In the first presidential election since Russell Moore became the leading evangelical voice in Washington, America saw more of him than ever before.
With each TV news appearance and op-ed parsing the complicated evangelical vote in this year’s contentious election, fellow Southern Baptists took notice of Moore’s personal conviction against Donald Trump, his characterizations of Trump supporters, and the broader changes he’d implemented as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over the previous three years.
It’s clear that Moore represents a significant shift for America’s largest Protestant denomination, and many welcome his leadership; more than 1,200 championed their support on Twitter with #IStandWithMoore this week amid media coverage of his SBC critics.
However, others question whether Moore’s outspokenness—particularly his critical remarks made toward fellow Southern Baptists and evangelicals at large who supported Trump—betrays the role he was appointed to.
This week, The Wall Street Journal (followed by NPR and Religion News Service) outlined the backlash Moore faces from within his denomination. Some leaders critical of Moore’s stance are considering withholding their megachurch’s or state convention’s support of the ERLC (through the denomination’s Cooperative Program fund). They believe Moore does not represent their political views, and fear he will not be able to advocate for them on Capitol Hill after so vocally lambasting Trump.
On Monday, Moore apologized for any sound bites during the campaign that may have overstated his criticism of Trump defenders. He wrote:
I witnessed a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel. I was pointed in my criticisms, and felt like I ought to have been. But there were also pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald 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.
His remarks on social media and in the news suggested that Trump supporters came from the “Jimmy Swaggart wing” of evangelicalism, that Christian defenses of the candidate were illogical, and that Southern Baptist leaders who met with Trump were “drinking the Kool-Aid.”
“How condescending can you be and not expect some kickback from the people who provide the monies for you to occupy the office you are misusing?” asked William F. Harrell in an op-ed for SBC Today, a blog which frequently carries critiques of the denomination. The post by the Georgia pastor, who served 16 years on the SBC’s Executive Committee and chaired it from 2006 to 2008, was one of the first published criticisms from a notable SBC name arguing that Moore’s stance during the election should have consequences.
Frank Page, current president of the Executive Committee, heard the chorus of Moore’s critics swell during the election. He is now planning discussions between Moore’s strongest supporters and detractors to work toward consensus.
“There’s got to be a humility on both sides to recognize that … we’ve not always talked to each other; we’ve talked about each other too much,” he said in an interview with CT. “There’s got to be intention that we are going to build a bridge, not burn the bridge.”