Wall Street Journal profiles Russell Moore

The Wall Street Journal has run a front page feature on Russell Moore, the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. This morning, the story was behind a subscriber wall, but now it’s available for anyone to read. Here’s an excerpt:

Since the birth of the Christian-conservative political movement in the late 1970s, no evangelical group has delivered more punch in America’s culture wars than the Southern Baptist Convention and its nearly 16 million members. The country’s largest Protestant denomination pushed to end abortion, open up prayer in public schools and boycott Walt Disney Co. over films deemed antifamily. Its ranks included many of the biggest names on the Christian right, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Today, after more than three decades of activism, many in the religious right are stepping back from the front lines. Mr. Moore, a 42-year-old political independent and theologian who heads the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says it is time to tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray, given what he calls a “visceral recoil” among younger evangelicals to the culture wars.

“We are involved in the political process, but we must always be wary of being co-opted by it,” Mr. Moore said in an interview in his Washington office, a short walk from Congress. “Christianity thrives when it is clearest about what distinguishes it from the outside culture.”

Along with much of the religious right, Southern Baptists are undergoing a generational shift as Mr. Moore and his allies recalibrate their methods and aims. The moment is significant not only for America’s religious life but for its politics, given the three-decade engagement by evangelical leaders that kept social issues on the front burner and helped Republicans win national elections.

I think you can expect to see more profiles like this one going forward. Read the rest here.


  • Chris Ryan

    That’s a nice post, thanks for sharing. He certainly represents a breath of fresh air.

    I’m rather surprised that half of evangelicals under 35 support gay marriage. That’s just a big wow.

    I remember seeing an interview with Jerry Falwell many years ago where he explained his support for Reagan over Carter despite Carter’s devout Christianity by saying, “We’re not voting for a Pastor-in-Chief, we’re voting for a President.” That really turned me off. Mike Huckabee, likewise, got very little support from the evangelical political establishment early on. I think Moore’s emphasis on re-connecting w/ our evangelical mission instead of emphasizing the political is spot on. It reminds me of one the smartest things I’ve ever heard said by anyone. Rick Warren was asked why he wasn’t as involved in politics as some other SBC pastors had been. He said, “Politics operates downstream. If you want to change the culture you have to operate upstream.”

    • Esther O'Reilly

      Wait a minute, but Carter was a terrible leader! He was hurting the American people through bad policy choices. I mean, yeah, he subscribed to some watered-down version of Christianity or other (turned out to be a total liberal), but if you’re not a good president you’re not a good president. Besides, Reagan was a Christian too so that’s kind of a moot point. Where does the Bible say we always have to vote for presidents who profess Christianity even if they make lousy presidents?

      • Chris Ryan

        Carter was Baptist, so I don’t get the “watered down” charge. Carter attended church weekly & taught Sunday school. Reagan couldn’t be bothered to attend church….At any rate the church waters down its ministry if we place politics before scripture. And when we do that we come across as less than authentic. You can see that in the declining membership numbers cited in the article. One reason for Rick Warren’s popularity is that he has re-embraced evangelism & re-captured authenticity. Evangelicals have hitched ourselves to the GOP since the ’70s & while the GOP has benefited handsomely from that relationship, Evangelicals don’t have anything to show for it. We don’t need Caesar and his earthly empire. If we concentrate on expanding the Church, God will expand the Kingdom.

        • James Stanton

          I really don’t think religion or moral values played much of a role in that specific election. Reagan married a woman who was twice-divorced and then married again after she divorced him. Coincidentally, he was the first Governor to sign legislation permitting the no-fault divorce.

  • Esther O'Reilly

    See, I personally think Moore is at his best when he’s joining forces with the culture warriors, so it always discourages and disappoints me when he rolls out the “toned down rhetoric.” I think of it as his good side and his bad side (well not “bad,” strictly speaking, but less impressive anyway).

  • James Stanton

    “The religious right was born on the theology of numerical expansion: the belief that conservative churches grow while liberal ones die. That conceit is gone now,” says David Key, director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

    Evangelicals are seen first and foremost as loyal foot-soldiers of the conservative movement. That’s why it amuses me to see the clamoring for respect of “religious liberty” by social conservative elites who were allergic to any compromise when they had the upper hand in the culture wars. The other side felt just as victimized and persecuted as many social conservatives do now. I do not see that they will be compassionate.

    This new outreach is oddly similar in some respects to that of Pope Francis. Moore certainly isn’t going to meddle in mushy theology and soundbites like the Pope but there are similarities with wanting to present a newer, friendlier tone while keeping the substance the same.

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