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?
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.”
Janet Mefferd is a nationally-syndicated radio host for Salem Communications, considered by many to be the most powerful Christian media company in the country. She was offended that Dr. Moore would paint his own allies with such a broad brush.
“Rather than following his ‘doctor’s orders’ not to listen to Christian talk radio, I think Dr. Moore would do well to listen to a lot more of it,” Mrs. Mefferd said. “If he did, he would hear what I hear on the shows of my many friends and colleagues in the industry: faithful presentations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, love and compassion for individual sinners, and, yes, Biblical and bold proclamations of truth to a dying culture.”
I attempted to reach out to Dr. Moore before writing this column but was told he had “scheduling conflicts” and was not available. When I offered to wait another week before writing the column to accommodate his schedule, I was then told “Dr. Moore will not be available for an interview.”
Had we connected, I would have asked Dr. Moore if he has succumbed to a fallacy many in my generation have wrongfully accepted. This fallacy — usually spewed by church “thinkers” in hipster glasses, sporting trendy facial growth, and Birkenstocks to go along with their skinny jeans — is that if we’re too cool for school and are seen drinking lots of designer coffee the world will like us more. That’s right, it appears the same insipid consultants out to ruin the Republican Party have sunk their vile clutches into the church as well.
If this is true how do you explain my career? I have an unashamed Christian worldview and am hardly a shrinking violet. Yet I now write for The Washington Times as well as several other national outlets, have appeared on all three cable news networks (including MSNBC), and host a nationally-syndicated radio show on commercial radio.
Not to mention the irony of Dr. Moore lashing out at his own base with the same sort of grumpy commentary he was criticizing them for. Furthermore, if the culture unilaterally rejects confrontational language, how come the Left never hesitates to use it successfully against us?
The history of the faith shows bolder is better. Does it get any bolder than dying for your cause and rising from the dead afterwards? The God of the Bible often names names and isn’t bashful about being a name-caller when it’s justified. Just as a soldier in the heat of the battle may use salty language to make his point, when lives and eternal souls are at stake God doesn’t always channel Ms. Manners. If Jesus really is just the hippy philosopher of Galilee the Left portrays Him to be, there would have been no reason to execute him. Instead of crucifying him, Rome would have just invited Christ to sit on its diversity council.
Consulting Christians to be “nicer than God” in order to win over the lost is a false choice. Besides, we are currently selling more books, movies, music, and merchandise than ever before — and we have more mega-churches than ever before as well.
If Dr. Moore really wants to help us be more effective communicators, convene a national conversation about why the culture continues to drift left despite the fact we’re making more money than ever before.
(Steve Deace is a nationally-syndicated talk show host and the author of “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)