Have you ever found yourself in a quandary? That’s where I am right now.
I have for a long time thought highly of Dr. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I first came to know of Dr. Moore during my master’s work at Southern Seminary where served as the Dean of Theology during some of my time there. I’ve listened to and read much of what he has produced over the years. I believe that he is a great man of God who has done and is doing much good for the cause of Christ and the SBC. When he became the president of the ERLC in 2013, I rejoiced and applaud his work there. I thank the Lord for Dr. Russell Moore and still think highly of him.
But, Dr. Moore’s recent op-ed article, “A White Church No More,” has put me in a quandary. The article was published online by The New York Times and in the New York print edition of the paper on Friday, May 6. It was published again in the Sunday, May 8 national print edition of The New York Times. I am in a quandary because I respect and appreciate Dr. Moore, but he went way too far in his rhetoric against those Christians who support the potential Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and those Christians who are at least sympathetic to some of Mr. Trump’s ideas. Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, did not pronounce judgment on Dr. Moore’s article but did call it “a rather stinging critique of the Trump candidacy” on the Tuesday, May 10 edition of his podcast, “The Briefing,” (~ 0:48 timestamp).
Dr. Moore’s article and subsequent “Meet the Press” interview caught the attention of Mr. Trump who responded foolishly on Twitter Monday morning at 5:05 a.m. stating, “@drmoore Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!” Mr. Trump’s tweet is absolutely wrong about Dr. Moore, and his response simply illustrates some of Dr. Moore’s concerns. Let me clearly state: I am NOT a Donald Trump supporter. He was by far not the candidate I voted for in the primary because I have serious reservations about his candidacy due to both policy and character.
Nevertheless, I am in a quandary because Dr. Moore’s article “A White Church No More” was not really aimed at Donald Trump. His title raised my expectations to read of how people of various ethnicities and skin tones are coming together in the name of Jesus to worship and serve the Lord. What a blessing that would be to read and rejoice in!
However, that’s not what Dr. Moore wrote about. Instead, he wrote an article filled with passive-aggressive shots at the Christian electorate who support Donald Trump for president or are sympathetic to some of the ideas he has put forth. In particular, he went after “white American Christians,” as he categorized his audience late in his article. Sadly, instead of addressing the Christian electorate straightforwardly, Dr. Moore chose to confront his audience through implication, innuendo, and insinuation, causing the reader to have to connect the dots a bit, but once the dots are connected, the article was indeed “a rather stinging critique” not really of the Trump candidacy but of those who support the Trump candidacy or are at least sympathetic to some of his ideas. In doing so, Dr. Moore’s rhetoric went too far.
How did Dr. Moore go too far?
- Dr. Moore equates by implication white American Christians who support the Trump candidacy or are sympathetic to some of his ideas to cowards who passively contributed to racial atrocities against African Americans in the segregated South by standing silently by.
Dr. Moore began the article with an anecdote from a Southern Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL that stood silently by during the racial atrocities of the Jim Crow days. This predominantly white church later tried to reach out to its predominantly black neighborhood, but Dr. Moore concludes, “Those neighbors now had no interest in bailing out a congregation with a ministry too cowardly to speak up for righteousness when it had seemed too costly to do so.” He then pivots directly to the current presidential race. The implication is that those white American Christians who do not speak out against Trump are cowards just like the white American Christians back in the Jim Crow days who passively contributed to racial atrocities.
Dr. Moore later asserts that white American Christians who want to “Make America great again” are “blinding themselves to the injustices faced by their black and brown brothers and sisters in the supposedly idyllic Mayberry of white Christian America. That world was murder, sometimes literally, for minority evangelicals.” Dr. Moore does not seem to grasp that making America great again can exclude the racial injustices of the past. In fact, it must exclude past racial injustice. Yet, Dr. Moore speaks as if those white American Christians who support or sympathize with Trump would be okay with segregation, 3/5 personhood, bringing to bear German Shepherds and firehoses on minorities, or lynchings. Dr. Moore’s rhetoric has gone too far.
- Dr. Moore suggests that white American Christians who support the Trump candidacy or are sympathetic to some of his ideas are endorsing nativism and bigotry.
Dr. Moore wrote, “This election has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country,” and then goes on to give some examples not only from Mr. Trump’s supporters, but also from the campaign itself:
- “not-so-coded messages denouncing African-Americans and immigrants,”
- “concern about racial justice and national unity is ridiculed as ‘political correctness,’”
- “religious minorities are scapegoated for the sins of others, with basic religious freedoms for them called into question,”
- Trump’s critics being threatened and intimidated by white supremacists and nativists who hide behind avatars on social media.
- people screaming “Go back to Africa” at black protesters, and
- Trump tweeting “racially charged comments.”
Space probably didn’t afford him the ability to give more specifics in these examples, but these were not about specifics. These were meant to hit emotionally and insinuate proof that Mr. Trump’s campaign is glad to court nativists (ie, those who discriminate against immigrants) and bigots (ie, those who hate people different from themselves). They were meant to suggest that perhaps Mr. Trump himself is a nativist and a bigot. Even more, although Dr. Moore didn’t say it, I am convinced that he was trying to passively assert that white American Christians who support Trump or are sympathetic to his ideas are motivated by some latent nativism and bigotry.
