Dr. Russell Moore has released a thoughtful article in which he reflects on the 2016 election season and the role he played in it. He shares his heart, his convictions, and even an apology. It is an introspective Dr. Moore who looks back at the battlefield that was Election 2016.
I found myself sharing almost all of Dr. Moore’s convictions this year. I’ve been accused of being a sycophant or something, but the fact is that I arrived at my convictions independently of anything Dr. Moore said. I’ve not spoken to him in some time, though we’ve shared a Twitter like or two from time to time. My first exposure to Marco Rubio was at the SEND conference in Nashville and I was very impressed with him, even though I was not a big fan of having political candidates at that meeting.
Gradually, during the lead up to the Iowa caucuses, I became a huge fan of Marco Rubio, and I’d be thrilled if the electors were choosing him today. But alas, that is not to be. It seems that perhaps Dr. Moore also liked Marco, though I don’t know that he ever came out and endorsed him. The thing we had the most in common was that we joined the “NeverTrump” movement. Dr. Moore was one of the leaders of the movement, though I was one of the early devotees. I wrote very early, long before the caucuses, that if the GOP nominated Trump I would refuse to vote for him and would renounce my membership in the party. I’ve kept both of those promises.
The elections became a divisive thing for Southern Baptists. What is interesting is that each side feels abused by the other. The Trump supporters felt attacked by those of us who refused to vote for Trump, and can tell you that as a NeverTrumper, I was called just about everything in the book. Hillary-lover. Abortion-supporter. Closet Democrat (thems fightin’ words). Some close and lifelong friends got so mad at me some still don’t talk much to me anymore. And through it all, of course, I remained my loveable, calm, and sweet self…right?
This was a weird election. In the past, the vitriol was usually between the Democrats and the Republicans, the left and the right, liberals and conservatives. There was plenty of that this time around. But much of anger this cycle focused on conservatives who were angry with other conservatives. Right-wingers against the alt-right. Conservative pro-Trump against Conservative NeverTrump. ReluctantTrump against NeverTrump.
My birthday in 2017 will be one of those that ends in a zero, and in all that time I’ve never seen anything quite like this year’s brouhaha. American history is full of some wild elections with some harsh campaign tactics, but this one was unique. And Dr. Russell Moore played a big part.
It was a part that angered a segment of Southern Baptist life. There are people out there who view Dr. Moore negatively and tend to see everything he does as a threat to our denomination. Trump voters, both enthusiastic Trumpers and ReluctantTrumpers, resent the stands that he took. And let’s be honest, there is a segment of the SBC that would oppose Russell Moore if he took a stand for truth, justice, and the American Way. He is seen as part of something they oppose and they will oppose him because they oppose him. It is also true that Dr. Moore is more prophetic than political. You could see that at the convention when he was asked a question. In a moment of controversy, when he was being challenged, he stared down the questioner and went all in on his views. He is a man of conviction and courage. When you agree with him you find that admirable and noble. When you disagree with him I can imagine that is frustrating.
But this year, we NeverTrumpers found ourselves in a conundrum. I have not spoken to Dr. Moore about it, but I think he went through what I went through.
- I did not see how a Christian could possibly decide to support the candidacy of Donald Trump. It seemed so absolutely clear to me that this man was unfit morally, spiritually, ethically, psychologically – in every possible way – to be president of the United States. The fact that the only good thing that most people could say about him was that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton was instructive. But for me, it was black and white, clear as crystal, not even a little bit in doubt. Donald Trump was not worthy of the support of someone who honored Christ.
- On the other hand, people who loved Jesus respected him were coming to a different conclusion. It baffled me, befuddled me, and disappointed me, but I had to realize that it was true. There were people selling out and compromising, I remain convinced of that. The church will have to deal with the fallout of that. But there were others who made serious, thoughtful, prayerful analysis and came to the conclusion that when the choice was between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the choice of the lesser of two evils was the best choice.
My heart told me one thing while my head told me another. It seems, from his article, that Dr. Moore went through much of the same thing. The key differentiation I tried to make was between the Trump enthusiasts and the ReluctantTrumpers. However, we either failed to carefully make this distinction or others failed to understand it, because things I said about Trump enthusiasts caused offense among ReluctantTrumpers. This is one of the key points that Dr. Moore makes as well.
I have no desire to hash all this out again, but I do recommend the reader go to Dr. Moore’s article, “Election Year Thoughts at Christmastime.” It is well worth the read.
