Baptists Debate Evangelicalism

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Baylor historian Thomas Kidd, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, and Southern Baptist pastor Thabiti Anyabwile recently came together at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. to discuss American evangelical identity.

Tom Strode covered the event at Baptist Press.  Here is a taste:

The current crisis in evangelicalism, Kidd said, consists of multiple overlapping aspects, including:

— “One, confusion about the term.

— “Two, an impression that ‘evangelical’ may just mean white Republicans who consider themselves religious.

— “Three, a sense that political power may be the essential evangelical agenda.

— “And four, the inability of evangelicals of different ethnicities, especially whites and blacks, to agree on basic political questions.”

Moore said many people who do not attend or belong to a church “will nonetheless define themselves as rigorously evangelical because of the memes they are sharing” on social media. Evangelicals will have to deal with “the decongregationalizing of the movement itself,” he said.

In his talk, Kidd defined evangelicals as “born-again Protestants who cherish the Bible as the Word of God and who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.”

Anyabwile told of convening a meeting of fellow black, Reformed pastors at which 60 to 70 percent of them said they no longer want to be identified as evangelical.

“I don’t think there are a lot of people who theologically are in fact evangelicals who are actually comfortable and actually embraced by the term,” he said. “That’s a problem. Ethnic minorities are only able to comfortably exist in evangelicalism to the extent that they don’t ‘get too political.'”

Read the entire piece here.

Beware of Social Justice Warriors and Women Preachers

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Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries

The anti-social justice warriors and complementarians are at it again.

Here is Religion News Service:

(RNS)  — A video posted by Founders Ministries, a neo-Calvinist evangelical group, paints Bible teacher Beth Moore, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the SBC’s current leader as part of a conspiracy to introduce social justice advocacy into evangelical churches.

The video, posted on the Founders Ministries website, intersperses images and comments from a number of Southern Baptist leaders with commentary from Tom Ascol, president of the group.

“I see godless ideologies that have spread across Western civilization over the last decades with a vengeance, to tell us what we are supposed to be seeing, ” said Ascol in the video. “Many of these ideologies have been smuggled into many evangelical churches and organizations through the Trojan horse of social justice.”

Read the rest here.

Some Southern Baptist leaders who appear in the trailer are not happy about it:

 

*The Economist* Covers the Growing Rift in the Evangelical Camp

Believe Me 3dEarlier this week I had a great phone conversation with The Economist writer Bruce Clark about my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of how how Clark wrote it up:

…Admittedly, evangelicals have never been a monolith. As behoves people who take their spiritual destiny seriously, they argue perpetually about many things: for example over whether the fate of a human soul is predetermined, or how exactly a believer can be redeemed from the “total depravity” which is, in the view of John Calvin (1509-1564), the natural state of humanity. Debates which raged between Europe’s 16th-century reformers are rumbling on in America’s influential seminaries.

But according to a new book, “Believe Me”, by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, all these theological disagreements are being transcended by a more salient issue: whether or not to support Mr Trump wholeheartedly and therefore overlook his character flaws. These days, by far the most important distinction is between what Mr Fea calls “court evangelicals”, who stridently support the president and are rewarded with access to him, and every other kind of evangelical. As a new coalition lines up to fight next year’s election, some of the battle formations which formed in the 2016 contest are coming back into view, with even sharper spears.

Among those who inhabit the court, Mr Fea discerns three main groups: first, a section of the mainstream religious right whose origins go back to the 1980s; second, a cohort of independent “charismatics” who claim the gifts of the Pentecostal tradition (visions, miracles and direct revelations from God) but do not belong to any established Pentecostal group; and third, advocates of the “prosperity gospel” who resemble the second category but put emphasis on the material rewards which following their particular version of Christianity will bring. What defines all these “courtiers” is an insistence that loyalty to Mr Trump must be unconditional. In their world, the president is presented not just as the least-worst political option whose merits outweigh his flaws, but as a man assigned by God to restore America to its divinely set course, and therefore almost above human criticism.

