WASHINGTON (BP) – In his first television appearance since being named president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore was forthright in his positions but stressed the importance of Christians being Kingdom-minded in approaching issues.
Moore, who will officially begin June 1 with the SBC’s entity for moral and religious liberty concerns, was featured in a live segment of C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”
Moore, currently dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., emphasized the importance of Christian believers recognizing they are facing “ultimately an optimistic scenario, not a pessimistic scenario.”
“The situations we face are very important and in many cases dire and the consequences are crucial but if we really believe what Jesus has said about the Kingdom of God and about the ongoing march of the Gospel in the course of history, then we don’t come to this as losers, as people who are frantic, as people who are outraged,” Moore said. “We come to this with a kind of quiet confidence.”
“We must not be a people who are terrified but who are confident in the sovereignty of God and the power of the Gospel,” he continued.
When Libby Casey, host of the April 5 C-SPAN program, asked Moore what side of the culture war he was on, Moore said he preferred not to think in terms of a fight. “I don’t think we are at war with one another in this country,” he said. “I think we have very deep disagreements on issues that matter.”
Yet he indicated it was possible and beneficial for people with divergent perspectives to “come together with civility and in conversation.”
Moore said it is critical that evangelicals recognize they are not speaking as majoritarians. “We’re not standing and saying everything we are concerned about is by necessity what the entire country agrees with us about.
“In many issues we are going to have to have a prophetic voice to a culture that largely disagrees with us,” he continued, noting that has been the position of evangelical Christians and Baptists as far back as the nation’s founding.
“Baptist preachers were the ones agitating for a 1st Amendment, for instance, for the protection of the freedom of conscience and religious liberty when that didn’t seem to be a priority for many people,” he said.
Casey asked Moore about the role religion should play in crafting legislation and politics at large.
“Religion deals with ultimate matters,” Moore responded, explaining faith impacts “what we value and how we see the world.”
He said people of faith must be involved in public policy matters: “As citizens of this republic we have a responsibility to care for the good of our neighbor and to maintain the common good of the nation.”
He noted the conversation is harmed when people of faith are not involved in the process. “After all,” Moore said, “religion teaches us and shows us that the state isn’t ultimate and the culture isn’t ultimate, there are ultimate priorities beyond these things.”
Individuals’ personal faith helps to shape and form the virtues of the citizenry, he continued.
When people of various faith backgrounds come together, Moore said, “We are speaking to one another not in order to in any way oppress one another but in order to persuade one another that there are things we ought to agree on because they are for the sake of the common good.”
In response to a caller to the program that accused religious conservatives of desiring to transform the United States into a theocracy, Moore disagreed, saying a state religion would be the bane of the Christian faith.
“The last thing an evangelical Christian would want is a theocracy,” he said. “We believe people are reconciled to God through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the proclamation of the Word, not through the action of the state.”
He said state-sponsored religion would trivialize faith into the equivalent of a driver’s license.
Evangelical Christians cherish religious liberty and freedom of conscience, Moore said. “We should all be able to bring our sense of what is important into the public square.”
The C-SPAN host noted the sudden shift in public opinion for same-sex marriage.
“We ought not to base radical changes in public policy on the basis of something as ephemeral as this cultural moment,” Moore responded. “When you have something as important as marriage, historically and culturally, we ought to protect that and conserve that.”
Moore said he hopes the Supreme Court is prudent in its deliberations and doesn't usurp the democratic process in its ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.
“As an evangelical Christian, I believe that marriage is a conjugal union, a lifelong union, between a man and a woman,” he said.
Saying while he appreciated the debate over the definition of marriage, Moore said, “I believe the state doesn’t define marriage. The state merely recognizes something that already exists.”
In response to a caller who identified himself as a homosexual and who took issue with religious people forcing their beliefs on the rest of society, Moore said a position for biblical marriage doesn't equate to hostility toward gays or lesbians.
Evangelical Christians might disagree with others about what the proper purpose of sexuality is, Moore said, explaining, it is consigned to a marital union of a man and a woman. Yet he said that doesn’t mean Christians are engaged in a war against those who are gay and lesbian.
“We don't seek to oppress people; we seek to say instead we really believe this issue is important because God has designed sexuality to work in a certain way for the good of the people,” he continued. “That's not an act of hostility; it’s a matter of disagreement.”
Showing an image of a June 2011 posting on Moore's blog entitled “Immigration and the Gospel” on the screen, Casey asked him his opinion of the proper way to handle the immigration issue.
“We need to recognize those who immigrated to this country are persons created in the image of God and they bear dignity and ought to be loved and respected,” he said, taking issue with the “terms of derision” being used against the immigrant community by some in the debate.
Moore indicated his pleasure with the “growing consensus” on the issue, noting few people consider it reasonable or just to attempt to deport those who are in the U.S. without proper documentation.
He said he supports a path to citizenship that provides a “just way to move people out of the shadows and into the fullness of American life.”
No one favors an open border, Moore continued. “We must have border security in order to enforce the laws of this country.
“The question is how do we justly, fairly and humanely help these individuals become contributing members of society,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Dwayne Hastings is a vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.)