Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), kicked up a storm Tuesday with a Reformation Day tweet in which he portrayed himself as a theological giant serving as a bridge between Protestantism and Catholicism.
The tweet featured a photo of bobblehead dolls of Pope Francis, Moore and Martin Luther, with Moore standing between Francis and Luther. The tweet carried the words “A uniter, not a divider. #Ref0500.”
Tuesday marked the 500th anniversary of the day Luther, a German monk, launched the Protestant Reformation with the posting of his 95 Theses. The movement led to a break with the Catholic Church and the creation of Protestant denominations, eventually including Baptist groups.
Moore’s tweet confused and angered many conservative Protestants on social media. Many said he was minimizing the Reformation and also the doctrinal differences that continue to exist between Catholics and Protestants. Some called out Moore for being arrogant. Some took his tweet as a harmless joke, but others said that while it may have been a joke, it was an inappropriate one.
Here are some of the comments tweeted Moore’s way in response:
What denomination are you again?
Was your account hacked?
Seems a little…presumptuous, friend.
What an idiotic thing for an “evangelical” to post! Even if, as some claim, it’s a joke, it is a foolish and ill-timed one.
My real concern is why does he have a bobblehead of himself?
Utterly misguided and foolish. Perhaps you should resign from your position.
Moore is no stranger to controversy. As head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm since 2013, he has routinely faced sharp criticism and earlier this year had to deal with church-based efforts to withhold funds from the program that supports his office. While a hero to a number of younger, more progressive-minded evangelicals, Moore has frequently offended many longtime Southern Baptists with his liberal-leaning positions on immigration and social justice and his rebuke of what he and his supporters call the “old-guard religious right.”
Moore has also been criticized for some of his ecumenical efforts. Critics have said they drift too far from his job responsibilities as a representative of Baptist interests. In 2014, Moore traveled to the Vatican to speak at a conference on marriage and family that included Catholics as well as Muslims and Jews.
On Tuesday, Moore also tweeted a link to an article he wrote about Reformation Day in which he spoke about how churches today need to once again focus on the heart of the gospel. In the article, he criticized the prosperity gospel and other trends, and also took another of his trademark swipes at supposed ongoing and widespread racism in Southern Baptist churches with a comment about “ethnic superiority claims.”
“The greatest challenge facing American Christianity in the years to come is not secularism but cynicism,” Moore wrote. “An entire generation is watching what goes on under the name of American religion, wondering if there is something real to it, or if it is just another useful tool to herd people and to make money. Is Christianity really about the crucified Christ, they ask, or is it about ethnic superiority claims or wacky televised end-times conspiracy theories?
Although Moore often characterizes whole swathes of his fellow Southern Baptists as either racists or people who turn a blind eye to racism, many Southern Baptist leaders have pro-actively sought to denounce racism and make their churches welcoming places.
Last week, Tennessee Southern Baptist leaders gathered to make a public statement denouncing white supremacy ahead of the “White Lives Matter” rallies in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville this past Saturday.