Evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump lashed out at a Southern Baptist Convention official for critical comments about reports of detained migrant children held in perilous conditions at the U.S. border with Mexico.
“The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences,” Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted after reading an Associated Press story about the government removing most of more than 300 children detained at a Border Patrol station outside of El Paso, Texas.
Last week the AP quoted lawyers describing alleged neglect and mistreatment of children at the hands of the U.S. government inside the facility in Clint, Texas.
“Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention entity tasked with speaking to issues in the public square. “We can do better than this.”
“Who are you @drmoore?” shot back Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. “Have you ever made a payroll? Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch? What gives you authority to speak on any issue? I’m being serious. You’re nothing but an employee — a bureaucrat.”
Falwell, appointed president of large private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, upon his father’s death in 2007, recently accused Moore of running an “SBC deep state regime trying to subvert the will of the church members.”
But Falwell wasn’t the only one taking Moore to task for criticizing the administration.
“Fake news, and Dr. Moore is selling it, tweeted Mike Buster, executive pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
“I was just at the border and saw it all,” Buster said. Buster said he was “indeed shocked, but shocked by how children were being treated incredibly well with dignity and compassion.”
“Prestonwood is engaged in ministry there, as Russell Moore should be instead of criticizing the administration,” Buster commented.
Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church and a past SBC president, criticized the AP story as “a very inaccurate report.”
“I’ve been to the border and seen the great work our border agents are doing along with churches like ours which are ministering in Jesus’ name,” Graham said, labeling Moore’s tweet “extremely disappointing.”
“Why don’t you go with me to the border and we can show you what is actually happening rather than your simply quoting CNN?” Graham challenged Moore. “I’m ready when you are.”
Prestonwood Baptist Church temporarily withheld $1 million in denominational funding in 2017 after Moore, head of the ERLC since 2013, compared Trump’s candidacy to “reality television moral sewage” and “cultural rot.”
At the time front-runner in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Trump responded by calling Moore “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals” and a “nasty guy with no heart.”
The dustup led to speculation that Moore might lose his job. He has since toned down his criticism of the president and Trump’s evangelical enablers.
The Associated Press described older children trying to take care of toddlers, a 4-year-old with matted hair who had gone without a shower for days and sick and hungry children trying to console one another.
Last year the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution supporting immigration policy that prioritizes “family unity” and honors “the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”
Graham, SBC president in 2002-2004, clarified in a later tweet that “reasonable people know we have a humanitarian crisis at the border but to suggest that immigrants are not treated with dignity and respect is wrong and plays to the secular press who blame America for the problem.”
“We are all very concerned and many of us are trying to help,” Graham said. “Our great Border Patrol agents and law enforcement are working day and night to protect our country and alleviate suffering. No one should question that.”
Though not mentioned by name, Prestonwood Baptist Church is included in a database compiled by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News containing information on 263 Southern Baptist clergy and volunteers who were convicted or took plea deals in criminal cases alleging sexual misconduct during the last 20 years.
John Langworthy, a registered sex offender in Mississippi who pleaded guilty in 2013 to five felony counts of gratification of lust, was fired in 1989 by the Dallas-area megachurch for alleged inappropriate behavior with a teenager but not reported to police.
Langworthy went on to serve 22 years as music minister at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi, before resigning in 2011 after confessing to the congregation his sin of having “sexual indiscretions with younger males” while serving churches in Mississippi and Texas in the 1980s.
Langworthy avoided prison, receiving a suspended sentence of 10 years on each count in a plea bargain offered because prosecutors were uncertain how jurors might interpret ambiguous language in Mississippi’s statute of limitations for sex crimes.
Elders at Morrison Heights Baptist Church, including Philip Gunn, speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives who was serving at the time as chairman of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary board of trustees, reportedly declined to talk to police about their own internal investigation of Langworthy, citing priest-penitent privilege.
When a member of Prestonwood Baptist Church publicly pressed for answers about why Langworthy was not reported to police in Texas in 1989, church leaders called the cops on the inquiring member.