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Has Russell Moore Been Scared Straight?

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As is well-known by now, Russell Moore kicked a lot of dust in the air by taking a broadside swipe at all of Christian talk radio, saying it makes people “hate Christianity.” He has refused to apologize, but has indicated he was reacting to just one program and one host, but he won’t say which one. (I suspect, through the process of elimination, that the program was mine.)

Regardless of which program it was, Moore actually admitted to Erick Erickson, on his radio program, that he actually agreed with what the Christian radio talk show host was saying. “Everything they were condemning, probably, was everything I would condemn.”

His only complaint, it turns out, is that in the segment he listened to, “there wasn’t any gospel focus, there wasn’t any invitation to repent and believe.” Perhaps Dr. Moore would be kind enough to tell us exactly how many altar calls per hour talk radio hosts must make to be spared his harsh judgment.

But because he won’t tell us who the culprit is, he has impugned every Christian radio talk show out there, and has refused invitations from Christian talk show hosts to come on as a guest and explain himself. Instead, he has sought refuge in friendly forums such as Russell-Moore-fanboy Erick Erickson’s show.

But in a revealing interview with the Huffington Post, published just yesterday, he seems to repudiate almost everything he has said before, and sounds a note of virtual full-scale retreat from his own positions.

Earlier this year, Moore sent a despairing and defeatist message to journalists and other Southern Baptist leaders, saying essentially that the culture war is over, it has been irretrievably lost, and there is no hope. The best we can hope for, said Moore, is to scramble for some crumbs of religious liberty while we cower in the corner with our hands over our heads.

Although I have no way of knowing, I have to believe that the HuffPo interview indicates that someone may have scared him straight. I have to believe that many pastors and leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention are not happy with Dr. Moore’s message of hopelessness and defeatism. The men I know in the SBC are made of sterner stuff than Dr. Moore, and I’m betting there have been a fair amount of vigorous backchannel communications to that effect.

The reality is that Dr. Moore, as the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is in fact the face and the voice of the SBC on matters of public policy. I’m guessing that many Southern Baptist leaders do not believe that Dr. Moore is faithfully representing their convictions and the convictions of the Convention.

But for whatever reason, Dr. Moore appears to be getting his mind right, as a comparison of earlier statements made to journalists at a March conclave hosted by the ERLC (Evangelical leader shows how GOP can finesse gay marriage) with his statements to the Huffington Post reveals.

Here’s a little Moore vs. Moore:

On the future of same-sex marriage:

Then: “We have been saying, ‘Look, same-sex marriage is inevitable in American culture. It doesn’t mean we should stop talking about it … It means we need to start preparing our churches for a new generation.”

Today: “We need to have the same thing happening as it relates to marriage and sexuality, which means addressing these issues theologically, culturally, legally, and across the whole gamut, and equipping people to be able to articulate why we believe the things we believe about marriage…to articulate it with clarity and with mission. And also to say you can’t find a shelter to keep you from having to engage these issues.”

On a federal marriage amendment:

Then: “A politically ridiculous thing to talk about right now.”

Today: “No, I don’t say a constitutional amendment is foolishness. I just say — I think a constitutional amendment is ideal…It would be ideal if we had a constitutional amendment, if we were able to get that passed tomorrow to be able to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. I think that would be in the best interest of American society.”

On surrender in the culture war:

Then: “[W]e need to start preparing our churches for a new generation…[t]he illusion of a moral majority is no longer sustainable in this country.”

Today: “I see my primary mission as preparing the next generation of evangelical leaders… to live in that culture as faithful Christians who are holding to the ancient truths of Christianity, including a bold presentation of the Christian sexual ethic.”

On religious liberty:

Then: “Moore’s fallback position — there’s no other way to describe it — is to insist that once the marriage fight is lost, the beliefs of Americans who oppose homosexual marriage on religious grounds be respected.” ~ Byron York

Today: “See, I do not agree with that…I don’t think we can say, let’s just stop the conversation about what marriage ought to be and focus simply on the question of religious liberty…When the prevailing cultural narrative is that people who believe that marriage is a man-woman union are the equivalent of white supremacists or segregationists, then — that’s not true, first of all. Second of all, we can’t simply say, ‘Well, let’s just assume that we are and let’s protect our religious liberty. I think we have to work to protect our religious liberty while at the same time we are articulating why this is a reasonable view to have.”

On cultural engagement and the millennial generation:

Then: “We must tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray” because of the “visceral recoil” to conservative positions among millennial evangelicals.

Today: “Some younger evangelicals say, ‘Lets cut a deal with the other side of the culture war,’ and they’ll just say, ‘You can have same-sex marriage in the civil arena, and just protect our religious liberty.’ I think that’s an incredibly naive way to approach this…”

“We must hold to a Christian sexual ethic. And there are some in the secular media, again, who don’t know many evangelicals who assume all of your young people are embracing same-sex marriage. That’s really not even the case. It’s not even true, once one looks at actual conservative evangelicals who actually go to church. If anything, I find that they’re even more committed to a robustly Christian sexual ethic…”

Headlines in media outlets:

Then: “Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars” (Wall Street Journal)

Today: “Evangelical Leader Not Waving White Flag On Gay Marriage” (Huffington Post)

Even the Huffington Post interviewer, Jon Ward, called him out on the dramatic change in his tone, saying at one point: “It does sound like you are backpedaling, to be frank with you.”

I think there is little doubt that he is backpedaling, and furiously so. Perhaps he has felt enough heat to see the light. Let’s hope so.

At any rate, I like the new and improved Russell Moore much better than the old one. If this HuffPo interview represents a true change of heart on his part, then he should have no hesitation accepting an invitation from Janet Mefferd, Richard Bott or myself to come on our Christian talk radio programs to articulate his newfound warrior ethic with us.

The invitation is open.

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

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