To get round the problems posed by Mr Trump’s ruthless business career, messy personal life and scatological language, they use several arguments, of which one is a comparison with Persia’s King Cyrus, who liberated the Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to return to Israel. From the Jewish or Christian point of view, Cyrus was a pagan, not a worshipper of the one God, but he was still an instrument of God’s purpose. Likewise Mr Trump can be regarded as a divinely ordained ruler, regardless of any personal flaws. Indeed, as Mr Fea notes, the more strongly people believe in a divine hand in history, the more open they are to the idea that God can choose anybody at all to serve his inscrutable purpose.

Read the rest here.

Court Evangelicals Jerry Falwell Jr. and Jack Graham Attack Southern Baptist Russell Moore on Immigration

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Over the past year or so I have been calling attention to  the ways the Trump administration has exposed a deepening divide in white American evangelicalism.

Back in July 17, 2017, in the Washington Post piece that introduced the phrase “court evangelicals” to a national audience, I wrote:

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

And this:

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

This division in white evangelicalism was on display again during Franklin Graham’s June 2 call to prayer for Donald Trump.  I wrote about that here.

Today we see yet another illustration of how nasty things are getting within white evangelicalism.  Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a staunch anti-Trumper, tweeted a response to an Associated Press story about the horrendous treatment of children on the Mexican-Texas border:

By all reports, the Associated Press, and by extension Moore, are correct about the moral problems on the border and the failure of the Trump administration to do anything about it.  As I posted yesterday, a Trump administration lawyer even tried to make a case that these children did not need soap, toothbrushes, or blankets.

But this did not stop the court evangelicals from pouncing.  Here is Jack Graham, pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church:

He followed-up with this:

Just for the record, Moore retweeted a report from the Associated Press, not CNN.

Another court evangelical who got into the mix was Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian school that claims it is the largest Christian university in the world.  (Actually, it is not, but we won’t go down that road right now).   I cannot embed Falwell Jr.’s tweet because he blocked me a long time ago, but I can quote it:

Who are you @drmoore? Have you ever made a payroll?  Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch?  What give you authority to speak on any issue?  I’m being serious.  You’re nothing but an employee–a bureaucrat.

Wow!  There are so many things we could say about this single tweet. It not only captures the divide within white evangelicalism, but it also speaks volumes about Jerry Falwell Jr. as a Christian leader and educator.  Here are few comments:

  • Did Falwell Jr.? “build” Liberty University “from scratch?”  I think that honor belongs to his father.
  • Falwell Jr. appears to equate one’s validity to speak with moral authority with one’s business acumen.
  • Similarly, Falwell believes that people who are “employees” or “bureaucrats” have no moral authority to speak on social issues.  Is this how he treats his faculty members at Liberty University?  Like Moore, some of them have Ph.Ds and have earned the right to speak publicly on matters of expertise and social concern.  Is this the kind of culture Falwell Jr. has created at Liberty?
  • Perhaps it is comments like this that contribute to what I understand to be the recent decline in applications and enrollment at Liberty University.  And it would make perfect sense for a Christian university that has a leader who values only business skills to fire a dozen divinity school faculty.

And here is writer Jeet Heer:

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Franklin Graham, Al Mohler, Eric Metaxas, Russell Moore and Rachel Held Evans on the *Second* Kavanaugh Accusation

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Brett Kavanugh To Be Supreme Court Justice

Kayla Koslosky has rounded-up some tweets and other commentary from evangelicals on the Deborah Ramirez accusation.  Here is a taste of her piece at “Christian Headlines”:

Many Christian leaders are offering their opinions on Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and they are divided. 

Though the schism has only become greater since Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault on two occasions, faith leaders were divided on his potential appointment well before then.

Here is what they have had to say:

Read the rest here.

Will the Court Evangelicals Break With Trump over Immigration?

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Franklin Graham has called Trump’s policy of separating families at the border “disgraceful.”  Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference opposes the policy.   Most anti-Trump evangelicals, such as Russell Moore, oppose the policy, but with the exception of Graham and Rodriguez, the court evangelicals have still said nothing.

One court evangelical is even in the midst of a fight with the city of Dallas over a billboard advertising his sermon “America is a Christian Nation.”  How oblivious can one get?  There is a significant moral crisis happening on the Mexican-American border and Robert Jeffress is mad because a Dallas billboard company took down his sign announcing that America is a Christian nation.  Christian nation?