Whatever the case may be, ultimately Dr. Moore’s examples were meant to scare white American Christians away from Mr. Trump and his ideas. They were meant to cause white American Christians to say, “Well, I’m not a ‘nativist,’ whatever that is, and I’m certainly not a bigot. I’m going to reject Trump and his ideas now.” Surely to Dr. Moore’s chagrin, he has an uphill battle in scaring away Evangelicals from Donald Trump. Poll after poll shows that Evangelicals have voted for Mr. Trump more than any other candidate.
Why are Evangelicals, and Catholics for that matter, selecting Mr. Trump over the other candidates? Mr. Trump’s rally cries of “America first” and “Make American great again” through pro-America domestic and foreign policies have resonated with many Americans who feel like America is declining and ignoring its own citizenry. Mr. Trump has given a voice to these frustrations and pledged to put Americans first again.
Here are some questions we have to wrestle with: Is it sinful to want your nation and its citizens to thrive? Is it sinful for Americans to want its government to put America and Americans first? Does wanting these things necessarily mean you are a nativist or a bigot? Is “America first” and “Make America great again” necessarily racist, nativist code-speak? I say a resounding “No!” to every one of these questions.
Undoubtedly, some nativists and bigots have co-opted the Trump campaign and slogans, but there are many Trump supporters and sympathizers who are neither a nativist nor a bigot. Dare I say the vast majority is not. They simply love America and want to see its laws enforced and its people—all of its people regardless of skin color—to be protected and taken care of first. They truly do want to see America, the nation they belong to and the nation they love, be great again. Dr. Moore’s rhetoric has gone too far.
- Dr. Moore asserts that white American Christians who support Trump or are sympathetic to some of his ideas are standing against the church universal.
Dr. Moore writes at length to illustrate the diversity of the worldwide church, “The center of gravity for both orthodoxy and evangelism is not among Anglo suburban evangelicals but among African Anglicans and Asian Calvinists and Latin American Pentecostals. The vital core of American evangelicalism today can be found in churches that are multiethnic and increasingly dominated by immigrant communities. The next Billy Graham probably will speak only Spanish or Arabic or Persian or Mandarin.”
His assumption seems to be that this reality bothers white American Christians who support or sympathize with Trump. In my experience, the exact opposite is true. My ministry context has been predominantly among white American Christians, many of whom support or sympathize with Trump, and they have gladly prayed, given, and gone to the nations so that the nations might be saved. I have observed them rejoice in worshipping with brothers and sisters of other ethnicities and nationalities. I’ve watched them weep over worldwide lostness. I’ve seen them sacrifice greatly to reach the nations with the gospel. I’ve listened to them rejoice that people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation are being saved. Yet many of these people support or sympathize with Trump. How can this be?
Dr. Moore unfortunately has set up a false dichotomy: you are either against Trump and his ideas or you are against the church. Dr. Moore’s rhetoric has gone too far.
- Dr. Moore suggests that white American Christians who support Trump or are sympathetic to some of his ideas are on the wrong side of Jesus.
Dr. Moore writes, “The question is whether evangelicals will be on the right side of Jesus. That will mean standing up for the church’s future leaders, and for our mission, especially when they are politically powerless.”
That quote contains the most outrageous piece of rhetoric in Dr. Moore’s opinion by far. He has the audacity to declare that those who support Trump or are sympathetic to his ideas are against Jesus. Dr. Moore essentially asks and answers his own question, “HWJV—how would Jesus vote? His answer, of course, is “#NeverTrump.” Moore is simply using this rhetoric in an attempt to bind the consciences of the electorate because no Christian wants to vote or think like somebody that Jesus wouldn’t vote for, right?
Dr. Moore didn’t stop there however. He then went on to question a person’s priority in identifying as a Christian if they support or sympathize with Trump, “American Christianity faces a test of whether we will identify as Christians first.” The suggestion is those who make their Christianity their most important identity would never support or sympathize with Trump.
To top it all off, Dr. Moore closed his article with this line, “The man on the throne in heaven is a dark-skinned, Aramaic-speaking ‘foreigner’ who is probably not all that impressed by chants of ‘Make America great again.’” Dr. Moore apparently believes that white American Christians who support Trump or are sympathetic to some of his ideas will be surprised by this news about Jesus when they get to heaven and will be saddened that their nativism and bigotry worked against people who look like Jesus. What low-blow rhetoric! He’s gone too far.
To sum up Dr. Moore’s argument, if you are a white American Christian who supports Donald Trump or is sympathetic to some of his ideas, you are a coward endorsing nativism and bigotry who stands against the church and Jesus. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read so much ad hominem from a denominational leader as I read in Dr. Moore’s article.
Dr. Moore is certainly entitled to his opinion, but so am I. I respect Dr. Moore greatly, but in my opinion, his rhetoric went too far.