Russell Moore
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 12, 2019. in Birmingham, AL. (RNS photo by Butch Dill)

SBC Report Calls Never-Trumper Russell Moore’s Agency a ‘Significant Distraction’

By Bob Smietana

In a long-awaited report released Monday, a task force commissioned to study the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) calls the convention’s public policy arm a “significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.”

Blaming the ERLC for the loss of more than a million dollars in constituent church donations to the denomination, the task force, led by Georgia pastor Mike Stone, quotes the leader of a state Baptist convention as saying, “The ERLC has been a stumbling block not worth the mission dollar investment.” (Stone is one of four candidates vying to be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention or SBC.)

But there seems to be as much politics as economics in the report’s conclusions. It notes that in recent years, the fear of a “liberal” drift in the denomination has led some churches to leave the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) or to withhold giving. Part of that dissatisfaction is aimed at the ERLC, and particularly at the Rev. Russell Moore, who has led the ERLC since 2013.

Though a staunch opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, two of the issues most important to politically conservative evangelicals, Moore’s views on other issues over the course of the Trump administration—most significantly on immigration, race, and Donald Trump himself—have landed Moore in hot water.

The report does not call for Moore’s ouster, but it does recommend that the ERLC no longer make public comments about any political candidate and only address issues that the SBC has already issued resolutions on.

A spokeswoman for the ERLC stated that Moore would not comment on the report, saying that the agency’s board of trustees has instructed him not to speak publicly about it.

But David Prince, chair of the agency’s trustees, said in a statement that “Southern Baptists can see this report for exactly what it is,” and claimed that the ERLC “has served Southern Baptists faithfully during a time of political, cultural and, in some cases, denominational chaos.”

Prince added, “Much of this chaos remains with us, including widespread news of many of our Black and brown brothers and sisters leaving the SBC. That should be alarming to all of us. Regardless, all this and more is why I am grateful the ERLC serves our churches with a vibrant and bold gospel witness day in and day out.”

The inquiry into the ERLC was set up in February 2020, after members of the SBC’s executive committee raised concerns about giving to the denomination’s cooperative program, which funds statewide and denominational ministries.

The new report claims that hundreds of churches have either left the denomination or withheld funds. It cites one state where $1,147,000 has been “withheld due to the ERLC.” In another state, the report suggests that “$2,448,000” in giving is at risk because of “serious concerns with the ERLC.” Committee members did not identify the states or specific churches.

The report also list a series of direct complaints. These include Moore’s opposition to Trump; claims that the ERLC receives funding linked to progressive philanthropist George Soros; the ERLC’s stance on cooperating with COVID-19 restrictions; and the agency’s support for immigration reforms.

More recently, it claims, the ERLC was critical of protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol but not of Black Lives Matter protests.

The report also cites what it calls “disrespectful and condescending responses” to questions raised by messengers—the SBC’s terms for church delegates to its annual meeting. As one example, the report mentions the response to Arkansas pastor John Wofford at the 2016 meeting.

Wofford asked Moore why the ERLC would support the rights of Muslims to build mosques. Moore replied that Baptists had always supported religious liberty and that if a government could ban mosques it could also ban Baptist churches, a response that earned a standing ovation.  

Moore is not the first head of the ERLC to be met with disapproval. Two of his predecessors left office because of controversy.

In 2011, longtime ERLC President Richard Land was criticized for his support of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and for joining an interfaith coalition that defended the rights of Muslims to build houses of worship. Criticism from other Southern Baptists eventually forced Land to leave the coalition. Land, a longtime Republican activist, left office after a scandal over plagiarism and comments on race.

Russell Moore Richard Land
Former ERLC President Richard Land (left) and Russell Moore appear together in June 2013.

Land’s predecessor, N. Larry Baker, lasted just 16 months in the role in the 1980s, where his views on “abortion, capital punishment, and the role of women in the church” were considered controversial, according to Baptist Press. Baker was part of the moderate wing of the SBC that was ousted by a conservative movement in the denomination.

David Gushee, professor of ethics at Mercer University, said that the head of the ERLC has always been in a precarious position. Tasked with bringing Christian ethics to bear on social issues, the ERLC’s president often has to navigate clashes between Christian ethics and popular political positions.

That conflict, he said, was one reason for the conservative turn taken by the denomination, known as the Conservative Resurgence or the “Fundamentalist Takeover.”

“Politically conservative Southern Baptists wanted an ethics commission that reflects those values,” he said.

The nature of SBC funding, which asks churches to give voluntarily to national ministries, means that the ERLC president may at times have to criticize views held by people in the pews.

