Some Baptist Churches May Stop Funding ERLC Over Russell Moore’s Trump Criticism

By Liberty McArtor Published on December 21, 2016

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention is facing push back from other evangelical church leaders over his strong opposition to President-elect Donald Trump during the election season. Moore was one of Trump’s most outspoken evangelical critics, and also criticized many evangelical leaders who publicly supported Trump.

Leaders like Pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas claim that Moore’s sharp criticism was inconsiderate to the millions of evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists, who voted for Trump.

“There was a disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present,” Graham said, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Moore attempted to clarify his past comments in a Monday blog post shared with the Journal pre-publication.

In one passage of his post (the full text of which was shared later by Baptist Press), Moore called the differences between evangelical leaders and himself regarding his comments toward Trump “misunderstandings.” He writes:

I remember one situation where I witnessed a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel. I was pointed in my criticisms, and felt like I ought to have been. But there were also pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald Trump. I told them then, and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize. There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience.

Moore also called on both sides — Christians who voted for Trump and Christians who opposed him — to avoid “judgment” of each other.

“In either case, we all owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ to understand their convictions and be slow to judgment when biblical motivations are the primary motivators,” Moore writes. “In the heat of an extraordinarily divisive campaign, that is something all of us, myself included, are wise to remember.”

The wounds of many in the Southern Baptist Convention go deep, however.

Several pastors told the Journal that they are considering pulling financial support from the Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of which Moore is president.

Prestonwood Baptist Church is “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Graham told the Journal.

Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas said, “I’ve had deacons in my church very concerned about the direction of the ERLC. They do not believe it represents our church’s beliefs.” He also said his church “is always looking at the wisest expenditure of its dollars.”

The ERLC is meant to represent the Southern Baptist Convention’s interests and values in Washington, D.C. But as Graham indicated, many leaders are worried that Moore’s sharp criticism of Trump will cost him his voice of influence.

“He’s going to have no access, basically, to President Trump,” Graham said.

“We want to see what he says, and whether he has a seat at the table in Washington,” said Brad Whitt, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Georgia. “If not, we’ll be wasting a whole lot of time, energy and finances that could be going to the mission field.”

For many evangelicals, their frustration with Moore extends beyond Trump and the 2016 election.

It the past, he took criticism for suggesting that government officials who were morally opposed to same-sex marriage should resign from their jobs rather than defy the law that required them to issue same-sex marriage certificates. While Moore wasn’t endorsing same-sex marriage, his suggestion came in sharp contrast to many other evangelical leaders, some of whom advocated civil disobedience and supported a legal fight for the rights of individual conscience.

As the Journal writes,

A 45-year-old father of five, Mr. Moore holds deeply conservative positions on abortion and marriage and hasn’t wavered on core Baptist beliefs. But he attempted to guide Baptists to adopt a softer tone toward gays and lesbians, and to build alliances with Muslims, Jews and Catholics.  

He has come to be viewed as a moderating force for Baptists, much in the way Pope Francis is seen by Roman Catholics.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, defended Moore in an interview with the Journal.

“I know his heart and his character and his love for the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mohler said. “I also have confidence in his ability to serve all Southern Baptists as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.”

Like Moore, Mohler openly opposed Trump during the campaign.

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