The average pew-sitting Southern Baptist knows next to nothing, if anything at all, about Russell Moore. Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC) is a relatively obscure figure among rank-and-file evangelicals. He and his organization operate quietly in the background of greater evangelicalism while big-name megapastors such as David Jeremiah and Robert Jeffress take center stage among the layity. Yet, among convention-minded academics, Moore is something of a minor celebrity, a maven even. Such are the types, evangelical intelligentsia, who stay informed of the operations of the ERLC. They follow both religious and secular politics, they attend theological conferences, and they buy each other’s books. They seek to be the apprentices of people like Moore. Laypeople don’t. Laypeople go to work at secular jobs and then come home to watch The Apprentice. To them, Donald Trump is a celebrity. To them, Donald Trump is a maven. Despite being brash, socially liberal, and (apparently) theologically ignorant, Donald Trump is wildly popular with evangelicals as a presidential candidate. This vexes Moore, who has taken to the editorial pages of the New York Times to decry him. On paper, it would seem that Moore, a credentialed theologian, professional Christian ethicist, and an entity head for the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, would hold more sway over the hearts and minds of (self-identified) church-going Americans than does Donald Trump. Yet, he doesn’t. Trump continues to sustain widespread support among evangelicals despite attacks from Moore, who has tacitly endorsed Marco Rubio and subtly insulted the supporters of both Trump and Ted Cruz. Among a culture that is growing more secular by the day, Moore is largely irrelevant even with his own Christian constituency. Yet despite being inconspicuous, if not impotent, Moore still matters if only for one thing: his substantial funding. In an economy where Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries are being called home from the field for lack of funding, Moore’s ERLC is expected to pull in $3,568,395 in funding during its 2016 fiscal year. Over 80% of that money will come from the offering plate gifts of generous laypeople people who have little idea of who he is, what he does, or his progressive social agenda. Russell Moore, a professional influencer of politics, makes a six-figure income while disagreeing with and all but disdaining the political views of the constituency which provides that income.
Recently Russell Moore made the observation that three leading GOP presidential candidates enjoyed the support of distinct wings of evangelicalism. According to Moore, Donald Trump has garnered the support of the “Jimmy Swaggart” wing, Ted Cruz is supported by the “Jerry Falwell” wing, and Marco Rubio is the candidate of choice for the “Billy Graham” wing. It should be obvious to anyone who follows evangelicalism and politics that Moore meant the former designations (despite their apparent accuracy) as pejoratives. Jimmy Swaggart is a disgraced televangelist from a bygone era who still manages a continued following even after being defrocked by the Assemblies of God denomination following sexual sin. Jerry Falwell, now deceased, was the fundamentalist founder of the now defunct “moral majority” and until this day remains the poster boy for Christians who put political influence before faith (Pulpit & Pen has written about Cruz’s dominionist ties previously). In labeling Rubio as the candidate of choice for the “Billy Graham” wing of evangelicalism, Moore may have well as said that Marco Rubio is the candidate of choice for those who feed puppies and help old ladies across the street. It’s an obvious flowery endorsement.
Billy Graham was “America’s Pastor” in the halcyon days of moderate baptists. Graham, the consummate evangelist, took a “just Billy” approach to the finer points of theology and had Democratic outlook with regard to politics. Such an outlook would be anathema to most contemporary Southern Baptists, but was the norm in the heyday of Billy Graham. It was in the latter part of this heyday, before the emergence of Falwell’s heavily republican Moral Majority, that Russell Moore was born into a working class household, the son of an unequally yoked Baptist father and a Roman Catholic mother. Moore took to the blue collar democratic politics of the moderate baptists, after all, the hallmark of intelligentsia thought is that the intelligentsia knows what is best for the working man. In 1992, he supported moderate Southern Baptist Bill Clinton in the presidential election, despite Clinton viewing abortion as something that should be safe, legal, and rare. Thus, it’s no surprise that Moore currently supports the more moderate Roman Catholic candidate, Marco Rubio. Moore, justifiably in some cases, is very uncomfortable with the conservative base of the Southern Baptist convention…the base that funds him. Many of the very people who fund Moore are those he derides as “Swaggart” or “Falwell” evangelicals. If they only knew who he is and just how progressive his politics are, they might defund him or demand his resignation. The fact is, while IMB missionaries are being called home, the Southern Baptist Convention is funding a six-figure Washington lobbyist named Russell Moore who holds to socially progressive Democratic political positions. He holds almost no sway over their political opinions, yet he garners millions of their dollars.
Perhaps the individual church members of the Southern Baptist Convention should take the time to learn about Russell Moore, muster their best Donald Trump impression, and plainly tell the ineffective progressive lobbyist, “You’re fired.”
[Contributed by Seth Dunn]
For more information on the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention, the mechanism that funds the work of Russell Moore, please reference my free e-book The Cooperative Program and the Road to Serfdom.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
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