Whither Henceforth? Moore, Unity, and a Path Forward

What are we going to do about Dr. Russell Moore and the ERLC?

It seems that the main question has been answered, at least for now. The Board of Trustees of the ERLC has spoken forcefully that they are behind Dr. Russell Moore and a chastened Moore has announced his intention to go forward as president of the ERLC. The appeal for unity from Moore and the ERLC seemed to hit the right chords and most people seem ready to move forward, closing the curtain on this act and seeing what drama might exist in the next.

Dr. Russell Moore has been the most discussed, most targeted, and most vilified figure in the SBC over the last couple of years. Can we at agree that Southern Baptists do not agree about Dr. Moore’s leadership at the ERLC? I love to categorize and sort things and I have done some work sorting the opinions I have heard about the good Dr. Moore. I believe they fall along a continuum between two extremes.

I love to categorize and sort things and I have done some work sorting the opinions I have heard about the good Dr. Moore. I believe they fall along a continuum between two extremes.

The Poles

Of course, there are the poles – the ends, the extremes. Let’s establish those end points on the continuum before we identify the points along the way.

I apologize in advance for the corny labels, but I am an Iowan, after all. My backyard empties into a cornfield, though no baseball players have walked out and inquired if they are in heaven. Corny is what I do.

There are two poles, two extremes.

1. The Mooredolaters – No one is going to admit to being one of these, but you and I both know someone to whom we’d attach this label. A Mooredolater thinks every word that comes from Dr. Moore’s mouth is a golden nugget of truth. Their mantra is “Moore said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Critics of Dr. Moore may be saved by grace but will find all their works burned as wood, hay, and stubble – no reward for you!

5. The Mooredurers – No one admits to this, but there are those who stand opposed to Moore unalterably, infinitely, and eternally. Nothing but his head on a platter will satisfy them. He can apologize daily, wear sackcloth and ashes, but until the SBC house lands on him and they can sing, “Ding, dong, the Moore is dead” they will not stop.

Hyperbole? Yes. But within the inflated rhetoric is there a nugget of truth? I believe there is. On one extreme are devoted fans of Moore and on the other, fanatical opposition.

For these two groups, the apology had little effect. The Mooredolaters didn’t need it and Mooredurers won’t accept it. For them, the problem is not tone, but content. Dr. Moore can be more humble and gracious all day long, but until he recants his views and adopts theirs, they will not be satisfied. While they criticized how he spoke, their real quarrel is with what he said, what he advocates. Until they either do away with the ERLC or get someone in the office who will parrot their views, the fight will continue.

The Great Between

Here is the truth that is often forgotten in the middle of our discussions.

Most of us do not fall into either of these groups.

I have been accused of being a Mooredolater, but I’ve disagreed with Moore and have stated it publicly at times. Often, because I’ve not wanted to feed the furor of the Mooredurers, so I’ve kept my disagreements to myself or shared them with close friends. The environment is so toxic right now that giving a simple critique of a Moore statement is nearly impossible. But we must remember this.

Not every person who speaks a word of criticism against Dr. Moore is a Mooredurer.

It is important that Baptists maintain a level of accountability with our leaders, giving people the freedom to disagree with them (hopefully in a respectful way), to criticize them, and to express dissatisfaction with the direction of an entity. A healthy, godly leader gives freedom to the people he lead to disagree, even to dissent. It is never disloyal to disagree with a person in charge. This is not

Of course, in this toxic environment, the disagreements have often gone nuclear. Grace has been abandoned and we drop h-bombs on one another while spraying cover fire from our anathematization guns. Supporters go into defense mode and healthy interaction becomes impossible.

The binary syndrome is everywhere. People define everything as black and white, with no gray in between. It is essential, as we go forward, that we who support Moore listen to the reasonable critics. Not all of them are Mooredurers and they don’t deserve to be treated as if they are. Those who have set themselves beyond reason and reconciliation should be ignored by all people of good will. Titus 3:10 commands us to ignore the divisive. But we need to stop casting every person who expresses a qualm about Dr. Moore as if he or she is a full-fledged, bloodthirsty Mooredurer. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s as divisive as the Mooredurers themselves.

So, what are these categories in the Great Between? I started to set out 5 categories here, but combined the middle three into one and so I have three total.

