Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about the two leaked letters from Russell Moore. Until recently, he worked for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as the leaders of their Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). But a few weeks ago, he resigned from that position (and left the SBC iself) amid a firestorm of controversy. Since then, two letters of his have leaked to the public (first archive link; second archive link). These letters offer Moore’s absolutely devastating criticisms of top-level SBC leaders from both a personal and professional standpoint. Today, let me show you what Russell Moore’s leaked letters reveal about the sordid, racist underbelly of SBC leadership.
(Related posts about Russell Moore: 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. Also see: The SBC Still Doesn’t Get Why People Don’t Like Them Anymore; Frank Page’s Very Clean Cup. See this post for a discussion of the SBC’s two emerging factions.)
The Letters Reveal Constant SBC Infighting.
As I said above, we’ve got two letters. Russell Moore wrote the first one in February 2020, during a secret Executive Committee (EC) investigation into his Party loyalties. This was actually the second secret investigation the EC conducted.
The first secret investigation happened around 2017. It was largely a response to Moore’s well-known anti-Trumpism. A number of churches were rumored to be withholding funds from the SBC’s Cooperative Program (CP), which provides funds for not only the ERLC itself but also a number of other huge SBC projects (like missionary work and seminaries). The SBC is incredibly protective of the CP. They’ve been a little nervous about giving levels for a while now. So anything that makes churches hesitate to give to the CP must be treated as a serious and viable threat.
(Please see this endnote for way more info about the CP.)
In February 2020, Russell Moore was angry about a second secret investigation. He saw these investigations as insults not only to his own competence but also to the integrity of the ERLC. So he took the opportunity to discuss a whole bunch of similar insults he’d suffered through the years.
The impression one gets, reading both letters, is one of constant infighting, obstruction, hostility, alliance-forming and -breaking, and deliberate institutional stonewalling.
And it all flows freely from the self-appointed representatives of a living god who, they claim constantly, embodies both love and justice.
Alas, the actions of the top levels of SBC leadership do not represent either love or justice at all.
These Letters Reveal Sickening Racism.
In the first letter, we find an unsettling account of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ racists:
My family and I have faced constant threats from white nationalists and white supremacists, including within our convention. [. . .] They want to deflect the issue to arcane discussions that people do not understand, such as “critical race theory.” [CRT] [. . .]
One SBC leader who was at the forefront of these behind-closed-doors assaults had already ripped me to shreds verbally for saying, in 2011, that the Southern Baptist Convention should elect an African-American president. This same leader told a gathering that “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 also describes a second SBC leader’s reaction to Moore’s hire of Trillia Newbell, a Black evangelical writer, in 2013. This SBC leader allegedly said:
“I was really just concerned about that black girl, whether she’s an egalitarian.” When I asked what possibly could lead him to think that a woman who has written complementarian articles for complementarian websites was an “egalitarian,” he responded: “A lot of those black girls are.”
The second letter, written in May 2021, focuses way more on misogyny. However, Moore briefly mentions racism:
[. . .] the blatant, gutter-level racism that has been expressed to me behind closed doors along with the reprehensible treatment of my African-American employees and our African-American seminary professors by figures within the Southern Baptist ecosystem.
TRUE CHRISTIANS™, y’all.
Subtle Racism in the Letters.
It is just dizzying to read about the sheer malignant racism that Southern Baptist leaders express behind closed doors. Just revolting in every way.
Indeed, in that first letter Moore describes frequent shows of racism that run very deep indeed in the upper halls of SBC leadership. He describes “white nationalists” and “white supremacists” who proudly attend SBC churches. He says some of them are formally involved with white supremacist groups and “neo-Confederate activities going back for years.”
And he describes how these racists disguise their “raw racist sentiment” with dogwhistles about critical race theory (CRT).
We’ve known for a long time that racist Christians are very good at disguising their white supremacist desires with such dogwhistles. (Lee Atwater called it bigtime. You can see his famous quote here, but be aware it contains a racial slur.)
