Bill Hicks once spoke of the Gulf War that he was in the unenviable position of being for the war but against the troops. I feel something analogous to that in the latest stir between the Southern Baptist Church and Russell Moore. For those who don’t keep up to date with the life of the SBC, my alma mater, the controversy is pretty simple. Moore, one of the convention’s political leaders and current president of the Ethical and Religious Liberties Commission, has been critical of Donald Trump both before and after becoming the leader of the United States. Perhaps most damning is his juxtaposition of the man himself and the teachings of Christ. As a former minister who is familiar with the scriptures, and also the proud owner of an economically pitiful Philosophy degree, I can assure you that neither of those credentials are needed to affirm that Moore is indeed right in noting the two are in stark contrast. Yet the implications of the rift are even more interesting. Namely, that such a criticism, regardless of it’s harmony with New Testament ideology, is ignored in favor of the most prime of motivations. Which is money.
Long story short, Moore has been critical of Trump (he was also just as critical of Clinton during the campaign season), and the fine congregants of many Baptist churches were utterly appalled. Enough so that many are holding back their donations in protest. That is until Moore is either fired, or some other solution is found. The great majority of the faithful, as I believe, must be aware of the dissonance between the message of the Nazarene carpenter and the politician infamous for his derogatory remarks about women, Muslims, and Mexicans. My point is not about bashing the president or the religious, however. What strikes me as important about the large amount of churches withholding their giving, is that really seems to matter is not adherence to ideology.
Moore’s job is now on the line, and this struggle highlights a few troubling truths about the SBC, and as I see it, Christendom. The chief troubling point being that money matters most. It is estimated that Texas’ own Prestonwood Baptist Church is withholding almost a million from the ERLC because of Moore’s comments, which he has already been made to apologize for once. Why that money isn’t simply already being put to use providing for the hungry, or widows and orphans of the world is another discussion worth having, but beside my point. Predominantly wealthy and white churches have shut their pocketbooks in protest of Moore and talks of his resignation are on the table.
I’ve heard it said in the church I grew up in that the church is like a business and ought to be run accordingly. I wouldn’t mind much if a business were to want it’s employees to not deviate from a given script publicly to maintain their paycheck. However, nothing in the New Testament tells me that’s right. My favorite aspects of Jesus were standing up to the culture and leaders of his day and refuting them. It was perhaps one of the most inspiring parts of the message to my younger self, that standing up for truth mattered more than how people thought of me. The last thing Jesus wanted to start was a business, at least that’s my interpretation of the story. The desire for money was something he denounced saying in relation of it and God that one may not have two masters. I was shocked to read in the 2nd chapter of St. John that God’s son who did not come to condemn, but to save, made a whip and chased those out of the temple who were doing business in the sacred area and presumably trying to make a buck.
Although the SBC and I have found it best that we see other people, this issue matters to me, and it should matter to those outside the Baptist church as well. Secular or not. Should Moore get the axe, this will send two powerful messages throughout the SBC. First is that Moore will either need to apologize (again) and get toe the red line, or that his replacement will be one who does not dare to challenge any of the Republicans. The future of leadership may well be cemented against anyone who isn’t already faithful to the GOP, or at least not brazen enough to publicly denounce any of their candidates.
Second, and far more important is the message sent not just to liberals, but the the non-white church. While not a liberal in the political sense, Moore has been received favorably by both non-white baptists and the younger members of the SBC. A little over 80% of white evangelicals voted red, and less than half non-whites voted similarly. This leaves many feeling that their convictions mean nothing, so long as those who speak out publicly are ignored and written off. Those who hold the most money will still steer the ship as they see fit and little will be done in return.
However, it seems just too simple to chalk all of the tumult up to an upset about hearing that Trump’s actions don’t line up with the gospel message. What is at stake is not the question concerning if it is kosher to denounce the president. Had the president not been elected from the GOP, there would be no problem or controversy. Criticism from the church would just be business as usual throughout the last administration. However, the GOP won the election, and it seems the SBC finds it best to get on board with “God’s party” no matter what.
Moore is ready for any outcome concerning his career and still hopes for reconciliation in the church, but the conflict has already shed light on the tenuous harmony of faith and politics in the SBC. While the trials and tribulations continue to shape the church, it seems apparent to me that above all, money will talk and beliefs can walk.