- - Monday, May 19, 2014

Faced with unprecedented threats to religious liberty on one side, and excommunication by the Republican Party ruling class on the other, social conservatives are engaging in a major internal debate.

Since this debate could determine the fate of the sturdiest leg of Ronald Reagan’s famed “three-legged stool coalition,” how it shakes out could have a major impact on the American political landscape.

That debate comes down to this question: If we’re no longer a “moral majority,” how should the movement forged by the likes of the late Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell engage an increasingly secular culture at a time when the Judeo-Christian moral value system is needed now more than ever?

Into this fray steps the man with one of the most influential platforms in the movement — Dr. Russell Moore, the 42-year-old new president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is otherwise known as the political arm of the largest evangelical protestant denomination in the country.

Like the rest of the country, social conservatives are undergoing a generational transition. New strategies are forming, and new leaders like Dr. Moore are emerging. Does that mean more modern tactics or a more moderate ideology?

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori (left) and Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore speak together last week following a news conference at the National Press Club. More than 100 national religious leaders in an open letter are asking the Obama administration to "expand conscience protections" in the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate. Critics say it does not go far enough in divorcing the institutions from health plans that cover contraception. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori (left) and Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious ... more >

So far, it appears Dr. Moore is sending mixed signals.

In February, Dr. Moore wrote a powerful defense of Christians and right of conscience in response to attempts to distort efforts to defend religious liberty like Arizona’s SB1062, which was nothing more than a restating of the spirit and intent of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Religious liberty is a line in the sand for social conservatives, for if we’re not free to live out our faith publicly, we’re not free. A private Christian faith is no faith at all, for Christians are commanded to bear witness to Christ to the world in every aspect of our lives.

Let alone the fact it’s hard to maintain the civic creed of our Founding Fathers that our rights come from God and not government if government no longer acknowledges our God-given rights. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “When the government removes God, the government then becomes the god.” For example, China has the largest Christian population in the world, but because of government oppression, there is little Christian influence on the culture and public policy there, thus statism reigns supreme.

But just when it looked like Dr. Moore was willing to use his office to draw that line in the sand, he instead appeared to throw a sizable chunk of his own base under the bus with these comments in an April 22 speech:

“I listened on the way back up here from my hometown to some Christian talk radio this week, against my doctor’s orders. And, honestly, if all that I knew of Christianity was what I heard on Christian talk radio, I’d hate it, too. There are some people who believe that fidelity to the Gospel simply means speaking, ‘You kids get off my lawn.’ That is not the message that has been given to us.”

Needless to say, those shaming remarks didn’t go over well.

Bott Radio Network is one of the most respected ministries in Christian radio, and a prominent presence within influential groups like National Religious Broadcasters and the Council for National Policy. Its president and CEO, Rich Bott, sent a letter via Federal Express to Dr. Moore seeking amends more than two weeks ago. So far he has received no reply.

“I can’t believe Dr. Moore actually means what he said,” Mr. Bott said. “I offered him a chance to clarify his remarks to our audience and I’m still waiting for a reply.”

Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, perhaps the largest Christian radio network in the country, said he’s been trying to reach out to Dr. Moore since he took over last fall, “but he’s never called me back.”

“It’s bizarre to me that someone who needs to get his message out to Christians across the country decided to attack radio listened to by Christians,” Mr. Wildmon said. “The fact is Dr. Moore is dead wrong about this. It is precisely the role of the church to speak words of truth and warning about sin, including sexual immorality.”

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