“The trick was always to be the most conservative person in the room,” said Gushee, who did some work for the ERLC in the 1990s before breaking with the SBC.

Nancy Ammerman, a religion sociologist who had studied the SBC culture war of the 1970s and 1980s, noted that Land and Foy Valentine, a longtime head of the Christian Life Commission, as the ERLC was formerly known, were able to connect with large numbers of their fellow Baptists.

“Russell Moore, on the other hand, has been publicly going against the majority of his denomination for the entirety of Trump’s ascendancy,” she wrote in an email.

“He is at odds with them on little else, so if they oust him, it will follow the pattern of Trump loyalty throughout the culture-war movement. Loyalty to Trump, rather than any discernible issue position, would define the denomination’s ‘ethical’ stance.”

The executive committee is expected to discuss the report at its upcoming meeting in Nashville.

A prior task force found in 2017 that concerns the ERLC had led to reduced giving were “not as significant in fact as it is in perception,” Baptist Press reported.  A 2018 attempt to defund the ERLC failed.

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

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37 thoughts on “SBC Report Calls Never-Trumper Russell Moore’s Agency a ‘Significant Distraction’”

  1. Julie,

    While I respect any evangelical who is willing to stand up to Trump, I have mixed feelings about Russell Moore. It seems to me that he goes beyond opposing Trump and embraces elements of the social-justice left. That’s not preferable to idolizing the orange duck. I don’t know why it’s so hard to do right in one area without going too far and embracing another type of problematic worldview at the same time.

    (I feel the same way about the other Moore, Russell’s friend Beth–glad she is against Trump, not so glad that she’s flirted with the left here and there [remember when she was so outraged at the Babylon Bee?].)

    1. I see the phrase “social justice left” being thrown around so casually and inconsistently that it’s meaning has become quite lost. Can someone tell me what that phrase MEANS and why it’s so awful to fight for social justice? I really hope some of ya’ll don’t have the nerve to post such hatred for social justice, then quote, post, or reflect on MLK, who lost his life fighting for social justice.

      1. “Social justice” in the way the world means it (in which human worth is determined by your hierarchy of “privilege”–in other words, the more “oppressed group” categories you check off, the more worthy you are) and real Biblical recognition in the innate God’s imageness of every human being are about as far apart from one another as the Earth and the next galaxy over from the Milky Way.

        Russell Moore either does not believe so, or does a very poor job of discerning and explaining this distinction.

      2. Social justice at its core is an offshoot of socialism. Oxford English Dictionary defines social justice as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society” but vaguely defines justice as the “quality of being fair and reasonable.”

        Socialism a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

        It is described as the first step out of capitalism and into communism .

        1. Thanks both for the definition. I don’t think that’s how it is always being used, which causes people to misunderstand and talk past each other.
          I grew up in the black church, where I’ve always heard “social justice” as a term referencing a fight for justice for the marginalized. So I never understood why Christians acted as if that were so horrible.

        2. Dr. Peter J Oehler

          This is why the new administration has replaced the word “Equality” with “Equity”, a common use of the Marxist tactic known as the “Dialectic”. They seem to be the same but are quite different. Note also that what you will see in the near future is negative references to eating meat supported by the mythological religion of “Scientism”, which is bad science, similar to evolution or climate change, used to produce a philosophical desire. The view that nature is all there is, and science the be all and end all of human wisdom.

          1. Dr Peter –

            My understanding of equity vs equality is that equality is “just give everyone the same thing and all will be fair” whereas equity considers “one size does NOT fit all” when it comes to a group’s needs. For example, if you want everyone to bike one mile, equality is “give everyone the exact same bike and everyone will be fine.” Equity is “let’s provide bikes based on height, weight, disability, etc” to make sure everyone has the opportunity to finish. Unfortunately, when we see others get “different bikes” we start complaining and questioning fairness without considering need or ability. Equality is what we say we want, but in actuality, what a lot of us need is equity.

            As for eating less meat – that is just plain ol’ health. I do eat meat, but I recognize that the portions of meat versus vegetables has gotten absurd (huge steaks with 2 broccoli spears served as dinner) – and it’s correlated to a slew of health issues plaguing our country. Just look around at our obesity rates, starting in childhood (yeah, I know conservatives hate Michelle Obama, but she was onto something about childhood obesity increasing at what SHOULD be an unaccepable rate). We do need to eat better diets – which actually should be in reverse: vegetables are to be the “main” course with meat as the “side portion”.

