an empty church - the final fate
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Bhavishya Goel, CC.)
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! If you want to see what a group is really all about underneath their self-promotion, watch how they treat someone leaving their ranks. That’s part of how we know that evangelical Christians are nowhere near as loving and kind as they pretend to be. Today, let me show you how that process works. Beth Moore, a longtime member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), recently announced she was leaving the denomination. And oh boy, her onetime tribe made sure to pour their ‘Christian love’ all over her.

an empty church - the final fate
(Bhavishya Goel, CC.)

(Today’s post ties into the theme of “Christian love.” As you read, keep in mind how poorly Beth Moore’s critics embody actually-loving behavior — and how little they care if anyone finds them unloving.)

Beth Moore’s Rise to Power.

In past years, Beth Moore rose to prominence as a white evangelical female influencer. Mostly, she targeted her message at white evangelical women like herself.

It’s important to note that Beth Moore really, really believes. The SBC wishes that even 1/10 of its male members were even 1/10 as dedicated as she is to Jesus-ing. It’s also important to note that by no means was she seeking to revolutionize anything. She considered herself — and still does — to be deeply conservative. All she asked of her male leaders was accountability: for them to live up to their own marketing about themselves.

But that turned out to be completely unacceptable.

When the SBC’s huge sex-abuse scandal cracked wide open, Beth Moore rode into the forefront. She began speaking against the SBC structures that allowed and made room for systemic sex abuse. We talked about it more here. Since she herself was a survivor of sex abuse, and since she was already a big-name female influencer in the tribe, the SBC’s top leaders had to at least pretend to care about what she was saying.

The Pretend Progressives of the SBC gave Moore a big role at their annual jamboree that year, at their Pastor’s Conference. For the first time in memory, though, the Old Guard faction organized a second big speech at the exact same time! This other speech was clearly meant to split the audience away from the Pastor’s Conference and give them a way to protest Beth Moore’s presence there in the first place. And this competing conference dealt exclusively with destroying women’s advances in the SBC and rejecting anything that might cut into SBC men’s privilege.

So from the very get-go, the tribalistic impulses of the SBC were already rising — and preparing to smack Beth Moore back into place.

Oh yes, what “Christian love” that was!

Attacking Beth Moore.

Well before evangelicals’ Rubicon — the January 6th insurrection attempt largely spearheaded and goaded on by the Christian Right — the “godly misogynists” of the SBC were doing their best to destroy Beth Moore.

One enthusiastic detractor of hers, Josh Buice, even slammed her twice: once in 2016 with “Why Your Pastor Should Say No to Beth Moore,” and then again in 2019 with why “the SBC” in particular should reject her. (You’ll love his buzzword use, particularly “biblical” — which in modern Christianese simply means aligning with fundagelicals’ culture wars.)

Mostly, Beth Moore’s detractors reallllly hate the fact that she preaches and leads. I’ve read Beth Moore’s own words. She did not set out specifically to do that. As I mentioned, she still considers herself completely bound by evangelical doctrines. Those doctrines include female subjugation. She accepts them; she’s never even claimed to want to be a pastor. Indeed, she directs her work at female audiences and it’s all well within fundagelical sensibilities. But oh, just listen to Josh Buice’s absolute hysteria in his second Beth Moore takedown:

Not only did Beth Moore take to Twitter to taunt her opposition on these matters in recent days, she likewise took to the pulpit in a SBC church on Mother’s Day to exercise her perceived privilege and calling as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word.

Oh noes! Where oh where shall this madness END?

But really, just listening to her detractors you’d think she’s out there forcing poor widdle pastors at swordpoint to let her ascend to their pulpits.

To me, it all sounds so much like “Christian love.” Her critics aren’t even concerned anymore with how they look to outsiders. Such considerations have been set on the sideline. Instead, they’re way more worried now with maintaining their dominance.

Beth Moore and the Doomed Quest.

That said, I can’t say that Josh Buice is wrong in his final assessment:

The SBC is not charismatic. The SBC is not egalitarian. To say so is not divisive nor is it misogynistic. It’s time for the SBC to say “no more” to Beth Moore.

