Living Faith In A Changing America
Q&A with Dr. Russell Moore
Russell D. Moore enjoys a unique vantage point for viewing the cultural conflicts of America today. Elected president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in 2013, he is the point man for the denomination’s public response to the nation’s moral concerns. He is also its foremost spokesman on public policies related to those issues, interacting with political leaders at the highest levels of government.
A former provost and dean of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Moore also taught theology and ethics at the school, and has authored several books, including Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches and Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ. He and his wife, Maria, are the parents of five sons.
What changes or developments in American culture are of greatest concern to you?
I do not have a gloomy, pessimistic view of American culture. We see the secularizing of American culture in some ways, but I think what’s falling away is not authentic, genuine Christianity, but nominal, cultural Christianity. And it’s being replaced with a vibrant, counter cultural Christianity. The resurgence of apostolic Christianity, [particularly] among young people across this country, is extremely cheering to me.
American culture is changing, in some ways for the worse, but Christianity didn’t emerge in Mayberry. It emerged in a very difficult place, where Christianity was seen to be freakish. And so, as the culture increasingly sees the Gospel as freakish, or even dangerous, in many ways that’s because they’re simply hearing what we have to say in a clear way.
"Religious liberty isn’t a grant from the state. It’s a natural right, given by God, that the state must recognize."
I often say that my perspective on the culture is summed up in the lyrics of the Grateful Dead song “Touch of Grey”: It’s even worse than it appears, but it’s alright. Meaning that we’re always going to have a difficult cultural ecosystem around us, because we live in a fallen world. But the Kingdom of God marches forward, and Jesus is ultimately triumphant.
You’ve been especially outspoken about the Conestoga Wood Specialties and the Hobby Lobby cases recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court (both of which have ties to Alliance Defending Freedom). What makes these cases so important?
The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases are critical for Christians [and] non-Christians … including those who have no faith at all. Christians have fought long and hard in this country for religious liberty. This is a long-cherished right, paid for with the blood of our forefathers and foremothers, and we need to guard it, and we need to honor it.
We also need to recognize that religious liberty isn’t a grant from the state. It’s a natural right, given by God, that the state must recognize. So we need to stand vigilant there.
What I would say to people of no religious faith is that religious liberty is [also] in their best interest … because a government that is powerful enough to pave over the consciences of religious believers is a government that will be able to pave over their consciences, as well.
I don’t think any of us want the sort of world that would say people “trade in” their consciences and convictions when they go into the marketplace. If we say that to Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, then how are we going to be able to have any moral accountability for people acting in corporations? How will we be able to call on corporations to have a moral conscience when it comes to polluting the air and the water? So, it’s in everyone’s interest. Why do Christians need to be actively engaged with today’s political and cultural issues?
There are always going to be those who are tempted to evacuate the public sphere altogether—but I believe that’s impossible. There have been Christians on the Right and the Left who have replaced the Gospel with a political agenda—that has happened. But churches that simply don’t address social questions at all don’t avoid that problem. They typically become the most politicized churches of all. A church in 1845 Georgia that doesn’t address the question of slavery is addressing slavery … by baptizing the status quo. And a church in 2014 that doesn’t address abortion is standing for the status quo of a culture that devalues the human life of the unborn.
So we must speak on issues facing the culture—but we speak in a way that understands that those who disagree with us are not our enemies. The Bible says we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers “in heavenly places”—which means that we speak with conviction, but also with kindness toward those who disagree with us.
How do you see Alliance Defending Freedom contributing to these spiritual struggles?
Alliance Defending Freedom is remarkably impressive to me, as a group of people with amazing legal skill and a well-formed heart for the right things … working not only in the legal arena, but also in cultivating churches and church leaders, to understand why religious freedom is important. There’s always a temptation for people to take religious liberty for granted, and ADF has been very effective in pointing out why we can’t do that, and in equipping churches to be able to prepare the next generation to fight for religious liberty.