Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The considerable contrast between Russell Moore and Richard Land

The Wall Street Journal has an article on Russell Moore, our new guy as head of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission which Richard Land headed for a quarter century.

Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention says it is time for evangelicals to tone down the rhetoric.

For years, as the principal public voice for the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's biggest evangelical group, Richard Land warned of a "radical homosexual agenda" and pushed for a federal ban on same-sex marriage.
His successor, Russell Moore, sounded a different note when the Supreme Court in June struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. "Love your gay and lesbian neighbors," Mr. Moore wrote in a flier, "How Should Your Church Respond," sent to the convention's estimated 45,000 churches. "They aren't part of an evil conspiracy." Marriage, he added, was a bond between a man and a woman, but shouldn't be seen as a "'culture war' political issue."
Quite a contrast. From my viewpoint as a hacker and plodder in the SBC hinterlands, Land took his Oxford PhD brilliance and turned it into that of a third tier talk show host. Inappropriate comments led to his retirement.

Now we swap a baby boomer for someone much younger, Moore is 42, and unlikely to be identified as a culture warrior spouting the tired battle cries of "Take back America" and "We've got to wake up!" which have rallied old white dudes to the cause, helped elect Republicans who have subsequently ignored us, and accomplished very little other than to establish our segment of evangelicals as always being in an unholy snit over the state of our country.

Needless to say, the groups that make a living fighting the culture wars are, well, in an unholy snit over Moore's new approach.

Silver-maned Bryan Fischer, one of the old dude culture warrior talk show hosts for American Family Association reacted with this article: Southern Baptists sounding full-scale retreat in culture war? 

Writes Fischer: "We cannot and must not surrender when our most deeply cherished values and the Constitution itself are being shredded. This is no time for the sunshine soldier and the summer patriot.

According to the Journal, Moore says we must "tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray," largely because of what he calls the "visceral recoil" to conservative positions on social issues among younger evangelicals. 
But this is to allow the least mature, least experienced, and least wise among us to shape our message to the culture. Moore in this instance seems prepared to follow rather than lead, to go with the flow rather than swim against the current. But leaders do not follow public opinion, they shape it, especially when the issues are matters of biblical morality.
Seems to me that the culture wars as have been displayed in the past thirty years haven't done much politically or theologically.

Fischer: "Moore warns that we must not be "co-opted" by the political process. But this seems to be what has happened to him."

If any concise phrase describes the culture war, politically "co-opted" would be my top candidate. We have an entire culture war industry that engages an aging fraction of the populace politically and through which not a few evangelicals make a pretty good living...and we've lost all the major battles of the culture war. The grizzled old white dude warriors, naturally, blame the apathetic evangelical masses. 

Perhaps a message to the culture that is less politically motivated and more evangelically motivated, as in, "In Christ there is redemption", would yield more positive results. 

Just a thought.


Rick Patrick said...

Considerable contrast indeed.

We are waving the white flag, while the godless culture marches steadily onward without opposition. Does the fact that we have lost most of the culture war battles really mean we should not fight strongly for all that we believe in?

I would rather lose a battle, standing up for what is right, and be thought an obstructionist, than to make peace with an opponent, who champions all that is wrong, and be thought quite civil and polite.

Moore is smart, polite and articulate, but his philosophy of cultural engagement does not even come close to representing the attitude and the positions of most Southern Baptists.

William Thornton said...

Rick, I think we have not been very vigorous in fighting the war that actually could yield positive and lasting results in favor of one that has done very little for us. Sure, this isn't a zero sum game but contrast the energy and passion devoted to the culture war with the masses with that given to the war for redemption of individual souls.

I always appreciate your comments, and your writings.

Anonymous said...

"... of biblical morality."

Herein is a highly important issue. Conservatives, like progressives, but less so, engage questions of pluralism, too, with non-religious conservatives being a bit more open to such than their religious counterparts. Although conservatives and progressives largely reject relativism (and both sometimes unaware of their own creeping relativism), both, more or less, perceive scriptural affirmation as being a bit more complex than a flat acceptance of received tradition, thus affirmations of theologies (within and between religious systems) instead of theology and moralities instead of morality, notwithstanding preceding descriptors. I don't expect much more from Moore than Land, but it will be interesting to watch him when he reaches the pinnacle of his power and thus able to assert more of his preferred self and beliefs, but for the time being, and to his credit, calls to attenuate behaviors lacking in humility is not a cultural accommodation, rather the alternative behaviors suggested in these calls are consistent with Christian, and otherwise, notions of civility.