If you think that this immigration mess is going to result in the court evangelicals breaking with Donald Trump, don’t hold your breath.  Most court evangelicals do not place immigration very high on their “pro-life” and “family values” radar.  Immigration policy is not a major theme in the political playbook they inherited from the Christian Right of the 1980s.

No matter what Trump decides to do about the border, the court evangelicals will stay with him.

Russell Moore: “The mood of the Southern Baptist Convention right now would be similar to that of the country after Watergate”

SBC

Check out Adelle Banks‘s piece at RNS on Paige Patterson‘s decision to forego delivering the sermon at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas next week.

Here is a taste:

“The mood of the Southern Baptist Convention right now would be similar to that of the country after Watergate,” said Russell Moore, president of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in an interview before Patterson’s announcement.

Patterson, an architect of the 1980s Southern Baptist movement known as the “conservative resurgence,” claimed that he still enjoyed support among the delegates, known as messengers, to the annual meeting. “Many messengers have implored me to carry out this assignment, but this convention is not about me,” he said in his statement, “and I have every confidence that this decision is best and right.”

His statement was his most explicit denial of the allegations to date. “I take exception to accusations that I ever knowingly ignored or failed to follow appropriate protocols in cases of reported abuse of women, students, or staff at any institution where I have served,” he said.

Patterson’s downfall is only one of several crises, which some Southern Baptists describe as “volcanic,” that will be roiling next week’s meeting:

Patterson’s downfall is only one of several crises, which some Southern Baptists describe as “volcanic,” that will be roiling next week’s meeting:

In March, Frank Page, the man who handled the day-to-day operations of the SBC outside of its annual meetings, resigned as the president of the Executive Committee after what was described as a “morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.” Committee spokesman Roger S. Oldham said an internal financial audit was conducted after Page’s departure and “there was no legal impropriety that was discovered.”

In October, Paul Pressler, a retired Texas judge and another prominent architect of what critics call a conservative takeover of the denomination, became the subject of a lawsuit by a male former office assistant charging him with decades of sexual abuse. Pressler has denied the allegations. The Southern Baptist Convention and Patterson, both named as co-defendants, have rejected the charges as meritless.

Despite the harrowing headlines, Moore said leaders at all levels of the denomination — which has local associations and state conventions — are trying to determine the best way forward.

“Part of the responsibility that churches and leaders have right now is to teach people through this how to react to such horror in the right way,” Moore said in early June. He said the scandals have helped churches think about how to protect victims of all sorts of abuse.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Cromartie

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I was saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C.  Cromartie worked quietly behind the scenes to help evangelicals engage politics and the larger culture with civility and grace. I only met him once–at a teacher-education seminar at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. I remember the kindness he showed me on that day as I talked with him about my work on the Christian America book.

Here is Christianity Today‘s obituary:

Michael Cromartie, a Washington networker who helped rebrand America’s image of Christian political engagement, has died of cancer at age 67.

Cromartie brought Christian thought leaders and secular journalists under the same roof at the Faith Angle Forum, held every year since 1999. Through his work as EPPC vice president, he evoked theologians and philosophers as he advocated for thoughtful engagement in public policy and civil discourse.

In a political arena often dominated by competition, power grabs, and culture war debates, Cromartie stuck out by offering a friendlier, humbler approach. It’s this attitude that his colleagues remember most and cite as his greatest legacy.

“It can’t be said of many people, but everyone Mike touched was influenced for the better,” said Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “His passing leaves a huge gap in American public life and in the lives of his friends.

“Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others,” Gerson told CT. “He was a man of great faith, who make it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”

Journalists and Christian leaders alike shared their tributes.

“Michael Cromartie was different from what most people think of when they think ‘evangelicals and politics.’ Thanks be to God,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who admired his humble character and effective engagement with journalists.

“After his cancer diagnosis, every time I saw Mike he would say, ‘Pray like a Pentecostal.’ We did,” Moore shared with CT. “Mike now is in the presence of the Lord of Pentecost. We will miss him here, and must pray for more like him.”

