Evangelical divide explodes over migrant children after Jerry Falwell Jr. slams Russell Moore

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has come under fire from some evangelicals, including Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. and megachurch pastor Jack Graham, for criticizing the Trump administration’s handling of detained migrant children.

The attack on the ERLC leader, who Falwell Jr. previously accused of leading a "deep state regime" within the SBC, has revealed a divide in the evangelical community as prominent evangelicals and others have jumped to Moore's defense on Twitter.

Moore triggered a reaction from Falwell with a tweet early Tuesday that continued the withering criticism from across the political spectrum the Trump administration had been facing since recent reports from The New York Times, Associated Press, and The New Yorker described conditions under which migrant children were being detained at Border Patrol facilities in Texas as “dirty, neglectful, and dangerous.”

That report had also been compounded by footage of a Department of Justice attorney making a legal argument that toothbrushes, blankets and medicine aren’t necessary basics for detained children. In the footage the attorney argues that "there's fair reason to find that those things may be part of safe and sanitary," before a judge pushes back with, "Not may be, are a part."

“The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this,” Moore said in his tweet which has since gone viral.

Falwell, who is a fierce Trump supporter soon delivered a wincing reply questioning the ERLC leader’s authority to speak on the issue.

Russell Moore addresses Evangelicals for Life conference at the JW Marriott Hotel on January 18, 2018. | (Photo: Rocket Republic, Courtesy of ERLC)

“Who are you @drmoore ? Have you ever made a payroll? Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch? What gives you authority to speak on any issue? I’m being serious. You’re nothing but an employee- a bureaucrat,” Falwell responded.

Pastor Jack Graham who leads Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist multi-site megachurch in Plano, Texas, also challenged the accuracy of an Associated Press report tweeted by Moore on the situation of the detained migrant children and expressed disappointment in the ERLC leader.

“This is a very inaccurate report! I’ve been to the border and seen the great work our Border Agents are doing along with churches like ours which are ministering in Jesus Name. Extremely disappointing @dmoore,” Graham began in a series of tweets.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church and the host of PowerPoint Ministries | (Photo: Prestonwood Baptist Church)

“.@drrmoore .... why don’t you go with me to the border and we can show you what is actually happening rather than your simply quoting CNN. I’m ready when you are,” he continued.

Hours later he added: “Just to clarify…reasonable people know we have a humanitarian crisis at/border but to suggest that immigrants are not treated with dignity &respect is wrong & plays to to secular press who blame America for the problem. We r all very concerned and many of us are trying to help.

“And... our great Border patrol agents and law enforcement are working day and night to protect our country and alleviate suffering. No one should question that.”

Other prominent SBC leaders however quickly jumped to defend Moore.

“Russell Moore wld dare represent the Kingdom’s concern for ‘the least of these,’ & speak the Kingdom’s agenda on behalf of the voiceless. Consequently he’s attacked by evangelicals who are concerned about protecting a political agenda. Lord we need your help. Have mercy upon us!” leading conservative voice for civil rights and pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, Dwight McKissic tweeted.

Southern Baptist Pastor Alan Cross responded to Graham, arguing that eyewitness accounts of the detention facilities shouldn't be discounted, while also agreeing that the lack of funding for the children isn't the fault of Border Patrol. 

"Pastors, theologians, church leaders, Christians, should be unanimously calling for a compassionate response, care, concern, and ministry to these children. It would be good if we could just all agree that we need to help and support positive solutions for these children," Cross added. 

Politico Magazine’s chief political correspondent, Tim Alberta also pointed to the political and cultural divide among evangelicals.

“This not a political statement but a simple fact of culture and theology: There are Russell Moore Christians and Jerry Falwell Jr. Christians. Choose wisely, brothers and sisters,” he said.

Actor Tom Arnold also weighed in, pointing to recent salacious headlines involving Falwell and his family, which Arnold played a role in bringing forward.

Vice President Mike Pence argued in part on Sunday that Democrats were to blame for the conditions at detention facilities.

He said the Trump administration had tried to negotiate “for more bed space” during the federal shutdown, but Democrats refused to expand those resources.

"Democrats in Congress refused to expand the bed space and the capacity for us to detain people at our borders," he said. "It is one of the reasons why we continue to call on Congress to give (the Department of Homeland Security), Customs and Border Protection additional resources at the border."

On Tuesday, the House passed a $4.5 billion emergency border aid package to care for thousands of migrant families and unaccompanied children detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

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