1. He explains himself very well. There was much misunderstanding of Dr. Moores words and intent – whether intentional or not. If you want to understand what he believed and intended, it is well to read this.
It is common Christian courtesy to allow a man to define himself rather than to define his views simply by what his critics say about him. I’ve heard several declarative statements about him that simply are not true, but they are repeated so often that they take on the aura of fact.
- He makes it clear that he spoke from his convictions and gives no apology for those convictions. He’s not backing down.
- He realizes that he was misunderstood and that perhaps he did not make himself clear on some things. For that, he does apologize. In the heat of war there is collateral damage and he is trying here to patch things up a little bit.
- He differentiates the Trump enthusiast from the RelunctantTrumper (my terms, not his) – a key distinction that often got lost in the discussion.
- He affirms those who held different views without backing down from his.
- He acknowledges that many in our denominational family are angry at him.
2. He was conciliatory and apologetic. Dr. Moore is not going to admit that was wrong. He doesn’t think I was. I don’t think he was. But what he is admitting is that in the heat of battle, in a soundbite, in an article or a news report, sometimes things are communicated in a way that does not fully represent all that you believe. Here is what he said.
But there were also pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald Trump. I told them then, and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize.
I had the exact same experience. I had people angry and offended at me because of the way I worded things at times. Sometimes it was simply because of what I believed, but often it was the words I chose to express the view, or because I didn’t give the full view. The last couple of weeks, after some harsh exchanges, I started adding a caveat to almost every political discussion in which I stated that I was stating my strong views based on my understanding of God’s word and the Lordship of Christ, but I understood that other Christians would come to other views and I granted them the right to do so, whether I agreed or not. I can’t agree that the decision to vote for Trump was morally sound, but I can say that I’m not your judge and if you walked faithfully under obedience to Christ and made that choice, you don’t have to answer to me.
I think we always believed this, but we didn’t always say this and so people took offense. We meant it, but we didn’t say it. I think Dr. Moore wants everyone in the SBC to know that he thought this all along.
Some will say that he is rewriting history, trying to correct the record. I don’t think so. I think he said this all along, just not perhaps as clearly, as often, as forcefully as he could and should have. So, there were misunderstandings. He is right to make this statement because his words led to a misunderstanding. But I do believe that his current words reflect his original intent.
3. He makes 3 key points. He truly wants to be a man of peace. It is a hard role. I want to be a facilitator of peace as well, but I’m opinionated and I voice those opinions. Opinions are by their very nature divisive. So, he’s caught in the same bind I find myself in often. Wanting to be a peacemaker I find myself expressing opinions that can divide. The path to peace is not to sheath the sword of truth. He spells out three things we must do.
- We must seek to identify and understand our areas of disagreement.
- We must empathize with one another and seek to understand the other side in these arguments. Generally, we all failed in this endeavor. I saw description after description of the heart and motives of NeverTrumpers as assigned by those who were choosing Trump. They simply were not true. I would suppose that the Trump voters often felt the same about us, that we failed in empathy and understanding. We must honor one another even in disagreement.
- We must not ignore our conscience. This I was told to do over and over again this year. But we must not. No Christian should ever tell another to ignore his conscience. We should honor Romans 14 and allow other believers to follow Christ even if we do not always arrive at the same conclusions.
He ends his letter with a call we all should heed, to turn our hearts away from elections and electors to consider one born king of the Jews whose kingdom will never end.
I appreciated this letter because it was convictional and conciliatory. Dr. Moore is never going to mold to the will of anyone other that Christ and the Word, as he understands it. Because of that he will always be frustrating and even (yes) annoying to those whose convictions and stands disagree with his.
But that is why he should be honored. He is a man of conviction. He is not shaped by majority vote or popular opinion. The only prophets who were ever shaped that way were the false prophets! They asked what people wanted to hear and they said that. Even when I don’t agree with him I appreciate that he is speaking from his convictions. And I appreciate that here, Dr. Moore is seeking to lead us down the road of reconciliation and peace.
We are part of the great People of God, and because of the inner work of the Spirit, we have access to a peace that passes understanding. We do not have to let the hurts of the 2016 election color our future as a denomination. We can walk in grace, forgiveness, and spiritual power as we choose Christ over the flesh.
Let there be healing in the SBC and let it begin in me.