By Rod Dreher:
You may have seen by now the Wall Street Journal story talking about how in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory, a number of pastors and others in the Southern Baptist Convention are coming out hard against Russell Moore, the leader of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which is the public policy arm of the 16 million-member church. They’re angry that he took such a strong public stance against Trump during the campaign. Here’s a short passage from the piece that stands out:
Yet some pastors fear Mr. Moore’s criticisms of President-elect Trump mean he can’t be an effective advocate within the Trump White House, thereby costing Baptists a chance to capitalize on a victory for the religious right.
“He’s going to have no access, basically, to President Trump,” said Mr. Graham, the Texas pastor.
That comment inadvertently highlights for me the real value of Russell Moore to Christian witness in public life. I say that even though I don’t agree with all the positions he takes. Let me explain.
I’m a religious conservative who concluded some years back that our tribe had become way too involved with politics. I don’t worry at all about the church corrupting the state. I worry about the pursuit of state power corrupting the church. We got way too cozy with the Republican Party. In 2006, David Kuo, an Evangelical who had worked in the Bush White House on faith-based initiatives, blew the whistle on how emissaries from the Religious Right were seen within the White House. …
Russell Moore is many things, but he is not a useful idiot for the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party. I don’t agree with him on everything (e.g., I think I’m more of an immigration restrictionist than he is, but I completely support his advocacy for humane treatment of immigrants, illegal and otherwise), but he has undoubtedly become the most prominent and credible spokesman for small-o orthodox Christianity in the public square than any other church leader, including Catholics and other non-Protestants. Why? Because he’s nobody’s man but Christ’s — and what a rare thing that is among senior Christian leaders who engage in politics and public policy. …[On Trump’s character:] Seems to me that Russell Moore, in speaking out against Trump on the basis of Trump’s public character, was being faithful to Southern Baptist policy — which, one must hope, applies equally to Republican candidates for office as it does to Democratic ones.
And from Russell Moore himself, some timeless words:
In the twentieth century, a fundamentalist leader defined a “compromising Evangelical” as “a fundamentalist who says to a liberal, ‘I’ll call you a Christian if you’ll call me a scholar.’” It seems now that we have some Evangelicals who are willing to say to politicians, “I’ll call you a Christian if you’ll just call me.” Garry Wills, a harsh and sometimes caricaturing critic of those of us who are religious conservatives, once said that the failure of Evangelical political activism is that it is not Evangelical enough. “The problem with evangelical religion,” Wills said, “is not (so much) that it encroaches on politics, but that it has so carelessly neglected its own sources of wisdom.” He warned, “It cannot contribute what it no longer possesses.” That may or may not have been true when Wills wrote those words, but who can ignore the fact that his words now ring true?…
the crisis comes from the fact that the old-guard religious right political establishment normalized an awful candidate—some offering outright support in theological terms, others hedging their bets and whispering advice behind closed doors. The situation is more dire still because, following the release of the Access Hollywood tapes, it was religious conservatives who were about the only group in America willing to defend serious moral problems, in high-flying moral terms no less.
To be clear, the 2016 campaign did not provoke this crisis. This was a pre-existing condition. The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.