Well, yes. Duh, even. If someone specifically defines something as being anti-A, then A is going to be a big problem for them! Amazing, how that works.

The “charismatic” part is just a red herring. (Usually, it means using the gifts of the Spirit, like speaking in tongues and prophesying.) I haven’t ever heard any SBC leader freaking out that hard over charismatics. They’re willing to put up with a lot from their churches and leaders, as long as they adhere to the culture-war points — like being rabidly anti-feminist.

The real problem here is the “egalitarian” end of Beth Moore’s teachings. I mean, she’s not egalitarian. But she might as well be, to her critics. These folks snarl “feminist” like a slur, because to them it is.

As we’ve discussed, the SBC’s leaders very specifically designed their denomination to exclude female leadership. Lashing out at women’s advances into leadership: that was the entire focus of their so-called Conservative Resurgence. Its leaders very specifically sought to clamp down hard on male privilege. And it worked. Ever since then, that movement’s architects and biggest cheerleaders have watched very warily for any sign of weakening in their defensive wall.

Trumpism represents nothing less than an attempt to re-enshrine white male evangelical privilege into dominance before it’s too late. Women are once again making advances in the SBC, and that cannot stand.

Thus, Beth Moore, as a woman tilting at Trumpism, was doomed to failure from the moment she began. She was reckoning with an entire tribe of Old Guard fundagelicals jealously guarding their power. They might barely put up with a man criticizing that stuff, but a woman? Oh, that was a bridge too far.

The Rubicon, Crossed for Good.

Then, right-wing extremist Christianists staged the US Capitol Attack. Everything changed. Like never before, the outside world’s gaze focused on evangelicals — and evangelicalism. And this was Beth Moore’s moment. Everything she’d been saying about Donald Trump and Trumpism came crashing together, and people seemed more willing to listen to her this time.

Beth Moore came out very strongly against Trump and Trumpism. She used the tribe’s habitual tactics — gatekeeping the label of TRUE CHRISTIAN™, but this time against the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ dominating her denomination. What a power reversal! She tweeted:

I don’t know the Jesus some have paraded and waved around in the middle of this treachery today. They may be acting in the name of some other Jesus but that’s not Jesus of the Gospels.

Oh, if only there were a way to rein in wingnuts! When I saw that, at the time I figured the Trumpists in the SBC would feel a certain way about what she’d said.

Indeed, Religion News Service tells us, evangelicals reacted very poorly to her dissension. After she began speaking out against Donald Trump and Trumpism generally, her book sales plummeted and her ministry took a huge financial whack.

I would be willing to guess, as well, that the more toxic and misogynistic elements of her denomination finally made her recognize what they’d been telling her for years — sometimes under their breaths, but more often loud and clear.

They’d been trying to tell her exactly who they were all that time. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps she finally absorbed that message and accepted it.

Beth Moore: Like “Prince Harry Leaving the Royal Firm.”

On March 5th, Beth Moore announced that she was “no longer a Southern Baptist.”

She’s still “a Baptist,” like in general. She still subscribes to evangelical right-wing teachings overall. But she’s no longer a formal part of the biggest Baptist — and Protestant — and possibly Christian, like, period — denomination in America. She told Religion News Service (RNS):

“I love so many Southern Baptist people, so many Southern Baptist churches, but I don’t identify with some of the things in our heritage that haven’t remained in the past.”

Aww, that’s sweet.

In addition, she ended her business relationship with the SBC’s publishing arm, LifeWay. They can still sell her books in their digital shop, but they won’t publish her books anymore or handle her speaking events.

The evangelical world exploded with this defection. Baptist News tells us that one Christian author, Diana Butler Bass, compared this departure to “Prince Harry leaving the royal firm. A big and unthinkable deal.” In addition, Dwight McKissic, an SBC pastor who has been sharply critical of the SBC of late over its racism, said that her departure — along with that of Charlie Dates and Ralph West, a pair of prominent Black pastors who have also left the SBC — indicates “danger, in the water” for Southern Baptists.

I’d agree, for what it’s worth.

Why Beth Moore’s Departure Matters.

