Supporters rally to Russell Moore after Trump criticism

Politics | Head of ERLC has been one of president-elect’s most vocal opponents
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 12/22/16, 12:44 pm

A reported backlash against Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has turned into an outpouring of support for one of President-elect Donald Trump’s leading evangelical critics.

“Dr. Russell Moore does a good job of leading the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission [ERLC] in speaking out on the moral issues of the day in the public square,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, told me. He called the ERLC an effective advocate for family values, life, religious freedom, and other issues important to Baptists.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported on a possible backlash against Moore for his steadfast and public opposition to Trump on moral grounds. Some critics want to withhold funds from the ERLC over claims Moore denigrated Trump supporters, not just the candidate. Some questioned how effective Moore would be in the Trump era.

“He’s going to have no access, basically, to President Trump,” said pastor Jack Graham, a former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president, who in 2004 urged Christians to vote “convictions rather than voting our pocketbooks or political parties.”

The Wall Street Journal story quoted three other critics: William F. Harrell, a former member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, Georgia pastor Brad Whitt, and Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress—who called Christians who did not vote for Trump “namby-pamby, panty-waisted, weak-kneed” fools.

Since Monday, hundreds of supporters, many of them young Baptist pastors, have rallied to Moore’s side using the #IStandWithMoore hashtag. Those tweeting with it include: pastor and author Ray Ortlund, musician Derek Minor, evangelist D.A. Horton, The Gospel Coalition’s Justin Taylor, Lauren Chandler, wife of Texas pastor Matt Chandler, and Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior.

“Dr. Moore embodies the Baptist principles I have been taught most of my life: fidelity to Scripture, evangelical commitment to the spread of the gospel, and a passion for bringing Biblical principles to bear on public and private life,” Prior, an ERLC research fellow, wrote in an email. “In my lifetime, the Southern Baptist voice has never been so strong in American public life as it has with Dr. Moore’s leadership.”

Moore became ERLC president in 2013, making him the lead ethics and public policy advocate for the 15.8-million member SBC, after Richard Land held the position for 25 years. While Moore has engaged on myriad issues—including vocal support for the international religious freedom bill President Barack Obama signed into law last week—he’s become best known for his public opposition to Trump and the evangelicals who supported him.

“To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe,” Moore wrote in a September 2015 New York Times op-ed.

In a blog post this week, Moore apologized to those he offended and said he aimed his criticisms at a handful of Christian political operatives who had confused the definition of the gospel: “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on Biblical convictions, and voted their conscience.”

Despite the complaints, defunding the ERLC appears unlikely. The commission faced defunding threats during Land’s tenure, and although a handful of state conventions discussed pulling funds during fall meetings, none moved to do so.

The ERLC receives most of its roughly $4 million budget from the SBC’s cooperative program. Only 1.65 percent of the program goes to the ERLC, but the organization is almost completely dependent on it: Baptist missions boards have annual offerings and the six seminaries have development offices, but the ERLC is prohibited from directly soliciting churches for additional funding.

Some supporters have turned this week’s controversy into an ERLC fundraiser, tweeting instructions on how to donate.

“Thirst for more like Moore is wide and deep among <50s,” tweeted Southern Baptist Eric Teetsel, president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, who reported an uptick in donations to the ERLC this week.

Only the ERLC board could remove Moore from office—a prospect that also appears highly unlikely.

David Dockery, a longtime Southern Baptist and president of Trinity International University, said the current conflict reflects years of residual tensions within the denomination. He said Moore has “worked in a most commendable manner to strengthen the SBC’s efforts in the areas of racial and intercultural reconciliation. We now pray for new efforts toward reconciliation and consensus-building for the good of the work of the ERLC and the SBC at large.”

While some critics have said Moore has not accurately represented his constituency, Lankford, the first elected official to speak out in Moore’s defense, said that is not his job.