2. The Russporters – That’s what I am. I support Russell Moore and I’m thrilled that he is going to be staying on as the head of the ERLC. He has one sterling quality which endears him to me. He tends to express views that coincide with mine. I have never formed an opinion based on WWRMD (What Would Russell Moore Do), but we tend to see the world in similar ways. That speaks to Dr. Moore’s insight, intelligence and character, does it not?

I liked what Dr. Moore said about Trump because I agreed with it – nearly every word he spoke registered deeply inside me with a loud amen. I agree with him about racism and immigration and refugees and religious freedom. I’m not sure I’m fully on board with his environmental views – I’ve got to study that a little more. But most of the time, when I hear Moore speak, my spirit whispers an amen.

3. The Moorenoyed – This was the category that started as three, but has been compressed to one. It includes people who would define themselves as supporters of Moore and those who would in general not be part of the fan club but aren’t strongly opposed to him either. What this group has in common is that they were annoyed with Moore but did not necessarily want to see him lose his position at the ERLC. Some disagreed with positions he advocated while others thought his tone and attitude were sometimes lacking.

Some found fault with Moore’s positions.

  • Trump voters – whether enthusiastic or reluctant – often found his anti-Trump rhetoric offensive.
  • The ERLC amicus brief in the SCOTUS case about the mosque, in which the ERLC supported the principle of religious freedom, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
  • Moore’s views on immigration and refugees do not scratch everyone where they itch.
  • Moore was shaped by growing up in Baptist churches where Jesus was loved and racism was tolerated. He views racial reconciliation as not only a high priority but a “gospel issue” and that has ruffled some feathers.
  • Moore believes that the SBC should not too closely identify with the religious right, the GOP, and civil religion. He wants to lead the SBC into a new approach to engaging culture.

Others were less bothered by the content of Moore’s positions than his tone. Some who share Moore’s positions questioned his tone.

  • They felt that he could have done a better job of stating his views while also honoring those who disagreed.
  • They felt he was overly and unnecessarily aggressive in responding to questions at the annual meeting, especially the one about the mosque.

Whether prone to support Moore or not, the Moorenoyed were provoked by his views or his tone, but not to the point they wanted him gone.

4. The Russponents – Like the Mooredurers, these folks wish someone else had his name on the door of the president’s office at the ERLC, but they are not implacable. Jack Graham would likely fit this category. He publicly and dramatically made his displeasure with Moore and the ERLC known, but seems to be willing to accept Moore’s apology and move forward. I certainly hope so. That’s the difference between a Russponent and a Mooredurer. Both wish someone else were leading the ERLC but the Russponent is willing to seek reconciliation and to apply grace in the situation. The Mooredurer is not. Nothing but Moore’s ouster will satisfy.

There are Baptists at both poles but the majority are in the Great Between.

Responding to Moore’s Unity Statement 

Dr. Moore and the ERLC have taken a bold and helpful step with his appeal to unity. Now, each of these groups are responding to Moore’s appeal for unity.

  • For my group, the Russporters, Dr. Moore’s apology was unnecessary but gave evidence of the character of the man we already respected.
  • The greatest effect of the plea for unity might be on the Moorenoyed. Of course, Dr. Moore does not plan to repent of or apologize for his convictions, and I am thankful for that. But he has shown a desire to seek a more affirming tone in engaging those with whom he disagrees. There will always be challenges here. Donald Trump is still going to use his twitter account. The immigration and refugee issues are not going away. But if we honor one another instead of railing against one another, we do better than we did in 2016. Every person I have talked to who was in this category has been
  • It’s not easy for the Russponents, and frankly, they are being asked to make a sacrifice. Dr. Moore did. He humbled himself and apologized, something that is never easy. Now, they are being asked to accept him as the leader of the ERLC even though he is not the man they would like to see at the helm. At this point, only two options exist. The ERLC has made it clear that Dr. Moore is not going away. So, we can find a way to make it work or we can blow things up. I think the majority of us would rather work together than tear down the house.

A Word to Dr. Moore

I have no idea if you ever read SBC Voices, Dr. Moore – we have never discussed anything I’ve written here. But I want to tell you that I thank you for taking the step you took. Part of me wanted to fight and seek a “win” but that way was a loss for all of us. Taking this step was not simply best, it was right.

I am grateful for your stands and your convictions and I look forward to your voice being raised to call Southern Baptists to apply God’s word in this world for many years to come.

Even on those occasions in which you fail to agree with me!