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Aug 22 2013

New Southern Baptist Leader: ‘We’ve Lost Culture War’

Russell Moore is replacing Richard Land as the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and gave an interesting interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he admitted that the religious right had lost the culture wars.

In a recent visit to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Moore explains that he thinks the Bible Belt’s decline may be “bad for America, but it’s good for the church.”

Why? Because “we are no longer the moral majority. We are a prophetic minority.”…

On gay marriage, abortion, even on basic religious affiliation, the culture has moved away. So evangelicals need a new way of thinking—a new strategy, if you will—to attract and keep believers, as well as to influence American politics.

The easy days of mobilizing a ready-made majority are gone. By “prophetic minority,” he means that Christians must return to the days when they were a moral example and vanguard—defenders of belief in a larger unbelieving culture. He views this less as a defeat than as an opportunity.

To illustrate his point, Mr. Moore tells the story about a friend from college two decades ago, an atheist, who asked for the name of a church that wasn’t very demanding of its congregation. When Mr. Moore inquired why, the friend said he needed a church to attend because he planned to run for governor some day. Mr. Moore says the story shows that in the past you had to join a church even if you had no belief because everyone else belonged. But today his friend wouldn’t feel so obliged because “the idea that to be a good person, to be a good American, you have to go to church” has largely disappeared.

I don’t think his politician friend is unusual and it signifies something very important about the place of Christianity in America today. Richard Dawkins likes to use the phrase “functional atheists,” a term I don’t particularly like, to describe those who attend church but don’t have much in the way of genuine belief in what is taught there. For those people, like Moore’s college friend, going to church functions mostly as a tribal marker, a sign that they’re just like everyone else and not one of Them (whoever that might be).

Moore seems to want the church to pull back a bit politically:

He also questions the political approach of what was once called “the religious right.” Though his boyish looks bring to mind the former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, Mr. Moore is decidedly not a fan of the “values voter checklists” the group employs. “There is no Christian position on the line-item veto,” Mr. Moore says. “There is no Christian position on the balanced-budget amendment.”

Which is not to say that Mr. Moore wants evangelicals to “turn inward” and reject the larger U.S. culture. Rather, he wants to refocus the movement on serving as a religious example battling in the public square on “three core issues”—life, marriage and religious liberty.

One would hope that this would include strong support for separation of church and state, something the SBC was very much in favor of until the late 1970s when Jerry Falwell and others took it over. There is a long tradition of Baptist support for strict separation going back to the time of the founders and Baptist ministers like John Leland and Isaac Backus. But I’m not gonna hold my breath for that.

21 comments

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  1. 1
    theschwa

    Have they looked under the couch cushions? My remote and phone always end up there. I bet that’s where they will find the culture war.

  2. 2
    raven

    Southern Baptists Experiencing Accelerating Decline in Membership
    www. christianpost. com › church & ministry‎

    Jun 13, 2012 – Membership in the Southern Baptist Convention dropped again over the last year … This marks the fifth straight year the SBC has lost members.

    The SBC has lost members for 6 years in a row.

    Their own numbers project that they will be cut in half a few decades from now. It couldn’t happen to a more wacko group of wingnuts.

  3. 3
    raven

    …strong support for separation of church and state, something the SBC was very much in favor of until the late 1970s

    The Puritans and Anglicans persecuted a variety of xian sects. The Quakers, Unitarians, and…the Baptists. Baptists were run out of town, thrown in jail, and beaten by mobs.

    Then the worm turned and became the oppressors of nonwhites, other xians, women, gays, scientists, and everyone else.

    In an early evolution court case, the SBC was one the side of science. After the right wing takeover, they can and will excommunicate science supporters aka evolutionists. These days they are big fans of Stalinism, their organizing principle. They’ve got the purges down but the US government keeps preventing them from setting up Gulags.

  4. 4
    raven

    Most churches are in decline in the USA.

    And no wonder. The fundie perversion owns the Dark side of our society. Someone has to but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

    Their response so far is to double down. Keep doing more of what didn’t work before.

    They are becoming more extreme, more hate filled, dumber if that is possible, more vicious, even Darker. I can’t see that it will work but we will just have to wait and see.

  5. 5
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Rather, he wants to refocus the movement on serving as a religious example battling in the public square on “three core issues”—life [making women give birth against their will], marriage [making sure the law recognises marriage as one man in charge and one submissive woman bound together for the purpose of forcing women to reproduce] and religious liberty [doing their best to hold on to Christian privilege and impose their views on others].

    And this is a change how exactly?

  6. 6
    Doug Little

    So evangelicals need a new way of thinking—a new strategy, if you will—to attract and keep believers, as well as to influence American politics.

    So I’m assuming that the strategy will require a new interpretation of most of the bible then, which will ultimately cause more sects to be born, because you can bet your bottom dollar the older members of the flock won’t be on board with the new way of thinking. And so it continues.

  7. 7
    raven

    So evangelicals need a new way of thinking—a new strategy, if you will—to attract and keep believers, as well as to influence American politics.

    Isn’t going to happen.

    In most cases, when there is a social change, the hard core never gives in.

    They just get old and then they die.

  8. 8
    Synfandel

    So evangelicals need a new way of thinking—a new strategy, if you will—to attract and keep believers, as well as to influence American politics.

    Oops. There goes that tax-exempt status.

  9. 9
    chisaihana5219

    Again in this discussion Ed says that non-believers go to church to belong, a tribal marker, to be like everyone else. That is probably true for some, but you are missing some of my favorite people. I have met atheists who belong to a Unitarian church where most of the members are atheists. They go to the church for the feeling of community and the discussion with like-minded people. They meditate rather than pray and drink a lot of coffee together. They are not trying to look like the larger community, but to belong in a smaller one.