“The ERLC is not the political campaign arm of the Southern Baptists,” said Lankford, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The ERLC is a moral and ethical voice in a challenging political and social culture.”

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a former reporter and editor for WORLD.

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  • Tuck
    Posted: Thu, 12/22/2016 02:43 pm

    “He’s going to have no access, basically, to President Trump,” said pastor Jack Graham

    Do preachers / pastors / leaders in religious organizations really need access to any government offical? Thinking if you have access to Christ then that is pretty much all you need. 

  • hawaiicharles
    Posted: Thu, 12/22/2016 03:58 pm

    Well I think you could argue that part of the church's mission is to steer earthly leaders in a proper direction.  In modern culture, that is done with relationships and conversations between church leaders and elected officials.

    Happily, I think Mr. Graham is completely wrong on that point.  Since the election, Mr. Trump has shown a remarkable willingness to put aside prior spats between himself and his detractors.  I remain cautiously optimistic that he will continue to seek council from godly people, and I will be praying that he does so.


  • DB's picture
    Posted: Tue, 01/03/2017 07:52 am

    I totally agree Tuck

  •  Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Fri, 12/23/2016 12:29 am

    I don't get the consternation over President-elect Trump's prior private, disrespectful language.        

    Has Rev. Moore never said anything morally questionable in private? Yes, Donald J. Trump has feet of clay, but at least he didn't betray the public trust as Sec. of State in order to enrich himself and then continually lie about it. Why all the moral hand-wringing over the lesser sin? It smacks of self-righteous grandstanding to pick on the public sinner and give a pass to the unrepentant, lying schemer.

  • MP
    Posted: Fri, 12/23/2016 10:47 am

    I completely agree.  The sanctimonious attitude of the Religious Right shows a lack of understanding of our job as voters -- a freedom God has granted us and we must steward wisely.

    We are not required to vote for the "most moral" candidate, but the one who will do the greater good for our country.  There were huge issues at stake this election, sanctity of life and religious freedom being two of the most important.  Based on Trump's list of SCOTUS picks, there was no contest between him and someone who would have basically rewritten the Constitution.


  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Mon, 12/26/2016 12:31 pm

    Anon, I would not blame this on the religious right, for many of us did not support Trump in the beginning but did in the end when Trump won the nomination. At that point, the election was between Clinton and Trump and in spite of his flaws Trump was the one who would best advocate Christian values and appoint godly leaders.  There were some who would opposed Trump, but the Religious Right for the most part went for Trump - thank God.

  • DB's picture
    Posted: Tue, 01/03/2017 08:10 am

    Greg, the difference between Trump and Moore is that Trump said himself that he has done nothing  he needs to repent for (that was early on in his campaign). Moore understands his position before God. No, I definitely didn't want HRC in office, however,Christians rejected other possible candidates with higher moral character and a profession of faith. What does that say about the Christians collectively?

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Fri, 12/23/2016 02:35 am

    Part of the problem this election year was that in the last weeks of the election, the debate over presidential candidates turned into a debate over the morality of the candidates' voters.  This terrible phenomenon appeared on both sides of the political aisle and affected some evangelical leaders--both for and against Trump.  It also appeared to involve columns with which Russell Moore was associated (see the October 8 Washington Post column by Collin Hansen titled "This is the last spastic breath from the Religious Right before its overdue death").  The evangelical church, sadly, moved close to declaring voting decisions to be a matter of orthodoxy regardless of voter intent. 

    Dr. Moore denies that he intended to make mere voting a matter of orthodoxy, and I take him at his word.  Overall, he does a good job leading the ERLC, and though I very, very reluctantly voted for Trump, I think Dr. Moore should continue to speak against President-elect Trump's immorality.  I have become increasingly concerned, however, about the way some evangelical leaders speak of their laypeople.  It's almost as if the leaders are ashamed of their laypeople and are on the outside of the church looking in.  But if that is their perspective, it is a flawed one.  Dr. Moore and other leaders cannot simply join secular elites and shake their heads wonderingly at presumed evangelical folly.  For better or worse, Dr. Moore and his colleagues are themselves evangelicals.  They need to remember that before drafting trendy insights in publications like the Washington Post.

