An ERLC spokesperson said Moore was unable to offer further comment this week beyond his “Christmastime thoughts.” As Southern Baptists took sides on social media, Moore tweeted Tuesday, “Appreciate all the kind words, y’all. If we’re going to hashtag, let’s #standwithSBC together. Our gospel mission is too important.”
Among Moore’s notable defenders: Al Mohler. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president has stood by Moore’s leadership of the ERLC, calling him “one of the most brilliant leaders” in this generation. Mohler shared Moore’s distaste for Trump during the campaign, suggesting evangelical support for the candidate would damage the church’s “moral credibility.”
The ERLC’s board chairman, Ken Barbic, defended Moore to Baptist Press as “a Gospel centered and faithful voice for Southern Baptists.” Barbic told the SBC news service:
He speaks with prophetic clarity to the pressing cultural and ethical issues of our time, with which every Christian must wrestle. I am particularly grateful for his courageous and convictional leadership, under which I've observed within our convention and beyond, significant newfound energy and excitement about the work of the ERLC the last several years. I have had the privilege of seeing up close the remarkable efforts he leads the ERLC to undertake here in Washington, across this country and abroad, all of which make me thankful for his leadership within the Southern Baptist Convention.
Baptist Press rounded up other Moore supporters and critics.
Moore’s election-year transformation into a lightning rod raises the question of to what extent the role of the ERLC is to advocate the denomination’s interests on Capitol Hill, and to what extent it also should guide the political convictions of Southern Baptists themselves. “Moore speaks for Baptists sometimes. But he also speaks to them,” wrote Jacob Lupfer, a Georgetown University Ph.D. student who blogs about faith and public policy.
The ERLC has always played both representative and prophetic roles for the denomination, according to Page. Previously called the Christian Life Commission, it was led by Richard Land—who maintained closer ties with the Religious Right—from 1988 up until his retirement in 2013.
“Certainly there’s a representative role in speaking what we believe is the word of the Lord into the public arena … but it’s also a prophetic role in speaking to Baptists about where we need to be,” said Page, who served on President Obama’s first council for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships and has met with Trump multiple times this year. Page acknowledged that such a position is especially hard because it requires addressing sensitive issues beyond missions and charity.
Jonathan Merritt, a religion writer and son of a past SBC president, once quoted Moore himself on the tricky balance of enacting change in his denomination: “One thing you have to remember about Southern Baptists: If you’re 9 percent out in front of them, you’re a trailblazer. If you’re 10 percent out in front of them, you’re dead.”
Last month, the Louisiana Baptist Convention became the first state group to propose studying the recent actions of the ERLC, a move seen as reflecting broader but still largely private concerns about Moore.