A Southern Baptist Convention official criticized as going over the top in his criticism of presidential candidate Donald Trump and his evangelical supporters now says it’s time to move beyond election-year differences and celebrate Christmas together as one “denominational family.”
Both the Wall Street Journal and NPR reported on backlash against SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission head Russell Moore from prominent Southern Baptists who supported Trump for president, putting the denomination’s top official for public policy and religious liberty concerns “in a precarious position” just over three years into the job he inherited from longtime Religious Right warrior Richard Land.
Moore addressed “some pointed conversations in my denominational family about the election and the way forward” and noted that “some of them have been directed at me,” in a Dec. 19 article posted on his personal website.
Moore admitted he was “pointed” in his criticism of “a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel, and felt like I ought to have been.” But some pastors and friends told him they read his comments as criticizing anyone who voted for Trump.
“I told them then, and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize,” Moore said.
In November the Louisiana Baptist Convention referred a motion to “study the recent actions” of the agency Moore leads to the state convention’s Executive Board. David Hankins, the convention’s executive director, told the Wall Street Journal the board is considering whether to approve a study, but that for him defunding the ELRC would be a “last resort.”
William “Bill” Harrell, former chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, posted a blog saying strong support for Trump among white evangelical voters suggested that Moore was an agency head out of touch with his constituents. Harrell, retired pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Ga., said Southern Baptists might consider finding better uses for their Cooperative Program dollars than supporting an ERLC which frankly is “causing more disturbance than it is serving us in a positive way.”
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and SBC president between 2002 and 2004, told the Wall Street Journal his 40,000-member megachurch “is considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“There was a disrespectfulness toward Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present,” Graham, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, said of Moore’s critique during the 2016 presidential campaign. “It’s disheartening that this election has created this kind of divisiveness.”
Moore said Christians who voted for Trump as a lesser of two evils and those like him who could not in good conscience cast a ballot for either of the major party candidates should feel “empathy” for each other’s positions and not “take things personally” when someone disagrees.
“In my personal situation, there were some outrageous moments in the midst of the campaign that I felt compelled by my job to address,” Moore said in his article. “When those moments came, occasionally I was tempted to remain silent for the sake of the ‘team’ or the issues at stake.”
“After all, these issues are the ones I’ve spent my life defending and the ones my denomination has been vocal and insistent about for decades,” he explained. “Even still, in my case, it is precisely because Southern Baptists are pro-life, pro-family, pro-religious freedom, pro-racial reconciliation and pro-character-in-public-office that I felt it was my responsibility to speak out on those issues. For me, to remain silent — rightly or wrongly — felt negligent.”
In a separate article on the ERLC website, Moore and ERLC staff member Travis Wussow outlined a legislative agenda for the new president and Congress “to protect the unborn” by making it harder for women to obtain an abortion.