Read the entire obit here.

Russell Moore Channels Jess Moody: A Southern Baptist Story

Dr._Russell_D._MooreHe was one of the Trump’s strongest critics during the presidential election, but it was just too much for the Southern Baptist Convention.

Over at CNN’s STATE, Chris Moody tells Moore’s story and compares it to the story of his grandfather, a Southern Baptist preacher who criticized the Convention for upholding segregation. It’s worth your time.

Here is a taste:

Nearly 50 years ago, my grandfather found himself in a very Moore-esque situation. At the 1969 Southern Baptist Pastors Conference, he railed against racial segregation, which was still enforced at some churches.

Questions of race have long dogged the Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed in 1845 over the issue of slavery, on which the Southern Baptists were on the wrong side of history. Even well into the twentieth century, the denomination did not take a leadership role in speaking against civil rights abuses and Jim Crow.

“I’ve been loyal to this convention for the past 25 years and I intend that every breath I take of God’s free air will be a Baptist breath,” Moody said in 1969. “But you listen. It takes the black and the white keys to play the Star Spangled Banner. And you can’t do it without both. We must solve the problem of racial hatred within the next ten years or prepare to become the dinosaurs of the twenty-first century. I for one do not believe that God intended this denomination to be a humorless relic in the museum of tomorrow.”

My grandfather is 91 now. His sermon, which also excoriated fellow Christians who supported the ongoing Vietnam War, was met with faint applause.

The denomination grappled internally over racial issues throughout the twentieth century and finally issued a formal apology for its past racist policies in 1995.

But when Southern Baptists gathered in 2017, they still found themselves scratching at the scars of the past. And, in an interesting twist, Moore was on hand to help confront them.

Read the entire piece here.

Southern Baptists Rally Around Russell Moore

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Russell Moore

Recently one of my Facebook friends posted a September 2015 article written by a Southern Baptist pastor in Alabama named Dr. Rick Patrick.  I don’t know anything about Patrick other than the fact that he is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sylacauga, Alabama and apparently, at the time of publication of his article, did not like the direction that Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), was taking the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Dr. Patrick wants Moore to be more thorough in the way that he applies the Christian idea of the Imago Dei, or the belief that we are all created in the image of God and thus have dignity and worth.

Since he became president of the ELRC, Moore has urged the members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to treat their political opponents as if they are indeed created in God’s image.  The list of these so-called opponents have included  population control advocates, Planned Parenthood employees, family members with different political views, the victims of the Orlando gay bar attack, and transgender people. (Or at least this is the list that Patrick has come up with).  Patrick links to websites where Moore is on record making such appeals.

But then Patrick goes political.  Why isn’t Moore defending the men and women who Hillary Clinton called “a basket of deplorables?”  Aren’t they created in the image of God too?  Why doesn’t he criticize the defenders of abortion for their conviction that ending a pregnancy can be a moral act?  Isn’t the child in the womb an image-bearer of Christ?

And he goes on…

In the end, Patrick concludes: “In this Presidential election, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has demonstrated a clear pattern of bias in favor of the Democratic Presidential nominee and in opposition to the Republican Presidential nominee.  I never thought I would live to see the day.”

Patrick’s piece is a clear sign of the way politics can divide a church.  He implies that the true mark of a Southern Baptist is his or her support of the GOP presidential candidate. His use of the phrase “never thought I would live to see the day” captures perfectly the beliefs of many in the Southern Baptist Convention right now. They seem to have sacrificed their spiritual mission for a political mess of pottage.

It also reveals some shoddy logic. Whenever a Trump supporter is asked a direct question about Trump’s policies they often answer with something like “Yes, but what about Obama…?” or “Yes, but what about Hillary…?” These are not arguments.  Moore is calling his church to task on the particular things that he believes they need to address as a religious body.  This has nothing to do with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.  By crying “but why aren’t you saying this about the Democrats too?” is just a way to avoid  Moore’s pointed critique of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Patrick’s piece, published on September 15, 2015,  also illustrates the most recent conservative backlash against Moore.  We blogged about this the other day.  Those who have been critical of Moore seem more interested in power and politics than advancing the spiritual mission of the church. They appear willing to destroy the denomination in order to maintain the power they first grabbed in the 1980s when they led the conservative takeover of the denomination.  We will see how far these power-brokers will dig in their heels and fight against the more moderating views that Moore has championed during this election season.  I am guessing that many of them think that Moore is a threat to their control over the denomination and believe that they can form a political coalition, just like they did forty years ago, to bring him down.

