Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about a pair of leaked letters written by Russell Moore to various folks in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In these two letters, Moore tries very hard to portray himself as a man of deep principles and great morality: a hero in every sense of the word, fighting hard against the enemies of good in the halls of power in his denomination. Alas, his actual behavior doesn’t quite support that portrayal. Today, we’ll see how Russell Moore fits into his own self-presentation as a big damn hero.
(Related posts about Russell Moore: SBC Sexism; SBC Racism; The Letters’ Provenance and Named Names; Refusing to Play Ball; Don’t Ever Believe the Hype; How Russell Moore Got His ERLC Job; Yes But Was He Hateful Enough; How to Fool a Monster; Russell Moore Reveals the SBC’s ‘Abuse of Faith’ Strategy; The SBC Just Drove Out Another Dissenter. Lastly, here are links to the February 2020 letter and the May 2021 letter. The phrase “big damn hero” comes from Firefly, of course.)
The Context of the Russell Moore Letters.
Our two leaked letters were written in February 2020 and May 2021. In both letters, Russell Moore sought to establish an us-vs-them two-sided fight for the heart and soul of the SBC. His side, of course, contained all the good guys. This was the side that wanted the SBC to change for the better. He and his pals wanted the SBC to meaningfully address and resolve its scandals, to eschew and dismantle the denomination’s systemic racism, and to rise above its decline at last by Jesus-ing correctly.
The other side — the Old Guard he fought against constantly — contained the villains of the SBC. These guys wanted power and all the fun that came with that power. They were ickie and gross racists and misogynists who despised Jesus. And they wanted to run the SBC like a business, not a church. In both letters, Moore refers to his enemies using slurs like “Bubbas” and “rednecks” to describe the bread-and-butter of the denomination. He writes, in the first letter:
In some of these “investigations,” what I have been charged with is “not playing enough to the Bubbas and the rednecks; they pay the bills.” I don’t think we have “bubbas and rednecks,” I find such slurs offensive and derogatory, personally as well as ethically.
In the second letter, Moore has one of his enemies using the term “the Bubba crowd.” Specifically, this unnamed speaker didn’t think Moore appealed enough to that crowd in his department’s conference programming. And you can tell Moore just bristles at the idea that someone used that term to describe anyone in the SBC. Like, how dare this guy? And with this outraged spluttering, a quiet and unspoken: I would never. And neither would Jesus.
That’s the least of the squabbles these letters describe. And they all run in the same way:
Russell Moore & Pals = good wonderful heroes.
Everyone opposing them = evil ickie bad enemies!
But Is Russell Moore Really the Hero Here?
I’ve said on record that I think Russell Moore thinks of himself as a way better person than his enemies at the SBC. He seems much more sincere about wanting to dismantle racism and meaningfully address the SBC’s sex-abuse crisis. His objections to Donald Trump certainly seem heartfelt.
And Moore doesn’t seem to be a hypocrite regarding his personal conduct; his predecessor, Richard Land, definitely seems more like one of those do as I say, not as I do folks. Moore really does seem very upset over the way that the SBC is bleeding both membership and credibility.
However, as I read his two letters one fact just kept jumping out at me:
Russell Moore did not actually take action on all the awful stuff he saw and heard from his fellow big-name leaders. He still really hasn’t. He’s just written a few slams down about them. Nothing can really be done about anything he’s written.
It’s like he designed his letters to inflame Southern Baptists so they vote for his faction instead of his enemies’ faction next week.
What Russell Moore Didn’t Do About Racism in the SBC.
In 2013, Russell Moore was hired to be the leader of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Before that, according to his biography at Wikipedia, he worked for the SBC in a number of other capacities. He’s pretty much been an SBC employee since 2001.
And his grievances go back to at least 2011, in the letters. That’s the year he notes:
One SBC leader who was at the forefront of these behind-closed-doors assaults had ripped me to shreds verbally for saying, in 2011, that the Southern Baptist Convention should elect an African-American president.
(In fact, in 2012 the SBC would elect their first and so far only Black president, Fred Luter.)
Moore goes on to note that the same leader told “a gathering” the following:
“The Conservative Resurgence is like the Civil War, except this time unlike the last one, the right side won.” I walked out of that gathering, as did one of you.
He walked out, yes, along with one of his ERLC trustees.
But he never publicized this shocking bit of racism and treachery. He just saved it, along with a similar 2013 offense committed by “another SBC leader.”
Russell Moore’s high-falutin’ morality didn’t make him step forward then, and really he still hasn’t. He’s still protecting racists and traitors at the expense of the Black people those racists and traitors hate so much.
The Very Strange and Curious Supposed Heroics of Russell Moore.
In his second letter, Russell Moore laments how little the SBC has done to address its shocking, far-reaching sex-abuse scandal. At every turn, we learn yet more about just how many predators we’re dealing with here, and those predators’ rank and reach just seems to extend further with every passing day. It’s a sickening mess.
Moore chronicles that mess with some vague accusations, most of which we covered yesterday. In his retelling, we have top-level SBC leaders calling sex-abuse victims “whores,” “crazy,” and more, referring to them as “Potiphar’s wife” (meaning their accusations are totally false and the men accused are wonderful saints being unfairly treated), and fighting nonstop to stymie and stonewall anything Russell Moore and his faction tried to do to address this scandal.
