Baptist Leader Takes a Stand Against Trump, Faces Backlash From Church

For months, I’ve written on these pages about what amounts to my heartbreak over seeing the Christian community abandon faith, in favor of fear, and trust in an ungodly, unrepentant man to “fix” this nation.

Faith leaders have bent to fear, citing the Supreme Court’s importance over every admonishment of the Bible to choose leaders of firm, moral character. After all, if a man has proven, repeatedly, that he cannot be faithful in his dealings with his marriage, his creditors, or clients, how much trust should he be given by the people?

Indeed, this past election season has been a steady parade of high-profile names in the Christian community making excuses for the excesses and abuses of Donald Trump, and a large number of self-identified Christians fell in line.

In the midst of my disappointment with the Christian community and those vocal voices of “leadership,” who have obviously forgotten where their help and hope comes from (Hint: It’s not Washington or SCOTUS), there have been a few sparks of genuine courage.

One of those would be Max Lucado, who spoke out in February 2016 about the problem with Donald Trump.

The other is Dr. Russell Moore, the face of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in America.

Moore was an early critic of Trump’s, speaking forcefully and frequently about why Trump was wrong for America.

For Dr. Moore, and the current climate of the church in Trump’s America, however, such adherence to principle could prove troublesome.

Some Baptist pastors are considering cutting funds that flow from their congregations to the Southern Baptist Convention—or to its policy agency, which Mr. Moore heads—in a potentially dramatic rebuke.

In interviews, pastors in multiple states, including leaders of some of the country’s largest congregations, said Mr. Moore’s rhetoric insulted many of the people he was supposed to represent as the Baptists’ chief advocate in Washington, D.C.

“There was a disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present,” Baptist pastor Jack Graham said of Mr. Moore’s denunciations of Mr. Trump and some of his supporters. “It’s disheartening that this election has created this kind of divisiveness.”

Mr. Moore addressed the backlash in an essay he wrote that was shared with The Wall Street Journal before its publication. Noting that pastors and friends read his comments as criticizing anyone who voted for Mr. Trump, he said, “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.”

It would appear that the nation’s Baptists have expended so much grace on Donald Trump, that they have none left to extend to Dr. Moore.

What a disappointment.

Still, there are those who suggest that it is Moore’s earlier moves – not his opposition to Donald Trump – that has them “disgruntled.”

Since his election in 2013 as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Baptists’ public-policy arm, Mr. Moore has sought to remake evangelicals’ approach to hot-button social issues by pulling back from the fiery rhetoric of his predecessors.

A 45-year-old father of five, Mr. Moore holds deeply conservative positions on abortion and marriage and hasn’t wavered on core Baptist beliefs. But he attempted to guide Baptists to adopt a softer tone toward gays and lesbians, and to build alliances with Muslims, Jews and Catholics.

“43 ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” – Matthew 5:43-44 NKJV

I just thought I would toss that in there, since the members of the Baptist community that have a problem with Moore’s flies-to-honey approach probably haven’t read that far ahead in the Bible, yet.

Still, Moore has held firm to his position on Trump and those in the faith community who propped him up.

In an essay published in the January 2017 edition of the religious journal First Things, Mr. Moore said that during the election, “the old-guard religious right political establishment normalized an awful candidate,” adding that religious conservatives were one of the only groups “willing to defend serious moral problems, in high-flying moral terms no less.” The essay was adapted from a lecture he gave during the campaign.

This stance won him some support, especially among younger evangelicals who are becoming more diverse and appeared to be turned off by the culture wars of their parents’ generation.

“Young Christians like me are craving authentic leadership, people willing to risk access in order to stay true to their goals,” said Ruth Malhotra, a 32-year-old Baptist and lifelong Republican who opposed Mr. Trump. She said Mr. Moore represented that conviction as well as anyone, adding she hoped voices like his “will become the leading voices.”

A large part of the argument that leading Baptists have with Moore is that they feel his position threatens their access to Trump’s White House.

Indeed, Trump has no ability to remain gracious to opposition, and just as he has blacklisted members of the press who have been less than worshipful, there’s no reason to believe he would be any more generous to religious organizations that oppose him.

They’re not without a point.

Access to presidents has proven important to the faith community, as they seek to have their positions heard and have some kind of influence on the direction of our leaders in Washington.

Moore is not without advocates, nor is he fighting with no allies.

Mr. Moore was hardly the only Baptist to oppose Mr. Trump. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also criticized evangelical leaders who defended Mr. Trump. He called Mr. Moore “one of the most brilliant leaders” in his generation.

“I know his heart and his character and his love for the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mr. Mohler said in an email. “I also have confidence in his ability to serve all Southern Baptists as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.”

Moore has also run afoul with some controversial opinions, such as his belief that magistrates or clerks who could not perform gay marriages, out of religious convictions, should step down from their positions, then protest as citizens, rather than as employees of the court.

He’s not completely wrong. We’re called to submit ourselves to governing authorities. We’re not called to work for them in perpetrating sin on the nation, however, and if we want to change the world, it begins with the culture. That, in turn, begins in our homes, our cities, our businesses, and beyond.

We, the people, ARE our government, after all.

So far, no churches have pulled funding in protest of Dr. Moore’s stance on Trump. It’s all just grumbling, at this point.

I’m not a Baptist, so I’ve got no dog in that particular part of the hunt, but I am a Christian, first and foremost. Because I am so, I applaud Dr. Moore’s faithfulness to the Word, and to his faith, first.

We need a few more like him in Christian leadership. Maybe then the church in this land can truly be a motivating, Spirit-filled force for change in the culture.