Or maybe not. Several Southern Baptists have now rallied around Moore.  Al Mohler has defended him.  Today World Magazine is reporting that Ray Ortlund, Derek Minor, D.A. Horton, Justin Taylor, Lauren Chandler, and Karen Swallow Prior have defended him. Others are rallying around the #IStandWithMoore hashtag on Twitter. Three Tennessee Baptist leaders, all under the age of forty, have called for unity.  Even Princeton University law professor and conservative intellectual Robert George has weighed in with a tweet in support of Moore.

This support of Moore serves as a clear rebuke to those like Rick Patrick, Paige Patterson, Robert Jeffress, Brad Whitt, William Harrell, and others.  Since I am an outside observer, I don’t know what kind of power these folks have in the denomination.  If they represent a majority or even a strong minority they could tear the nation’s largest denomination apart (again). If they are a small group with little popular support in the denomination then I think this current criticism of Moore may be their swan song–a sign of their declining influence in the shaping of Southern Baptist life.  But whatever the case, don’t expect them to go down without a fight.  These folks have a relatively long history of placing power politics over Southern Baptist unity.

Trump-Induced Southern Baptist Battles

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Russell Moore

Some day a historian is going to write a great book on how the election of Donald Trump influenced American Christianity.  The person who writes that book will probably have a chapter on Russell Moore and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  After all, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and Moore runs the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  In this role he serves as the face of the denomination on public policy issues.

By this point most observers of American religion and politics know that Moore was an outspoken opponent of Donald Trump.  (Just Google “Russell Moore and Donald Trump“). Unlike others in the SBC and American evangelicalism more broadly, Moore did not waver in his opposition after Trump won the Republican Party nomination for POTUS.

Now Moore and his organization are experiencing some backlash.  According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, some churches in the denominations are considering ending their financial support of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  One of those churches is First Baptist Church in Dallas, a giant SBC megachurch under the leadership of vocal pro-Trump pastor Robert Jeffress.

It seems that many in the Southern Baptist Convention have cast their lot with GOP politics, political power, and a man with a character that does not square very well with the teachings of Christianity.  In fact, some of them are so allied with Trump and the GOP that they will not tolerate anti-Trump views in the denomination, even if those views are preached by anti-gay marriage, pro-life, Biblical inerrantists who appeal to scripture in making their arguments. Wait a minute, I thought religious liberty was important to Southern Baptists?  Apparently religious liberty only applies to those  with the right politics.

But after reading the Wall Street Journal I had another thought about this controversy.  The article quotes a few pastors in the SBC who are worried that Moore’s opposition to Trump will mean that he will not be able to advocate very effectively for the denomination.  Here is a taste of that part of the article:

Yet some pastors fear Mr. Moore’s criticisms of President-elect Trump mean he can’t be an effective advocate within the Trump White House, thereby costing Baptists a chance to capitalize on a victory for the religious right

“He’s going to have no access, basically, to President Trump,” said Mr. Graham, the Texas pastor.

A representative of Mr. Trump’s team didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Brad Whitt, the pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Georgia, said he worried during the campaign that Mr. Moore’s rhetoric would be a problem if Mr. Trump won. His church, too, has discussed withholding its funding of the ERLC, and he said he has expressed his concerns to Southern Baptist Convention staff and trustees.

“We want to see what he says, and whether he has a seat at the table in Washington,” Mr. Whitt said. “If not, we’ll be wasting a whole lot of time, energy and finances that could be going to the mission field.”

I don’t know the exact job description of the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, but if Moore is supposed to be an advocate for SBC congregations in Washington then perhaps these pastors are right when they question his ability to do his job. In my opinion, Moore’s departure from this leadership post would be a tragedy for the SBC.  If Moore was ousted the young men and women in the SBC who support his vision would be alienated.  It would also speak volumes about the current state of the denomination.

