Evangelical Rock Bottom: Donald Trump, Russell Moore, and Thabiti Anyabwile
Outside of Southern Baptist Seminaries, the editorial pages of The Washington Post & New York Times, and denominational political circles, Russell Moore isn’t that well-known. Moore is a the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the denomination’s least useful entity and best kept open secret. Moore’s ERLC is the public policy arm of the United State’s largest protestant and evangelical denomination. Generally speaking, the SBC is in the soul-saving business. Politics is important to the SBC but that not as important as winning souls for Christ. Since the ERLC is essentially a church lobby group, its budget pales in comparison to the overall SBC missions budget. While the SBC estimates that it will fund foreign missions to the tune of $298,500,000 in 2016, Russell Moore and his team of lobbyists are expected to receive $3,568,395. Though the ERLC budget may be comparatively small, it’s not insignicant, especially considering that recent budget shortfalls have caused the SBC to call home nearly eight hundred foreign missionaries. Shrinking SBC mission funding should cause Southern Baptists to more closely scrutinize how denominational funds are spent. Russell Moore may be getting more notice from Southern Baptists. He is certainly getting notice from presumptive 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.
Over the past few months, Russell Moore has been waging his own personal holy war against candidate Donald Trump. He has twice taken to the pages of the New York Times to lament the support of Donald Trump among Evangelicals. On the pages of the Times in September, Moore called Trump a “cartoonish (authoritarian) TV character with no principles.” This month Moore painted Trump as the candidate of choice for xenophobes and white supremacists. Moore’s criticisms of Trump certainly have some validity. Yet surely Moore realizes that Trump is also the candidate of choice for many professing evangelicals, the very same people Moore purports to represent. Nationally famous SBC pastors Robert Jeffress and David Jeremiah have supported Trump, going as far as to lay hands on him in prayer. The President of the USA’s largest (Baptist) evangelical Christian University, Jerry Falwell, Jr. has endorsed Trump. Quite frankly, the numbers don’t lie. There are clearly a lot of Southern Baptists voting for and supporting Trump. Donald Trump apparently feels like he has little risk of losing their support by decrying Moore.
This can’t sit well with Russell Moore. Many in his own denomination seems drawn to the chutzpah of Trump. Many of his own denomination don’t even know who Russell Moore is. Moore, likely at the behest of Southern Baptist leadership in general, has been on a campaign to reconcile the races as of late. As the number of white church goers dwindles, the historically white Southern Baptist Convention is in desperate need of additional butts to fill its pews and additional dollars to fill its offering plates. The non-white (and church-going) population fits the bill to supply these needs. This perhaps explains Russell Moore’s well-known soft stance on amnesty for illegal immigrants, one which is diametrically opposed to Trump’s hard line on immigration.
For the average Southern Baptist, this may seem like a strange position, given that SBC as denomination leans to the right. However, Moore is a former Democratic staffer and former Bill Clinton supporter. That he would lean heavily against a candidate such as Trump is no surprise, especially where an immigrant funding base is at stake. Moore is no stranger to those with Democratic leanings. Recently, he invited his friend Thabiti Anyabwile to speak at an ERLC conference on racial reconciliation. By his own admission, Anyabwile (whose given name is Ron Burns) is a communitarian who defines the American experience by his skin color. He also plans to vote for Hillary Clinton, a pro-choice Democrat who has claimed that unborn persons don’t have constitutional rights.
It’s problem enough that SBC churches feel that they need a lobbying organization. That this organization is headed by pro-amnesty moderate like Moore who invites the likes of Thabiti Anyabwile to speak at SBC leadership conferences is even worse. Whether or not there is an effort by Moore and company to invade the Southern Baptist Convention from the academic left is unclear. (Records of Anyabwile’s ERLC associations seem to have been scrubbed from the ERLC website.) What is clear is that a major presidential candidate isn’t afraid to take an open shot across the bow the Southern Baptist Convention’s top ethicist.
What does Russell Moore think? It apparently doesn’t matter to Trump and millions of SBC voters.
The SBC (and greater evangelicalism) is a mess. Its members are paying millions to support a political moderate like Moore who clearly doesn’t represent their political views and do so at the expense of underfunded foreign missions. At the same time, its members are voting for a man like Donald Trump, who Moore has so rightly characterized.
If this isn’t rock bottom, what is?
*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.