Beth Moore - Russell Moore - Nashville
Ethicist Russell Moore, left, and Bible teacher Beth Moore have a discussion in front of a live audience at Immanuel Church in Nashville, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (RNS photo: Bob Smietana)

Beth Moore and Russell Moore Share Laughter, Regrets at Nashville Church

By Bob Smietana

Two of the best-known ex-Southern Baptist leaders in the country got together at a Nashville church on Thursday for a night filled with Bible verses, banter and bittersweet memories.

The event, entitled “Lessons in Leaving (and Staying),” featured Bible teacher Beth Moore and ethicist Russell Moore — and was the first live event for a new Public Theology Project from Christianity Today magazine, where Russell Moore landed after leaving the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Thursday’s event, held at Immanuel Church, west of downtown Nashville, started with a mock confession from Beth Moore.

“I am Russell Moore’s mother,” she said, and then pointed to a pair of screens on the side of the stage, where a series of photos from a fake family scrapbook flashed, all with Russell Moore’s head pasted on each of them. In real life the two are not related, a fact often lost on their critics.

The joke set the tone for the night — which was filled with good-natured banter about the state of the evangelical church as well as poignant reflections on what each lost in departing from the faith community that raised them.

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Both of the Moores left the SBC earlier this year after months of ongoing controversy, most of it related to their public criticism of Donald Trump, their concerns over racism in the denomination and their advocacy for survivors of sexual abuse among evangelicals.

Leaving the SBC was like a death of a close friend, said Beth Moore. The Southern Baptist Convention had been her whole world, and her home church had helped save her while growing up in a troubled home.

Her faith in her fellow Baptists was rocked when many Baptist leaders rallied to support Trump after the release of Access Hollywood tapes that captured the then-presidential candidate making lewd comments about forcing himself on women.

Beth Moore, who has spent decades in women’s ministry, said she felt compelled to speak up after hearing the remarks, which she learned of while traveling home after spending time with Native American women in Arizona, where some of the women she spoke to had experienced abuse.

“What would you expect out of someone who lives their whole life serving women,” she asked the audience of about 250 people who gathered for the live taping of the newly launched “The Russell Moore Podcast.”

Then she added: “I expected Donald Trump to be Donald Trump. That was not a shock to me. I did not expect us to be us.”

Her 2016  criticism of Trump did not land well. Her ministry, Living Proof, lost millions in revenue, and she became a symbol of “liberalism” invading the SBC, according to her critics. Things got worse, she said, after she joked about speaking in a church on Mother’s Day, leading to accusations that Baptist women were trying to take over the pulpits of Southern Baptist churches.

Nothing could be further from the truth, she said. Women are not a threat to the pulpit.

“No, no, no,” she said. “Forgive me. The pulpit had become a threat to women.”

The fallout from leaving the SBC has had moments of consolation, Beth Moore admitted. Many friends have reached out to commiserate with her, and she has found new allies along the way.

She does have one pet peeve. Many well-intentioned friends have reached out to say, “I am so sorry that so many people hate you.”

“There is nothing about that I find helpful,” she said to raucous laughter and applause.

For his part, Russell Moore — who recently joined Immanuel, which is not part of the SBC —  spoke about his public departure from the ERLC, which came after years of conflict and a pair of investigations into whether or not Moore’s public statements about Trump and issues like immigration and abuse had hurt the SBC.

Moore
Russell Moore and Beth Moore in April 2018 (Photo via Twitter)

He said he could have stayed at the ERLC. But the cost would have been too high.

“I could have won the conflict that needed to be fought,” he said. “But I realized I would have to have a conflict. And I didn’t want to be the kind of person I would be on the other side of that.”

Russell Moore also noted his friendship with Beth Moore had come as a surprise. A proponent of complementarianism, a theology that prescribes different roles for men and women in the home and in the church and bars women from the pastorate, he had been critical of her leadership and ministry in the past.

With some chagrin, he pointed out that in 2006, he had called her teaching “a gateway drug to feminism,” a statement he now regrets.

When he was under fire, however, Beth Moore reached out with support, first by direct messages on Twitter, and later with texts. Russell Moore and his wife, Maria, eventually became friends and confidants with Beth Moore, supporting each other through the maelstrom that engulfed them both.

Russell Moore joked that many friends also supported him, some of them even offering to buy him a beer or share a shot with him, something that had not happened since he was a teenager.

Both of the Moores said that, while they have left the SBC, they have not lost their faith in Jesus. While both love the church, they urged the audience to put their faith in Jesus and trust God is at work.

“I couldn’t let myself ever think this doesn’t end well,” said Beth Moore. “Because that was unacceptable.”

Both of the Moores said they plan to stay in ministry, though Beth Moore admitted retreating from the public eye sounds appealing at times. But God called her to ministry, she said, and had not yet told her to stop.

She made that point while recalling an online controversy caused by outspoken California pastor John MacArthur, a noted critic of women in ministry. During an event in 2019, MacArthur said Moore should “go home” rather than teaching the Bible.

