Russell Moore, Southern Baptist Pres. Appear United After Questions About Moore’s Future

By Liberty McArtor Published on March 14, 2017

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention will keep his job as leader of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the denomination’s public policy entity. The announcement came after a private meeting between Moore and Frank Page, the SBC’s Executive Committee President.

Many Christians expressed disappointment Monday in reaction to an article in The Washington Post suggesting that Moore could face ramifications for his recent political stances opposing President Donald Trump. The Post broke news of the meeting between Page and Moore Monday morning. Page was quoted as saying, “If the meeting doesn’t goes well, I’m fully prepared to ask him for a change in his status.” The article’s headline was, “Could Southern Baptist Russell Moore lose his job? Churches threaten to pull funds after months of Trump controversy.”

Conservative Christians on Twitter were quick to respond to the Post’s report in Moore’s defense, including voices like Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation, Matt Smethurst of The Gospel Coalition and Ligon Duncan of the Reformed Theological Seminary.

Others suggested the notion that SBC leaders wanted Moore to resign was inaccurate.

According to a Baptist Press report Monday night, Page told the Post that he requested the meeting with  Moore “to seek bridge-building strategies” but that “nothing was off the table.” Post reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey later tweeted clarifications, claiming she never implied that Moore could be fired, despite using language like “lose his job” and “requests to resign.”

After a two-hour meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, Page and Moore emerged with a unified front, issuing this statement via Baptist Press:

We met as colleagues committed to the same priorities of proclaiming the Gospel to every man, woman, boy and girl while also addressing biblical and Gospel issues on a wide range of topics to a culture that seems to have lost its way — issues ranging from religious liberty and racial reconciliation to Kingdom diversity and the sanctity of human life from the womb to the grave.

We deepened our friendship and developed mutual understanding on ways we believe will move us forward as a network of churches,” Moore and Page said in a joint statement Monday night. “We fully support one another and look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come.

Election Fallout 

As Christianity Today reported Tuesday, Moore still appears to face threats from 100 churches in the SBC to pull funding from the Cooperative Program, which funds the ERLC. Most notably, Jack Graham of the Texas mega church Prestonwood Baptist threatened in February to keep $1 million in donations from the program while the church conducts “an internal evaluation” of its giving.

Graham told The Wall Street Journal in December that Moore had displayed “disrespectfulness” toward SBC members who supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, though he later tweeted that “our decision to escrow our SBC funds for now is not and never has been about Trump. It is a leadership question.” As The Stream previously reported, Moore was an early and outspoken critic of Trump and his supporters, which included a substantial portion of the white Evangelicals that make up the majority of the SBC. 

After the election in December, Moore attempted to address concerns that he had been disrespectful or condescending to Christian Trump voters in a blog post. In one passage, Moore called the differences between Evangelical leaders and himself regarding his comments toward Trump “misunderstandings,” and asked both sides — Christians who voted for Trump and Christians who opposed him — to avoid “judgment” of each other.

Deeper Issues

The controversy surrounding Moore goes deeper than the 2016 election. For instance, many SBC members have expressed unhappiness with his attempts “to guide Baptists to adopt a softer tone toward gays and lesbians, and to build alliances with Muslims, Jews and Catholics.” 

As the Post noted, Moore has gained significant popularity among young Evangelicals and SBC congregations of color for supporting religious freedom for American Muslims, criticizing Trump’s travel ban and actively pursuing racial reconciliation within the SBC.

Byron Day, president of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship, wrote an open letter to the SBC last week, stating that “The recent events surrounding ERLC President Russell Moore is dividing Southern Baptists and, more importantly, is hurting the name of Jesus Christ and the furtherance of the Gospel.”

Day suggested that those concerned with Moore’s past comments and positions “take a biblical approach and talk to him privately concerning comments that offended them and then give him opportunity to apologize and be reconciled.”

From the looks of Page’s meeting with Moore on Monday, that reconciliation could be taking form.

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