Evangelical leader on the role of the church in this time of upheaval: NPR

NPR’s Michel Martin talks to Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, about how his faith informs his perspective during two national crises.



MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It’s no news to anyone that the past few months have been a time of massive upheaval, disorienting for many Americans and exhilarating for others. We have seen police killings of unarmed citizens, massive street protests against racial injustice, an increase in COVID-19 cases, crushing unemployment and, at the same time, a re-examination of long-held beliefs.

So we turned to leaders and thinkers from a variety of backgrounds to find out what they think, so now we turn to Russell Moore. He is a prominent voice among conservative evangelicals. He is the head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and he is with us from Nashville, Tennessee.

Pastor Moore, thank you very much for joining us once again.

RUSSELL MOORE: Nice to be with you. Thank you for.

MARTIN: In all of the upheaval that I’ve cited – the coronavirus crisis, everything we’ve seen about police brutality and the response to that – how did you think about this time in our history? Do you have, like, a theory of everything rooted in your beliefs?

MOORE: Well, I have a lot of people asking me, doesn’t this seem like an apocalyptic time? Usually what they mean by that is, do you think it’s all falling apart, and that’s the end? And the answer to that is probably no.

But if you mean by apocalyptic what the word literally means – an unveiling, a revelation – I think that’s what we’re seeing right now. I think we see a lot of issues that have been hidden for a long time that have come to light. And we see both the horrors that are possible as well as the signs of life in terms of people doing the right thing.

MARTIN: One of the things that has confused a lot of people, I think, is that you’ve seen that in some places there’s been real resistance to taking some of the measures that public health experts have deemed the most useful, such as wearing masks and social distancing. And you’ve seen real resistance to that in some parts of the country.

And I guess I have to ask you, one of the things that I find most confusing is that some of the places that have been most resistant to these measures are also places where their leaders consider themselves pro-life. .

MOORE: Well, that’s a conversation I had as well. Part of it comes down to a breach of trust. And also, I think – I just had this conversation yesterday with someone who said, well, as Christians, aren’t we supposed to be people free from fear? We tell people to risk their lives for Jesus. Go to the mission field and risk yourself.

And I said, yes, but that’s not the analogy here. We are not talking about whether or not you are ready to risk your life. It’s about whether or not you’re willing to hurt others. But I have to tell you, Michel, what surprises me is that I didn’t have to have this conversation as much as I would have thought.

MARTIN: So let’s talk about that other crisis that we talked about, the national reckoning with racial injustice. What do you see as the role of the church at a time like this, especially – let’s just say it – in evangelical churches, where it may not have been a priority for them?

MOORE: I think the role of the church is, first of all, to have our own consciences shaped and shaped by the gospel and by the Bible, which, I mean, the Bible speaks to this issue at many times. So every time I have someone say, well, these issues of racism are a distraction from what we’re supposed to do with the gospel, I wonder, have you even read the Bible? The Bible speaks of it literally from the very first chapter. And then we have to show the rest of the world what it looks like internally.

And it’s not just a problem – it’s a crisis. And what I’ve found is that there are people who assume that history will take care of that. And over time, these things will just get better. I think we all have to recognize that is not the case.

MARTIN: We talk – at the beginning of our conversation, about this kind of myriad of crises and challenges that the country is facing, and like I said earlier, you know, some people feel elated at this moment. They feel, finally. Other people feel kind of challenged by that. You might think some would turn to faith at a time like this.

But, you know, the Southern Baptists is the biggest Protestant denomination in the country. But, you know, we’re seeing that the convention had its biggest decline in membership in a century from 2018 to 2019. And that’s, like, the 13th straight year of decline, as I understand it. But why do you think that is?

MOORE: I think the main problem is cynicism. We live in a time when institutions are failing, institutions are losing trust. When I go to a college campus and talk to someone who grew up in the church and then left the church, it’s usually someone who’s been hurt and disillusioned with things. that happened within the church. So, as one person who left told me, it’s not that I don’t believe intellectually in what my church teaches. I don’t believe my church believes what my church teaches.

It is a crisis of faith, hope and love that demands that the Church itself speaks with credibility and repairs the breach.

MARTIN: Well, you’ve written a lot over the last few years about how people with your theological, you know, and religious commitments should somehow relate to society in its current form. And I know you don’t want to talk about partisan politics, but the reality is, you know, white evangelicals have been some of President Trump’s staunchest supporters, even as he continued to belittle not only people of color and women. and specific groups, but also anyone who disagrees with him.

And I just have to ask you, do you think that’s part of distrust? When people see leadership embracing someone who seems to be the opposite of the commitments they have made – at least, the commitments they profess – do you think that is part of it?

MOORE: Yeah, I think that’s definitely something that comes up in almost every conversation I have with people who come to the conclusion that the church itself is part of a political movement. And so that means having a church that is very clearly consistent with its own principles but also a church that is engaged with the rest of American life but not captive to current debates and up-and-down movements.

MARTIN: Pastor Russell Moore is the head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. His latest book is “The Storm-Tossed Family”.

Pastor Moore, thank you very much for speaking to us today.

MOORE: Oh, thank you for having me, Michel.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit the Terms of Use and Permissions pages of our website at www.npr.org for more information.

NPR transcripts are created on short notice by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of NPR’s programming is the audio recording.

Barry F. Howard