MacArthur’s comment, which was referenced several times on Thursday as a punchline for jokes, never bothered her, Beth Moore said, since the pastor was not a Southern Baptist and she did not know him.

Then she turned to the audience and whispered, “I am not going home.”

“You can’t make me, because you are not my boss.”

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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22 thoughts on “Beth Moore and Russell Moore Share Laughter, Regrets at Nashville Church”

  1. “The Southern Baptist Convention had been her whole world”

    If that is not a description of an idol than I do not know what is. Is it not Jesus Christ who is supposed to be each and all of our worlds? It is not good to leave idols behind us instead of leaving them up on their pedestals where we will just trip over them? Religious institutions and the doctrines that they like to teach are a very common idol. Yet everything we humans touch tend to just decay even while we are grasping them. I left my idols behind a long time ago. It is my prayer that others will join me in that, for their own long term good.

    1. “Her whole world” may instead refer to two elements. First, Beth Moore’s entire Christian life was, from infancy until recently, experienced through the Southern Baptist Convention. Living for Jesus outside of that culture and structure is quite an adjustment at age 63. Second, the SBC’s ministry approach often features activities occurring on church property. This isn’t right or wrong, though it’s the opposite philosophy of some denominations that emphasize training members to reach others during the normal course of everyday life at home, work, and school. It’s common for SBC members like Beth Moore to spend significant lengths of time on church grounds each week for exercise classes, adult basketball leagues, children’s music performances, and other events designed to attract unbelievers, develop relationships with them, and present the gospel. When worship, Bible study, fitness, social groups, and other aspects of one’s life are associated with church facilities, it can feel like your “whole world.”

  2. I call them both to repentance. They have done much harm to the body of Christ. They are liberal, progressives who have taken money from the church as ill gotten gain, deceiving many.

    REPENT!

      1. You’re right Russell Moore is worse than a than a liberal

        He is a fraud and knows very little of a walk with God

        He loves the praises of men and a total wannabe

        His fruit is barren indeed

        1. Amazing that you, a random internet commenter, know so much about his heart and his relationship with God. Attitudes like yours are a part of what makes evangelicalism completely repulsive to many people of good will, including many of evangelicalism’s own young people.

          In any case, I hope others are more charitable in their judgements and words about you than you are of Moore.

        2. I’m not one who views liberals as “horrible” (I’m old enough to remember when civil rights leaders and the concept of integration were deemed “liberal”), nor do I view conservatives as “good”.
          However, I do know when I read accusations that are overstepping our boundaries as Christians and declaring we know the status of another’s salvation and what is in their heart or mind.
          I pray Tim that you are ready to stand before the Lord and account for knowing Russell is not a real Christian (you call him a “total wannabe”), has never led a single person to Christ (you call his fruit “barren”), and what is in his heart (you say he “loves the praises of men”). Those are STRONG words – and the Bible says we will all be held accountable for every word we utter.
          It’s sad to see us take one another out like this – over matters that are NOT central to our faith. (Can anyone point me to where Russell or Beth deny the deity or saving power of Christ?)

    1. They’re both fortunate to be out of that evil body.
      It’s collapsing because of the exact things both of them complain about.
      How any sane person could support a narcissistic womanizer is beyond me.
      Especially an alleged self proclaimed “christian”

      Good bye sbc
      R.I.P.

  3. Is it true that they left SBC because of “their concerns over racism in the denomination and their advocacy for survivors of sexual abuse among evangelicals.” Is it true there is a problem with racism in the SBC? This also implies advocacy for survivors of sexual abuse was not welcome in the SBC? Any evidence for these allegations?

    1. I thought these topics (racism, covering up of sexual abuse) were both admitted to and addressed at the last SBC convention.

  4. I totally understand evangelicals that believe Donald Trump was not a decent man. I am one of them.

    However, I don’t understand how they can call Joe Biden a decent man, when he supports very unrestricted abortion, gay marriage, transgenderism from a very young age, and has even issued an executive order that forces doctors to perform transition surgeries against their consciences. He is also a frequent liar.

    I pray that God will bless us with a godly President in 2024, though we probably don’t deserve one as a nation.

    Finally, I find celebrity Christians of all stripes unhelpful, and often dangerous.

    1. One Olsen,

      I completely agree with everything you said. I did not and still do not support Trump, and did not vote for him in any of the four elections he was on the ballot–but I can’t see how any functioning center-right person with a brain can fail to see that Biden is a hundred thousand times worse in every area.

      1. Not that I see how Beth and Russell’s sharing about their personal journeys over these last few years says anything about Joe Biden (please show where either mention supporting him), but how about evangelicals FIND A NEW CANDIDATE TO SUPPORT? Why is this such a hard concept?
        In 2016 you had over a dozen other choices among the GOP.
        There is still time to find a candidate before 2024.
        But all evangelicals keep talking about is Trump Trump Trump, as if he’s your only hope. THAT is the problem. If you keep focusing on “but what about Biden” instead of vetting a new candidate, this will continue to be a problem. Instead of the scare tactics of “but whatabout how evil THEY are”, try a “here is what is good about what our party stands for” – and then have a candidate who actually lives it (hint: a twice-divorced, twice-bankrupt serial adulterer is NOT it).
        Heck, Tim Scott was looking good for a while. But ya’ll stay obsessing over how the GOP leader MUST be Trump. Sigh.

