Recent famous Southern Baptist refugees Russell Moore and (no relation) Beth Moore have resigned.
Photo: Mark Humphrey / AP; Living Evidence Ministries
A generation ago, diehard conservatives took control of the largest Protestant church denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, and spawned what we now call “the Christian Right.” They overcame a tradition of congregational autonomy and state conventions to enforce biblical inerrancy, subordination of women in pews and at home, and aggressively traditionalist views on sexuality and abortion. as litmus tests for seminaries, clergy and members. The SBC was a mainstay – maybe the pillar – for the Christian right, with leaders like Jerry Falwell (senior and junior) and Franklin Graham joining real politician (and ordained Southern Baptist minister) Mike Huckabee at the forefront. the antique baptist engagement to strict church-state separation was one of the victims of the self-proclaimed “conservative resurgence”, as the new denomination leadership stood ready to enlist their allies in the Republican Party to strike down the wicked and bring the Kingdom closer to God .
By the 1990s, the number of declared members of the Southern Baptist Convention had more than doubled since the 1950s; in 1967, their number overtaken the Methodists for the first time. After an intensive period of power-building parallel to the conquest of the Republican Party by the conservative movement, a group of very conscious religious ideologues had achieved dominance of the SBC. It had become a loud, proud and extremely confident stronghold of religious, cultural and political conservatism.
Now the building of Southern Baptist trust is eroding. Membership in SBC has declined for 13 consecutive years, with the largest decline occurring more recently. Baptists can no longer mock “liberal” Protestants for declining membership allegedly attributable to their moral and theological laxity, such as their tolerance of feminists and homosexuals. The evangelical conservative lurch into right-wing nationalist “populism” has become heavier than ever thanks to the total surrender of the Christian right to the pagan cult of Donald Trump. And now the Southern Baptist willingness to contemptuously attack other churches for sexual impropriety has been exposed as hypocritical through horrible allegations that church leaders covered up on sexual assault and pedophilia by clergy and other church workers.
The crisis in this supremely right-thinking religious group is now dramatized by the challenges of some of its best-known public figures. In March, famous Bible teacher Beth Moore, who has supported victims of sexual abuse and expressed frustration with the limitations placed on women in the SBC, Told Religion News Service, she is “no longer a Southern Baptist.” In May, celebrity head of the SBC’s public policy arm, Russell Moore, resigned from his post after nine stormy years, and he quickly split completely from the denomination while bitterly accusing its leaders of defending white supremacists and suppressing allegations of sexual abuse. (The Moores are not related.) And now the largest congregation in the denomination, home to perhaps the most famous Southern Baptist preacher of all, Rick Warren, directly challenges the SBC doctrine of male-only clergy. in order three women as pastors in his church in Saddleback.
The departure of the hugely popular Moore from the SBC will probably have the most profound impact on the people of the benches, who adored his teachings. And the willingness of an institution like Warren’s Church to challenge sexist doctrine could eventually break the denomination altogether. But for now, Moore’s savagely anguished against his former colleagues creates what evangelical writer Peter Wehner is. call an “earthquake”, not only in the SBC but throughout conservative Christendom:
His departure was not primarily driven, as many had speculated, by his role as an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, although this clearly upset powerful members within the politically and theologically conservative denomination. Instead, the letter suggests, the violation was caused by the positions he had taken against sexual abuse within the SBC and on racial reconciliation, which infuriated the executive committee.
The timing is no coincidence: Moore’s main accusations were against the denomination’s executive committee just before its next annual meeting, such as Washington To post Explain:
Moore’s letter was aimed directly at several members of the executive committee of the SBC, the Nashville-based group that manages the affairs of the convention and manages its finances. He described the “spiritual and psychological abuse of survivors of sexual abuse by the Executive Committee itself ”, as well as “a pattern of attempting to intimidate those who speak out on such matters.”
Foremost among them is Georgian ultraconservative pastor Mike Stone, who is trying to become the next ultraconservative president of the SBC.
Right-wing Baptist critics of Moores (and Warren, for that matter) like to call them “liberals” or secular troublemakers enraged at Trump’s massive popularity among the conservative evangelical base. It’s hard to save. Russell Moore was a strong supporter of conservative Baptist doctrine, promoting “Complementarism” (the view that God has eternally ordained separate and exclusive gender roles, which is the basis for excluding women from the pulpit), the anti-abortion movement, opposition to same-sex marriage and a broad definition of “religious freedom” to protect the church – discrimination based. His hostility to Trump is based in part on the 45th president’s decision personal conduct (including an attitude towards the women of a “Bronze Age warlord”) and in part on the grounds that no secular politician should be idolized by believers. Beth Moore focused even more narrowly on Trump’s alleged sexual assaults and deferred to “complementary” biases until all of this eliminated her ability to teach from the Bible.
But aside from the details, any protest movement focused on restricting the lordly prerogatives of the patriarchy in matters of gender and family, or exposing and atoning past and persistent white racism, will not be accepted by the MAGA wing of the SBC or by conservative evangelism in general. The reason why Russell Moore “I accuse !” in particular, what troubles conservative Christians is that he claims they are manifesting precisely the bad faith, idolatry and hedonistic license that they have so often accused those outside their ranks of manifesting.
All right-wing heresies and the decline in the membership of the SBC cannot be entirely dissociated. In one of the leaked letters that creates such heartbreak, Russell Moore recalled one SBC executive very recently said: “The conservative resurgence is like civil war, except this time, unlike the last, the right side has won. This coming from a denomination in which racial diversification was supposed to be the preferred strategy to compensate for membership losses! At the end of last year, there was a damaging mini-exodus of black pastors of the SBC when some of its seminar chairs insisted on issuing a statement mimicking MAGA’s attacks on “critical race theory.” Even considerations of self-preservation have not supplanted Trumpism as a priority for church-based culture warriors.
It is not known whether the potential schism of the Southern Baptist Convention will spread to the breaking point, die out, or cover itself. Likewise, the political fallout is difficult to predict. But at a time when conservative white Christianity is the strongest amalgamation for the conservative populist political cause, which cannot afford many defections, the loss of unity and esprit de corps among the larger group of Evangelicals is no small task. As the old liberal sticker recalled when Southern Baptists flocked to Jerry Falwell’s moral majority political activist group: “The moral majority is neither! The SBC, the Christian right, and the conservative movement in general do not seem to be growing, and they have a lot of sins to confess.