WASHINGTON (BP) — Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore is not calling for a retreat but a different kind of evangelical Christian engagement with politics and the culture, he told a national television audience.
Appearing Friday (Oct. 25) on C-SPAN, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) said the headline on a recent profile in The Wall Street Journal was misleading about what he believes regarding evangelical involvement on cultural issues. Peter Slen, host of “Washington Journal,” quickly asked Moore if the headline – “Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars” — was accurate.
“I think that was an inaccurate headline,” Moore said, because it did not include “the word ‘against.'”
Instead, what it should have said, he told Slen, is: “Evangelical Leader Preaches Against Pullback …”
“What I’m calling for is not a pullback but a priority,” Moore said. “What I’m concerned about is that I see a generation of evangelicals who are disaffected from political engagement. Many of them simply want to walk away from political engagement, which I think would be a terrible error. The reason they want to walk away from it is because they’ve lived in a secularized society and they understand the importance of the Gospel, what the Scripture says is of first importance….
“And so many of them want to say, ‘Let’s concentrate on that and not consume ourselves with politics.’ What I’m wanting to say to them is: ‘We can’t make that choice. We have to, if we love our neighbors, be engaged in the public process; we have to be concerned as citizens; we have to be fighting against injustice, including injustices such as abortion and sex trafficking and pornography and all of those things.’
“But we do it with an understanding of how the Gospel motivates that action,” Moore said, “and we do it as people who don’t see those who disagree with us as ultimately our enemies but as people that we wish to see reconciled to God, as people who are — like we are, [if] left to ourselves — in need of mercy and of reconciliation and of the grace that comes through the blood of Christ. So those two things must be held together — the mission of the church as ambassadors of reconciliation and our responsibility in standing in the public square and calling for justice and righteousness.”
When asked if the Oct. 22 article in The Journal was accurate, Moore told Slen, “I think the article didn’t quite capture what is really going on here. I think the article seemed to signal retreat when in fact what we’re calling for is not retreat but onward — and onward with a Gospel-centered focus.”
Slen read Moore a portion of an Oct. 22 column by Bryan Fischer criticizing the ERLC’s president based on The Journal article. The director of issues analysis for the American Family Association charged Moore with being co-opted by young evangelicals, as well as Republican Party elites “who want the GOP, in the Journal’s words, ‘to back off hot-button cultural issues.'” Fischer said Moore “seems to have forgotten that Christ has not called us to be nice but to be good. Nice people never confront evil, but good people do.”
Moore responded by saying, “Christ has not called us to be nice people, but Christ has called us to be kind people. He’s called us to be convictional people and kind people who love those who are around us. And even when we are standing up for what we believe in, we’re standing up for what we believe in as those who are offering redemption and reconciliation and the mercy of Christ.
“I think while it is necessary to stand strongly for conviction — and that’s exactly what I do; I am a pro-life, pro-marriage, homeschooling father of five who is devoted to religious liberty, combating the pornography culture, the divorce culture in the church and outside the church — I believe the ultimate goal that we have is not simply a more moral America,” Moore said. “We need a more moral America, but if that’s where we stop, we end up with hell. What we need is more than that. What we need is a Gospel of a crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ that welcomes sinners to be joined to His tribe and, I believe, that we need an optimistic, hopeful understanding of where the Kingdom of God is coming.”
This kind of dependence on the Gospel “changes the way in which we speak,” Moore said. “We’re not simply wishing to vent our outrage. We’re instead wishing to speak to our neighbors and say, ‘We really love you and we want to see you reconciled to God.'”
Christians should firmly engage cultural issues in the public arena but not in a way in which “we are pitted against [others] as mortal enemies and that we’re simply in an endless shouting match with one another,” Moore said.
“That doesn’t mean that we don’t have spirited debates, because the issues at stake are very significant and important issues,” he said. “But we must always be connecting those issues back to that central theme that we have been given -– that God reconciles sinners to Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).