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The guy who said evangelicals today see Jesus as "weak" is part of the problem
Russell Moore's Christianity is just as monstrous as the version he’s condemning
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Last week, Christianity Today editor-in-chief Russell Moore, a former leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, said in an interview with NPR that one reason his religion is struggling right now is because the teachings of Jesus aren’t being embraced by the people in the pews. If you told Christians to “turn the other cheek” or help marginalized people, they would call you “weak.”
So many white evangelicals have gone full-MAGA, Moore argued, that feeding the poor, and embracing peace, and helping the “least of these” is often written off as part of some progressive agenda:
It was the result of having multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching — "turn the other cheek" — [and] to have someone come up after to say, "Where did you get those liberal talking points?" And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, "I'm literally quoting Jesus Christ," the response would not be, "I apologize." The response would be, "Yes, but that doesn't work anymore. That's weak." And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we're in a crisis.
That point has been made for a few years now, but it took on new life this week because the headlines were so damn delicious. Jesus is weak, say evangelicals! Moore isn’t wrong on that point, though. There are a small handful of white evangelicals who are rock-solid conservatives but who have also been disturbed by Donald Trump and how he co-opted both their party and their religion. The four criminal indictments, along with a rape charge, aren’t helping. They would almost certainly support any generic Republican but Trump gives them pause.
There aren’t a ton of them—roughly 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020—but the clash takes center stage when we’re talking about pastors who try to focus on Jesus (or basic human decency) only to realize the members of their congregations don’t want to hear any of it.
If he spoke against abortion from the pulpit, Mr. Thompson noticed, the congregation had no problem with it. The members were overwhelmingly anti-abortion and saw the issue as a matter of biblical truth. But if he spoke about race in ways that made people uncomfortable, that was “politics.” And, Mr. Thompson suspected, it was proof to some church members that Mr. Thompson was not as conservative as they thought.
Russell Moore has had a front-row seat to that shift and he’s concerned. He told NPR that the cause of this political problem stems from “disconnection, loneliness, sense of alienation,” and there’s some truth to that, but it also misses the more obvious red flags.
White evangelicals have spent decades embracing right-wing extremism: They’ve opposed LGBTQ rights, opposed abortion rights (without exceptions), opposed public schools teaching comprehensive sex education and challenging books and basic science, etc. These aren’t recent changes. This is all part of the package. They’ve been doing these things for decades.
So when a president came around and, rather than just pay lip service to the overall goodness of faith and our supposed collective belief in the Christian God, told these white evangelicals they were morally right, and gave them positions of power to push their views on others with the force of law, and nominated judges who had their stamp of approval, of course they embraced him.
For years, conservative Christians got away with this because their worst beliefs were tempered by most Republican politicians. Sure, I’m with you in principle, they’d argue, but I don’t have the power to enact those laws. I would if I could, though!
That allowed those Christians to embrace a status of perpetual persecution. Democrats and other pesky liberals were the only people standing in their way! Then Trump came along, with a Republican congress, and plenty of red states won (or gerrymandered their way into) legislative trifectas, and there were suddenly no more obstacles. Those conservative Christians were given everything they ever wanted.
Now they’re stuck with the reality that the world they always wanted to create is an absolutely shitty place, especially for the marginalized. We’re now regularly seeing horror stories about what happens when abortion is banned.
And this is where’s Moore’s supposed clarion call falls flat.
The former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has been one of the most anti-Trump Christians in a religious denomination full of MAGA cultists. He has spent years noting the obvious hypocrisy between Trump’s actions and Christians’ supposed values. He called on Trump to resign before his term ended. He said he would have voted for Trump’s second impeachment if he were in Congress.
The implication here is that if more evangelicals shared Moore’s views, the future of conservative Christianity would be a lot stronger.
The problem with that theory is that Moore’s views are the problem. Yeah, he might embrace whatever Jesus said more than others who share his religious label, but he is on board with just about all the horrific things white evangelicals have long believed.
He’s still anti-LGBTQ rights.
He still thinks women should be forced to give birth against their will.
He still defends pro-Trump Christians who “voted their conscience”—as if their support for Trump was guided by anything rational or heartfelt.
In 2021, Moore joined a church that wasn’t affiliated with the SBC... which could have been interpreted as a shift toward a more progressive form of Christianity. However, the new church, Immanuel Nashville, had at least one pastor who supported a known abuser. That church also signed onto the Nashville Statement, one of the most vicious anti-LGBTQ documents in recent history. It’s also a church that believes only “qualified men” can hold leadership roles.
This is the more ethical form of Christianity that Moore wishes his people would embrace. It’s just as monstrous as the version of Christianity he’s condemning. Moore is like the best apple in a rotting orchard. It’s like quitting your job at Breitbart to go work at the Federalist. It’s not a step up.
Moore left the Southern Baptists largely because of their racism and sexual abuse problems. That’s commendable. But he also thinks Christians should continue with the bigotry and sexism, as long as it’s in the name of Jesus and not merely Republican cruelty. As if our country would be in a better place if its Christian leaders volunteered at a food pantry before telling middle school rape victims to give birth against their will.
Christianity Today, the publication Moore now leads, believes committed gay and lesbian couples are “destructive to society.” Just because Moore can deliver the same brand of hate in a more palatable language doesn’t make his exhortations about following Jesus any better.
Moore lacks the courage to state the obvious: We’re all worse off because of white evangelical and conservative Christian beliefs. Not just the Trumpism but the rest of it too. The Southern Baptist Convention was a garbage dump of theology long before 2016, and if Moore can’t walk away from their worst beliefs, there’s no reason we should give him partial credit for criticizing Trump.
Atheists, as a whole, were well ahead of him on that one.
Unless Moore is willing to admit that his core principles, most of which stem from the same broken beliefs that led evangelicals to support Trump, are also problematic, he’s not doing the faith any favors. He’s a spin doctor trying to make himself look brave without earning that distinction.
If anything, Trump is an easy target. He allows people like Moore to point to him as the problem with the religion’s direction, when the problems existed long before Trump entered the picture. Trump followed them, not the other way around. The call is coming from inside the house.
There’s probably something to be said for not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that I’m being too harsh on someone who’s at least saying a hell of a lot more that needs to be said than most other prominent evangelicals, but if Moore can’t acknowledge that his faith (his ideal version of it!) has contributed to the extremism the rest of us need to push back against, then he’s still part of the problem.
He’s certainly not on any sort of moral high ground.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)
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