Nathan Britton

Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, has a propensity for being out-of-line with the heart and soul of the SBC.  This is hugely problematic considering the fact that he de facto represents you, me, and over sixteen million other Southern Baptists.  He is the point man for setting public policy on issues of ethics, morality, and freedom.   And he is doing a shameful job!  Perhaps no greater example can be given than his recent call for judges in Alabama to resign if they have a conscientious objection to marrying homosexuals.

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Considering Russell Moore’s background, this should be of no surprise.

Though Moore has the image of a social conservative, conservative is not the word he uses to describe himself.  Instead, he prefers moral communitarian.  In an interview with the Gospel Coalition, Moore stated that the SBC must begin “speaking to the larger culture and to the political arena, but not as an interest group wielding power to get our way. The time has come to replace moral majoritarianism with moral communitarianism.”[2] If you’re like me you’ll ask, what does that mean?  Obviously, moral majoritarianism is a reference to the Jerry Falwell-led political movement and, in extension, to Moore’s predecessor, Dr. Richard Land.

Dictionary.com defines moral majoritarianism this way:

“Moral Majoritarianism: a political action group formed mainly of Protestant fundamentalists to further strict conservative aims, as strong antiabortion laws, the restoration of school prayer, the teaching of creationism in public schools, and the curbing of books and television programs considered antireligious or immoral.”

 That doesn’t sound too bad to me.  But what about moral communitarianism?  In politics, the term communitarianism is linked to a branch of a Democrat Party movement to establish rules and norms that liberalism failed to enforce.  It’s a developing means of instituting a so-called “mild form” of socialism. No wonder its root word is the same as communism.[3]  The movement is essentially one of “anti-individual rights.”  That is, you must sacrifice for the good of the whole. One author says that, “The shift from ‘rights talk’ to an ethic of responsibility is a central tenet of communitarianism. Communitarians argue that for individuals to continue to enjoy certain rights, they must first recognize and fulfill certain responsibilities towards their communities and society.”[4]

It seems, then, that Dr. Moore is saying that the SBC needs to consider the whole community and be more friendly and easy-going about our stances, unlike the SBC has in the past.  The SBC should be more culturally relevant, even if that means backing off of long held positions because we need to keep the whole community in mind.  Let me just give you two examples to show how this plays out.

With the recent measles outbreak, we would expect the President of the ERLC to provide guidance related to the vaccination question.  Dr. Moore obliged on February 2, 2015 by saying on his Facebook page, “Herd immunity and eradicating disease is a matter of the public good. Life or death. Vaccination is pro-life and pro-neighbor.” This was followed by a post that read, “Tin-foil hats won’t protect kids from measles. Vaccinate.”

Clearly, for Moore, the “public good” is the determining factor of what is right.  We call that communitarianism.  Moore was silent about various ethical issues involved in immunization.  For example, the MMR vaccine is the product of cell lines that came from two aborted babies.  As President of the ethics committee, why not deal with that question?  Dr. Moore did eventually post an article that talked about some of these issues, but not before first mocking parents who have legitimate ethical questions and berating anyone who values individual freedom over the public good.  In fact, he clearly implies that if you don’t vaccinate, you are not pro-life, and you are enough of the village idiot that you would think tin-foil hats would protect your kids from measles.  How can he justify this mockery and avoidance of moral questions?  He justifies it because his ethics flow through a communitarian guidebook.

Let me be clear, I am not arguing one way or the other when it comes to vaccinations, but shouldn’t the President of the ERLC spend more time explaining the ethical issues and supporting freedom than being concerned about the so-called “public good.”  What if a Christian has a conscientious objection to vaccines?  Shouldn’t Dr. Moore just give the facts and then support freedom?  Freedom always comes with a cost (perhaps even to the public good), but it’s a cost that we should all always be willing to pay!

The most recent example of Dr. Moore’s communitarian ways is seen in his comments, reported in Baptist Press, concerning Alabama justices and the issue of homosexuality.  A federal judge has struck down Alabama’s traditional marriage law and the Supreme Court has refused to stay the ruling.  When asked his thoughts about how the Alabama Justices should respond to issuing same-sex marriage licenses, Moore states that “a government employee faced with a decision of violating his conscience or upholding the law, would need to resign and protest against it as a citizen if he could not discharge the duties of his office required by law in good conscience.”[5]  Moore says that no government official is allowed to engage in civil disobedience from a government position.  This is an answer straight out of Moore’s communitarian guidebook.

Dr. Moore certainly doesn’t get his view from the Bible.  The Bible is clear: when the government tells one to do something that is in violation of God’s Word, he is to “obey God rather than men” (Acts. 5:29).  We do see examples of government officials engaging in civil disobedience: Daniel and Esther, just to name a couple.  Moore is Biblically wrong!

Nor does Moore get his view from the SBC.  It is easily arguable that Dr. Moore’s position is in violation of articles fifteen and seventeen of the Baptist Faith & Message.  Furthermore, at the 2003 annual Convention, the messengers passed a resolution that states: “RESOLVED, That we call upon all judges and public officials to resist and oppose the legalization of same-sex unions.”[6]  That is quite the opposite of what Dr. Moore stated.  Moore’s communitarian position is at opposition to the will of the convention!

As President of the ERLC of the SBC, Dr. Moore is expressing positions and making statements that are taken as representative of the SBC as a whole.  Yet, he appears to be more concerned with his communitarian ideology than representing the SBC well.

I am embarrassed by many of the comments from Russell Moore.  I’m embarrassed because, instead of being a powerful voice for truth in our country, through Russell Moore, the SBC is becoming the voice of the “common good.”  My friend, the common good is rarely what’s right according to Scripture.  As Southern Baptists, it is time to stand up with strength upon God’s Word alone.  Sweeping this under the rug and singing Kumbaya while holding hands will result in a much more disastrous outcome than taking the problem head-on.  I invite you to take a stand by calling the ERLC trustees and perhaps Russell Moore himself, and demanding an immediate apology for his statements related to the Alabama judges and a rejection of any communitarian ideologies that are not in line with Scripture and not in line with the will of the messengers.  If these demands are not met, then call for the resignation of Dr. Russell Moore.  The future of the SBC depends on taking actions like this.  Let’s stop the embarrassment!

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Nathan Britton is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Taos, New Mexico. He is a graduate of Hillsdale College and Dallas Theological Seminary

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[1] David Roach, “Moore: SCOTUS will probably OK gay marriage,” Baptist Press, February 12, 2015, accessed February 17, 2015, www.bpnews.net/44212/moore-scotus-will-probably-ok-gay-marriage.

[2] Justin Taylor, “An Interview with Russell Moore,” The Gospel Coalition, April 1, 2013, accessed February 17, 2015, www.thegospelcoalition.org.

[3] “What Communitarians Stand For,” last modified March 3, 2005, accessed February 17, 2015, http://www.crossroad.to/Quotes/communitarian/niki.htm.

[4] “Communitarianism,” Ethics in PR, accessed February 17, 2015, http://ethicsinpr.wikispaces.com/Communitarianism#cite_note-2.

[5] David Roach.

[6] “On Same-Sex Marriage,” accessed February 17, 2015, http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1128/on-samesex-marriage.

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