  • socialworker
    Posted: Fri, 12/23/2016 08:44 am

    Elitism doesn't leave any sector of society untouched.

  • grapegrower
    Posted: Fri, 12/23/2016 12:39 pm

    We elected a president, not a Sunday school teacher. The election was about preserving the Constitution and the country (e.g., freedom of religion). Trump wasn't the first choice of many Christians, but he appeared the lesser of two evils. God is in charge, and nothing happens outside of His will. God uses flawed men, and pagans, to accomplish His purposes.

  • Elaine
    Posted: Fri, 12/23/2016 12:39 pm

    I am a huge supporter of Russell Moore.  His books and his wisdom are greatly needed and greatly appreciated.  I also supported Donald Trump for President because not to do so would have enthroned the most criminal, elitist, corrupt politician in presidential history in the White House.  President-elect Trump's flaws are many but they pale in comparison to Hillary Clinton's.  Especially since Trump at least claims to be pro-life and Hillary adamantly demands the right to slaughter children right up to the moment before birth.

    As to whether Dr. Moore will have any influence on President Trump, we have seen Mr. Trump be a very gracious winner!  He has reached out to even his most vehement critics.  What a pleasant surpise.  So I doubt he will hold any grudge against Dr. Moore.

    Dr. Moore's take on this election was as unwise and as was World Magazine's.  But I love both and have great respect for the work of both.  I will continue to support World with my subscription and Dr. Moore with my heart.  After all, no one is perfect, even these two giants.

  • beep523
    Posted: Fri, 12/23/2016 03:54 pm

    I for one believe President elect Trump was God's choice for such a time as this. With all his faults, the man has an unusual heart for Christians and Jews, and it pains me every time I read or hear another religious leader's public attack on him in the liberal publications of this country. Do you really think this is something Jesus would have done? How many people have ever come to Christ by having public criticism leveled at them on a regular basis? Give him a chance and stay on your knees praying for him. He's a human being. If the liberal media had leveled the same exposure of sin of the other 3 candidates that was leveled at Trump, you might just be surprised at how "saintly" he was compared to them.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Mon, 12/26/2016 11:47 am

    I would advocate Dr. Moore's removal because he showed little wisdom in advocating for ethics and religious liberty. If he had his way and Christians didn't support Trump, then we would be facing Hillary Clinton with her judicial appointments wiping away our Christian liberties, leading to great oppression effectively neutering our Christian influence around the world. Being the leader of such a Commission and not being able to navigate through difficult ethical issues, shows him to be unfit for the job!

  • Viking
    Posted: Mon, 12/26/2016 03:32 pm

    I much appreciate Russell Moore's integrity which stands in contrast to the many church leaders who have sold out their values for access.

    Many Christians appear to believe that Trump's only fault is crude language, but unfortunately it goes much further: on the infamous tape he bragged about getting away with sexual assault because he's so powerful; his "University" was set up to cheat naive people out of their life savings; he has for decades been bribing politicians to give him favors; he bullies and is vindictive towards anyone who stands in his way. As several people have pointed out, it is hard to imagine anyone who more resembles what the Bible calls a "fool".

    That said, it's certainly good it's not Hillary Clinton who will be appointing the next Supreme Court justice(s). But I don't think it's obvious that Trump was the least evil: if he starts a trade war with high tariffs it will hurt hundreds of millions of people, in the US and around the world, especially the poor. It will also be a disaster if Trump continues to admire Putin, and allows him control of Eastern Europe.

    Still, the biggest disaster will be if churches in the US dilute their Christian witness and reduce themselves to be propaganda outfits for the current leader of the GOP. I'm grateful to Russell Moore for speaking out against that!