of it, and the one with the power to elect its membership.

You deserve to hear it from me as to why this is.

The lazy journalistic assessment would be that this is about the President of the United States. This has nothing to do with that. Y’all know my concerns about the perennial temptation toward political captivity of the gospel, and that will always and perhaps increasingly be a concern in this era. But this is not the issue here. Most Trump voters and supporters have been nothing but kind and encouraging to me — from Southern Baptist laypeople and pastors to Administration officials all the way up and down the ranks. Just as we did with President Obama, we express disagreement where warranted, but we do so respecting the office and doing so requesting a different viewpoint, not engaging in polemics or attack. And when we agree with what the Administration is doing, we say so and work to achieve good public policy as informed by a biblically-grounded ethic, again just as we did when we could under President Obama, and as I did, before I was in this role, with President Bush. The Administration has asked us to take leadership on too many issues to list here — from working on opioid and mental health concerns in faith-based communities to ensuring religious liberty for adoption providers to working on the plight of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in China and elsewhere.

The presenting issue here is that, first and foremost, of sexual abuse. This Executive Committee, through their bylaws workgroup, “exonerated” churches, in a spur-of-the-moment meeting, from serious charges of sexual abuse cover-up. One of those churches actively had on staff at the time a sex offender. J.D. Greear, our SBC president, and I were critical of this move, believing that it jeopardized not only the gospel witness of the SBC, but, more importantly, the lives of vulnerable children in Southern Baptist churches. Against constant backroom attempts to stop forward momentum, we were able to get across the finish line some modest steps toward addressing the crisis in our convention — the Caring Well Challenge, for instance, and the formation of a credentials committee.

As you know, our last ERLC National Conference was built around the issues of sexual abuse. We said from the beginning that we wanted a place for honest dialogue around these issues, and we would not police anyone from speaking what he or she had experienced or thought. At least one speaker harshly criticized us for not doing enough, or not handling things the way he thought we should. I welcomed that criticism. I learned from it, and was glad that the speaker felt the freedom to do so. At that conference, though, Rachael Denhollender participated with me in a conversation where, again, I refused to censor or stop anything that she had to say. In that conversation, she spoke about her thoughts about the disparagement and poor treatment of a sexual abuse survivor by Executive Committee staff. The story Rachael told is accurate, and Maria and I know that because we were, even during that very meeting, ministering alongside others to that mistreated young woman.

Abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander, right, discusses the Southern Baptist Convention's history of addressing sexual abuse with ERLC President Russell Moore at the Caring Well conference in Dallas, on Oct. 4, 2019. Photo by Karen Race Photography 2019

Abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander, right, discusses the Southern Baptist Convention’s history of addressing sexual abuse with ERLC President Russell Moore at the Caring Well conference in Dallas, on Oct. 4, 2019. Photo by Karen Race Photography 2019

This enraged some Executive Committee trustee leadership, who communicated that they were incensed that we would allow such a story to be told. That was communicated with special outrage since the Executive Committee had contributed some money to Caring Well as a reason why we should not have allowed this story to be told. I came away from these conversations with the distinct feeling that I was being told (not from Ronnie Floyd, but from sectors of his trustees, mostly the very sector from which this latest action has come), “You’ve got a nice little Commission there; would be a shame if something happened to it.” I told Maria that at the time. It was, and is, chilling — especially seeing what they had in mind to do under cover of darkness.

I am trying to say this as clearly as I can to you, brothers and sisters: These are the tactics that have been used to create a culture where countless children have been torn to shreds, where women have been raped and then “broken down.”

Moreover, the same people enraged at this also were enraged that J.D. Greear made the common-sense statement when asked by the press that, while he could not tell a church what to do or who to invite, that giving a “Defender of the Faith Award” and showcasing a man who was dismissed, for very serious cause, by a Southern Baptist entity, over issues including the treatment of vulnerable women, was not a good idea. The same people who moved to create our “investigative task force” wanted to censure J.D.

These decisions were made, I am told, at the officers’ meeting on the Sunday night before the meeting. I was told nothing of it, nor were you, despite the fact that the President of the Executive Committee would have known of it. On the following Monday, I gave my report before the Cooperative Program subcommittee, and was asked nothing but friendly questions not at all related to the so-called “anecdotal” reports of churches decreasing their giving to the CP. They then, the next day, without ever talking to me or to you went into a secret meeting to form yet another secret task force.

