Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift.
The public face of the SBC just changed in a significant way, in my opinion. Putting away the old “culture warrior” Religious Right views often articulated by Russell Moore’s predecessor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Richard Land, the SBC has now chosen a head of its public policy entity who has the ability to mark out an ethic in the public square influenced more clearly by the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Moore, former Dean of Theology at Southern Baptist Seminary, in his book, The Kingdom of Christ (2004) says, “As with the fundamentalist isolationists before them, the failure of evangelical politics is often, at root, the failure of an evangelical theology of the Kingdom.” Moore goes on to say that our perspective on salvation is to be holistic in light of the reign and rule of God displayed in Christ. He also says that the local church is to be a herald of the in-breaking “now-but-not-yet” Kingdom of God. These positions are to affect our cultural and political engagements with the world.
For years, I have talked about our need to be prophetic instead of political. By this, I do not mean that we should not engage in the political process. I simply mean that political parties and the left/right continuum in American politics are not adequate to contain the Gospel of the Kingdom that we are called to proclaim. We should announce the Good News of Jesus and the coming reign and rule of God. We should also affirm the good and denounce the bad wherever we find it as we speak truth to power without concern over our “place at the table.” The only way forward for Southern Baptists and Evangelicals at this point is to hammer out what is true and right and Biblical in our current context. We should praise and affirm where we see this happening (despite what political party it comes from) and speak against injustice and unrighteousness.
Southern Baptists and Evangelicals lost the moral high ground in America when we were largely on the wrong side of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s as we tried to maintain an evil status quo and protect our own way of life. We can only reclaim our voice and integrity when we seek to serve God and others by laying down our own lives and by standing with those oppressed and in need according to the prescription of Isaiah 58. We are to represent the different way of living articulated and lived out by Jesus. From what I have read and what I know, I think that Russell Moore will move us closer in that direction.
I am encouraged by the work Moore is doing on the immigration issue right now. I am praying that he will be able to lead Southern Baptists to articulate a justice-oriented, compassionate response to this major issue of our day. I am encouraged that he is strongly pro-life and pro-Biblical marriage and that he operates publicly in what he calls “convictional kindness” as he discusses major cultural issues. I am glad that he seems to be politically independent, yet has conservative views. Hopefully he can speak for Southern Baptists to those in power instead of representing the goals of those in power to Southern Baptists. There is a difference there and I pray that he can strike it.
I look forward to hearing what Dr. Moore has to say about issues like the Sovereign Grace Ministries lawsuit. Those in power should do all they can to protect those who have no power who claim abuse. They should also advocate for justice on their behalf as a witness to God’s heart and character. I look forward to see how he will help American Christians address globalization and its discontents and our responsibility as followers of Jesus in the wealthiest and most powerful nation that the world has ever known. While I do not expect him nor the ERLC to opine on every issue, I look forward to hearing his views on major ethical and public policy issues that touch upon our lives as Christians and our ecclesial lives together in a broken world.
All in all, I think that Russell Moore is well qualified and positioned for the job at the ERLC and I look forward to seeing how he will represent Christ and His Kingdom in the coming difficult days and exemplify for Southern Baptists how to do the same. I look forward to the day when Baptists will not wait for word from a center for ethics or a policy group to lay out our positions for us on difficult issues. Rather, I look forward to the day when the voice we have in Washington reflects the lived and applied ethics of Baptists living out the implications of the Kingdom both locally and globally. My prayer is that Russell Moore and his staff will simply be able to represent who we are Biblically, how we sacrifice our lives out of love for others, and how we live as children of God and ambassadors of Christ and aliens in a strange land before the powers and authorities in high places. The locus of Baptist life is always the local church and I pray that on the front of cultural and political engagement that the local church would be the one on the front lines and that Dr. Moore would help us in our mission. THAT is the revolution needed in the ERLC and I pray that we see it.
My prayers are with Russell Moore. I do not envy him nor will I be quick to criticize him. He is facing gargantuan challenges. But, we serve a God bigger than any challenge. God is faithful and able and may His Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven!