Russell Moore responds to Southern Baptist detractors

Russell Moore, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious LIberty Commission, has received both praise and criticism for his critiques of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. (Photo/RNS)

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WASHINGTON (RNS)—Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, who has drawn praise and pans for his critiques of President-elect Donald Trump, apologized to Southern Baptists who think he was critical of anyone who voted for the Republican candidate.

“There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience,” he said in a column published Dec. 19.

His column appeared on the same day The Wall Street Journal reported some of Moore’s critics are considering withdrawing support for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which Moore has led since 2013.

The Journal quoted Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas and a Trump supporter, who said members of his church don’t believe the commission “represents our church’s beliefs.”

Some SBC members fear Moore’s stances will limit their access to the new administration. And Louisiana Baptists asked their leaders to study recent actions of the ERLC, although the convention’s executive director, David Hankins, called defunding the agency “a last resort.”

“I’m not aware of any churches that have pulled funding yet, but I’m aware some have said they’re going to,” Hankins told the newspaper. “People are mulling their options.”

In his column, Moore explained why he didn’t vote for either Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“For me, to vote for either candidate, I felt, would be to sin against my own conscience,” he said.

But he urged those who made a similar decision and those who did vote at the top of their ballots to not judge one another. He also called for Christian unity as well as prayers for Trump: “We owe it to him to work with him for the common good everywhere possible.”

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In the midst of the campaign, Trump tweeted that Moore was “a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good that they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!” Moore tweeted in response, “Sad!”

Now, Moore has been the subject of an #IStandWithMoore Twitter hashtag campaign, while former GOP presidential candidate and fellow Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee has been quoted by as saying, “I am utterly stunned that Russell Moore is being paid by Southern Baptists to insult them.”

The swirl of debate around Moore is not new. He previously has been outspoken about and criticized for his statements on issues such as immigration, the Confederate flag and religious liberty for Muslims.

In his column, Moore said there were times during the campaign when he thought it would be “negligent” to keep quiet.

“It is precisely because Southern Baptists are pro-life, pro-family, pro-religious freedom, pro-racial reconciliation, and pro-character-in-public-office that I felt it was my responsibility to speak out on those issues,” he said. “For me, to remain silent—rightly or wrongly—felt negligent.”

Ken Barbic, the chairman of the ERLC’s trustees, continues to support Moore. He told Baptist Press, the news service of the denomination, Moore is “a gospel-centered and faithful voice for Southern Baptists.”

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