By Bob Allen
A Baptist communications professor who has written a book about religious language in politics predicts that Southern Baptists’ new spokesman for public affairs will be less strident and politically partisan than his predecessor.
Russell Moore’s selection as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission “provides a younger image for the SBC’s top political figure and may serve to offer a more civil voice,” Brian Kaylor, assistant professor of communication studies at James Madison University, wrote in an article for EthicsDaily.com.
Kaylor, author of Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics, said Moore shares retiring ERLC head Richard Land’s conservative theology, but their approach to public engagement appears to be far different.
“Moore’s background suggests he is more concerned with changing society through the church than governmental legislation,” Kaylor said. “As a result, he brings a less partisan perspective to the position that will make him the voice of Southern Baptists on matters of politics and public policy. Rather than partisan politics, Moore instead often pushes public policy issues like adoption.”
Land, long-quoted in media as a spokesman for the Religious Right, famously denied endorsing candidates for office for 24 years while speaking favorably about Republican hopefuls including former Sen. Fred Thompson and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He broke his own rule in 2012, endorsing Mitt Romney over President Obama in a contest he described as “the most important election for the future of the United States since 1860.”
Land worked briefly as an assistant to Texas Gov. Bill Clements Jr. prior to his election to the agency then known as the Christian Life Commission in 1988. Moore, 41 — the same age Land was when he got the job — has similar political experience. Between 1990 and 1994 he worked as a press representative for Rep. Gene Taylor, a “blue dog” Democrat who represented Moore’s home state of Mississippi from 1989 until 2011.
Moore told Christianity Today he hopes to speak “with convictional kindness” about “a holistic vision of human dignity and human flourishing rooted in the kingdom of God.”
“I don’t view people who disagree with me as my enemies or my opponents,” he said. “I hope to speak with civility and with kindness and in dialogue with people with whom I disagree.”
A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a master’s degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moore has taught theology and ethics at Southern Seminary since 2001. Since 2004 he has also served as senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology.
An ordained Baptist minister, Moore was preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., from 2008 until 2012. He was associate pastor at Bay Vista Baptist Church in Biloxi, Miss., from 1994 until 1997.