Advice for Russell Moore — Don’t Take Any from Sarah Posner

Advice for Russell Moore — Don’t Take Any from Sarah Posner March 28, 2017

In the ongoing effort by journalists to discredit President Trump (I actually think he has discredited himself but that is not something that disqualifies you from POTUS in the land of the free and the home to the most electoral college votes), Sarah Posner, a regular contributor at The Nation, Bloggingheads.tv.com, and Religion Dispatches, uses Russell Moore — get this — to discredit evangelicals who voted for Trump.

This is part of her lead:

Moore, a boyish-looking pastor from Mississippi, had positioned himself as the face of the “new” religious right: a bigger-hearted, diversity-oriented version that was squarely opposed to Trump’s “us versus them” rhetoric. Speaking to a gathering of religion reporters in a hotel ballroom in Philadelphia, Moore said that his “first priority” was to combat the “demonizing” and “depersonalizing” of immigrants—people, he pointed out, who were “created in the image of God.” Only by refocusing on such true “gospel” values, Moore believed, could evangelicals appeal to young people who had been fleeing the church in droves, and expand its outreach to African Americans and Latinos. Evangelicals needed to do more than win elections—their larger duty was to win souls. Moore, in short, wanted the Christian right to reclaim the moral high ground—and Trump, in his estimation, was about as low as you could get.

From there it’s all downhill. First, the evangelicals who refused to listen to Moore, then the hypocrisy of the Religious Right:

For more than a generation, the Christian right has sought to portray itself as a movement motivated principally by opposition to abortion and the defense of sexual purity against the forces of secularism. According to its own creation myth, evangelicals rose up and began to organize in opposition to Roe v. Wade, motivated by their duty to protect “the unborn.” Albert Mohler, a prominent Southern Baptist theologian, described Roe as “the catalyst for the moral revolution within evangelicalism”—the moment that spurred the coalition with conservative Catholics that still undergirds the religious right.

In fact, it wasn’t abortion that sparked the creation of the religious right. The movement was actually galvanized in the 1970s and early ’80s, when the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University and other conservative Christian schools that refused to admit nonwhites. It was the government’s actions against segregated schools, not the legalization of abortion, that “enraged the Christian community,” Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich has acknowledged.

Finally, she links evangelicals to alt-Right white supremacists in ways that resemble Mark Fuhrman’s assembling of evidence against O. J.:

To alt-right Christians, Trump’s appeal isn’t based on the kind of social-issue litmus tests long favored by the religious right. According to Brad Griffin, a white supremacist activist in Alabama, “the average evangelical, not-too-religious Southerner who’s sort of a populist” was drawn to Trump primarily “because they like the attitude.” Besides, he adds, many on the Christian right don’t necessarily describe themselves as “evangelical” for theological reasons; it’s more “a tribal marker for a lot of these people.”

Before the election, Griffin worried that white evangelicals would find his “Southern nationalist” views problematic. But Trump’s decisive victory over Russell Moore reassured him. “It seems like evangelicals really didn’t follow Moore’s lead at all,” Griffin says. “All these pastors and whatnot went in there and said Trump’s a racist, a bigot, and a fascist and all this, and their followers didn’t listen to them.”

Posner concedes that evidence is lacking for the actual ties between evangelicals and the alt-Right:

There is no way of knowing how many Americans consider themselves to be alt-right Christians—the term is so new, even those who agree with Spencer and Griffin probably wouldn’t use it to describe themselves. But there is plenty of evidence that white evangelical voters are more receptive than nonevangelicals to the ideas that drive the alt-right. According to an exit poll of Republican voters in the South Carolina primary, evangelicals were much more likely to support banning Muslims from the United States, creating a database of Muslim citizens, and flying the Confederate flag at the state capitol. Thirty-eight percent of evangelicals told pollsters that they wished the South had won the Civil War—more than twice the number of nonevangelicals who held that view.

If the glove doesn’t fit, convict anyway!

Matthew Lee Anderson objects to Posner’s piece even while crediting her with thoughtful coverage of religion and politics. Even so, the irony of Posner’s use of Moore to expose the alleged alt-Right leanings of evangelicals is that only eight years ago, moderate evangelicals like Moore were not quite so warm and cuddly. In a piece that Posner wrote on Tim Keller, the journalist mocked the evangelical pastor’s contention that he knows what New Yorkers need — namely, Jesus. Indeed, the idea that money, sex, politics, and professional success were all substitutes for the true worship of God — idolatry — was presumptuous:

It’s hard to see, though, how New York’s wide swaths of spiritual diversity would take to Keller’s air of Christian superiority. For him, the Bible “comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right.” See? It’s that simple.

The focus isn’t eternal salvation, but rather remaking the cultural and political world. He offers a way of making sense of what Jerry Falwell-style fundamentalists might call the scourge of secular humanism. Instead of spiritual warfare against these satanic enemies, Keller asks his readers to confront them as biblical figures might have rejected false idols.

Posner argued that moderate evangelicals like Moore and Keller had fooled mainstream journalists into thinking these culturally sensitive Protestants were much more sensible than the old Christian Right led by James Dobson and Jerry Falwell. But she thought she detected Keller’s true spots when he signed the Manhattan Declaration:

Keller is a favorite of flagship evangelical magazines like Christianity Today and World, but he receives glowing coverage in mainstream outlets as well. “While he hardly shrinks from difficult Christian truths,” observed a 2006 profile in the New York Times, “he sounds different from many of the shrill evangelical voices in the public sphere.” Keller, the piece went on, “shies away from the label evangelical, which is often used to describe theologically conservative Protestant Christians like him, because of the political and fundamentalist connotations that now come with it. He prefers the term orthodox instead, because he believes in the importance of personal conversion or being ‘born again,’ and the full authority of the Bible.”

This assertion—that biblical orthodoxy is somehow apolitical—was put to the test recently when Keller became one of over 100 original signatories to the Manhattan Declaration unveiled on November 20th. Billed as a statement of “religious conscience,” the Manhattan Declaration is something more, something unmistakably fundamentalist and quintessentially political, a regurgitation of the religious right’s assertion that sexual and gender rights are somehow a threat to good Christians’ religious liberty.

Posner actually has a point about the way that evangelical and mainstream journalists have treated Keller, which now looks not so reputable after Princeton Seminary’s capitulation to the demands of Protestant feminists. But I wonder if she recognized that she was doing to Russell Moore in her story for New Republic exactly what she accused journalists of doing to Keller — namely, failing to notice that Moore’s own views about women’s ordination, gay marriage, not to mention the vicarious atonement make him not a moderate evangelical but a fundamentalist. Shouldn’t she have fully disclosed Moore’s convictions rather than using him to pound the POTUS pinata?

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