Moore also completely calls out the SBC’s top leaders for bitterly resisting any real action that might dismantle some of their endemic racism.
And Overt Racism in the Letters.
For that matter, I already mentioned earlier that an SBC leader allegedly called an accomplished adult Black woman a “black girl.”
In the Deep South, calling an adult Black man a “boy” will get a white guy into very serious trouble. Even the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled that the word “boy” could be considered racist in a legal hate-speech context. It looks like many Black women consider “girl” a similar insult.
(See endnote for a Biff story.)
This second leader Russell Moore names, incidentally, was apparently also a serious ammosexual who thought “only those with guns would prevent black people from burning down all of our cities.” He also “let [Moore] have it” when Moore suggested that white Southern Baptists should maybe mourn besides Black people after racist killings.
That is all horrifying.
I’d love to know exactly who these two unnamed SBC leaders are.
The problem is, there are so many potential names that might fit the bill!
The CRT Cloak in the Letters.
- Avowed racism (of course, because CRT examines and challenges racist ideas and systems)
- Anti-intellectualism (CRT is a college/academia field of study)
- Anti-liberalism (evangelicals view any examination of their racism as an attack on their conservative scare-quotes “values”)
- Anti-urbanism (racists have long used “urban” as a dogwhistle for “Black,” and the deepest fantasies of SBC leaders revolve around small, white-dominated towns)
- Anti-social-safety-nets (white racists tend to associate Blackness with poverty, and many of the recommendations that come out of CRT and similar disciplines center around alleviating poverty)
- Science denialism (CRT is part of the social sciences and uses scientific mechanisms to develop and test new ideas)
- Cruelty toward tribal enemies (CRT seeks to bring about equality, which racists absolutely don’t want)
- Wingnut thinking (SBC leaders’ arguments against CRT sound exactly like the awful ones apologists use)
We see a lot of these qualities on display in the leaked letters. It is truly disturbing to see how incredibly regressive these pious frauds in SBC leadership truly are. Over the years, it’s crystal-clear the SBC’s racism has only grown worse in every way — and headed underground to fester in secret.
Like evangelicals’ culture war on abortion, the actual cause of CRT itself is just a cloak thrown over a whole viper’s nest of horrific ideas held by the culture warriors. It’s a marker belief. Being against CRT is part of being for all these awful things.
SBC leaders seek above all to ensure that Southern Baptists can continue to to be vicious racists without pushback, criticism, or repercussions.
The World the SBC Wants.
Every single dollar a person gives the SBC, every vote, every butt parked in SBC churches’ pews (BIPs), and every culture-war idea adopted and spread, helps create the world that SBC leaders want. It does nothing to bring about the SBC’s stated goals. There’s no way any of that can possibly happen at this point. No, that support just helps keep the gravy trains running until those leaders can retire with full benefits and glories.
All it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing to stop it. And I would never consider the leaders of the SBC good people in the first place. So yeah, evil already enjoys quite a starting advantage in that denomination.
Whoever wins the SBC’s upcoming presidential election, I suspect Black Southern Baptists will only continue to lose in the SBC.
NEXT UP: The sexism in the Russell Moore letters. See you tomorrow! <3
Regarding the use of “boy” and “girl” as racist epithets: Toward the end of our time in Houston in the mid-1990s, Biff almost got his ass beat by a crowd of outraged Black men after calling one of them “boy.” I really don’t think he was being intentionally racist. Instead, I’m quite sure that he used the term in what he thought was a folksy, friendly, down-home Texan way. Racist slurs were never his thing, and he had been trying hard for weeks to make friends with the man in question as part of an evangelism attempt. At least he learned very quickly that the term was extremely off-limits. He dropped his charm offensive afterward, thankfully. (Back to the post!)
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PS: Don’t worry. We’re getting to Russell Moore himself at the end of this series. He’s not a hero, as much as he portrays himself as such in his leaked letters.