On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the Southern Baptist Convention could dump Russell Moore, president of their policy wing, for his failure to adequately support Donald Trump during his presidential run. According to the Post:
More than 100 of the denomination’s 46,000 churches have threatened to cut off financial support for the SBC’s umbrella fund, according to Frank Page, president of the executive committee. The committee is studying whether the churches are acting out of displeasure with Moore because it has received more threats to funding over him than over any other “personality issue” in recent memory, said Page, who will meet with Moore today.
In other words, churches are so angry at Moore that they’re cutting funds to the SBC. Which is shortsighted and nasty.
That’s particularly short-sighted and nasty because there were many possible ways to come down during this election cycle for men and women of moral character. President Trump was not just a divisive candidate on policy – most candidates are. He was a divisive candidate on character grounds, as Moore pointed out – criticism for which Moore was roundly excoriated by the religious right, which turned out to vote for Trump in record numbers.
But Moore’s perspective represented a forward-looking concern with the future beyond the election. Moore has spent an inordinate amount of time seeking to make inroads with people beyond the traditional Republican base without compromising the moral character of the church – he couldn’t reconcile that call with support for Trump, who broke a bevy of moral rules during his candidacy alone. Trump, in response, called Moore “a truly terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!”
And now, the SBC is apparently afraid that they won’t be able to curry favor with the Trump administration with Moore still in power.
That demonstrates, more than anything, that religious communities have ties with the government too close for comfort. There shouldn’t be any conflict over religious leadership within a community simply because the person in charge doesn’t have friends at the White House – and that’s particularly true if the person in the White House is supposedly a good friend to Evangelicals who shares their principles. Moore publicly stated after the election that he didn’t mean to criticize those who voted for Trump, but rather a “handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel.” That may not be enough, since feelings ran so high during this election and afterward. But it's certainly a mistake for any religious movement to hitch its wagon to a political leader so closely that it throws advocates for religious principles themselves under the bus.
The SBC has every right to pursue whatever policy they choose -- and it's possible that the attempt to defenestrate Moore comes less from his electioneering than his general attitude, which apparently makes some in the community bristle. But the continued anger at Moore for seeking to at least face up to the moral conflicts inherent in this election cycle demonstrate that there is a serious moral conflict that goes much further than Moore or Trump – a conflict over the uses of political power, the need for political expediency, and the question of political calibration when speaking matters of eternal truth.