After Russell Moore succeeded Richard Land as president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), it didn't take long for me to notice the difference:
- Russell Moore didn't demonize those who disagreed with him.
- Russell Moore reached out to those of different faiths.
- Russell Moore talked about ethical issues other than abortion and homosexuality; oh, he talked about those, but he recognized that Jesus focused most of his ministry on a lot of other things, what Jesus called "weightier matters," such as our treatment of the poor and the stranger.
Then I spoke with Joe Trull, and it began to make sense. Joe - who earned his doctorate in Christian Ethics under T. B. Maston at Southwestern Seminary, and now serves with me on the trustee board of the T. B. Maston Foundation - shared with me that Russell had studied Christian Ethics under Joe's teaching at New Orleans Seminary and asked me to send Russell a copy of Both-And: A Maston Reader.
So I sent Russell a copy, accompanied by a letter explaining my connection to Joe Trull and that I chaired the T. B. Maston Foundation. Shortly afterward, I received a most gracious reply from Russell, thanking me for the book and telling me that T. B. Maston and Joe Trull had been "formative" for him.
In the fall of 2015, I met Russell in person, when I attended - at the gracious invitation of my friend Lloyd Harsch, director of New Orleans Seminary's Institute for Faith and the Public Square - the Institute's symposium on "Baptist Voices on Religious Liberty - Left, Right, and Center."
Russell was among the speakers, in addition to my dear friends Suzii Paynter (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) and Brent Walker (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty).
Russell Moore's perspective on "religious liberty" was different than I was used to hearing from SBC leaders; for example, he spoke of religious liberty applying to ALL people, not just Christians. He even criticized American Christians who complain of "religious persecution," saying flatly that Christians in America are NOT persecuted for their faith, that being made to comply with laws prohibiting businesses from discriminating on the basis of religious views does NOT constitute persecution.
Afterwards, I told Russell, "You made me real uncomfortable today, because I'm not used to agreeing so much with a Southern Baptist!" He laughed.
Don't get me wrong. There are still plenty of things Russell Moore has said with which I disagree. But, as I wrote him in that letter, even when I disagree with him, I respect the thoughtfulness he has given to the issue and the thought process that led to his conclusion. I believe his intent is always the one so often voiced by T. B. Maston: "to walk as Jesus walked."
One complaint I've read about Russell is that his views don't "represent" the majority of the SBC. This tells us a lot about the "new SBC" of the past 30 years. The role of the ERLC's predecessor, the old SBC Christian Life Commission, was to speak TO Baptists, not FOR them. It was never to "represent the majority" but to speak a prophetic word, as the Old Testament prophets had, prodding God's people toward faithfulness. In the 1960s, racial equality was far from the majority view in the SBC, but the CLC beat that drum loudly and persistently.
Today's SBC wants mouthpieces, not prophets.
Russell Moore has rubbed some SBCers the wrong way from the beginning. As I noted earlier, his demeanor is different than Land's, and his issues are broader than Land's, more Jesus than SBC-friendly. There were rumblings against Russell well before 2016 came along; the knives were already being sharpened.
Then last year, many in the Southern Baptist Convention - including leading pastors - fell all over themselves in support of, praise of, laying on hands of, etc., a U.S. presidential candidate who is a serial adulterer . . . is thrice-married . . . brags about sexually assaulting women . . . has mused publicly about dating his own daughter . . . has spent his life serving his own lusts for money, women, and power . . . has spent his life destroying those in need rather than lifting them up (racial discrimination in housing; refusal to pay contractors) . . . has stated that he has NEVER asked God's forgiveness, because he doesn't believe he needs it . . . and demonstrates not even a novice's familiarity with scripture (and even less familiarity with Jesus). And the list could go on ad infinitum.
If you were to start out to build the perfect example of a person doing everything possible to avoid the Way of Christ, I doubt that you would even come close to the man living in the White House today, because it would just seem too far-fetched. But there he is.
This is the man who way too many in the SBC - and evangelicals in general - embraced last year. Russell Moore is one of the few who had the Christian integrity and courage to take them to task for it. And they have had the gall to ask HIM to apologize? For what?
Russell did not endorse a candidate for president; in fact, he has stated that no candidate was acceptable to him, so he didn't vote. What Russell Moore has asked Christians to do is to follow Jesus - and not reject Jesus by supporting everything that He is not.
But SBC leaders - and many of their leading pastors and churches - forsook Jesus long ago. They have forsaken the one who refused Satan's temptations of money and worldly power, and they have made their own deal with the devil.
They now brag of their proximity to power. Jesus refused political power. The church loses its prophetic voice, speaking spiritual truth to power, when it seeks such power itself. It ceases to be the church.
That's why Russell Moore is in trouble - he asked Christians to follow Jesus, so now some of the most powerful SBC churches are using their power to crucify him.
Russell Moore is a godly man, he's a faithful Jesus follower.
I pray for those who want Russell Moore gone. It pains me, as a Christ-follower, to see the destruction they're inflicting on our witness of Christ to the world.
I pray for them to return to the Way of Christ. I pray for God's mercy on their souls.
And I pray God's richest blessings on the ministry of Russell Moore.