Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), will speak at a conference in North Carolina this weekend alongside two Christian activists who promote economic redistribution as well as progressive ideas about race and immigration.
Moore’s own progressive views on race, immigration and social justice have been an ongoing source of controversy. While he has a loyal following among some Southern Baptists and other Christians, especially younger ones, he has been widely criticized by more conservative evangelicals.
The ERLC is the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention and has offices in Nashville and Washington, D.C. Critics of the ERLC under Moore’s leadership are concerned not only about the views he expresses but also about the left-leaning groups with which he associates.
John Perkins and Noel Castellanos are the other two keynote speakers at the “Courageous Conversations Conference” Saturday in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, hosted by Word Tabernacle Church. The focus of the one-day conference is on race, but an emphasis on economic redistribution is interwoven with the activists’ teachings.
Perkins is the founder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and Castellanos is its current president. Started in 1989, the CCDA grew and became more organized between 2000 and 2010.
In a 2013 article in Christianity Today titled “Not Your Father’s Christian Community Development,” the mission of the CCDA is summed up by the group’s three Rs: reconciliation, relocation and redistribution. The first refers to race relations, the second to the return of people to urban communities, and the third to economics.
While the CCDA often describes redistribution as a localized voluntary Christian virtue, the group also takes it into the realm of public policy. “CCDA is coming to realize its own collective power to advocate on public policy issues that affect the neighborhoods where members live,” the Christianity Today article notes.
The website for Nitrogen, an urban church network, further details the CCDA’s ideas about redistribution:
The concept of redistribution can begin to be understood through the basic concepts of helping people, summarized by the popular sayings, “Give a person a fish, and she will eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, and she will eat for a lifetime.” The CCDA philosophy takes this line of thinking one step further, asking the question, “Who owns the pond?”…
[Wayne] Gordon [the first president of the CCDA] and Perkins explain, “Redistribution means sharing talents and resources with the poor, but it also means observable changes in public policy and voting habits. Public policy would need to be accompanied by a Christ-shaped willingness to offer one’s skills and knowledge as gifts to others.” Gordon and Perkins go on to assert that the heart for justice is best expressed through redistribution.
Another Christian activist who has enthusiastically promoted the work of the CCDA and Castellanos is East Tennessee native Shane Claiborne, co-founder with Tony Campolo of Red Letter Christians, which promotes social justice and liberal positions on gender and marriage.
“Claiborne’s message is that Christians are called to shake off complacency and alleviate the unequal distribution of wealth around the globe,” said an article on the website for Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia about a speech Claiborne gave at the school last year. The article said:
Claiborne points out that sharing excess is necessary to reducing inequality. “[Saint] Basil the Great said, ‘If someone steals a person’s clothes, we call them a thief. But shouldn’t we say the same thing of the Christian who has extra clothes in their closet while another goes naked?’”
He used Saint Basil’s words as a reminder that holding on to excess is selfish. “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed,” Claiborne said.
Charitable giving is not a lofty virtue, Claiborne continued. “It’s returning what we’ve stolen … God didn’t create one person rich and another person poor. We’re actually just participating in the economy of God,” he says.
Perkins, the CCDA founder, is black and was raised in poverty in Mississippi as the son of a sharecropper. His brother was killed by a white police officer. His childhood experiences shape his outlook on race and justice, according to Christianity Today.
Castellanos has worked in full-time ministry in urban Latino communities since 1982 and served on former President Obama’s Council for Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships, according to his bio on the CCDA website. He lives in Chicago.
Some of the phrasing used by the CCDA to describe problems viewed as systemic can also be seen in Russell Moore’s writings. Moore once wrote that gambling isn’t primarily a “moral” issue but rather “an issue of economic justice” that is symptomatic of how “social and political and corporate structures contribute to the misery of the impoverished.”
Moore has drawn more attention for his views on immigration and his work with the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group with which Castellanos has also been involved.
In 2015, Castellanos co-wrote a column for The Christian Post that argued that support for sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants can be derived from the Bible. The column also compared sanctuary cities to the Underground Railroad used by slaves in the 1800s to escape to freedom.
A 2014 opinion piece in PJ Media titled “The Faux Conservative Evangelicals Fighting for Immigration Reform” mentions both Moore and Castellanos, along with other evangelical leaders who have pushed for amnesty for illegal immigrants. The piece by Michelle Horstman said:
It appears that the current ploy is to “shame” Christians into going along with their game plan to prove your compassion and biblical direction. The problem is, some of them seem to have left out the part about the many illegal visitors who have come to commit crimes, the already high unemployment rate and the overwhelming cost of social services that is stretching us beyond our ability to pay. Is it being a good steward to give away things that you don’t have to give? To put others in harm’s way in order to force your agenda? To refuse to enforce laws that are already on the books, while you lobby for reform? Even Cesar Chavez saw the problems associated with this, as he grappled with illegals taking jobs from his unionized workers.
Rather than being resentful and angry at those who are taking advantage of free benefits and porous borders, we need to be angry with progressives in sheep’s clothing who are using us and using these immigrants for their own agenda.
In recent days, Moore has taken to Twitter to show his support for DACA recipients, young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children and given temporary permission to remain in the U.S. Obama granted DACA status to those meeting certain criteria through an executive order denounced by many conservatives as an unconstitutional overreach of his authority. President Trump announced last week that he would begin to wind down the DACA program unless Congress acts. Past attempts in Congress to pass legislation protecting “Dreamers” have not been successful.
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) September 4, 2017
Children shouldn't suffer because of the decisions of their parents, especially when they have tried to make things right. #DACA
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) August 31, 2017