Of course the previous paragraph implies that the opposition to Moore is something larger than a small minority of disgruntled Trump supporters.  I don’t know the SBC well enough to know if that is the case or if the opposition is more widespread.

Whatever the case, this is an interesting development in American religion.

Russell Moore and *The New Yorker*

Russell Moore is getting a lot of attention lately.  As the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church, he has staunchly opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump and, in this recent lecture, suggested that the Religious Right may have come to an end:

Now Moore is the subject of a long-form essay in, of all places, The New Yorker.  Here is a small taste of Kelefa Sanneh’s essay, “The New Evangelical Moral Minority.”

During this election season, Moore has sometimes appeared out of place in his own denomination—a Trump detractor leading a church largely peopled by Trump supporters. But he seemed comfortable in this uncomfortable position, perhaps because he has learned to accept the limits of his ability to change the world, or even to understand it. Moore thinks that the idea of a moral majority is wrong, and was probably wrong when it was created: he suspects that earnest, orthodox Christians have always been outnumbered. Like any believer, he wants his church to grow, but he doesn’t seem particularly threatened by the thought that it might not. He says that Christians in America must learn to think of themselves as a marginal community, struggling to survive in an increasingly hostile secular culture. In such a context, Muslims might seem less like enemies and more like allies in the fight for religious freedom.

This transition might be especially wrenching for Southern Baptists. After centuries of regional dominance, the denomination has been shrinking: last year, the church reported fewer than three hundred thousand baptisms, the lowest number in more than half a century, and a decline of about a third since the peak, in 1972. Moore’s critique of Christian triumphalism seems well suited to this not very triumphant time for his church. His promise is that the Southern Baptists can grow better, even if they are not growing bigger: he would like to be the leader of a moral minority.

Read the entire piece here.

What Would It Take for Anti-Trump Evangelicals to Vote for Hillary Clinton?

hillary-christian

A lot.

Some evangelicals will never vote for Hillary Clinton.  She is connected to Barack Obama. She supports a women’s right to choose.  She promises to appoint Supreme Court justices that will undermine religious liberty. She is married to Bill Clinton, a man who cheated on her in the White House and was impeached.  She lied about the e-mail server.

In any other election, most evangelicals would vote for the GOP candidate.  Never Hillary.

But this election is different.  In this election a significant portion of evangelicals believe that the GOP candidate is not qualified to be president.

We don’t really know the size of the never-Trump evangelical coalition.  One survey has found that 65% of white evangelicals are voting for Trump and 16% back Clinton.  That leaves about 20% of white evangelicals who have either not yet made up their mind, will vote for a third-party candidate, or will not vote in the presidential election.  This 20% is led by group of outspoken evangelicals such as Southern Baptist Russell Moore and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

Can these anti-Trump evangelical conservatives be convinced to vote for Clinton?

If Clinton were to make an appeal to this demographic she would need to address two main issues: abortion and religious liberty.

On abortion, it goes without saying that President Hillary Clinton is not going to be working to overthrow Roe v. Wade.  Nor will she appoint Supreme Court justices who will do so. But what if she would propose, policy wonk that she is, a systematic plan to limit the number of abortion in the United States?  I am not talking about returning to the old pro-choice Democratic mantra of “safe, legal, and rare.”  Evangelicals will need more than a catchphrase.  They will need to hear Clinton connect her public policy pronouncements with a specific a plan to reduce the number of abortions in the United States.

Some evangelicals would possibly vote for Clinton if she spoke out more forcefully about the controversial Planned Parenthood videos released in 2015.  When these videos appeared she called them “disturbing.”  Since then her comments about Planned Parenthood have been nothing but positive.  Actually, Trump has been more nuanced on this issue than Clinton.

We know, for example, that Clinton has worked hard in her career to reduce teenage pregnancies.  She might get more evangelical votes from the never-Trump crowd if she would connect this work more directly to the reduction of abortions.  This might also bring her closer to the position of her own church.

Clinton has said very little about abortion on the trail.  When asked about abortion at the third debate she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  Many evangelicals were turned off by this.