            It’s less conspiracy theory and more just common sense.

    2. Why is it so hard to understand? Opposition to Trump comes from being on the left! The fool has his heart on the left (Proverbs).

      1. Achile Dinu, with respect I must disagree with you. Russell Moore is one of the most well-spoken men I know of who also loves Jesus and holds Scripture in the highest regard. He has not given any evidence of being “on the left.”

        1. You must be joking – the whole point of the distraction he brings is his either straight-up alignment with “left” ideas or his complete silence on denouncing them. As pointed out in the report, these are the highlights of his “left” leaning…

          “Moore’s opposition to Trump; claims that the ERLC receives funding linked to progressive philanthropist George Soros; the ERLC’s stance on cooperating with COVID-19 restrictions; and the agency’s support for immigration reforms.

          More recently, it claims, the ERLC was critical of protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol but not of Black Lives Matter protests.”

          Plenty of people are well spoken and hold scripture in the highest regard – doesn’t mean they’re correct about issues and certainly doesn’t mean their in position to be in charge of an organization that leans right.

    3. Orange duck??? What an incredible unmasking of yourself!!! So, what should we call Biden, Communist China’s Fool in the White House? Or would that be…..Red House?
      Since you have “respect” for any evangelical that would stand to Trump, in the same manner, would you have any “respect” for any evangelical that would stand against the Red duck in the Oval Office?
      Uwe
      (Jude 1:3)
      Post Tenebras Lux

      1. Uwe,

        What is your issue here? Do you not like that specific nickname, or or do you simply believe Christians not permitted to poke fun of national leaders, or is it only Trump that is protected from any kind of mocking?

        I don’t know where I implied liking Biden, but I don’t–he’s certainly worse than Trump, on paper at least. If you could see my Facebook you’d see my countless references to “Creepy Joe”, “Quid Pro Joe”, and the like (because the media certainly won’t ever use those names).

        Trump’s done plenty to deserve criticism and mockery, as has Biden, and Moore certainly warrants some calling-out as well.

  2. I agree that both Moores, sadly, have flirted with the social-justice left, and I believe in so doing are treading on dangerous ground.
    I have been blessed by much of the work both have done, and am sad to see the drift. Having lived most of my life overseas, in particular in East Africa and Bolivia, I see liberation theology, a false gospel, popping up all over the place. There is also a tendency to package humanism as caring Theology…sociology and psychology are easily dressed up by talking about Jesus loving and caring for the vulnerable…
    I pray both will stay in true and firm contact with the Holy Spirit and not get carried away by our culture and every wind of teaching and the craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming…abundant in many of our “Christian” institutions of “higher” learning…like Wheaton.

    1. Russell more than Beth, albeit the latter’s excoriation of Babylon Bee (of all institutions!) was a real self-own.

  3. No, Russell Moore does not deserve support. No leader who says, as Moore did, that Christians ought not attend the “wedding” of two people of the same sex but may attend their reception—i.e., the celebration of the faux-wedding—should not be the leader of any theologically orthodox organization. Attending the celebration of a union that God detests and which mocks God’s picture of Christ and his bride is an act of rebellion. A Christian leader should know that.

    1. I didn’t know a thing about this distinction Russell Moore apparently made, between attending an SSM ceremony and the reception following. I thought you might enjoy knowing that *Miss Manners agrees with you*. Years ago, she published a letter from an atheist who had been invited to a church wedding and who wanted to know if it would be alright if he skipped the service, since he considered it a waste of time, and showed up for the reception. Her reply was along the lines of, so you’re saying you don’t think your friends’ wedding matters, but you like parties? Tsk tsk…

  4. One area that I applaud Moore on is his statement of support for Muslims to build mosques. Religious freedom cuts both ways. It can’t be freedom for me but not for thee. I am also convinced that religious institutions, churches, leaders, etc., need to stay away from endorsing any political figure. As followers of Jesus, we are here to build God’s Kingdom – not some earthly kingdom. We can preach biblical truth on issues being faced, but I see no value in endorsing a political party or person. Perhaps I have missed the importance of a political endorsement and open to hearing an alternative viewpoint. Thanks

    1. Don, your post has a lot of good common sense in it. For myself, I have a problem getting like a rabid dog over political issues because the leaders in place so profoundly affect our lives as American citizens! Take for example those black robed men walking around in their ivory tower about 50 years ago that said it’s okay to kill babies. I know this is not an entirely Christlike mindset. But when I see dangerous, immoral, un-American ideologies disguising themselves as what is best and wonderful for American citizens, I just can’t keep silent, I can’t. However, once again your post has many good sound judgment points, and I lean in your direction. Well said!