The last time they did this, I was “investigated” by a president of their body who was, at that very moment, using his pastoral authority to sexually sin. The “task force,” we were told at the time, is just about finding a way to “answer questions.” The headlines then were “Russell Moore and the ERLC Under Investigation for hundreds of churches leaving and defunding the convention.” Their own report showed that the claim was false, but there was no similar trumpeting of those findings. That’s because that’s the point — to keep a cloud over me, and to keep me self-censoring and silent about these matters.

At the same time, the other absolutely draining and unrelenting issue has been that of racial reconciliation. My family and I have faced constant threats from white nationalists and white supremacists, including within our convention. Some of them have been involved in neo-Confederate activities going back for years. Some are involved with groups funded by white nationalist nativist organizations. Some of them have just expressed raw racist sentiment, behind closed doors. They want to deflect the issue to arcane discussions that people do not understand, such as “critical race theory.” There is no Southern Baptist that I know, of any ethnicity, who is motivated by any critical theory but by the text of Ephesians and Galatians and Romans, the Gospels themselves, the framework of Revelation chapters four and five.

From the very beginning of my service, I have been attacked with the most vicious guerilla tactics on such matters, and have been told to be quiet about this by others. One SBC leader who was at the forefront of these behind-closed-doors assaults had already ripped me to shreds verbally for saying, in 2011, that the Southern Baptist Convention should elect an African-American president. This same leader told a gathering that “The Conservative Resurgence is like the Civil War, except this time unlike the last one, the right side won.” I walked out of that gathering, as did one of you.

Another SBC leader used constant pressure against me in protest of our hiring of Dan Darling and Trillia Newbell, in 2013. At the time, this was, he said, because they did not have adequate Southern Baptist backgrounds. When I answered his concerns to his face, he said, “I was really just concerned about that black girl, whether she’s an egalitarian.” When I asked what possibly could lead him to think that a woman who has written complementarian articles for complementarian websites was an “egalitarian,” he responded: “A lot of those black girls are.” This same leader also let me have it when I said that white Christians should join our black Christian brothers and sisters in lamenting when young black men are shot, and that the moments of Ferguson and Eric Garner and the Emmanuel AME Church murders should motivate the church to address these questions with the gospel embodied in reconciled churches bearing one another’s burdens, that only those with guns would prevent black people from burning down all of our cities.

This is just a tiny sample of what I experience every single day. I am called a liberal—someone who believes in the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, in the authority of Holy Scripture, someone who has spent my life defending such concepts as the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. I am a “liberal” in this definition not because I deny the inerrancy of Scripture but because I affirm it. I believe in the inerrancy of all Scripture — including Luke 10 and Ephesians 2 and 3 and Romans 12, and all of it. I believe that no sin — including sins of sexual immorality or racial hatred — can be forgiven apart from the blood of Christ and repentance of such sins.

My concern about such issues is not because I believe in “social justice” (although, in the literal meaning of those words, of course I do, as the major and minor prophets tell us), but because I believe in the doctrine of hell. I believe in standing against racism not just because I love our African-American and Hispanic and Asian-American and immigrant brothers and sisters in Christ (although I certainly do), but also because I love bigots. And I believe that unrepentant sin, not brought to the light of Christ and cleansed by the blood of Christ, through the gospel, leads to hell. I really believe in hell. That’s why I’ve been clear for twenty-five years on abortion, on sexual chastity and morality, and on racism.

Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 18, 2019. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 18, 2019. RNS photo by Bob Smietana

But here is the pattern. Find a way to “investigate” me in secret, so that Southern Baptists do not hear what goes on in those rooms. In some of these “investigations,” what I have been charged with is “not playing enough to the Bubbas and the rednecks; they pay the bills.” I don’t think we have “bubbas and rednecks,” I find such slurs offensive and derogatory, personally as well as ethically. I have been charged with saying that we should combat the devil both in his deception of women in thinking abortion is a choice they should make as well as the accusation of the devil in telling such women, in grief after an abortion they have had in the past, that they should hide in shame, that Jesus would not forgive them. I was told, “Such women should be in shame.” When I explained what I believe about the gospel, that those united to Christ in repentance and faith, are received by the Father as just and righteous and that there is “Therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ,” I was told, “You are not the Evangelism Department of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

I thought we were all “The Evangelism Department of the Southern Baptist Convention.” That’s what they taught me at Woolmarket Baptist Church.

