Friday, March 17, 2017

The battle for Baptist identity

There are some battles in the SBC over the direction of Baptist identity. One concerns a tug-of-war between Calvinists and "traditionalists". That's theological. But another has a political and cultural center of gravity:

This article by David French, a figure whom I admire and appreciate on many levels, is more than a tad one-sided. I understand his desire, as a fellow former no-Trumper, to rally to Russell Moore's defense in a discussion currently taking place in the Southern Baptist Convention. However, in the process he caricatures and smears Dr. Moore's critics. It's a bit too easy. The point of this post is to say: There are legitimate concerns. Not everyone will agree with David's comparison of Dr. Moore with a Jeremiah or Isaiah in relation to his fellow Southern Baptists. If you are reading between the lines the comparison makes Dr. Moore's critics out to be rebellious against God's will and possibly apostate.
I think David misses the main point. People aren't upset merely that Dr. Moore has been a critic of Trump (the vast majority of evangelicals have expressed strong disapproval of Trump's past sexual comments and practices, for example) but that he has repeatedly held up to contempt and ridicule the "Old Guard Religious Right," as he puts it, thankful for their demise while elevating himself at their expense. Of course, the older generation was not perfect (neither is the younger generation) but they do not deserve to be thrown under the bus. It is disrespectful and, frankly, self-serving.
An op-ed by Dr. Moore in the Washington Post last October 8 (posted in the comments section below) was particularly scathing and intemperate. Dr. Moore attacked the alleged "moral relativism," "disgrace," and "scandal" of any evangelical who disagreed with him on the question of voting for Trump, even as a means to averting the policy disaster of a Clinton/Kaine administration. "The old-school political Religious Right establishment" he dismissively characterized as driven only by a "doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural 'Christian America.'" Nowhere in the article did Dr. Moore take a swipe against Clinton.
He has given the impression (and indeed has acted in such a way) that he would much rather have preferred Clinton become President (although he has said that he supported neither candidate, the lopsidedness of his critique speaks for itself). Naturally the WashPost was overjoyed to use Dr. Moore to attack the "Religious Right" in the strongest terms possible and to serve the WashPost's ultimate goal of getting Clinton elected. Apparently Dr. Moore was happy to be so used and to be applauded by the political Left for doing their bidding. His op-ed certainly wasn't designed to depress the vote for Clinton.
Dr. Moore has since stated in what comes close to a non-apology apology: "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."
Read the aforementioned WashPost Oct. op-ed by Dr. Moore and judge for yourself. To me the "apology" doesn't wash. I've read and reread the op-ed and every time I do so I see over and over again that, according to Dr. Moore, anyone who still expressed support for Trump's candidacy over Clinton's (especially in light of then-recent revelations about his abusive comments toward women a decade earlier) was guilty of a "horrifying" action:
"These evangelical leaders have said that, for the sake of the 'lesser of two evils,' one should stand with [Trump].... Some of the very people who warned us about moral relativism and situational ethics now ask us to become moral relativists for the sake of an election.... The cynicism and nihilism is horrifying to behold."
See? Not even someone who advocated voting for Trump as a lesser of two evils escaped Dr. Moore's indictment. (Note too that Dr. Moore was not the only Christian leader making this claim. Just two days later the executive editor of Christianity Today, Andy Crouch, insinuated that even Christians who voted for Trump "reluctantly," in hope of good Supreme Court appointments, were flirting with idolatry.)
And that is not all.
Dr. Moore has thoroughly mischaracterized sexual orientation change therapy as anti-Christian, thereby playing into the hands and game plan of homosexualist zealots to outlaw such therapy for consenting youth. He has done his best to exclude from speaking at ELCA events any Christians who see some limited good coming from such therapy. But he did meet in secret for a couple of hours with some homosexual activists at the 2015 ELCA Conference on homosexuality. Moreover, he has personally villified those who call into question his critique of such therapy (and this statement is not based on hearsay).
According to Dr. Moore, reparative therapy is “severely counterproductive." In an astonishing misrepresentation of reparative therapy he added: "The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea" ("Evangelical Leader Russell Moore Denounces ‘Ex-Gay Therapy,"” by Sarah Pulliam Bailey for Religion News Service, 10/28/14).
Reparative therapists do not believe that a primary goal *of the Christian faith* is that homosexually oriented persons must become heterosexually oriented. Nor do they operate on the premise that homosexual desire can be changed easily and quickly or eliminated entirely for most. The recently deceased prominent reparative therapist, Joseph Nicolosi, described RT as “a collaborative relationship [in which the therapist agrees] to work with the client to reduce his unwanted attractions and explore his heterosexual potential…. No outcome can be guaranteed…. [Outcomes range] along a continuum from complete change, to partial change (management and reduction of unwanted feelings), to, for some people, no change at all.”
