HOUSTON (ABP)—The new leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s moral concerns agency says he hopes to build working relationships with moderate and cooperative Baptists, and he will not treat those who disagree with SBC positions as adversaries.
Russell Moore, 41, recently took over the presidency of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission from Richard Land, who led the agency 25 years and recently became an embattled figure deeply involved in controversies over race, violence and theology.
“I don’t think kindness is a weakness,” Moore told reporters at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, where nearly 5,000 messengers are attended the SBC’s annual convention. “I don’t see our opponents on issues as enemies.”
Before being named to the position in March, Moore was at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration. He also was a professor of Christian theology and ethics.
Work on common causes
In an interview, Moore said he hopes to work on common causes with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and other Baptist groups.
“There are going to be issues where we can stand together,” he said.
BJC Executive Director Brent Walker said those issues likely will revolve around preserving the free exercise of religion.
Walker noted he’s encouraged by the cooperative tone Moore has taken toward other Christian and religion groups. This could be a pivotal moment in Baptist relations, he added.
“It would give credibility to what we’re saying if all Baptists agree,” he said. “That’s a pretty powerful swath of humanity.”
However, Walker predicted continued disagreement with Southern Baptists on subjects like prayer in schools and Ten Commandments displays.
“We’re going to see some things differently, of course,” Moore said. “Sometimes it’s going to depend on where progressive Baptists come down—but I’d like to talk to them about that.”
Will “speak prophetically”
During a press conference, Moore was asked how his style of leadership will differ from Land’s. He declined to compare himself to Land, but said he plans to “speak prophetically” to churches and the wider culture with “kindness and gentleness to all.”
Asked about the rise of same-sex marriage, Moore said, churches must model biblical marriage within their own congregations, and that means beginning to tackle divorce and other sins present in their own ranks.
He declined to take a position on how Southern Baptists should deal with the recent Boy Scouts of America decision to allow homosexual boys into the organization. Instead, he said, the misguided policy now is a church-by-church matter he hopes will not divide the convention.
Moore differed with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s suggestion—in a sermon at the SBC Pastors’ Conference—that churches may be more prophetic if they give up their tax-exempt status—and the speech limitations that come with it.
Tax-exempt status is important because taxation can be a powerful government weapon. “The power to tax is the power to destroy,” he said.
But he agreed there may come a time when such action is necessary. “I just don’t think we’re there, yet,” Moore said.