Russell D. Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Russell D. Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Wikimedia Commons

Whither evangelicalism? These days, the cleverest answer on the inside comes from Russell Moore, the theologian who’s approaching his first anniversary as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

You get a hint of what he’s thinking in a recent blog post on same-sex marriage. After avowing the need to keep fighting the good fight — but with persuasive theology rather than conservative talk show sound bites — he writes:

Above all, we must prepare people for what the future holds, when Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality aren’t part of the cultural consensus but are seen to be strange and freakish and even subversive. If our people assume that everything goes back to normal with the right President and a quick constitutional amendment, they are not being equipped for a world that views evangelical Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews and others as bigots or freaks.

For a clearer exposition of what he’s got in mind, listen to the lecture he gave earlier this month at Boston College’s Boisi Center, entitled “The Prophetic Minority.” In it, Moore declares that while the culture wars are not over, the “majoritarian identity” of conservative evangelicals is — “especially in the Bible Belt.” No more can evangelicals believe that the social changes they don’t like are being foisted on most Americans by a bi-coastal elite.

In place of the “God and Country religion” of the “old religious right,” Moore opts for a community out of the Book of Acts, where Christians “look more to New Jerusalem rather than Mayberry.” No more baptizing Thomas Jefferson as a Christian or zoning mosques out of our communities. The prophetic mission is to witness to the full truth of the Gospel, however weird that may seem to society at large. “We may not be a moral majority but Jesus told us not to expect to be a moral majority.”

Moore ends his blog post on a hope-springs-eternal note:

Long term the prospects for marriage are good. Sexual revolutions always disappoint, and God has designed marriage, biblically defined, to be resilient. But, short term, the culture of marriage is dark indeed. That’s why we have a gospel that is the power of God.

Whether he believes that or not, what he’s selling his folks is a smaller, purer, missionary church. The guys who run Roman Catholicism tried that for the last decade or so, and it turns out the people in the pews like Pope Francis’ messy big-hearted church a whole lot better.

Southern Baptists have always been big and messy, they have a long history of God-and-Country majoritarianism in their communities, and they are not happy that their numbers are shrinking. Moore’s going to have a tough sell, I bet.

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

12 Comments

  1. samuel Johnston

    Living in God’s Country myself (Alabama), I find Moore’s views unsurprising, even ordinary. Baptists have long been schizophrenic, claiming to represent the majority will (and they do here), yet at the same time claiming to be the faithful stalwarts who enter by the narrow way (unlike the rest of the un-SouthernAmerican, sinful world). They are not simply hypocrites, they are not even shamed by self contradiction, after all, their Holy Book is not.

  2. Mark Silk

    Having done my 10-year turn in the Deep South (in Atlanta, to be sure, but I got around), I know what you’re talking about. But Moore’s message is directed at the SBC heartland, and it’s more critical of evangelical God-and-Country majoritarianism than you ever heard from, say, Richard Land.

  3. Lynne Newington

    I’m no too sure about Roman Catholics preferring Francis’s ‘big hearted messy church’, he will soon have to wake up, now more so than before, that the Western world aren’t as easily moved as his Latin American flock exiting the pews taking up with the Evangelicals with all their emotionalism, who I may add he pandied too on his knees as archbishop to receive the spirit filled laying of the hands and praying in ‘tongues’.
    He’s an astute religious politician and wouldn’t have survived the dictatorship of Argentina if he wasn’t.

  4. samuel Johnston

    Hi Mark,
    I do not fault you for considering his ideas newsworthy, in our sort of “inside baseball” discussions. I am just very skeptical of congregationalists changing their point of view, since they virtually define the “ignorant led by the equally ignorant”. They lack the single virtue of the hierarchical system, which is leadership which is better informed than the laity. Using my “Infallible” opinion, I expect that the Baptists would prefer to go out of business, before they would change their “world view” that God is a member of their Church.

  5. Let’s face it: contrary to conservative Christian expectations, voting GOP in 2016 will NOT reverse this nation’s moral crisis. “Tea Party” won’t save anybody, “GOP Moderates” won’t save anybody, and Democrats **absolutely** won’t save anybody. America injected itself with a killer virus back in 2008 (and even injected a second dose in 2012!), and there’s no political solutions, no presidential quick fixes, that can undo the damage.

    Christians (not just Southern Baptists) must come to understand that the landscape has been permanently altered, and they are now living in hostile territory. “Smaller, purer, missionary” churches are indeed what’s needed.

    Mayberry is dying fast. Time to switch to a new RFD: New Jerusalem.

    • I’m really getting sick and tired of Land & Moore and others claiming to represent “the” Christian position on moral & ethical issues. I’m a devout Christian, I don’t see the “injections” of 2008 and 2012 the way you do, and I cannot find my way to reading and understanding Scripture the way it’s twisted by these folks. Please, stop. You’re driving away people who need to hear the Gospel just to keep your supposed Christian dominion.

      • Nobody’s asking for “Christian dominion” here, and even if they were, it’s not happening anyway in this rapidly deteriorating nation.

        No, this is about something way more important. I have no quarrel with your claim that you’re “devout.” I’m “devout” too, as far as I know.

        But there’s nothing at all devout about homosexual marriage. It is evil, it is corrosive, it is anti-Christian. You see the damage it is doing already, inside and outside of the church. Damaging individuals and communities.

        There is NO upside to gay marriage at all; Christians should not be supportive of it (not even implicitly or via civil authorities). It locks people into a horrific bondage that Christ died and rose to free them of, cleanse them of, heal them of (as with all of us in our assorted sins). The Bible is not fuzzy about this. It’s time to take a stand, Mark.

        • Ugh, I see Anthony is spewing his nonsense again. “Damage.” And your evidence for this would be? Sorry, but there are plenty of upsides to equal marriage. One of them will be the day that rants like yours disappear from public discourse.

        • samuel Johnston

          “But there’s nothing at all devout about homosexual marriage.
          Assume the above is true, or at least assume that you believe that it is.
          Logically, you oppose that your Church, or that any Christian organization perform or endorse homosexual marriage as a Christian ceremony. However, the rest of your rant does not logically follow.
          How does a civil marriage lock”…people into a horrific bondage that Christ died and rose to free them of, cleanse them of, heal them of …..
          Would a Civil Union differ from a Civil Marriage in God’s eyes?? Would a heterosexual marriage that was fraudulent, exploitive, or abusive be preferred in the eyes of your God? Is it the public or the private sin more heinous? Are all sins of equal Damnation quality to God? Is their a point system? Are we not all deserving of eternal punishment – except for the compassion of God?
          Finally, why do you not rejoice that the end of the world is near, as multitudes have done for Centuries? Why not retire from this sinful world and concern yourself with your spiritual development?
          Do you not because you are bitter and full of resentment against your neighbor, contrary to the teachings of Jesus?

  6. By “subversive” Moore surely meant “reactionary,” so I find it perplexing that he’s trying to sound more like a Shane Claiborne than a Richard Land.

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