But the strategy here is clear. One of these figures told me in the middle of the 2017 debacle: “We know we can’t take you down. All our wives and kids are with you. This is psychological warfare, to make you think twice before you do or say something.” That’s exactly what it is.

If we want to compare anecdotal reports, I can tell you that I have worked as hard as I possibly can over the past seven years, to talk people into staying in the Southern Baptist Convention. One journalist said to me, “How many times are you going to try to bail these people out?” (speaking, in this case, for our work to try to turn around the disastrous floor action on the ‘alt-right’ in 2017, followed by the sexual abuse crisis matters of 2018). Over the past seven years, we have worked to bring people into SBC involvement, both in giving and in participation, and in talking countless numbers from leaving, because of all of the buffoonery and bigotry and wickedness. I cannot tell you how many people say — faithful, God-fearing leaders — that they do not want to have “Baptist” in their name because they are ashamed. When asked why, they tell us — the same things we are having to deal with over and over again.

Through all of this, brothers and sisters, I have tried to smile and pretend that everything is alright, with me personally and with the denomination. That’s because, for one thing, I don’t want lost people to know about this stuff. I have been afraid that they will associate it with Jesus. I don’t want the countless people — including pastors and church planters and missionaries, young people, women, people of color, to grow weary and to leave.

Some people will say, after this or any number of the other similar moves, that “We do not want Dr. Moore to resign.” They are telling the truth. They do not want me to leave. They want me to live in psychological terror, so that I will not say what the Southern Baptist Convention has assigned me to say, much less to reveal what I know about what goes on behind the scenes. And they want me to do so while asking my constituencies to come in and to stay in the SBC, though as submissive and disengaged “numbers” under the rule of a toxic and abusive gerontocracy.

Everywhere I go — everywhere I go — I am surrounded by former Southern Baptists. Last year, after speaking to the Anglican Church in North America national meeting, I went back to my hotel room and shook with tears. That’s because, as in virtually every one of such meetings, I was greeted by person after person after person who, like me, grew up in Southern Baptist churches, went to all the youth camps, knows the difference between Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, between an RA and an Acteen. I had more conversations about “Training Union” and “Centrifuge” there than I ever have at an SBC meeting. They were nostalgic and wanted to remember a denomination they loved. None of these people, before they left, called the Executive Committee and threatened to defund anything if they didn’t get their way. The thousands of young people I encounter on college campuses who are now non-denominational don’t do exit interviews with their associational Director of Missions (they don’t even know what that is). Instead, they just look at the rage and the bigotry and the cover-ups and the buffoonery and they shrug their shoulders and say, “I guess they don’t want people like me.”

In every one of those situations, I want to scream: “But that’s not who Southern Baptists are! The people in the churches, everywhere that I have seen, are kind and loving and mission-focused. They are not part of all of that that you see!” And, indeed I think I am right. The people who are left are those of us who have learned to simply filter out this nonsense and focus on what we know to be the best of us. The rest of the world cannot see that. And there are not enough of us who have been taught to believe that being a Southern Baptist is a moral obligation.

A while back, I was jolted to read a quote that one commentator posted about the SBC, jolted because that very same quote had come to my own mind so many times. The quote was from Whittaker Chambers, in a letter to his children, about how he came to reject Communism and to flee from the awful Soviet ideology. He referenced a woman talking about her father, who also had left Stalinism, and explained why very simply. “One night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.”

I have heard many screams. And I am now realizing that some of those screams were my own, and those of my family.

My children asked my wife the other day if their Dad had had a moral failing. They had heard from their friends that their Dad was under investigation, and, as anyone would, they wondered if this meant that I had a character flaw. Maria cannot live with that, and neither can I.

I wanted you to know, from me, what’s behind all of this, really. You deserve to know. And I wanted you to know that we will not keep living under these circumstances. I will not comply with another secret task force meant to silence me about issues I believe are issues of obedience to Christ. I will not sign another “unity” statement meant to “call off the dogs” of scrutiny so that the beatings may begin again in private. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to be part of a house of prayer for all peoples, then that’s what I signed up for. If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to be one big retirement home for a furious royal family, then, that’s not what I signed up for.

