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.