Dr. Moore has also stated that while Christians should not attend a "gay marriage" ceremony they could attend the reception following the ceremony. No word yet on whether Dr. Moore would also commend attendance at a wedding reception for a marriage between a man and his mother, a woman and her brother, or three or more persons simultaneously (in a "loving" adult-consensual relationship, of course). Douglas Wilson has perceptively noted about Dr. Moore's position: "Now when you refuse to attend a wedding ceremony, but then are willing to attend a reception that celebrates the event you could not attend, this .... tells me that you disapprove initially but are willing to try to make it work after the fact."
Dr. Moore seems to have no problem with investing himself politically in adopting the Democratic position on illegal immigration (a position that he appears to elevate over everything else) while calling on Christians to take a much less active political approach in overturning "gay marriage."
He criticized Judge Roy Moore for not complying (while he held the office of Alabama Supreme Court justice) with a federal judge's unconstitutional overturning of Alabama's natural-marriage standard. He justified his position by appeal to respect for "the rule of law" even though rogue justices in imposing "gay marriage" have dispensed with the rule of law by treating the Consitution as little more than a cipher for their own leftwing sexual ideology, usurped the legislative role, and circumvented the process for amending the Constitution. Oddly, we don't hear Dr. Moore calling so much for "the rule of law" when it comes to doing something about illegal immigration.
His "Here We Stand: Declaration on Marriage" statement criticized anyone who expressed outrage over the Obergefell decision (I thought the reverse: There was insufficient outrage by many evangelicals). Yet Dr. Moore apparently had no problems with expressing repeated outrage over Trump's stances on illegal immigration and the prospect of Trump's election over Clinton. Dr. Moore's statement on marriage contained not a single mention of supporting and voting for candidates who would both strive to undo the Supreme Court's rogue decision and fight for our religious and civil liberties. Apparently for Dr. Moore vigorous political action on the "gay marriage" issue comes under the heading of "doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural 'Christian America.'" Yet Dr. Moore has repeatedly advocated for political action favoring an Obama-like illegal immigration policy.
Of course, it would be equally wrong to do to Dr. Moore what he has so frequently done to the older generation of so-called "cultural warriors"; namely, to broadbrush Dr. Moore in a completely negative light. There are a number of things that Dr. Moore has done and said over the years that I appreciate, especially as regards the issue of abortion.
Yet there are also real problems with the way Dr. Moore conducts himself and the ERLC that need addressing. It is not at all unusual that those who fund the ERLC would like Dr. Moore, as its head, to represent them better than he currently does, since after all they pay for the whole operation, including his very generous salary. When one runs continually on the platform "I'm not like those other Southern Baptists that society hates," one should expect some justifiable opposition from the same caricatured circles. People will take only so much parody of themselves before they reach the conclusion that it is counterproductive to fund it. I doubt that David French would be advocating for Dr. Moore to stay at ERLC, much less supporting the ERLC financially, if Dr. Moore's position toward No-Trumpers was that they were unfaithful Christians who had abandoned much of the gospel. Nor would he be designating Dr. Moore a prophet.
Many people in the Southern Baptist Convention are afraid of speaking about these problems in ERLC leadership for fear of retribution from Dr. Moore. I have heard from a number of them privately over the years.
Many people outside the SBC are also afraid to speak up out of fear for being blacklisted by prominent Evangelicals and conservative Catholics with whom Dr. Moore has worked hard to cultivate influence. He is a major player in the evangelical Gospel Coalition and a darling of the Catholic renewal publication First Things, two organizations that I respect greatly.
However, it should not be acceptable for Dr. Moore to beat up on others harshly with his rhetoric while his influential friends argue that he himself should be exempt from major criticism. (David French ironically refers to evangelical "snowflakes" who can't take Dr. Moore's criticism.) For some in these groups Dr. Moore can do no wrong. This is not a healthy environment.
[Nota bene: Lest it be thought that I am writing from the vantage point of a strong Trump supporter, let it be known that I backed Ted Cruz, spoke out vigorously against Trump during the primary season, mourned his nomination for several months (and, to some extent, still do), and voted for him for the sole reason that a Clinton election would have resulted in a significantly greater cataclysm on a host of key issues (the courts, transgenderism, the definition of marriage, the fate of the unborn, and religious liberty protections, inter alia). I remain a critic of Trump, albeit one generally relieved that Clinton does not occupy the White House.]

1 comment:

  1. Funny that baptists have become functionally quasi presbyterian in their polity, concerned about denominational mucky-mucks higher up in their food chain.