I can only say, in regard to this latest secret and arcane attempt at intimidation: “I consider it a small thing to be investigated by you, or by any human court. In fact, I do not even investigate myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who investigates me” (1 Cor. 4:3-4).

When God called me to himself in Jesus, and when he called me to serve him in ministry, he called me to stand for the truth, to point the way to the kingdom, to die to self, and to carry the cross. He did not call me to provide cover for racial bigotry and child molestation. I will not do that. I love the Southern Baptist Convention, and am a faithful son of the Southern Baptist Convention. I do not believe the people of the Southern Baptist Convention want me to do that, at least that’s not how they have acted in their votes when they are assembled together in national convention. But a small group in the shadows do want me to do that. They want me to be afraid of them. They want you to be afraid of them.

I am not afraid of them.

As I shared with the officers, when these people started their guerilla attacks, I spent years in grief, feeling like an exile and like an orphan. I felt rejected by my own people and wondered why people would let this go on. A poem by Wendell Berry summed up much of what I was feeling:

“Though you have done nothing shameful,

they will want you to be ashamed.

They will want you to kneel and weep

And say that you should have been like them.

And once you say you are ashamed,

Reading the page they hold out to you,

then such light as you have made

in your history will leave you.

They will no longer need to pursue you.

You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.

“They will not forgive you.

There is no power against them.

It is only candor that is aloof from them,

only an inward clarity, unashamed,

that they cannot reach. Be ready.

When their light had picked you out

and their questions are asked, say to them:

‘I am not ashamed.’ A sure horizon

will come around you. The heron will begin

his evening flight from the hilltop.”

I am not ashamed. The sort of psychological and institutional terrorism that my wife and children and team and I have endured is not because I am not Southern Baptist enough, but because I am too Southern Baptist. I really believe what they taught me to sing, “Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World.”

And I still do.

I want to thank you for standing with us, for caring about us, for being a group of people that have never once wavered in your integrity or your Christlikeness. We could not ask to serve with people we admire and love more than every single one of you. I am sorry that you have to even see this toxic sludge, much less have to deal with it.

In every other instance, I have tried to do what I thought was right: to be quiet, to bear all of this, including the spiritually abusive private meetings that I cannot even bear to think about right now. I have not wanted to defend myself. I just counted on others to do so, and to know that Jesus would bring to light, as he promises, every hidden thing on that day. But I want you to know that I can’t bear it any more. I think to be the subject to all of this that goes on in secret makes me, in some ways, complicit with what I believe to be evil.

There’s nothing other to this letter than that, for you to hear from me what has happened, and to hear from me, knowing that you know it, that the current status of the Southern Baptist Convention must change.

Asking me to live through all of this is one thing. Asking me to be quiet about bigotry and molestation, for the sake of some title, is too much to ask. Thank you for never once asking me to do so.


RELATED: Russell Moore leaves Southern Baptist leadership, but denomination’s troubles remain


The Jordan River on the baptistery wall was fake. It was a water color of a scene that, to be honest, looked more like south Mississippi than the Middle East. But the message behind it was real. The message behind it was that even as I went down into the waters of death, Jesus had been there before, and Jesus would lift me back up, to newness of life. What I am counting on is not my baptism but his. I am counting on the fact that I am joined to One who, when he came out of those waters, heard the voice of God: “You are my beloved Son, and with you I am well pleased.”

As one whose life is hidden in him, my hope is that, however stormy the banks of Jordan, those words apply to me too.

And, you know what? That’s enough for me. Southern Baptists taught me that.

I love you,

Russell Moore

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  • As a current SBC pastor this is all too familiar. I’ve encountered much of this same behavior (on a smaller level) both in local churches and associations. The writing is on the wall for the SBC and the result is it’s going to contract back to its Civil War origins and become a mostly old, white, and southern denomination.

  • God bless you Dr. Moore for speaking truth to power. You are doing the right thing.

