May 12, 2016

Russell Moore Criticizes White Evangelicals in NYT

Moore Addresses the "White Church"
We need to pray now for Christian leaders in the political world, especially Russell Moore, who has done so much public good. He is staggering in this tumultuous political time under the heavy responsibility of representing Southern Baptists politically as the President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which is the SBC's "moral and public policy agency." Of course, every Christian is a "moral and public" agent for Christ, but Moore has to address moral-and-public policy, i.e., to make recommendations about what the Gospel means for law and politics. Besides proposing many policies uncontroversial for Christians, Moore has taken up the difficult issue of what the Gospel requires for immigration policy. (He wants far more open immigration policies.) Given the factually controversial and politically divisive policy debates in the U.S. today, it is difficult to speak to issues like this in a way that clearly derives from the Gospel and Christian love, rather than appearing to arise from personal factual judgments and partisan positioning.

It's also easy to make a statement that is misinterpreted. For example, Moore's predecessor, Richard Land, was demonized for denouncing what he considered to be racially divisive rhetoric, condemning efforts to influence the last Presidential election by "racial demagogues." He condemned the efforts of a Presidential candidate to "gin up" votes by failing to repudiate "racialist" rhetoric by his supporters: "it's disgusting and it should stop." But others disagreed with his factual analysis of the situation, concluding that these ethnic appeals were responses to real injustices and not racialism. Land's remarks themselves were deemed "hurtful, irresponsible, insensitive, and racially charged words,"  Land was fired.  


Now Moore has got himself into similar trouble with racially charged language, though I'm sure he won't be fired. Where Land criticized African-Americans activists like the Reverends Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan, Moore picked a target less likely to punch back, white evangelicals, with an New York Times editorial entitled “A White Church No More.”, which he characterized as "about why American evangelicals must repudiate nativist rhetoric and a 'white church' mentality."

Like Land, he simply sought to chastise what he regarded as racial demagoguery by a presidential candidate's supporters: "not-so-coded messages denouncing African-Americans and immigrants." Like Land, he considers a presidential candidate, Trump, to be attempting to "gin up" votes by appealing to "racism" over immigration. He specifically targeted white evangelicals, some of whom have agreed with Trump's claims that immigration is hurting Americans and have failed to repudiate his rhetoric: "That sort of moral silence shortchanges both our gospel and our future." But as with Land, some people consider that Moore is not targeting racial demagoguery but ignoring the expression of valid concerns of evangelicals and others about immigration. 


(more below)

Unlike Moore who has broader experience, I don't know any evangelicals who support racism nor any who regard support for limitations on immigration as racism. Still, most evangelicals, like most Americans, strongly oppose our current lawless mass immigration policies. Many evangelicals are also frustrated with the mentality of those of any color who seem more concerned with repudiating Republican rhetoric than attacking Democrats' actions promoting abortion and their relentless legislating against God's standards of public morality. The tone of Moore's editorial, with its one-sided critique of his own overwhelmingly white denomination and apparent disdain for any special concern by Americans for Americans, could easily be misconstrued as recommending the kind of unChristian oikophobia that I described here

Given his space limitations, I am sure that Moore couldn't avoid giving the impression that he regards any concern over the effects of immigration on Americans, especially the poorest Americans whose wages mass immigration suppresses, who do not share the profits that flow to the richest Americans from the low wages of illegal immigrants, and whose schools, hospitals and living conditions are disproportionately over-stressed by immigrants, as the equivalent of racism. Moore says that "Evangelical Christianity is committed to conserving the orthodoxy of the church ...." But, it is not an orthodox Christian teaching that Christians are opposed to the institution of the nation nor to policies like non-porous borders and legal restrictions on immigration.

Like Land's remarks, Moore's editorial seems racially charged to many, focused on claims about whites in general and filled with claims only about the failures of whites. He even divides and judges the church by racial demographics: "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." (This is particularly strange given his claims that Trump is particularly attractive to some Pentecostals, a far more racially integrated group than his own SBC.) He might easily be misinterpreted to be saying that the overwhelmingly white Southern Baptist Convention, which is America's largest protestant denomination, is either not orthodox, not evangelical, not weighty, or not central. And, it's just a confusing claim to say that the race of a church is part of what identifies it as a good church. I know a lot of Asian Calvinists, but I have never heard them describe their Calvinism as Asian. I have churched with African Anglicans, but never once have I head them describe their Anglicanism as African. I think they would be insulted to be described in this way. I certainly would not be happy to have my faith described as "white faith" as if my ethnic identity determined my relationship with Jesus.

Moore's editorial is ethically confusing, too, because he seems more focused on white thought-and-word crimes, or failure-to-repudiate-rhetoric sins, than powerful and destructive Democrat actions. Moore's editorial never condemns the 25% of Southern Baptists Democrats, mostly white evangelicals, who acted and voted in the last election for the Democrats' lawless and tyrannical transformation of American society. But isn't this much more important than the purported failure of white evangelicals to repudiate Republican rhetoric? Why is Moore taking on all white evangelicals over rhetoric when there is plenty of white action in his own denomination which is hopefully more morally problematic for him? After all, he's a Baptist pastor, not an evangelical pope. Shouldn't he start with his own denomination?

Given the opportunity to educate NYT readers, it's not clear why he didn't praise white evangelicals for actively supporting the African-American Carson and the Hispanics Cruz and Rubio (Moore's partner in pushing for more immigration), in far greater numbers than the white Trump. If anti-racism is the major issue, why didn't he celebrate white evangelicals actions as a remarkable good? It's also not clear why he characterizes the minority of white evangelicals who voted for Trump as being motivated by racial animus rather than a desire to avoid the horrors of a Hillary administration, when polls indicate that this is the leading motive. Is disagreeing about how the stop Hillary racist? Since Moore has been so outspoken about pastors whose ministries benefit themselves, he might also have taken some time to criticize the economic interests of Christian pro-immigration groups, including Baptist groups, who receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government in grants, to deliver tax-funded "charity" to immigrants. Given how much money immigrant groups are raising from the federal government, is it really clear that "they are politically powerless" as he claims?