    2. Courage to Stand?

      I tend to agree that we shouldn’t get into stopping other religious groups from building. I think the big issue with the ERLC and Russell Moore is that when you compare their support of mosques with how churches has been handled during COVID – they’ve had little to no opinion at all. Even though in some states they have restaurants, casinos and bars open. It’s just that Moore seems to be playing for the other team a lot of the time.

  5. Courage to Stand?

    The only thing Russell Moore cares about is selling books. That’s it. Just look at his Twitter feed – he reviews books all day long and always pins his latest book to the top of his page. Where else do you get paid to promote your own books.

    Also remember he made his name from his book Adopted For Live. A book he wrote to encourage adoption by Christians after he and his wife were infertile. This launched him as the Christian spokesperson for adoption. He then followed that up by having three kids without adopting. Nothing wrong with that – but in any normal world would question your qualifications to be the head of ethics and leading spokesperson for adoption. THen again, in the Christian world and government worlds, the bar is fairly low.

    1. Courage to Stand,

      Great find. I don’t know how I never heard about this. That answer by RM to that young couple is ten kinds of cringeworthy and legalistic. If he has not retracted it/repented of it in the decade since he wrote it, his credibility on literally everything else he says is severely undermined.

      I don’t think the real problem folks have with Moore is that he is Never Trump. It’s that far too often he outright carries water for the social justice left. So, yeah, I was willing to give him some grace and benefit of the doubt, but after seeing that response, I think I will pass on that since it goes to show a general state of mind/character.

      1. Courage to Stand?

        The worst is that this guy launched his name with that book on adoption. So his timeline reads like this…

        Get married.
        Decide to have a child and find you are infertile..
        Decide to adopt.
        Write best selling book calling on people to adopt.
        Decide to have another child and choose NOT to adopt.
        Keep speaking about adoption and selling your book.
        Decide to have another child and choose NOT to adopt.
        Keep speaking about adoption and selling your book.
        Decide to have another child and choose NOT to adopt.
        Keep speaking about adoption and selling your book.

        Lastly, advise people wanting only to adopt that the bible doesn’t support it because it doesn’t follow your path. The worst spokesperson for adoption I can think of.

  6. It doesn’t make sense to me that this couple felt like they had to sterilize themselves in order to adopt…
    Why not adopt first, and have biological kids, in whatever order? Trust God to provide you with the number of kids He provides for you? And it’s possible to practice Natural Family planning to prevent pregnancies, which does not hinder the body.

    1. Sabrina,

      Who are you or Russell Moore to say how this couple should have their children or if they should have kids at all? This isn’t your call, it’s nobody’s call but theirs themselves and God’s. For Russell to stick his nose into their business and give any answer to them other than what I just said is pretentious hand-wringing moralism, which is what it sure looks like motivates many of his political and social stances.

      I can get him not being super-right on every issue or behind Trump. I can’t justify the above, or him taking Trump to task but not Obama or criticizing the right-wing rioters but not the BLM/Antifa rioters. That’s a pretty big blind spot to have. Have you ever heard Moore forcefully condemning abortion or anti-Israel terrorism?

      So, yeah, I won’t say he’s as bad as John MacArthur or anything like that, but I do have to conclude RM enjoys the limelight and acceptance of the world.

    2. Courage to Stand?

      The issue isn’t the couple – it is the response from a respected Christian ethicist that the Bible doesn’t support the notion that you shouldn’t “only” adopt.

      I literally scream every time I think of about this because I wonder if the couple took it to heart and followed his guidance or saw through the fact leaders can use the Bible to justify any position they want. If they indeed took his advice, a couple more orphans missed their opportunity to be with a couple that was actively pursuing them. It is a bit personal for me because our family did this exact thing and it angers me to have the leading adoption and ethics representative say dismiss it the way he does.

      1. Courage to Stand,

        Wycliffe, Hus, and countless other saints whose names we will never know died savage deaths so that we would have the freedom to not have to go to self-appointed “religious experts” like RM to make personal decisions for us. The last time I checked, Paul gave believers the freedom to weigh and judge what choices are wise and moral or not. Why did this couple even feel the need to get Moore involved in their personal business?

        We don’t just need common sense. We need to have a Second Reformation because clearly, the first one either didn’t go far enough or we have forgotten all about it as witnessed by this.

        1. Yes, Brian Patrick, I wondered, why did they?

          God gave us not just the books of Paul, but the whole of His Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us in all matters.

