The Russell Moore backlash saga has by now had a few waves. The Wall Street Journal reported criticism of Moore from a number of prominent evangelical leaders in December, suggesting “a potentially dramatic rebuke” ahead. Monday’s Post story was the latest update—for the first time in a few months, it really looked like Moore’s job might be on the line.
But once the Post story broke, the executive committee started walking things back. After Moore met with the committee, they put out a join statement, saying, “We deepened our friendship and developed mutual understanding on ways we believe will move us forward as a network of churches.” Roger “Sing” Oldham, the executive committee’s spokesman, claimed Page hadn’t really suggested he might ask Moore for his resignation: Page “received a call from a reporter on Sunday afternoon while he was returning from church,” Oldham said, and “he indicated [his] desire was to build bridges going forward. He said, ‘Well, nothing is off the table, but my goal is to build bridges in this private meeting.’”
Short of Moore deciding he was going to resign, it was unlikely he would have lost his job on Monday. The governing structure of the Southern Baptist Convention is complex: Only the board of trustees that specifically oversees Moore’s organization, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has the power to ask him to resign; Page couldn’t have fired Moore even if he wanted to. Ken Barbaric, who chairs the ERLC’s board of trustees, has openly praised Moore and emphasized his support for Moore’s work.
The fight over Moore is not just about him, though. The Southern Baptist Convention is changing, and Moore represents the denomination’s shift in orientation. Moore has frequently spoken out against the old-guard religious right, which was led in the 1990s and ’00s in part by his predecessor at the ERLC, Richard Land. Moore has called on the denomination to divorce itself from Republican politics, especially as younger evangelicals show themselves to be more politically diverse, and has moved his organization in that direction. He is part of a new generation of pastors, who tend to be more Calvinist in orientation, who have taken over leadership roles.
“When I was young, there was a culture that the SBC had,” said Miller. “You could go into any SBC church, and there just was a way we did things. The preachers dressed alike, and we sang from the same hymnbook, and there was a culture that bound us together. That’s been blown completely to pieces.”
The denomination is also looking ahead to a future membership that will be less white and more black and brown: Some of the most vibrant, growing communities in the church include Hispanic evangelicals, for example. During his nearly four years in his position with the ERLC, Moore has focused on racial reconciliation as a key part of his job.