Magazine article Newsweek

The Rebel Evangelical: A Man of Faith in a Faithless Age; Pastor Russel D. Moore Discusses the Importance of the Separation of Church and State, a Rarity for White Evangelical Christians in the Current Political Climate

Magazine article Newsweek

The Rebel Evangelical: A Man of Faith in a Faithless Age; Pastor Russel D. Moore Discusses the Importance of the Separation of Church and State, a Rarity for White Evangelical Christians in the Current Political Climate

Article excerpt

Byline: Nina Burleigh

White evangelical Christians have proven to be President Trump's most reliable base of support. But not all of their leaders are on board. Russell D. Moore, a pastor and author--and the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the more than 15 million-member Southern Baptist Convention--refused to support Trump in 2016. "Trump's vitriolic--and often racist and sexist--language about immigrants, women, the disabled and others ought to concern anyone who believes that all persons, not just the 'winners' of the moment, are created in God's image," he wrote in the National Review that year. His vocal opposition won him a Trump Tweet, in which the soon-to-be President called him "a nasty guy with no heart."

Moore, 47, has made amends with fellow Southern Baptists who support the President, but he remains a rare anti-Trump voice in evangelical Christian leadership. A prolific author and speaker born and raised in Biloxi, Mississippi, he has continued to call out racism, which he calls "Satanism." He pushed through a resolution on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 2017, condemning white nationalism and he has said the Confederate flag "cannot coexist" with the Christian cross. Prior to entering the ministry, Moore was an aide to Democratic U.S. Representative Gene Taylor of Mississippi.

On July 23, he talked to Newsweek about issues ranging from America as a Christian nation and racism and hate speech--before Trump's latest salvo at the city of Baltimore and its citizens--to evangelicals as a political force. Here are some edited excerpts:

You've stepped away from your summer writing project to talk to us. What are you working on right now?A book on courage, because I find that one of the primary questions that I'm asked is about fear. And about dealing with fear and anxiety, both in terms of cultural pressures, but also in terms of personal and family issues as well. I think there's a reason why one of the most repeated commands in scripture is 'fear not.' That's a relevant word for our time.

What is provoking more fear and anxiety? How is this era different from, say, the Cold War, with the prospect of nuclear war looming over our heads?I think fear is a universal human condition. So in that sense, I don't think it's new. And you're right, there have always been these moments. I remember as a kid watching Red Dawn and The Day After about impending nuclear holocaust. I think right now there's perhaps a different kind of fear as it relates to a fear of disconnection. I think the loneliness that we see around us is amping up a sense of being under siege. And I think that's one of the reasons why we see this drive toward herd mentalities on social media. People are finding a sense of belonging digitally because they can't find it personally. And that tends to manifest itself in terms of outrage rather than in terms of intimacy.

You mentioned a sense of belonging. Isn't church supposed to be a place for people to find belonging?Well a number of things have happened. I would make a distinction between the Christian church as it originally emerged in the first century Roman empire from what we would tend to think of today when we think of a church. The early church had no cultural cachet at all in the world around them. But they formed a real community that transcended all sorts of dividing lines. What we see in American life is a changing nature of church that I don't think is entirely bad. For a long time in American life, one had to belong to a church at least nominally to be seen as a good person. That has changed.

We hear a lot of white evangelical Christians talking about how they feel under siege. Do you agree?Sometimes secular people will speak about Christians feeling under siege as though that is somehow ridiculous and not grounded in reality. I say, of course evangelical Christians and traditional Roman Catholics and other religious people feel that way when you have so many aspects of secular culture treating them as throwbacks and dangerous bigots. …

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