Religious Right activists were none too pleased with Dr. Russell Moore’s interview with the Wall Street Journal, fearing that the new leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is throwing them under the bus. On his personal blog, Moore took issue with the article’s title, “Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars,” calling it “awfully misleading.”
In an interview with The Christian Post, where his ERLC predecessor Richard Land serves as executive editor, Moore reassured conservatives that in no way is he steering Southern Baptists away from political activism.
Much like Republicans who called on the GOP to only change their tone but not their actual political positions, Moore explained that he is “not seeking a pullback” from politics but instead a shift to less hateful and bellicose rhetoric:
Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, clarified some misleading information from a profile of him in The Wall Street Journal, and praised his predecessor, Dr. Richard Land, in a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post.
The Wall Street Journal article was titled, “Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars.” In the article, reporter Neil King Jr. appeared to suggest that Moore, who was recently inaugurated to head the SBC’s public policy advocacy group, wanted Southern Baptists to be less involved in politics, while adding that Moore is not “seeking to return the Southern Baptists to a past in which it shunned politics entirely.”
Moore clarified, though, that he thinks Christians should be more involved, not less involved, in politics, and he is also concerned with how they are involved. “I’m not seeking a pullback,” he said. “I’m seeking a change in priority, which means a wide and deep political engagement, but a political engagement that keeps Christ at the forefront. A gospel-centered, kingdom-focused political engagement is what is needed.”
Another part of the WSJ article suggested that Moore would avoid controversial issues like gay marriage and abortion. King wrote that Moore’s “advice meshes with those in the Republican Party who want the GOP to back off hot-button cultural issues to stress themes such as job creation and education.”
“Goodness no,” Moore responded, “I don’t avoid issues that are controversial. As a matter of fact, I’m engaging in issues that are controversial every day, from abortion and same-sex marriage all the way through to questions of surrogacy and immigration reform.”
The goal is not to avoid controversial issues, Moore explained, but to communicate on those controversial issues in a way that mirrors Jesus, which means that Christians should not hate those they disagree with.
“We disagree and we disagree strongly, but we don’t hate the people who are opposed to us. The issue is whether or not we communicate the way Jesus did – convictionally, but with the sort of kindness that recognizes our ultimate goal is the gospel.”
Moore was dealing with the controversial transgender issue long before it became a hot topic in California and other places, he recalled.
Many of the recent media profiles of Moore since he took the helm at ERLC have emphasized the differences between him and his predecessor, Dr. Richard Land, who recently became president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and has continued his position as executive editor for The Christian Post. Moore believes it is only natural for the media to be interested in what is different during a transition, but also suggested that the differences have been overplayed.
“It’s expected,” he said, “that people would look at a transition, particularly a generational transition, and seek to mine the points of difference. But there are so many points of commonality.”
Just a few issues, Moore explained, in which “Dr. Land and I are exactly the same” include human life, the centrality of marriage, racial reconciliation and justice for immigrants.
In writing about the differences between himself and Land, Moore believes that some miss “the way that Richard Land was himself quite a prophetic voice in many places, who was unwilling to simply attach Bible verses to whatever his allies were putting in front of him.”