Supporters rally to Russell Moore after Trump criticism
Head of ERLC has been one of president-elect’s most vocal opponents
A reported backlash against Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has turned into an outpouring of support for one of President-elect Donald Trump’s leading evangelical critics.
“Dr. Russell Moore does a good job of leading the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission [ERLC] in speaking out on the moral issues of the day in the public square,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, told me. He called the ERLC an effective advocate for family values, life, religious freedom, and other issues important to Baptists.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported on a possible backlash against Moore for his steadfast and public opposition to Trump on moral grounds. Some critics want to withhold funds from the ERLC over claims Moore denigrated Trump supporters, not just the candidate. Some questioned how effective Moore would be in the Trump era.
“He’s going to have no access, basically, to President Trump,” said pastor Jack Graham, a former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president, who in 2004 urged Christians to vote “convictions rather than voting our pocketbooks or political parties.”
The Wall Street Journal story quoted three other critics: William F. Harrell, a former member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, Georgia pastor Brad Whitt, and Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress—who called Christians who did not vote for Trump “namby-pamby, panty-waisted, weak-kneed” fools.
Since Monday, hundreds of supporters, many of them young Baptist pastors, have rallied to Moore’s side using the #IStandWithMoore hashtag. Those tweeting with it include: pastor and author Ray Ortlund, musician Derek Minor, evangelist D.A. Horton, The Gospel Coalition’s Justin Taylor, Lauren Chandler, wife of Texas pastor Matt Chandler, and Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior.
“Dr. Moore embodies the Baptist principles I have been taught most of my life: fidelity to Scripture, evangelical commitment to the spread of the gospel, and a passion for bringing Biblical principles to bear on public and private life,” Prior, an ERLC research fellow, wrote in an email. “In my lifetime, the Southern Baptist voice has never been so strong in American public life as it has with Dr. Moore’s leadership.”
Moore became ERLC president in 2013, making him the lead ethics and public policy advocate for the 15.8-million member SBC, after Richard Land held the position for 25 years. While Moore has engaged on myriad issues—including vocal support for the international religious freedom bill President Barack Obama signed into law last week—he’s become best known for his public opposition to Trump and the evangelicals who supported him.
“To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe,” Moore wrote in a September 2015 New York Times op-ed.
In a blog post this week, Moore apologized to those he offended and said he aimed his criticisms at a handful of Christian political operatives who had confused the definition of the gospel: “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on Biblical convictions, and voted their conscience.”
Despite the complaints, defunding the ERLC appears unlikely. The commission faced defunding threats during Land’s tenure, and although a handful of state conventions discussed pulling funds during fall meetings, none moved to do so.
The ERLC receives most of its roughly $4 million budget from the SBC’s cooperative program. Only 1.65 percent of the program goes to the ERLC, but the organization is almost completely dependent on it: Baptist missions boards have annual offerings and the six seminaries have development offices, but the ERLC is prohibited from directly soliciting churches for additional funding.
Some supporters have turned this week’s controversy into an ERLC fundraiser, tweeting instructions on how to donate.
“Thirst for more like Moore is wide and deep among <50s,” tweeted Southern Baptist Eric Teetsel, president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, who reported an uptick in donations to the ERLC this week.
Only the ERLC board could remove Moore from office—a prospect that also appears highly unlikely.
David Dockery, a longtime Southern Baptist and president of Trinity International University, said the current conflict reflects years of residual tensions within the denomination. He said Moore has “worked in a most commendable manner to strengthen the SBC’s efforts in the areas of racial and intercultural reconciliation. We now pray for new efforts toward reconciliation and consensus-building for the good of the work of the ERLC and the SBC at large.”
While some critics have said Moore has not accurately represented his constituency, Lankford, the first elected official to speak out in Moore’s defense, said that is not his job.
“The ERLC is not the political campaign arm of the Southern Baptists,” said Lankford, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The ERLC is a moral and ethical voice in a challenging political and social culture.”
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