Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, clarified some misleading information from a profile of him in The Wall Street Journal, and praised his predecessor, Dr. Richard Land, in a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post.
The Wall Street Journal article was titled, "Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars." In the article, reporter Neil King Jr. appeared to suggest that Moore, who was recently inaugurated to head the SBC's public policy advocacy group, wanted Southern Baptists to be less involved in politics, while adding that Moore is not "seeking to return the Southern Baptists to a past in which it shunned politics entirely."
Moore clarified, though, that he thinks Christians should be more involved, not less involved, in politics, and he is also concerned with how they are involved.
"I'm not seeking a pullback," he said. "I'm seeking a change in priority, which means a wide and deep political engagement, but a political engagement that keeps Christ at the forefront. A gospel-centered, kingdom-focused political engagement is what is needed."
He wants Christians to be more involved but in a different way, "a way that is free of paranoia or utopianism.
"We shouldn't see politics alone as the starting and ending point of our engagement. The gospel is the starting point, and the gospel is the ending point, of our engagement."
Moore believes that this "wider and deeper" political engagement needs to be connected to the larger mission of the Church. This means "pointing out the reality of sin, and calling sin 'sin.'" But it also means sharing the rest of the gospel, which is "the message of the redeeming power of the blood of Christ."
If Christians cannot get that part right, their political activism will be for nothing, Moore added. "The primary issue for us is creating churches that are able to shape consciences that are informed by the gospel and by the kingdom."
Another part of the WSJ article suggested that Moore would avoid controversial issues like gay marriage and abortion. King wrote that Moore's "advice meshes with those in the Republican Party who want the GOP to back off hot-button cultural issues to stress themes such as job creation and education."
"Goodness no," Moore responded, "I don't avoid issues that are controversial. As a matter of fact, I'm engaging in issues that are controversial every day, from abortion and same-sex marriage all the way through to questions of surrogacy and immigration reform."
The goal is not to avoid controversial issues, Moore explained, but to communicate on those controversial issues in a way that mirrors Jesus, which means that Christians should not hate those they disagree with.
"We disagree and we disagree strongly, but we don't hate the people who are opposed to us. The issue is whether or not we communicate the way Jesus did – convictionally, but with the sort of kindness that recognizes our ultimate goal is the gospel."
Moore was dealing with the controversial transgender issue long before it became a hot topic in California and other places, he recalled.
Many of the recent media profiles of Moore since he took the helm at ERLC have emphasized the differences between him and his predecessor, Dr. Richard Land, who recently became president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and has continued his position as executive editor for The Christian Post. Moore believes it is only natural for the media to be interested in what is different during a transition, but also suggested that the differences have been overplayed.
"It's expected," he said, "that people would look at a transition, particularly a generational transition, and seek to mine the points of difference. But there are so many points of commonality."
Just a few issues, Moore explained, in which "Dr. Land and I are exactly the same" include human life, the centrality of marriage, racial reconciliation and justice for immigrants.
In writing about the differences between himself and Land, Moore believes that some miss "the way that Richard Land was himself quite a prophetic voice in many places, who was unwilling to simply attach Bible verses to whatever his allies were putting in front of him."
Land was a "pioneer" and "one of the most prophetic voices in evangelicalism," Moore explained, on the issue of racial reconciliation in the Southern Baptist Convention, because "he was the one pressing and leading the SBC to adopt the resolution in 1995 apologizing for our role in human slavery."
Moore also praised Land for his willingness to criticize former Alabama Judge Roy Moore's (no relation) defiance of a federal judge after erecting a 10 Commandments monument in his court building.
To learn more about Moore's views on Christian involvement in politics, check out a response he wrote to the WSJ, which has been published at The Christian Post. In that response, Moore writes about why the pro-life movement is a good model for Christian political involvement, and why he is concerned about young Christians withdrawing from political engagement. He will also tackle those topics in a forthcoming article titled, "Why Evangelicals Retreat," in the December issue of First Things.