The first time Russell Moore heard a high-ranking SBC official refer to a sex-abuse victim in those terms, why didn’t he say anything? Why did he protect the vicious misogynist who lashed out like that? When he found out about an Executive Committee (EC) leader calling to apologize to a church that had hired a sex offender, why didn’t he immediately take what he knew to someone who could do something about it? Or leak it to the press at the time?
Why do we just now hear about any of this stuff? Where was Jesus through all these years of shocking offenses, in Russell Moore’s complicated moral algorithm?
Downranked to blazes, it seems to me.
Russell Moore Has Two New Jobs, and One’s Weird.
After resigning from his nice ERLC position, Russell Moore left the SBC itself. That doesn’t surprise me much at all; he was all but persona non grata at this point anyway.
His first new gig is with Christianity Today. He announced on May 18 that he’d be taking on a new role there: public theologian and director of the Christianity Today Public Theology Project. Here’s their news release on the topic. Good luck figuring out what, exactly, this “Public Theology Project” involves. It sounds worryingly like a new politicized culture-warrior push.
That one doesn’t surprise me at all. The people running Christianity Today share a lot of ideas in common with him. And the President/CEO of Christianity Today talks in that news release about having worked with Moore for a while on other projects, so clearly there’s some networking going on there.
It’s the other new gig of his that’s kind of weird, considering his self-presentation as a big damn hero fighting racism and sexism with all his might against the meaniepies in the Old Guard faction.
Out of All the Churches in the World, Why THAT One?
Russell Moore has made a very soft, cushiony landing at Immanuel Nashville, an Acts 29 church located in Nashville, Tennessee. He doesn’t yet appear on their leadership page, but I’m told he’s going to be their pastor in residence. That title may mean that he’ll base himself there while doing other stuff. He might not even be doing any actual pastor work.
You might remember the name Acts 29. It’s a church-planting and evangelism-focused umbrella group that super-strict Calvinist churches can join. Mark Driscoll started the group, though they booted him some years ago when his scandals got too hot for them to handle. Their leader after Driscoll, Steve Timmis, got in similar hot water for authoritarian abuse. Since them, they’ve made Matt Chandler their president — which is absolutely not an improvement over either previous guy.
In short, Acts 29 sure looks like an organization that is built around power, not charity and serving a god who’s supposed to be all about love and justice.
So Immanuel Nashville already sounds like a true-blue Calvinist nightmare of authoritarianism and entrenched sexism. Not only that, but its leaders are, according to Chrissy Stroop, really tight with a scandalous right-wing fundagelical leader named C.J. Mahaney. Mahaney founded Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). For many years now, SGM has been a nonstop fountain overflowing with shocking sex-abuse scandals — and their cover-up.
And one of Immanuel’s pastors, Ray Ortlund, showed up to speak at a Mahaney-organized event at his SGM church just this past April. Ortlund’s thick as thieves with that whole gaggle of Calvinists, as we see in his Twitter account.
This is the detestable, morally-bankrupt gang of cruel sexists that Russell Moore decided would be the perfect home base for him and his family.
All I can imagine is that Russell Moore thinks he can have the ultra-authoritarian Calvinism without the scandals. But then I think of that link to C.J. Mahaney, and my mind BSODs.
Yep, Here We Have the Big Damn Hero of the SBC.
Toward the end of the first letter (relink), Russell Moore writes:
When God called me to himself in Jesus, and when he called me to serve him in ministry, he called me to stand for the truth, to point the way to the kingdom, to die to self, and to carry the cross. He did not call me to provide cover for racial bigotry and child molestation. I will not do that.
Unfortunately for him, though, that’s exactly what he did for many years. He provided cover for denominational leaders who were vicious racists, racists who threatened him and his family, who fought bitterly to prevent progress on any front at all, who reveled in their own perceived power over their enemies, who protected their turf with jealous hearts, who constantly grabbed for control of other leaders’ domains, and who constantly sought above all more power: more, more, more, and still more.
Russell Moore didn’t talk about any of these disgusting hypocrites or their misdeeds until he quit his job. He was happy to take a paycheck from the SBC, mostly keep his yap shut, and meander along — until the door looked like it was about to slam on his tuckus.
Then suddenly he just had to write stuff down — secretly, without naming too many names, of course!
I wonder how many Black people have faced racism from these unnamed leaders that Russell Moore never called out? How many women and children have faced abuse because Russell Moore sat on what he knew?
These letters are not a mark of heroism, but of opportunism.
Russell Moore portrays himself in those letters as a heroic fighter against evil and injustice. But it’s really hard to understand how a real hero — or even how any kind of decent person — could wait so long to say anything about wrongdoing.
NEXT UP: Why Christians can’t have Calvinist authoritarianism without scandals. Ever. No matter how hard or how correctly they Jesus. Next week, we head back into Hell together. See you tomorrow!
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PS: I also liked what Wartburg Watch had to say about the leaked letters and Russell Moore’s weird self-presentation as a hero.
PPS: I’ve gotten started on the first entry to our Ancient 1st-Century Writers series. Ohh, it is gonna be fun. 🙂 I hope you enjoy it too.