Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been coming under some interesting criticism lately. I suppose there exists a general feeling from the population at large towards conservative Southern Baptists of a depressingly predictable point of view when it comes to matters of faith and politics. These general feelings are typically expressed with such sentiments as, “Southern Baptists think God is a Republican” and so on. In some ways we have brought this on ourselves, as we do have a tendency to contradict our own biblical convictions in order to keep in line with popular political convictions.
That is why some folks are having a difficult time figuring out Russell Moore. He is a conservative evangelical Southern Baptist scholar who excelled at his position of Dean of School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before being elected as president of the ERLC. From a secular point of view, surely this is just another thoughtless conservative who will dish out the same, tired talking points that characterize evangelicals as a whole.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a fascinating comment was made by Dr. Moore that, I believe, aptly summarizes his profound and much needed impact both on the ERLC and Southern Baptist life. Here’s what happened:
The state of Alabama had asked the high court for a stay to delay enforcement of a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the state’s ban of same-sex marriage until the Supreme Court rules on the issue, a case they will be hearing this spring. Seven justices agreed to deny the stay. In other words, the state wanted to keep their law banning same-sex marriage until after SCOTUS officially ruled nationwide on the issue. They were denied the delay.
Cue what the general population would consider predictable talking points from a conservative evangelical leader – something along the lines of the demise of our country, the fiendish liberal agenda to eradicate conservative Christians, and the possibility of Obama being the anti-Christ. Instead, Russell Moore said this:
“In a Christian ethic, there is a time for civil disobedience in cases of unjust laws. That’s why, for instance, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail. In the case of judges and state Supreme Court justices, though, civil disobedience, even when necessary, cannot happen in their roles as agents of the state. Religious freedom and conscience objections must be balanced with a state’s obligation to discharge the law. We shouldn’t have officials breaking the law, but civil servants don’t surrender their conscience simply by serving in government. While these details are being worked out, in the absence of any conscience protections, a government employee faced with a decision of violating his conscience or upholding the law, would need to resign and protest against it as a citizen if he could not discharge the duties of his office required by law in good conscience.” (emphasis mine)
That is a remarkable paragraph. Moore does not acquiesce to the issue at hand. Earlier, he states that, “The citizens of Alabama are rightly concerned about the non-action–action by the United States Supreme Court in refusing to stay same-sex marriages in the state until the Court hands down its decision this June on the matter. The same Court that ruled in 2013 that marriage should be a state, not a federal matter, is now imposing a federal definition of marriage on a state.” And yet, in spite of what he and most Southern Baptists would see as an unfortunate decision, Moore calls upon the state judges to perform their roles in keeping with the law, and if they are unable to do so because of conscience, then resign.
Moore finds himself in a position of disappointing the more conservative branch of the SBC while still being viewed as a fundamentalist thug from the more progressive left. It seems to me that he is exactly where he needs to be and I believe he is a friendly voice for religious liberty to every American. I’m proud he is one of ours.
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