Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), released a joint statement March 20 with the ERLC trustee board’s executive committee in an effort to mend wounds inflicted during the recent U.S. presidential campaign.
The committee, which is responsible for overseeing the organization’s leadership, expressed confidence in Moore.
Representing the full trustee board, the group said Moore “exercised leadership with integrity and boldness” and “has spoken with clarity and conviction on ethical matters” upheld by the Southern Baptist Convention in its doctrinal statement and resolutions.
“For us not to stand in affirmation of the principles that Dr. Moore has espoused would be unfaithful to the mission entrusted to us by the convention,” they said.
Moore used the joint statement as an opportunity to apologize once again for comments that were “at times overly broad or unnecessarily harsh,” while remaining steadfast in his long-held convictions about gospel clarity, sexual morality and racial justice.
In a 2015 op-ed piece for The New York Times, Moore had denounced then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s alleged misogyny, racially divisive language and general “lack of a moral compass.”
Moore also said in the Times column that evangelical support for Trump was illogical and, for Christians to excuse the candidate’s character flaws, “these voters must repudiate everything they believe.” Those statements came in addition to persistent critiques of the real estate mogul’s candidacy on social media and in other news media outlets.
Backlash against Moore’s position and tone generated controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for more than a year, instigating some churches to withhold or consider withholding Cooperative Program (CP) money and prompting formal investigations of the fallout by the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the SBC Executive Committee (EC).
Moore apologized for his trenchant language in a blog post Dec. 19, saying he did not intend to rebuke “anyone who voted for Donald Trump,” but only those “who enthusiastically excused immorality.”
The qualified apology wasn’t enough for Moore’s most ardent critics, and efforts to censure him continued.
In yesterday’s statement, Moore said, “I cannot apologize for my underlying convictions. But I can – and do – apologize for failing to distinguish between people who shouldn’t have been in the same category with those who put politics over the gospel. That is a failure on my part.”
Jack Graham, pastor of Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church and the public face of Moore’s detractors, said in a tweet shortly after the statement was released, “This is a gracious and unifying statement from @drmoore.”
Graham’s church became the highest-profile case of opposition to Moore when the congregation decided to escrow $1 million in CP gifts while they evaluated future support of SBC entities. Graham and another church executive pointed to Moore’s alleged “disrespectfulness” among broader issues in the SBC as reasons for Prestonwood’s decision.
In an effort to mediate disagreements, EC President Frank Page requested a meeting with Moore that took place March 13. The two SBC leaders emerged from the private conversation in unity, saying they fully support one another and “look forward to working together on behalf of Southern Baptists in the years to come.”
The joint statement released by Moore and the ERLC executive committee was titled “Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Moore referred to early memories of contributing to the CP by “putting quarters in offering envelopes” as a child. He said, “I want to do everything in my power to be an agent of unity, because I still believe in what those offering envelopes represent: the joy of cooperation together to see the world won to faith in Jesus Christ.”
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, said, “I am grateful for the statement from Dr. Moore and ERLC trustees in the spirit of unity. I am also grateful for the quick and gracious reaction from Jack Graham. We truly can do more together than we can do apart, and I am encouraged by the efforts to work together. This has been a challenging discussion for Southern Baptists, but I believe we have found a path for healing so that we can move forward toward what is most important – sharing the Good News of King Jesus with a lost world.”
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, said, “I believe Dr. Russell Moore is a God-given leader for this cultural moment. He has brought a gospel-shaped perspective to bear on a number of contentious issues, and has demonstrated gospel-faithfulness in the political sphere for a new generation.
“I am grateful for the humility Dr. Moore has shown in acknowledging that there were times he went further in his discourse than someone representing the church perhaps should go, and for acknowledging that at points he could have been more inclusive in his tone. Dr. Moore is right, however, that we cannot be unclear on what the gospel is and what it calls us to. The balance of speaking truth to power and leaving space for disagreement on secondary matters is a difficult one to maintain. We are grateful that Moore is seeking to maintain this balance, and pray for his continued wisdom in doing so.
“The SBC was founded for the purpose of mission and we must fight to prevent any secondary matters from usurping our primary goal. Our gospel is too great and our mission too urgent to let any secondary issues stand in our way.”
Read the ERLC’s full statement here.