Beth Moore seems like a really dedicated Christian. As we see in such Christians, her views can be very strongly propped up by her magic book. She’s a lot more decent and compassionate than the SBC’s leaders, too, and she carries a lot of weight in the Christ-o-sphere with women. She’s as big a name with female evangelicals as Al Mohler is with the Old Guard, maybe more even. (After all, misogynistic male evangelicals have a lot more choices in big name leaders than evangelical women as a group do.)

So her leavetaking has the taste to it of an ideological purge more than anything else. As such, the anti-reformists are rejoicing over Beth Moore’s departure. They don’t care who knows it. They’ve never had a big problem with being seen as monsters by everyone else. To them, that’s just PROOF YES PROOF that Jesus approves extra of their antics.

In driving away their few remaining decent-hearted, compassionate leaders, evangelicals in general stake out territory that no decent, compassionate group should ever want to occupy, much less defend.

Yet here we find most evangelicals: occupying and defending this foul turf to their last breath like it’s their Battle Royale, their last stand, their Alamo, their Waterloo.

And maybe, maybe, maybe it is. Maybe they sense very unwanted shifts in power currents — soft voices whispering on the breeze of change to come that will not be to their own benefit.

Do not make the mistake of underestimating authoritarians’ ability to sense threats to their power.

Often their reaction to challenges is exaggerated, sometimes very much so. But their perception of challenges is only rarely off-base. They may be really bad at real love, but they’re very good indeed at grabbing and defending power.

Thus, if the most regressive elements in evangelicalism think Beth Moore represents a serious threat to their power, one requiring immediate and urgent response, then y’all, she most likely does.

The Prelude to a Saga.

In the wake of Beth Moore’s defection, even hardliner evangelical women are expressing serious second thoughts about their leaders and fellow male evangelicals. The sheer hatred that’s boiled forth regarding Beth Moore — before and after her announcement — has shocked them. Nancy French, a conservative female Christian writer, might have put it best:

I don’t know if Trump catalyzed hate for her [Beth Moore] or just revealed it and women were never welcome if they didn’t stay in line. It’s like: How do you really feel about us?”

It’s good she’s finally noticed. Yes, that’s exactly how it works: women are tentatively welcome, but only if they stay in line. How nice that she’s realized that fact!

But what shall she do with her newly-won wisdom?

What shall millions of other similar evangelical women do, now that they know that their male peers and leaders do not, in fact, love them at all?

The Misogynists on the Wall.

On that note, Christianity Today, in discussing Beth Moore’s defection, quoted an SBC women’s ministry leader:

“Pastors, I hope you are watching women in the SBC and their response to Beth Moore …”

Because I’m feeling very helpful, I’d like to offer an observation to reassure this minister:

There is not a single-dingle-dongle chance in hell that SBC pastors aren’t keeping an eagle eye on SBC women right now.

I don’t think this fracas will result in a lot of similar defections right away, no. However, it’s sure going into the hat for evangelical women. We’ll be hearing about it in ex-timonies one day, I’ve no doubt. 

So as the SBC’s next big slapfight comes into focus, its two major factions are both capitalizing as best they can on Beth Moore’s decision — and trying to maintain their increasingly-fragile hold over the followers they still have.

NEXT UP: A quick overview of the two political factions forming in the SBC right now — and a third that’d like to be a major player, but is more of a pawn and strawman for the two that are. Seriously, y’all, this is like reality TV! The SBC Schism Saga has begun! And we will be here for it tomorrow. See you then!

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Last thoughts: The situation the SBC finds itself in, with Beth Moore’s defection, reminds me of a post I wrote a long time ago, “Love in the Time of Culture Wars.” Real love can’t survive power grabs and control-lust. You can love, or you can have culture wars. But you cannot have both. That said, I don’t think the SBC’s really all that interested in even pretending they want both anymore, not as a whole. They’re in middle of the fight of their lives, a fight FOR their metaphorical lives even, and they have demonstrated by their reaction to Beth Moore’s departure that they know what the stakes are here. So that’s good news for the rest of us, I reckon. Hang in there. 

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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