          Not just a 2nd Reformation, but a 3rd Great Awakening! I’m praying that in with many others!

      2. Hello. I was more focusing on the couple and the question they asked, not Moore’s response, which is convoluted and dismissive. There is nothing wrong Biblically with wanting to “only adopt”.

        The thing I questioned was why they felt they had to “sterilize” the themselves in order to adopt. It seemed there they were taking things into their own hands instead of trusting God and having faith that He would provide the ways and means for them to adopt.

        I’m sure you probably noticed God’s hand in your own journey with adoption.

        Hopefully the couple in the question was able to entrust God with everything, including their sexuality, provisions, and that He would gift them with the children He wanted them to have, adopted only, biological, or both.

        1. Sabrina,

          How is it ever remotely acceptable for a church leader to preach to a couple about non-abortion family planning?

          1. What do you mean?

            First of all, abortion is not “family planning” to God’s eyes for it is the ending of a life.

            Second, some in the church, especially the Protestant Church adopted an unquestioning view of contraception, when it is good to examine it through Scripture. Julie has blogged about Christians and contraception on her blog. It is worth examining our motives in using contraception.

            Regarding the couple in the question, if they were okay with using contraception after examining it via the Word and praying, there’s far less bodily invasive means than sterilization.
            It seemed like they were putting the cart before the horse…”I can’t adopt or help more children unless I sterilize myself…” See what might seem off there?

            Thirdly, God is big enough to be trusted to help His people plan families. HE is the Giver of the gift of All children, adopted, natural, etc. He opens and closes the womb. He gives us the kids, and He will give us what those kids need, ‘cause they’re His kids!

            Too often Christians (when family planning) tend to think like the world and say “I will do this my way” vs “Here’s my desire, God, what would you have me do?”

            There are so many ways God can use us to help kids!

            So yes, it is highly appropriate for Church leaders to counsel people about family planning and child-rearing because God cares about Life and families. Ultimately it’s up to the couple to take wise counsel, listen to Scripture and the Holy Spirit.

            While it’s not out of line for Moore to counsel his answer is convoluted.I think he’s trying to say “Be open to having kids adopted and natural and Trust God”…and if he wrote a book about adoption yet didn’t adopt himself, that’s hypocritical.

            Can religious leaders counsel, yes? But Moore’s himself lacks the authority.

            Does that answer your question?

          2. Sabrina,

            “First of all, abortion is not “family planning” to God’s eyes for it is the ending of a life.”

            Yes, of course. I am making clear that I’m not referring to abortion just so that there can be no ambiguity on the matter.

            “Does that answer your question?”

            No, not really, not unless you are a Catholic. In that case, I understand the motivation of your position as stemming from the authority of the Catechism that the coital act cannot ever be severed from the act of procreation. Your earlier reference to Natural Family Planning certainly suggests that–but, if you aren’t, say so. I’ll respect your Catholicism and leave it at that.

            If you are NOT Catholic, then I can’t agree with your thoughts and think you are adding to Scripture teachings and principles that never existed. You want this unnamed couple to be “open to biological kids”–it’s not your place, Moore’s, or anyone else’s to tell them to do that. Since we aren’t talking about abortion it truly is their body and their choice. Sperm and eggs are not living human beings, or even animals. By themselves they are worthless.

            If God really wants them to get pregnant, he can heal/override a vasectomy. Actually–in almost every case the man’s body tries very hard to heal it, but generally isn’t able to. So, the idea of being “open to life” is really quite moot if you believe God is totally sovereign, and has infinite power.

            In any regard, this was a real stinker of an opinion by Moore, and he’s had a few bad ones.

  7. Hi Brian, thanks for answering.

    I am Christian, raised Protestant, but I have listened to Catholic teaching to understand where they’re coming from.

    I agree that the act of sexual intercourse in marriage is not merely procreative (David slept with Bathsheba to comfort her) as well as a natural metaphor for how close the Bridegroom wants to be to His Bride, the Church.

    Re Bodies,
    On one hand we have been given the free will to as we will with creation, including our bodies. We are the stewards of creation. Yet our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” and they’re not our own. Ephesians 5 seems to say the bodies of the husband wife belong to each other.

    We need to be careful to not fall into the world’s thinking of “my body, my choice”, don’t anybody else tell me what to do…

    Anything we do with our bodies needs to be weighed through Scripture, and I know God can override our choices. And open and close the womb.

    Whatever choice they made, I hope they took it to God and Scripture vs what “felt” right.

    But yes, Morris’ answer wasn’t helpful at all.

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