Moore isn’t the only evangelical leader who has traveled along this path conciliatory path. In the lead-up to the election, Ed Stetzer—the director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and interim pastor at the storied Moody Church in Chicago—was highly critical of Trump. A few days before Trump was elected, Stetzer wrote an article titled, “Evangelicals: This Is What It Looks Like When You Sell Your Soul for a Bowl of Trump.”
Yet on Sunday, he tweeted that he was “glad @RealDonaldTrump will be nominating the next Supreme Court Justice, rather than @HillaryClinton.” He elaborated in Christianity Today:
I was not a Trump supporter for reasons that have become obvious. However, I also believe a more conservative Supreme Court will be better for America. Many will say, ‘It was not worth it!’ … I understand the point—and I am actually not saying it was worth it. I am saying that we are where we are now. And, I am glad Trump rather than Clinton is appointing our next justice.
Stetzer declined to elaborate in an interview. But it’s clear that Trump’s evangelical advisers are taking notice: Jay Strack, a student-ministry leader who serves on the president’s informal council, commented on Twitter that Stetzer’s sentiments were “a great word from one of the most impressive cultural [influencers].”
In June, Southern Baptist leaders from around the country gathered in Dallas for their annual convention. Their message of unity under Trump was clear: Vice President Pence gave a keynote address during one of the sessions, to great applause. Not all church messengers supported the decision to welcome Pence into that space, though. J.D. Greear, the newly elected president of the SBC, quickly wrote on Twitter that the speech “sent a terribly mixed signal … make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission,” Jesus’s instruction to his disciples to go out and share his teachings.
Moore echoed this message in our conversation Wednesday. “We’re just in a time right now where everything in American life has to be directly attached to the political moment in a way that just isn’t the case,” he said. “For most people in church life, politics is actually a small part of who they are.”
In other words, Greear and Moore are arguing for a brand of evangelicalism that’s much more focused on the gospel than the ballot box. Ultimately, this is what evangelical disagreements in 2016 election were about: how Christians witness their faith in public life, and the longstanding, outsized role of politics in the evangelical world, largely driven by the old religious right.
The deep fractures among evangelicals haven’t gone away, especially on issues like race. Thabiti Anyabwile, a black evangelical pastor in D.C., recently wrote in The Washington Post that he is having difficulty with religious conservatives’ excitement over Kavanaugh. “The potential nomination of a potential pro-life judge does not, in my opinion, alleviate the concerns I have about the racial injustices this same administration seems to multiply each day,” he said.
These days, however, few evangelical leaders seem to be taking this kind of firm, unrelentingly oppositional stance. For his part, Moore appears to be searching for another way to weather the Trump years. As he and others work to build the evangelical world they wish to see, they may find themselves clapping for the president alongside everyone else in their churches.