Recovering the freakishness of Christianity

Russell Moore, identified as per our previous discussion as one of those “Lutheran Baptists,” was recently appointed head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, which makes pronouncements on public policy for that church body.  But Rev. Moore is going far beyond the usual rightwing talking points that have been associated with Christian conservatives.  In an interview with Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post, he gives some thoughtful comments about generic civil religion, abortion, military chaplains, and religious freedom.

From An interview with Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention – The Washington Post (the questions not being in the same order0;

Many Americans are turning away from institutional religion. Why?

When it comes to [people who say they have “no religion”], in some ways that is the collapse of Bible Belt America, of this sense of Christianity as being something that is part of a normal American life. [In some areas of the country], it meant someone was a good citizen by being part of a church. That is collapsing, and as an evangelical Christian, I say good riddance to that.

I don’t think that sort of American dream plus Jesus represented biblical Christianity at all and in many ways hindered it and the advance of the Gospel, which is dependent upon . . . the freakishness of Christianity. We’re saying some things that are extraordinary — that a dead man has come back to life! That reconciliation with God is possible through forgiveness of sins. Those things aren’t just the application of moral American life. The “Veggie Tales” phenomenon in evangelicalism, the taking Bible characters and making cartoons out of them and teaching moral lessons from those things really represented a lot of what was happening in Bible Belt Christianity that I think was bloodless and Gospel-free in many ways. That’s changing, so you don’t have nominal young Christian church members who are going to church because they think this is what’s good for their families or their businesses or to find a spouse or to make partner at the law firm. Those days are over.

Where is the abortion debate going? Public-opinion polls show Americans want abortion available in the early stages. And yet these measures are passing in the states to limit it in the later stages.

One thing I try and do with our constituency on this issue is to warn against extreme triumphalism [or] pessimism. Because some of our people see those polls that young people are increasingly pro-life and see it as “We’re winning.” I’m not sure that’s the case. But the fact that this is a real debate in American culture is in one sense a success of pro-life movement.

Views on abortion are changing because of technology and the viability of the fetus.

But technology takes as well as it gives. I’m concerned as abortion becomes more chemical [with the RU-486 abortion pill] and less clinical that the abortion debate will then change. I use the analogy of pornography. There was a lot of effort by social conservatives to keep adult bookshops out, and those were battles worth having, but now the issue isn’t whether there’s a Playboy behind the counter. You have a ubiquity and an invisibility around pornography that has weaponized it. A similar thing I fear could happen with abortion as it becomes more of a pharmaceutical and chemical issue that enables people to put a distance between themselves and the personhood of the child involved.

[On military chaplains] So the religious liberty discussion is about the relationship between religion and the state?

It’s easy for [the chaplaincy] to become just a religious extension of the government. If that’s where chaplaincy is headed, you won’t have Catholic and Muslim and Orthodox Jewish chaplains. You’ll just have bland, generic civil American religion. . . . I’m worried about the silencing of various voices in order to have a generic civil religion we can all agree on. Which is impossible.

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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