“Evangelical Leader Preaches A Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars,” blared a front-page Wall Street Journal headline on Tuesday.
According to the paper, Russell Moore, the new voice of the Southern Baptist Convention, “says it is time to tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray, given what he calls a ‘visceral recoil’ among younger evangelicals to the culture wars.”
The reporter contrasts Moore’s softer approach to the rise of “gay marriage” with that of his predecessor, Richard Land, who spoke of it as the culmination of the “radical homosexual agenda.” Moore, after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, sent out a flier to 45,000 churches titled “How Should Your Churches Respond” in which he said homosexuals “aren’t part of an evil conspiracy” and that gay marriage shouldn’t be seen as a “‘culture war’ political issue.”
Backward, Christian soldiers, Moore appears to be saying. But to where? It is not at all clear, at least from this article. If the killing of unborn children and the spreading of sham marriage doesn’t qualify as an urgent reason for Christians to participate in politics, what issues would?
Oddly enough, the article, after informing us that Moore considers the Christian right to be too political, says that he “has allied with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups to make the case that overhauling the U.S. immigration is a Christian goal.” Huh? Gay marriage isn’t a worthy “’culture war’ political issue,” but the drive for de facto amnesty is?
This makes no sense. Christians are free to disagree on the exact configurations of immigration policy, but no Christian can support so-called gay marriage.
It is no wonder that Ralph Reed, the slick operative who de-fanged the Christian Coalition and turned it into a center-right Republican outfit that downplayed moral issues (note that his patron, Pat Robertson, following this path to its logical conclusion, ended up supporting pro-abortion Republican Rudy Giuliani in 2008), appears enthusiastic about Moore’s approach. “I would characterize the movement as having experienced a very tough defeat that now requires a shift of tactics,” Reed told the Wall Street Journal.
This change-of-tactics, oh-so-strategic babble is very tiresome. I will take Jerry Falwell over Russell Moore and Ralph Reed any day. Falwell wasn’t perfect, but he never played these sorts of lame Big Tent games. He didn’t need a focus group to tell him whether or not to protect the unborn and God’s plan for marriage. He didn’t consider “overhauling the U.S. immigration system” a better use of his time than opposing a pornographic culture (an issue on which he now looks, for all the mockery he suffered in the 1980s, prophetic).
The "Big Tent" tactics of Ralph Reed, far from making the Christian Coalition successfully “mainstream,” rendered it irrelevant and feckless. Recall such moments of jackassery as Pat Robertson endorsing Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Or Reed urging pro-lifers to revise the GOP’s pro-life plank to reflect a more “compassionate” approach.
This is not to say that Moore is a clone of Ralph Reed, but the non-confrontational tone he wants the Southern Baptist Convention to adopt lends itself to some comparison. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Moore has pushed to patch up rifts within the Baptist movement between the conservative Southern Baptist Convention and a growing number of more liberal breakaway groups.” The paper quotes a gay pastor conferring his approval upon Moore as a tolerant sort as if we’re supposed to be impressed. Who cares?
Complacent prattle about changed tactics and a “new” tone will do far more damage to the Christian cultural and political presence than Jerry Falwell’s blunt talk ever did. Reed took a shot at Falwell’s approach once, saying "We have allowed ourselves to be ghettoized by a narrow band of issues like abortion, homosexual rights and prayer in school."
The irony lost on Reed (and presumably Moore too) is that the culture-war emphasis of the Moral Majority packed much more of a political punch than the poll-tested Christian Coalition message. Falwell helped elect Ronald Reagan; Robertson found himself invited to listless primary parties for Rudy Giuliani.
On the surface, it appears that Moore is counseling a more “spiritual” Christian approach. Don’t kid yourself. It is a far more worldly one. Falwell was a true “prophetic minority voice” who understood, to use Moore’s words, that “we belong to another kingdom.” While Moore no doubt has his strong points, he seems like just another neoconservative (he voted for Clinton but “loved” George W. Bush) who considers pats on the head from pro-gay marriage publications like the Wall Street Journal to be evidence of evangelical effectiveness. They're not. They are simply evidence of a Christian movement gone spineless.
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