Clinton has also been very quiet on matters of religious liberty.  Yes, she pays lip service to religious liberty when Trump makes comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, but she has not addressed some of the religious issues facing many evangelicals.  This is especially the case with marriage.

Granted, evangelicals should not expect Clinton to defend traditional marriage or set out to overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.  (I might add here that evangelicals should not expect this from Trump either).  But is she willing to support some form of principled or “confident” pluralism?  Some evangelicals of the never-Trump variety would be very happy to live in a society in which those who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, and those who do not believe this, can live together despite their differences.

The recent attempts in California to cut financial aid for students at faith-based colleges that uphold traditional views of marriage is one example of a threat to religious liberty that has many evangelicals concerned.  So does the earlier Gordon College case and the recent news about the Society of Biblical Literature considering banning InterVarsity Press from their national conference book exhibit.

Or perhaps none of this matters.  Why would Hillary Clinton address these issues when she probably doesn’t need the votes of the anti-Trump evangelicals to win the election?

Evangelical Options in November

Evangelical votersI wrote about this yesterday in the comments section of this post, but I thought I would elaborate a bit more here.

How will evangelicals vote in November?

This post is premised on the belief that evangelicals–while unified around their belief in the new birth, the inspiration of the Bible, and certain core doctrines (Trinity, deity of Christ, Jesus’s resurrection)– are a diverse bunch when it comes to how their beliefs translate into the world of politics.

Here are some of the ways evangelicals have approached, and will approach, the 2016 POTUS election cycle:

1. Some evangelicals will vote for Trump because he will “Make America Great Again.”. These evangelicals backed Trump in the GOP primaries even when there were other evangelical-friendly candidates available (Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Huckabee, Santorum). They include Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., and all of those evangelicals who voted for Trump in the southern primaries and elsewhere.  Many of these evangelicals were present at this meeting in September 2015.

2. Some evangelicals will  vote for Trump because if they don’t Hillary Clinton will be elected president and they  will lose the Supreme Court. Most of these evangelicals backed another candidate during the primaries, but they have now turned to Trump as their only option.  They include Mike Pence, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Eric Metaxas.  Some of these “anti-Hillary” Trump supporters can come across as very excited about The Donald. Others are going to hold their nose and pull the lever for him.

3.  Some evangelicals continue to oppose Trump and have not made it clear what they will do in November. I am thinking here of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (if you can call a Missouri-Synod Lutheran an “evangelical”) and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. Perhaps some of these folks are praying that something might happen in Cleveland next week that leads the GOP to pick another candidate.  Others might be praying that an independent candidate will arise at this late date.  These are long shots, but let’s remember that evangelicals believe in miracles.

4.. Some evangelicals will vote for a third-party candidate.  I don’t know of any major evangelicals who have come out in support of the Libertarian ticket or the Green ticket.  If you know of evangelical leaders who are endorsing these candidate please let me know in the comments. I am curious.

5.. Some evangelicals will not vote in the presidential election. They will exercise their civic duty by casting votes in non-presidential or “down-ballot” elections.

6. Some evangelicals will vote for Hillary Clinton.  I am guessing that many evangelical Democrats–including most black evangelicals– will vote for her.  Recently Thabiti Anyabwile, an African-American Southern Baptist pastor in Washington D.C.,  made a case for Clinton at the theologically conservative (but politically diverse–I assume) Gospel Coalition blog.

Is there a category I am missing?

If you are an evangelical (or something close) where do you place yourself?

Is Religious Freedom for Non-Christians?

Religious LibertyOf course it is.

During the 2016 primary season I criticized several GOP presidential candidates GOP presidential candidates for talking about religious liberty as if it were something that only applied to their own kind–evangelical Christians.

I am happy to see that Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has gone on record defending religious liberty for all Americans. Check out his piece “Is Religious Freedom For Non-Christians Too?

Two observations/questions:

First, what does it say about American Christianity, or perhaps more specifically American evangelicalism, when a leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the country has to remind people that religious liberty applies to non-Christians.

