Russell Moore’s position as head of the Southern Baptists’ public policy arm could be in jeopardy, the Washington Post is reporting.
More than 100 Southern Baptist churches have threatened to cut off funding for the program that supports the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), according to the article in the Post.
Moore has been a controversial figure since becoming president of the ERLC in 2013 because of his progressive views on immigration and race, his promotion of religious pluralism, and his disparaging statements about past efforts by the religious right to influence American culture and politics.
In recent months, he has been criticized for the provocative way he denounced President Trump and his followers in the 2016 election and also for signing a friend of a court brief supporting construction of a New Jersey mosque involved in a zoning dispute. That decision, as previously reported by The Tennessee Star, prompted a large Southern Baptist church in East Tennessee to escrow funds. Later, a megachurch in Texas decided to do the same. Other churches taking similar actions have contributed to the matter reaching a crisis point.
Frank Page, president of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Post that he planned to meet with Moore on Monday and was not ruling out asking for a change in Moore’s status. The Post added later that Page and Moore issued a joint statement Monday evening in which they said they looked forward to working with each on behalf of Southern Baptists for years to come.
Debates on social media among Southern Baptists and other conservative Christians have picked up in recent weeks over Moore and the ERLC. Some insist Moore is under fire primarily and unfairly because of his criticism of Trump, but others have noted controversies that have been ongoing over the past few years, and say the bullying manner in which Moore attacked Trump and his supporters was just one more thing in a long line of concerns. Other discussions have centered around the role of the church in politics. Some of Moore’s defenders say the church should worry about the church and not get so involved in politics. Moore’s critics say that line of thinking is inconsistent, since the ERLC’s reason for being is to be engaged politically.
In a tweet in January 2016, Moore implied that Christians who supported Trump’s plan to build a border wall were guilty of idolatry. “Evangelicals can love a golden calf, as long as Aaron promises to make Mexico pay for it,” the tweet said. In late January this year, Moore wrote a letter to Trump criticizing his original executive order on refugees, advising the president to balance security with “compassion for the sojourner.”
Even if Moore were to leave his position, the divides within the Southern Baptist Convention are unlikely to quickly heal. Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, the Texas megachurch that last month announced its decision to escrow funds, told the Baptist Message that his congregation’s concerns extend beyond just one personality.
Graham, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said there is a “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”
“I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone,” Graham said. “We’re just concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and feel we need to make some changes in the way we give.”