        1. I don’t think you read my whole post. Please read it to the end.

          Moore & Moore left the SBC in part because of the embrace of Trump. My very relevant point asks how could evangelicals embrace or vote for Biden given his support of biblically abhorrent things.

  5. I’m tempted to read into Bob’s report, the place of the individual in faith. Where such a reading can proceed in Christian and secular terms. Where the backdrop to such a reading is what can play out collectively and institutionally.
    A Christian aspect to the reading, and it open to critique for its over simplicity, can pivot on the reference to ending of fellowship in the SBC, in terms of death experience. Driven by faith, the individual takes a stand which sees her/him condemned by their collective of membership. For both speakers there is a crucifixion aspect to their circumstance and what befalls them. Where in the ending of fellowship, the nominal ground of their faith becomes absent; the earthbound expression of the God in whom they have faith, namely their Church with its process of congregatating, ends absent.
    What these individuals are left with is what faith they sustain as individuals, as they are circumstantially crucified across the stand that sustaining this faith demands. A process where other individuals reach out and proto-congregating is had in that. All such that an evolution in the intersection of faith and Church occurs.
    The two speakers speak to all this well-enough.

    There is then the hard-architecture in what is collective, that has to be addressed. Bob’s reporting picks up on this, but does not see it as it’s place to expand on that address.
    What stands out for me, in what needs to be addressed, is the intersection of institution-sustaining dogma, and the individual of faith and good worldly perception; where condemnation is the troubling mechanism and fuel at this intersection.
    SBC, as reported by Bob, appears to be sustaining itself against the weight of evidence to do with (at least) Trump and women. Other matters are referred to but not expanded on. This all encapsulated in what Russell once had to say about Beth, regards her (as he saw it) facilitating feminism rather than Christianity. Here Russell was in the grip of institution-sustaining dogma, as he (as he would now see it) condemned Beth across a fundamental misrepresenting of her.

    What’s the takehome message in all this. I think it is that there is an overriding individual responsibility in being Christian. Congregating and Church have their own irreducible value. However, at the end of the day (the summarising final breath), our life-experience distilled faith and understanding, is what we must stand by; come what may in consequence. As we die, as we are stripped of all the comfort and putting-off of earthbound human living, our understanding of and commitment to God, is tested to destruction. If we practice Christianity while alive, on the ground of our own faith, we prepare for that final testing, where the question is can we leave life with our faith process intact and working. In that we cannot take wealth or worldy-success or congregation with us; the needle’s eye allowing passage only for faith.
    In experiencing the ending of fellowship with SBC as if death, Beth and Russell have had a valuable dry run. All the best to them as they take forward the lessons of all that.

  6. Any comments about the SBC actions at the recent convention, or any condemnation about this Biden administration? If not, it would seem that this meeting was about personalities and not principles. I wonder what the next topic or personality will be at the next meeting of Public Theology.

    1. This was about their individual journeys since leaving SBC, not about condemning Biden or whatever else. I am both proud and empathetic to the Moores, as I once left a denomination that had an attitude of “to leave us is to leave Jesus” and was immediately cast as a “fallaway.” I spent YEARS in freefall – losing what I thought were lifelong friends and brothers and sisters in the faith, desperately trying to “prove” I was still a Christian. It took the discipleship of a dear friend to point that I had lost perspective of what made me a Christian – belief in the Jesus Christ as my Savior.
      I had to repent of idolizing the opinions of others – as they don’t really matter in the end – and truly let go, move on, and let God.
      But until the church repents of its idolizing of the Republican party and subsequent demonizing of anyone and anything that is not in 100% lockstep with Donald Trump, I won’t be surprised by the accusations hurled at the Moores on here.

  7. Julie, these are not the reformers the SBC needs, these are political hacks and perhaps (I don’t know their hearts), outright tares.

    It’s funny that these knights for sex abuse justice seem to have a blind eye to Loritts. Hmm.

    Just because the Patterson-esque good ol’ boys system was rotten to the core, it does not logically follow that the answer is social-justice CRT crusaders. Both are deadly poison to God’s church.

  8. From the article …..”Her faith in her fellow Baptists was rocked when many Baptist leaders rallied to support Trump after the release of Access Hollywood tapes that captured the then-presidential candidate making lewd comments about forcing himself on women.”

    Beth Moore should have not been surprised…

    Evangelicals helped Trump win the Republic nomination for President…. even though there were 16 other Republican candidates they could have voted for…

    Evangelicals love Trump despite all his abusive tweets over the years and poor character.

    If Trump runs again in 2024, evangelicals will once again help Trump win the Republican nomination, despite there possibly being a dozen or more of Republican opponents with upstanding character…. he will do what he always does, just eliminate his Republican opponents through character assassination.

    And all the evangelicals will just say “Aw shucks”…. he is a little rough around the edges….

    Then the evangelicals wonder why so many young people are leaving the church….

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