  • For the SBC Russell Moore has become the canary in the coal mine. The SBC’s claim to integrity and respect in the greater world depends to a major degree on Moore’s impeccable reputation. And as of right now this particular canary is on life support. One wonders whether Mike Stone fully understands the broad negative consequences for the SBC that will result from his machinations.
  • Russell Moore is an honorable, magnanimous man who rarely has a bad word to say about anyone, even though he has often been unfairly attacked. If he felt the need to say such things, they are true. I always wondered why the ‘character matters in politicians’ SBC, as an organization, was so quick to embrace confessed serial sex offender and overt racist Donald Trump and promote him as some sort of ‘Christian’ leader. Now I no longer wonder. They’re busy sheltering and pacifying sex offenders and overt racists in Christian leadership roles in their organization: why wouldn’t they shelter the same type of person in the White House? If only they cared as much about deadly sins like sexual abuse and racism as they care about abortion and homosexuality – then we might have hope for moral leadership in this country. But now we’re stuck with Democrats because the only Republican option was a reprobate so immoral that his conduct even shocked the consciences of lost people across the country.

  • Lord, purify your Church with a mighty move of your Holy Spirit, esp. in the SBC. Root out not only that which is evil but also those insistent on calling evil good. Crush all attitudes of pride & those bent on turning Christianity into partisan politics. May those who know you & love you learn to love what you love & hate what you hate. Protect Brother Moore & his family, let the truth be revealed from the mountaintops, & bring justice, we pray. Amen.

  • He writes of the SBC I once knew. The one committed to the gospel of Christ, the one that was mission minded and sacrificial. Not perfect, but the one trusting God to forgive us of our imperfections and renew us by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. The one who taught me that Jesus loves me and that every life is sacred, but then devalued mine. I left many years ago and have never regretted it.

  • Where can the regular church leader like myself get some of the names that he’s referring to? I want to know who these people are.
  • I am not surprised. But God bless Mr. Moore for speaking truth to evil power.

  • I see that I made the right choice by not going to church.

  • The SBC is losing all its big stars… thank goodness they still have the endlessly charismatic Al Mohler and Richard Land.

    • Riverton

      I laughed.

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The Baptist Apocalypse

Such a God might, for instance, offer political success as a temptation rather than a reward — or use an unexpected presidency not to save Americans but to chastise them.

.. so far the Trump presidency has clearly been a kind of apocalypse — not (yet) in the “world-historical calamity” sense of the word, but in the original Greek meaning: an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.

.. That exposure came first for the Republican Party’s establishment, who were revealed as something uncomfortably close to liberal caricature in their mix of weakness, cynicism and power worship. It came next for the technocrats and the data nerds of the Democratic Party, who were revealed as ineffectual, clueless and self-regarding ..

.. And then it came for a range of celebrated media men, from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer ..

.. It has come as well for figures whose style anticipated him (Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, that whole ménage) and for figures who have deliberately attached themselves to his populist revolt. The sins of Roy Moore were more exposed by the Trump era, and now likewise the racist paranoia of Roseanne Barr.

.. a similar moral exposure has come to precisely the sector of American Christianity where support for Donald Trump ran strongest — the denominational heart of conservative evangelicalism, the Southern Baptist Convention.

.. The main case is Paige Patterson, the now-erstwhile president of a major Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, who was eased into retirement over revelations that he’d counseled abused women to return to their husbands and allegedly shamed and silenced at least one rape victim.

.. Patterson is a beginning, not an end.

.. Late last year I wrote an essay speculating about the possibility of an “evangelical crisis” in this era, driven by the gap between the older and strongly pro-Trump constituency in evangelical churches and those evangelicals, often younger, who either voted for the president reluctantly or rejected his brand of politics outright.

.. “the big story behind the story of Patterson’s fall is a high-stakes showdown between two generations of Southern Baptist leaders.” Both generations are theologically conservative, but the figures raising their voices against Patterson have been — generally — associated with a vision of their church that’s more countercultural, less wedded to the institutional Republican Party, more likely to see racial reconciliation as essential to the Baptist future and intent on proving that a traditional theology of sex need not lead to sexism.

.. Whereas Patterson’s defenders represent — again, to generalize — the more pro-Trump old guard in the Baptist world, with a strong inclination toward various forms of chauvinism and Christian nationalism.

.. It is not a coincidence that Russell Moore, perhaps the most prominent anti-Trump Baptist, provided early support to Patterson’s critics — while Robert Jeffress, whose Dallas church sets “Make America Great Again” to music, labeled the calls for Patterson’s resignation a “witch hunt.”

.. it’s wiser to regard an era of exposure like this one as a test, which can be passed but also failed. A discredited “old guard” doesn’t automatically lose power; a chauvinism revealed doesn’t just evaporate. And the temptation to dismiss discomfiting revelations as fake news, to retreat back into ignorance and self-justification, is at least as powerful as the impulse to really reckon with the truth.