Jason Lee said...

Thanks for this! I agree with the assessment between Land & Moore and I'm very grateful for Dr.Moore and his approach to focus on the Gospel. As the WSJ article was a bit unbalanced please consider linking in your original post to Dr. moore's post in response yesterday (link is below). Again, thanks. & blessings,
Jason Lee

Kevin said...

I really like Dr. Moore and his approach. Here's another one of his quotes:

“. . . we are no longer the moral majority. We are a prophetic minority.”

Anonymous said...

“. . . we are no longer the moral majority. We are a prophetic minority.”

I would add:

“. . . we are no longer the moral majority. We are a prophetic minority [among other prophetic minorities].”

"a" makes it clear that we are not "the," but "other" makes clear the complexity of the religious landscape using a bit of humility.

Anonymous said...

We'll have to wait and see where it leads us--but I don't think you are going to like where we end up.

Jonathan said...

From the website:

"The ERLC is dedicated to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing."

This establishes the ERLC as the SBC's voice to the federal US government regarding "religious liberty" and "human flourishing".

Having followed his work for years, I find Dr. Moore to be a great talker. Folksy, to the point, celebrates and jabs Southern culture, generally a good guy to listen to and to read. My concern: I see a lot of conceptual talk (albeit with a great accent) but very little pragmatic action when it counts.

Dr. Moore will talk extensively about how the ACA is one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in modern times. He will also frequently refer to abortion as one of the history's greatest scandals and an outright attack on the Gospel of Christ.

But when he had a chance to use his considerable position at Southern Seminary to influence pastors across the nation to ring the bell during what was perhaps the most important election in modern times on the issue...Moore was silent.

Now, he has said specifically why he didn't back Pres. Obama's opponent (an opponent, btw, who had been very clear the he would work to overturn the ACA and that he would nominate originalist justices, in the mold of Scalia, to the federal bench). But given the aversion by so many good ole conservative Southern boy preachers to vote for a Mormon and Moore's almost strange obsession with Glenn Beck...I have something of an idea why.

This is not the era to make the blue hairs feel good about their culture by telling stories about Aunt Flossy or extolling the virtues of the C&W superstars of yesteryear.

This is a time for action. Dr. Moore missed perhaps the greatest opportunity that history may give him. But that was before he became ERLC president.

Let's see what he's willing to actually do regarding the "human flourishing" thing.

Anonymous said...

"Dr. Moore will talk extensively about how the ACA is one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in modern times."

Say Obamacare and some folks don't like it. Say the components of Obamacare and most want it. Making contraceptives a part of the plan ... well, most Americans want such. Vatican, no, but the American Catholics the Vatican represents, yes. Same with most Christians, conservative and otherwise. Think contraceptives are wrong, don't use them.

Moore states he and SBC (if he wishes to speak for such) are against Obamacare. OK. Noted. What point is there in becoming part of processes that will do nothing to overturn the law? The American people have spoken. Move on. Work instead to make reasonable adjustments to the law. Want to be invited to the table for doing such? Leave the bombs at home. Perhaps Moore is playing the long game?

Having said that, and not being a Moore fan, modesty is a virtue that ought to be congratulated, not criticized. However, his conservatism and that of those even further to the right than him is waning; it is in decline, but will for some time, nonetheless, continue to influence.

Jonathan said...

Something is strangely familiar with Anonymous' writing. :)

I agree with you, if people are told that they can have everything and have others mostly foot the bill, they will likely say they want it. But that wasn't the aim of my comment.

My point was that Dr. Moore is going to raise the alarm about Obamacare's impact on religious liberty. In fact, he already did so a few days ago in an interview on Fox News - yeah, so much for distancing himself from Land :) - where he referenced not only Obamacare but attacks on religious liberty by the forces of the sexual revolution around the nation.