Second, Moore writes:

One thing we need to be very clear about is that religious liberty is not a government “benefit,” but a natural and inalienable right granted by God. At issue is whether or not the civil state has the power to zone mosques or Islamic cemeteries or synagogues or houses of worship of whatever kind out of existence because of what those groups believe. When someone makes such a claim, that person is not standing up for Jesus and his gospel, but standing against them. To empower the state to command or to forbid worship is not fidelity to the Bible.

When he refers to religious liberty as a “natural and inalienable right granted by God” it sounds less like a theological/biblical statement and more like a recitation of Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy in the Declaration of Independence.  Is religious liberty a “natural and inalienable right granted by God” because Jefferson said so?

Does the Bible teach the kind of Jeffersonian liberty that Moore is talking about here? Can someone point me to a Biblical defense of religious liberty?  (I am not trying to be cynical here–I am really interested in learning more about this.  I am sure that there is a lot written on this topic–what is the best stuff?).

Religious liberty, it seems, is a relatively new idea in Western Civilization.  For example, what should we make of all the so-called Christian nations throughout history that did not separate church and state or promote the religious liberty of their people?  Did these states fail to conform to biblical ideas about religious liberty?

While there are strong arguments to be made for religious liberty based on Enlightenment ideals, natural law or reason, or even Catholic social teaching about the dignity of all human beings, I am interested in learning more about those who have made a robust theological and biblical defense of this belief and how such a defense relates to the fact that there were moments in Christian history when the church thrived in cultures where there was little or no religious liberty.

Just curious.

Southern Baptist Spokesman: We Are Not a Christian Nation

Christian America bookWhen I wrote Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction in 2011 I hoped that it might make an impact on the way my fellow Christians think about the relationship between Christianity and the American founding.

I don’t know if Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has read Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? or is even aware of it,  but I am encouraged by the fact that as a spokesman of conservative evangelicalism he is taking a strong stand against the idea that the United States is or ever was a Christian nation.

Here is a taste of an article  from Baptist News Global on Moore’s critique of Christian America.

In a Gospel Coalition video posted May 4 in advance of this week’s National Day of Prayer, Russell Moore of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said if applied sociologically to mean that most people in the country profess to be Christians, the United States “was and is a Christian nation.”

“That’s not what most people mean, though, when they say Christian nation,” Moore said. “What they mean is the idea that God was in covenant with the United States of America in order to bless the United States of America as a special people, as a new Israel, as a group of people covenanted under Christianity. And the answer to that is clearly no.”

Read the entire post here.  I am not sure I would explain Christian nationalists as proponents of “theological liberalism,” but I am glad to see progress on this front.

GOP Candidates and Their Evangelical Constituencies

d5271-billy_graham

Is there a “Billy Graham” wing in American evangelicalism?

Last week I wrote about Marco Rubio’s new religious liberty advisory committee.  In that post I argued that the make-up of the committee suggests Rubio’s attempt to appeal to mainstream evangelicals.  I compared these evangelicals with those evangelicals who support the Ted Cruz and Donald Trump candidacies.

Today I learned that Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church, offered a similar analysis.  Here is a quote from an article at Roll Call:

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Trump, Cruz and Rubio are appealing to disparate camps of evangelicals.

“I would say that Ted Cruz is leading in the ‘Jerry Falwell’ wing, Marco Rubio is leading the ‘Billy Graham’ wing and Trump is leading the ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ wing,” Moore said, meaning that Cruz has largely followed the classic Moral Majority model that was the face of the conservative movement — he has received endorsements from figures such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson — while Trump “tends to work most closely with the prosperity wing of Pentecostalism” which tends to believe that God would financially reward believers.

I chose to use the adjective “mainstream” to describe the Billy Graham wing of evangelicalism.  This wing of evangelicalism, which I would associate with Christianity Today, Graham, Wheaton College, Moody Bible Institute, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Campus Crusade for Christ (now called “Cru”) and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is the kind of evangelicalism that I am familiar with because it is the evangelicalism that  I joined as a teenager in the 1980s.

But after thinking a bit more, I wonder if this wing of evangelicalism is still “mainstream?”  Perhaps Moore’s “Falwell” wing or Trump’s “prosperity” wing may now be more mainstream.

Thoughts?