.. So the question posed by this age of revelation is simple: Now that you know something new and troubling and even terrible about your leaders or your institutions, what will you do with this knowledge?

Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican

“White Democrats will desert their party in droves the minute it becomes a black party.”

Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority, 1969

Thirty years ago, archconservative Rick Perry was a Democrat and liberal icon Elizabeth Warren was a Republican. Back then there were a few Republican Congressmen and Senators from Southern states, but state and local politics in the South was still dominated by Democrats. By 2014 that had changed entirely as the last of the Deep South states completed their transition from single-party Democratic rule to single party rule under Republicans.

.. Analysts often explain the great exodus of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party by referencing the Southern Strategy, a cynical campaign ploy supposedly executed by Richard Nixon in his ’68 and ’72 Presidential campaigns, but that explanation falls flat. Though the Southern backlash against the Civil Rights Acts showed up immediately at the top of the ticket, Republicans farther down the ballot gained very little ground in the South between ’68 and ’84. Democrats there occasionally chose Republican candidates for positions in Washington, but they stuck with Democrats for local offices.

.. Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980

.. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

.. Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program.

.. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church.

.. When you’ve lost the ability to mobilize supporters based on race, religion will serve as a capable proxy.

.. What was lost under the banner of “segregation forever” has been tenuously preserved through a continuing “culture war.”

.. Religion is endlessly pliable. So long as pastors or priests (or in this case, televangelists) are willing to apply their theological creativity to serve political demands, religious institutions can be bent to advance any policy goal.

.. The Southern Baptist Church was organized specifically to protect slavery and white supremacy from the influence of their brethren in the North, a role that has never ceased to distort its identity, beliefs and practices.

.. In a passage that managed to avoid explicit racism, he described what would become the primary political weapon of the culture wars:

Don’t force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision…to cross over in those intimate things where I don’t want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family. And what you give to me, give to every man in America and keep it like our glorious forefathers made – a land of the free and the home of the brave.

.. Long after the battle over whites’ only bathrooms had been lost, evangelical communities in Houston or Charlotte can continue the war over a “bathroom bill” using a rhetorical structure Criswell and others built.

.. He had constructed a strangely circular, quasi-libertarian argument in which a right to oppress others becomes a fundamental right born of a religious imperative, protected by the First Amendment.

.. A generation later you might hear Southern Baptists mention that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist minister. They are less likely to explain that King was not permitted to worship in a Southern Baptist Church. African-American Baptists had their own parallel institutions, a structure that continues today.

.. However, in public Graham was careful to keep a safe distance and avoided the kind of open displays of sympathy for civil rights that might have complicated his career.

.. King was once invited to speak at a Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville in 1961. Churches responded with a powerful backlash, slashing the seminary’s donations so steeply that it was forced to apologize for the move. Henlee Barnette, the Baptist professor responsible for King’s invitation at the seminary, nearly lost his job and became something of an outcast, a status he would retain until he was finally pressured to retire from teaching in 1977.

.. In 1967, Mississippi began offering tuition grants to white students allowing them to attend private segregated schools.

.. Battles over the status of these institutions reached a climax when the Carter Administration in 1978 signaled its intention to press for their desegregation.

.. Televangelist Jerry Falwell would unite with a broader group of politically connected conservatives to form the Moral Majority in 1979. His partner in the effort, Paul Weyrich, made clear that it was the schools issue that launched the organization, an emphasis reflected in chain events across the 1980 Presidential campaign.

.. The Southern Baptist Convention expressed support for laws liberalizing abortion access in 1971. Criswell himself expressed support for the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, taking the traditional theological position that life began at birth, not conception. The denomination did not adopt a firm pro-life stance until 1980.

.. In August of 1980, Criswell and other Southern Baptist leaders hosted Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan for a rally in Dallas. Reagan in his speech never used the word “abortion,” but he enthusiastically and explicitly supported the ministers’ position on protecting private religious schools. That was what they needed to hear.

.. The new President would not forget their support. Less than a year into his Administration, Reagan officials pressed the IRS to drop its campaign to desegregate private schools.

.. in 1981, Reagan advisor Lee Atwater let down his guard, laying bare the racial logic behind the Republican campaigns in the South:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N…r, n…r, n…r.” By 1968 you can’t say “n…r”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N…r, n…r.”