But what is he going to do about it? Is he going to push legislation? Is he going to encourage and support political candidates who share his concerns?

It appears that what is going to do is to talk and write about it. Could he, and others at the ERLC, do that anyway, without Southern Baptists having to spend more than $8 million per year for it?

I'm not especially interested in repeating the Land era with discussions of GOP rings for SBC fingers. But do we really need an agency with an multi-million dollar annual budget that is going do little but provide high profile jobs for folks who like to talk and write? Are we so flush with cash in 2013 that can afford to do this?

Anonymous said...

"My point was that Dr. Moore is going to raise the alarm about Obamacare's impact on religious liberty."

And the strained argument has been rejected by all but the small, yet highly motivated and vocal, electorate opposed to anything associated with Obama.

OK, he raised an alarm, and now, perhaps he perceives a need to move on and do other things that can actually make a difference. Fighting Obamacare, that is, trying to stop it, is a fool's errand. But stating such is like waving a red flag in front of some thinking they are actually defending Jesus.

Lee said...

I'm somewhat, but not completely, shocked by a few of your conclusions.

Well said.

Jonathan said...

"And the strained argument has been rejected by all but the small, yet highly motivated and vocal, electorate opposed to anything associated with Obama."

Agreed. Those who would oppose something merely because of its association with Obama do have a strained and rejected argument. The signature legislative achievement of his presidency is already beginning run into the wall of classical economics and, in its working out, will provide a "teachable moment" (one of the favorite phrases of this president's first term) to the nation.

Of course, that's the political, economical...and mathematical reality that confronts attempts at central planning...and such is not the point I was making.

"OK, he raised an alarm, and now, perhaps he perceives a need to move on and do other things that can actually make a difference."

Yes, now we're back to my point. By all means, yes, move on and do other things that can actually make a difference. We're awash in talk (even in, especially in accents that sound so familiar). With a budget north of $8 million, I'm quite interested in the "actually make a difference" part.

Anonymous said...

That the early enrollment process for Obamacare is problematic, as was the early enrollment process for Bush’s prescription drug plan, is not disputed, but in time the technology issues will be improved. And the President is correct in that enrollment is not ACA, but some will equate process with outcome, nonetheless. Moreover, pronouncements of ACA as a failed system are woefully premature and most people know this; thus I and a good many others don’t overly concern self with the current problems or proclamations of doom or theoretical economic arguments.

And as to the code langauge of central planning, again, most are immune to it given the involvement of enterprise in the delivery and coverage of health care. But in time, we will go to a single-payer system, and yes, it will redefine corporate involvement and control, but corporations are resilient; they will find and create other markets in which to do business ... and they will do well.

Thus, if Moore chooses to speak with the language of the demise of religious freedom and the wrecking of capitalism and democracy due to ACA, it puts him in a certain place among the more thoughtful circles of political influence, and it likely will attenuate his voice on other issues, too, and his ability to get anything started that has lasting value. Largely conservatives have received little from Reagan, Bush, and Bush in terms of their social agenda and to some extent it is due to a small, yet powerful vocal minority of Republican’s all or nothing approach to problems. Whereas such may work in some pockets and circles of society, in the larger arena, the American public simply does not wish to go along with this type of mindset. Moore would do well to temper his voice and look for commonalities and small gains and recognize the increasingly plural nature of the US. And it is that which has a good many conservatives nervous.

Jonathan said...

To be brief, my point is not what Moore says but what he does.

Some seem to like his tone as compared with Land. Everyone has a preference, I suppose. But the churches of the SBC are funding the ERLC's budget at just over $3 million (correcting my previous mention of $8 million) what end? What does this buy us?

Does it provide the periodic face time for Moore on a news program? Great. The value of that is...? Does it pay for the production and distribution of policy analysis (i.e. here's what is happening in DC and here's what you need to know about it)? Sure. But in this era where most everyone has broadband access, is this needed?

More specifically, what needle is moved by Moore and his band of happy warriors on the convention dime? Further, $3 million could support 30 IMB missionaries or probably twice that many NAMB church planters.