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The church and Trump

BOOKS | Russell Moore indicts evangelicals over politics


Russell Moore ERLC

The church and Trump
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During the 1980s, the Southern Baptist Convention experienced “the conservative resurgence,” a movement that purged liberals and moderates from the leadership of convention entities. Those denominational battles left some Baptists battered and bruised, and the convention’s most pugnacious brawlers became heroes.

The next generation of Baptist leaders learned lessons from those men, and some of the convention’s conservatives never stopped hunting for liberals. In my years of being associated with Baptist churches and institutions, I’ve seen many theologically sound men lose their livelihoods over denominational politics or a cult of personality.

Russell Moore led the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission from 2013 to 2021. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people call him a liberal, which is, of course, preposterous. When discussing doctrine, “liberal” used to mean someone didn’t believe in the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection. Now conservative Christians sometimes apply it to people they wish to exile from the tribe. In 2016, Moore passionately argued Donald Trump’s personal immorality made him unfit for the office of president. Many SBC leaders felt Moore’s position made him unfit for Southern Baptists.

In his new book, Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Sentinel 2023), Moore gives his account of the battles that prompted him to leave the SBC. In addition to the Trump blowback Moore received, he fielded criticism from some SBC leaders for demanding more transparency and accountability about the ­sexual abuse scandals that rocked the convention. Moore sees these issues as linked by a misogyny masquerading as a complementarian view of gender.

In his book, Moore says the American church has entered a phase of neo-decadence, comparing it to the Roman Catholic Church before the Reformation. He argues evangelicalism must recover the spiritual authority ­necessary to carry out the mission of the church. He exhorts Christians to speak the truth winsomely rather than reciting political talking points. He reminds the church that its ultimate mission is to make disciples through conversion, not to wage a culture war.

Many of Moore’s points shouldn’t be controversial, but he may have a hard time gaining a hearing from skeptical readers. Despite his plea for winsomeness, his tone veers into scolding, and portions of the book feel repetitive. Seven years after Trump’s election, he still seems to have trouble understanding how evangelicals could settle for the lesser of two evils. He implies abstaining from the political process when both candidates appear unfit is a moral imperative rather than a matter of conscience.

Moore argues evangelicalism must recover the spiritual authority necessary to carry out the mission of the church.

He’s also often too quick to blame evangelicalism for America’s combative cultural climate, and he implores readers to join with the nice Christians and avoid the mean ones. But should a Baptist become an Anglican just because Anglicans seem nicer?

Moore argues it was the SBC’s internecine fighting that taught Christian conservatives that the only way to succeed is to find someone ­willing to fight dirty. If this is true, why does the left experience just as much infighting and tribalism as the right? It’s more likely America’s political ­culture taught the church how to fight.

The passages in which Moore recounts his own experiences are the most compelling, and some of his ­arguments are insightful. He examines evangelicalism’s oxymoronic tendency to view itself as simultaneously America’s moral majority and an under-siege minority.

He also makes a strong case against Christian nationalism, arguing it’s “a prosperity gospel for nation-states,” not a religiously informed patriotism. He says, “Christian nationalism cannot turn its back on secularism, because it is just another form of it.”


Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.

@collingarbarino

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