For decades, men like Atwater had been searching for the perfect “abstract” phrasing, a magic political dog whistle that could communicate that “N…r, n…r” message behind a veneer of respectable language.

.. It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.”

.. By the late 80’s religious activists like Stephen Hotze in Houston were beginning to cut out the middleman, going around pastors to recruit political warriors in the pews. Hotze circulated a professionally rendered video in 1990, called “Restoring America,”that included step-by-step instructions for taking control of Republican precinct and county organizations. Religious nationalists began to purge traditional Republicans from the region’s few GOP institutions.

.. A young Texas legislator, Rick Perry, spent much of 1988 campaigning for his fellow Southern Democrat, Al Gore.

.. Moore criticized those who stirred up hatred against refugees and ignored matters of racial justice. He drew sharp criticism when he denounced the Confederate Flag, explaining, “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

.. Moore drew the obvious comparison last year between Trump and Bill Clinton

..  As religious leaders lined up solidly behind Trump last fall, Moore commented, “The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”

.. In the end, evangelical voters backed Donald Trump by a steeper margin than their support for Romney in ‘12.

.. Today, W.A. Criswell’s Dallas megachurch is pastored by Robert Jeffress

.. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, retooled the ministry he inherited, turning it into something a civil rights era segregationist could love without reservation. Graham, who earns more than $800,000 a year as the head of his inherited charity, has made anti-Muslim rhetoric a centerpiece of his public profile and ministry.

.. Graham explained that black people can solve the problem of police violence if they teach their children “respect for authority and obedience.”

..  For Jeffress, the heir to W.A. Criswell’s pulpit, to champion an effort to silence Moore, reflects the powerful persistence of an unacknowledged past. After being pressed into an apology for his “unnecessarily harsh” criticisms, Moore has been allowed to keep his job – for now.

.. Public perception that a “Southern strategy” conceived and initiated by clever Republicans turned the South red is worse than false. By deflecting responsibility onto some shadowy “other” it blocks us from reckoning with the past or changing our future.

.. A refusal to honestly confront our past leaves us to repeat our mistakes over and over again.

.. Texas House member Rick Perry was taking a chance in 1989, when he decided to leave the Democratic Party to become a Republican. He leaned heavily on the emerging religious right and their campaign to convert the state’s Democratic majority. His efforts were richly rewarded. Baptist mega-pastor Robert Jeffress was a major supporter along with other evangelical leaders. Now Perry, after becoming the longest-serving governor in Texas history, sits in Donald Trump’s cabinet as the Secretary of Energy.

 

Criticism Of The Nashville Statement

The main criticism I’ve seen is that the statement wasn’t broad enough. It said nothing about divorce, pornography, unnatural sexual practices within marriage, and things like that. The complaint is that the statement singled out SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) for special criticism, when the truth is, Christian witness and discipleship is threatened by many other sexual sins. In sum, the Nashville Statement, the criticism goes, failed to repudiate the Sexual Revolution.

.. Do people really think that Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Al Mohler, and Russell Moore (among other signatories) are okay with pornography, no-fault divorce, and the rest? Come on.

.. First off, some of the sexual stuff doesn’t need saying. For example, no serious Evangelical theologian believes that porn is okay.

.. More broadly, SOGI poses a more radical challenge to orthodox Christianity than the other things do. Most of these other practices are in some way perversions of a norm, but not a denial of it. Leaving aside direct Scriptural prohibitions of same-sex conduct, SOGI in essence denies the sexual complementarity and gender essentialism intrinsic to Christian anthropology.

.. Now, Catholic critics who have pointed out that the acceptance of contraception is at the root of so much sexual disorder among Christians have a point. There are other questions having to do with the metaphysics of modernity that ought

.. Now, practically speaking, it is certainly true that far more Christian lives, marriages, and families are ruined by easy divorce, porn, and the rest. It’s wrong for heterosexual Christians to pluck the speck out of LGBT eyes, while ignoring the log in our own.

The Nashville Statement Is an Attack on L.G.B.T. Christians

The Nashville Statement, released by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on Tuesday, says that only heterosexuality is permissible, calls people born with intersex conditions “disordered,” derides transgender identities as “transgenderism” and makes clear that anyone who is an L.G.B.T. person is immoral.

