By Bob Allen
The Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for public policy and religious liberty concerns says the upcoming presidential primary season will be a test for evangelical voters.
“We’ve been saying for 50 years in American life that character matters,” Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said Jan. 20 on the C-SPAN program Washington Journal. “Now we’re in a situation where many evangelicals, or at least professing evangelicals, are saying character doesn’t matter when it comes to Donald Trump.”
“I think if character matters for Bill Clinton, and it does, then character ought to matter for Donald Trump,” Moore said.
“Evangelicals can love a golden calf, as long as Aaron promises to make Mexico pay for it,” Moore compared Trump’s call for securing the southern border to a story of apostasy in the Book of Exodus.
“This would be hilarious if it weren’t so counter to the mission of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Moore tweeted apparently about Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s introduction as a “breath of fresh air” comparable to his late father, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell.
“Matthew 7:16 tells us that ‘By their fruits, you shall know them,’” Falwell said. “Donald Trump’s life has borne fruit. Fruit that has provided jobs to multitudes of people, in addition to the many he has helped with his generosity.”
“In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment.”
Other tweets by Moore included “Trading in the gospel of Jesus Christ for political power is not liberty but slavery,” “Politics driving the gospel rather than the other way around is the third temptation of Christ. He overcame it. Will we?” and “Winning at politics while losing the gospel is not a win.”
“Being faithful to the wife of one’s youth is succeeding in real life,” Moore alluded to Trump’s two divorces.
Moore, who says he does not endorse candidates, has been called out in conservative blogs for his frequent criticism of Trump. In September Moore wrote a New York Times op-ed questioning if evangelicals who support Trump have lost their moral values.
In December Moore wrote an article blasting Trump for suggesting the United States should close its borders to Muslims until the threat posed by the Islamic State is resolved. “Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce this reckless, demagogic rhetoric,” Moore wrote on his personal website.
Pulpit & Pen, a self-described “polemics” blog covering SBC issues, says Moore’s attacks on Trump and appearances alongside one of his opponents add up to a tacit endorsement of Sen. Marco Rubio, a Roman Catholic, over Southern Baptist candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
A Christian Examiner article by former Florida Baptist Witness associate editor Joni Hannigan quoted Alabama blogger Rick Patrick labeling the SBC agency head’s “singling out only one party’s frontrunner for 99 percent of his criticism” as “Moore’s anti-Trump campaign.”
Patrick said Moore’s behavior on social media has caused concern.
“Trump is rightly accused of not acting very presidential at times, but Dr. Moore does not fare any better with his sub-tweeting barbs, the mocking tone of which gives one the impression that Dr. Moore is sitting in the balcony lobbing spit wads at the Republican Party frontrunner,” said Patrick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sylacuga, Ala.
Randy White, pastor of First Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, said in a blog on SBC Today that while he is not a Trump supporter, he disagreed with Moore denouncing Trump’s proposal to postpone Muslim immigration as “reckless and demagogic,” because the government has a duty to protect its citizens.
Moore said on C-SPAN he doesn’t have a problem with Trump being invited to speak at Liberty, commending the Christian school for its long tradition of inviting speakers from across the political spectrum.
He said he also isn’t bothered by Trump’s gaffe at Liberty, citing a Bible verse from “Two Corinthians.” Moore said he finds it refreshing to see a candidate speak without a handler whispering in his ear he should instead say “Second Corinthians.”
“What bothers me is this was an opportunity for gospel witness,” Moore explained in his critical tweets. “As evangelicals, the most important thing that we have to offer to the world is not our voting bloc.”
“The most important thing we have to offer to the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Donald Trump is someone who has said as recently as last Sunday that he has nothing for which to ask forgiveness from God,” Moore said.
“He is someone with a track record that is unbelievably out of step with what gospel Christians believe, and then speaks of himself as ‘we’ in terms of Christianity,” he added. “I think that was a missed opportunity.”