  10. 10
    scienceavenger

    So close Mr. Moore, so close, but you failed to take the final step, to wit:

    On gay marriage, abortion, even on basic religious affiliation, the culture has moved away…”the idea that to be a good person, to be a good American, you have to go to church” has largely disappeared.

    The final step is to ask “why?” Why has the culture moved away? Why has the churchgoing=>good person theory largely disappeared?

    The answer is that you are NOT a “prophetic minority”. You are a Chicken Little minority, constantly braying about a sky that never falls. Through every step of our social progress you have claimed it would be the fall of civilization, and yet civilization stands, and is, in all the matters relevant to this discussion, better than it ever was. If you run a hospital where everyone who enters dies, and people who stay outside live longer healthier lives, people are eventually going to stop coming. Same with your churches.

  11. 11
    Gregory in Seattle

    @chisaihana5219 #9 – I believe you mean Unitarian Universalist, i.e. the UUA, rather than Unitarian. It is a significant different, as Unitarians are Christians — occasionally quite fundamentalist Christians — who reject the doctrine of the Trinity.

  12. 12
    John Pieret

    Raven @ 4:

    Most churches are in decline in the USA.

    And here is a good reason why:

    After 60 years of attending a Tennessee church, a family in Collegedale has been exiled because they supported their daughter while she fought for same sex benefits from the town where she worked as a police detective. …

    [L]eaders at Ridgedale Church of Christ gave Kat Cooper’s mother, aunt and uncle an ultimatum during a private meeting after worship services on Sunday.

    “They could repent for their sins and ask forgiveness in front of the congregation. Or leave the church,” The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported on Wednesday.

    “My mother was up here and she sat beside me. That’s it,” Kat Cooper explained to reporter Kevin Hardy. “Literally, they’re exiling members for unconditionally loving their children — and even extended family members.”

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/08/21/tennessee-church-bans-family-after-daughter-wins-same-sex-benefits-from-town/

    When ideology counts more than family, you have pretty much extinguished any slight good religion can do.

  13. 13
    howardhershey

    As long as there are people who are irritated as hell that other people don’t obey the moral rules that they want those ‘others’ to obey (they themselves may or may not obey them) or are upset that there are people who are ‘different’ from them, there will be cultural wars. Most people are in the more tolerant middle most of the time, but can get inflamed by fear of the ‘other’ from time to time.

    I actually applaud the ‘we just need to be an example of what is good’ attitude expressed by Moore. Much better than the ‘we must be the vanguard of theocracy’ attitude. Especially in a group (Southern Baptists) that espouses but does not exhibit much of a good example wrt “life, marriage, and religious liberty”. Divorce rates among Baptists is 29%, higher than mainline churches and lower only than non-denominational evangelical churches at 34%. I.e., conservative Christians have the highest U.S. divorce rates. The Bible Belt is the region with the least respect for ‘born life’, having (in general) the worst health care, highest murder rates, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, and, of course, and, of course, the most government-sponsored executions. I leave it to others to talk about their idea of religious liberty.

  14. 14
    Francisco Bacopa

    This is a ruse. They are still winning on many fronts of the culture. We must not be deceived and struggle on against them. When there are new abortion restriction bills being enacted all over the country I don’t think we can say the fundies have lost. Seems to me they are still winning.

  15. 15
    exdrone

    the friend said he needed a church to attend because he planned to run for governor some day. Mr. Moore says the story shows that in the past you had to join a church even if you had no belief because everyone else belonged. But today his friend wouldn’t feel so obliged because “the idea that to be a good person, to be a good American, you have to go to church” has largely disappeared.

    Nah, sorry. In most cases unfortunately, you still need to belong to a church to get elected. I know a federal politician in Florida who hinted that he belonged to various churches in his constituency so that, when he didn’t go to church, people would assume he was at one of the other ones.

  16. 16
    Broken Things

    Francisco is correct. As long as they can overrun state legislatures with Tea Party members that will pass laws restricting reproductive rights and LGBT communities, the culture wars are far from over. In North Carolina, the legislature has passed a law allowing the legislature to defend its bills in court, thus bypassing the attorney general of the state and assuring them of well-funded efforts to legally support their bigotry and misogyny. They have not quit in 200 years, and they will not quit now.

  17. 17
    otrame

    I suspect the extra divorces among them are caused by their insistence on “purity”. Entirely too many of their young people marry having had little experience with dating and less experience with sexual partners. They don’t have enough experience to have figured out what kind of person they will be happiest being with. Remember Ferris Buehler being worried about his friend? “He’ll marry the first girl that lets him have sex and she will treat him like shit” (paraphrased).

    I wonder if some of the long range thinkers among them are getting worried about the tax exemption thing. They should. I am getting old, but I still have hopes that they’ll lose that within my lifetime. Hell if all we do is insist that they pay taxes on the land they hold our whole society will be better off.

  18. 18
    Christoph Burschka

    we are no longer the moral majority. We are a prophetic minority.

    “Finally we can properly claim to be persecuted!”

    Except, you know, they’ve been claiming that forever. With a straight face, even. Also, it’ll be no more true once they actually are a minority than it is now. Also, they’re still a majority.

  19. 19
    busterggi

    “bad for America, but it’s good for the church.”
    “we are no longer the moral majority. We are a prophetic minority.”

    Just think how truly great it will be for the church when it no longer exists at all!

  20. 20
    loudguitr

    It’s over, baby. We’re moving on into the world of thinking, compassionate people who reject this ancient, stupid dogma.

  21. 21
    Loqi

    Since they’ve lost the culture war, can they please stop fighting it?

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