.. The statement can’t be written off as the regressive stance of a fringe group: More than 150 influential conservative evangelical leaders, half of whom belong to the Southern Baptist Convention, signed the statement. Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and member of Donald Trump’s faith advisory board, endorsed it. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, also signed on. Presidents of seminaries, editors and writers at the largest conservative publications, as well as presidents and directors of conservative think tanks added their names.

.. L.G.B.T. youths have disproportionately high rates of suicide and of anxiety and depression — problems that are undoubtedly worsened by the condemnation of those who hold beliefs like the ones in the Nashville Statement. Those whose families reject them, most of whom are from religious backgrounds, are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. L.G.B.T. youths also suffer from high rates of homelessness. Because of conservative churches’ teachings about sexuality, some parents prefer their L.G.B.T. children sleep on the streets instead of in their homes.

.. Evangelicals’ promotion of “reparative therapy” that tries to change L.G.B.T. people’s sexual orientation or gender identity, which has been condemned by every major medical organization, has also brought harm and death.

.. More broadly, the type of theology underlying the Nashville Statement is used to defend the denial of goods and services to same-sex couples. The political power evangelicals hold in the United States allows them to codify their beliefs in law.

Russell Moore, Baptist Leader Who Shunned Trump, Splits His Church

Head of denomination’s public-policy arm triggered a backlash by criticizing the candidate’s supporters; no access to White House

  Mr. Moore, 45 years old, is at the center of a generational struggle over the denomination’s future. The outcome could determine whether Southern Baptists continue to be a leading conservative voice in cultural disputes over abortion and gay rights—and whether evangelical Christians remain a reliably Republican voting bloc.
.. His approach won him support among a younger, more racially diverse generation of evangelicals who are more suspicious than their parents of political parties.
It also led to a backlash from Southern Baptists who helped build the denomination into a political force within the Republican Party. Many of them saw Mr. Trump, despite his three marriages and ties to the casino industry, as the only realistic hope for the socially conservative agenda they have been pushing for decades.
.. But Mr. Moore has no access to Mr. Trump, fueling questions about how effectively he can do his job.
.. Mr. Moore’s predecessor, Richard Land, played a leading role in that denominational battle. As head of the public-policy arm, Mr. Land had turned the Southern Baptist Convention into a conservative political juggernaut. He helped push the Republican Party to the right on issues such as abortion and became a regular in the George W. Bush White House.
.. “The fact that he was targeted was very chilling,” Mr. McKissic said. “It sends the signal that anybody who speaks a word that is not in line with traditional Southern Baptist, Republican thought will face opposition, to the extent that their jobs will be threatened.”
.. In a denomination that likes to settle disputes quietly, some were rankled that he criticized Trump supporters on national television and didn’t speak to them directly.
.. “I’d have gone to a Jack Graham” before publicly criticizing Trump supporters like him, said Jay Strack, president of Student Leadership University and member of Mr. Trump’s evangelical advisory board

Muslims, Christians, & Religious Liberty

“There has been this tendency to racialize Muslims,” he noted, “for Muslims to adopt this civil rights discourse for themselves and clearly that has moral traction because if you can think of yourself as the newest group that’s been stigmatized then you can use the language of civil rights, which has a lot of currency. But that has theological implications because Muslim is not a race, it’s a set of beliefs that you subscribe to.”

.. As Russell Moore has stated clearly, a government powerful enough to deny a Muslim congregation the right to build a mosque is a government powerful enough to deny the same to Christians. When you defend the right to religious liberty for Muslims, you are defending the same for Christians. I would even say it’s to the strategic advantage of Christians to have Muslims in their corner, precisely because the liberal establishment doesn’t like going up against minorities of which they approve.

.. If the left is eager to protect the rights of Muslims to live as Muslims outside of the mosque, then it needs to come to terms with the fact that this means Christians are covered by the same principles. And if the right is eager to protect its own freedom of religion, it had better not let daylight get between itself and Muslims on this issue.

.. I am amazed at Christians who say stuff like “We cannot allow them to get established here because they will take over and set up a caliphate”. Do they not realize that this is basically what people with Christianophobia say about us. They will use that same reasoning to justify the removal of our religious freedom.

.. People with Christianophobia tend to be white, wealthy, highly, educated and male. In other words they are very powerful and well connected.