Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, must have seen the backlash coming the minute the 2016 presidential election was called for Donald Trump. Exit polls showed white evangelical voters going overwhelmingly (81 percent) for the mogul. Yet there was scarcely a news story about Trump and evangelicals from the beginning of his campaign that did not mention Moore’s sharply worded complaints about Trump’s lax morals, attitudes toward women, and generally amoral worldview. More daringly, Moore often lashed out at his fellow evangelicals for selling out the faith by supporting Trump (“To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe.”). This did not sit well with Christian right pols — including Southern Baptist luminaries like Jerry Fallwell Jr., an early and avid Trump supporter, and Moore’s predecessor as president of the ERLC, Richard Land.
With Trump’s victory, there’s hell to pay for Moore. Some Baptist ministers are talking about withholding the voluntary contributions that sustain the ERLC. Others would clearly like to force him from his job. One argument is that his main job is to serve as the SBC’s “lobbyist,” and he can’t do that effectively after honking off pharaoh, so to speak. (Others think that vastly understates and oversimplifies his role: “Moore speaks for Baptists sometimes. But he also speaks to them,” wrote Jacob Lupfer, a Georgetown University Ph.D. student who blogs about faith and public policy).
The hostility to Moore, though, goes deeper than hurt or vengeful feelings about his attitude toward Trump and Trumpites. Some hard-core conservative evangelicals claim Moore is a not-so-secret liberal who wants Baptists to subscribe to social justice and environmental activism. While he has written forcefully (and for anyone with knowledge of the SBC’s un-Christian performance during the civil-rights era, appropriately) about the need for white Baptists to abandon and atone for racism, and has opposed treating LGBTQ folks like lepers, he’s actually a standard-brand conservative on abortion, feminism, and same-sex marriage. His biggest sin, from the point of view of the Christian right, is probably challenging its main premise: that it can build the Kingdom of God on Earth via party politics, and particularly via the Republican Party. He’s even had the temerity to call that sort of faith in the GOP “idolatry,” which in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is fightin’ words.
Moore has already apologized for the tone of some of his remarks about idolatrous Trump-lovers, and seems to be trying to move on; the latest piece on his website is about Planned Parenthood and the “culture of death,” which is a lot more on message for the Christian right. Whether he survives in his current gig or is forced to step down, he is already serving as an object lesson in the perils involved when religious leaders adopt a prophetic stance — and then lose.