Moore's editorial unfortunately invites misinterpretation like Land's anti-racist remarks because of a lack of clarity. Moore seems to argue that for anyone who believes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is clear that “black and brown” Christians are victims of injustices because of the “Mayberry of white Christian America.” Now I understand that Moore hates Mayberry as a symbol of an outwardly conforming Christian society that lacks real spiritual obedience to Christ: "We don’t have Mayberry anymore, if we ever did. Good. Mayberry leads to hell just as surely as Gomorrah does." 

But, what is he talking about? How does the remnant of the outwardly but not inwardly conforming white Christian society in the U.S. hurt the soon to be majority "black and brown" peoples of America? The good of a government is not that it replaces the Kingdom of God, but primarily that its laws restrain evil. Mayberrians may or may not go to hell at the same rate as Gomorrahites (I myself doubt that good laws are not also some kind of pedagogue leading to Christ by stirring up the conscience to reflect on one's evil), but it's not "good" that an evil restraining society is replaced by an evil promoting one. Moore's pejorating comment that Mayberry "kept some children in intact families. But that’s hardly revival." seems to disregard the basic God-ordained function of society. 

I'm just not sure how Moore thinks his argument derives from the Gospel, or how the Gospel leaves no room for disagreements about the best course together for Americans white, black and brown on immigration. Maybe, I misread him so see if you can understand the conclusion of his argument:
The Bible calls on Christians to bear one another’s burdens. White American Christians who respond to cultural tumult with nostalgia fail to do this. They 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. [By comparison, I can't help but interject, the diverse American Gomorrah literally murders a thousand black and brown babies per week. Isn't that bloody regularity clearly worse than "sometimes"? EEThis has gospel implications not only for minorities and immigrants but for the so-called silent majority. A vast majority of Christians, on earth and in heaven, are not white and have never spoken English. A white American Christian who disregards nativist language is in for a shock. 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.”
It's certainly true that whites are and always have been a minority in the world; in fact, they are an ever smaller minority in the world today and will be in the next generations of America. It's good news that they are a minority of Christians. But, the size of a people, cf. Jesus, Peter and Paul's Israel, has little to do with the influence it can have in the world or whether we should expect them to produce Christians leaders as Moore claims: "The next Billy Graham probably will speak only Spanish or Arabic or Persian or Mandarin." Given the growing numbers of people who speak English in Latin America, the Middle East and China, I have no idea how Moore can claim this is more likely than anything else. But on what basis could anyone predict how God uses numerically small nations, the Scots and Koreans come readily to my mind, to have a disproportionate influence on evangelism and theological elucidation of orthodoxy? There is no reason to write off white Christians Americans because they are a small people in the world.

And, without getting into the metaphysics of Christ's glorified body, I am not sure I have ever heard an orthodox Bible teacher claim that Jesus' race or sex should cause those different from Him to fear some special judgment. Should women fear that their support of women will be looked at askance by a male Jesus? Should African Americans worry about how "Black Lives Matters" chants will be heard by someone of a different race? Wouldn't these kinds of arguments be inappropriate theologically?

I think a man Moore much admires, Martin Luther King, handled this issue much better when asked why Jesus was a member of a minority race, instead of one of the majority races of the world: "he would have been no more significant if he had been black." I think John's description of Christ's appearance is better than Moore's s: "Re 1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." His coming appearance will make people of all races and sexes "fall at his feet as though dead." I'm not sure how sound it is theologically to imply that Christ is more impressed with anyone's chants, "I'm with Her!," or anyone's skin-color. But if Moore is proposing that the Gospel requires the abolition of the nation or means that all policies that protect a nation are "racist"/"nativist," this may also create some surprises for him when he sees the New Jerusalem come with the temple of God in the middle and beholds "The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth [bring] their splendor into it." Re 21:4 The nations seem like they are part of God's plan, too.

Since Moore quotes Galatians 6:2 about "bearing burdens" to support his claims that white evangelicals should be more opposed to Republican immigration rhetoric, it's perhaps fit to conclude by seeing just how out of keeping with its spirit Moore's quotation seems:
Ga 6:1 ¶ Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one will bear his own load.
The point of this passage is not that Christian should open the borders or repudiate rhetoric, but how they should respond to sin. I am a supporter of Moore but I don't see how his editorial to the readers of the New York Times fits this passage about spiritual correction very well at all. Given the difficulties that Moore faces, I am happy to bear his burdens and try to fulfill the law of Christ. I think he is doing an overall great job in a very difficult environment. I hope I have preserved the proper "spirit of gentleness" in responding to his editorial. Pray for Moore! 

2 comments:

  1. Chico and the ManMay 12, 2016 at 9:32 PM

    My grandparents are Southern Baptists from Birmingham. My father was ordained Southern Baptist in Birmingham. He fougnt against racism. How dare Moore libel my family? It is only by Christ's command that I forgive this meweling, soft Herb (challenging him to a duel as might once have been done seems pointless from the sexless morphology of his face--the more proper method would be the caning that Preston Brooks gave Sumner).

    The Bible says bless your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This is the prism through which I view Moore and the SBC if they do not repudiate his hateful, racist rhetoric.

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  2. Actually how much more polite we'd be if dueling were legal? SJWs and cuckservatives like Moore would need actual backbone (they posture and preen as if they're so brave as the entire apparatus of USG stands behind them and the paper of record publishes their tripe).

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