I have been critical of both David French and of Russell Moore in the past, but the latest from French on Moore and the Southern Baptist Convention certainly deserves its props. Examining the backlash against Moore over his anti-Trump stances, French highlights what the religious right in a previous generation would have righteously referred to as the “death of outrage”—but now the righteous are to blame and, it appears, the glory may have departed.
French notes that while Moore has stood for several positions that challenge traditional Southern Baptist trends, the backlash is not so much due to these: “it’s almost certainly true that absent the rise of Donald Trump Moore wouldn’t be facing the sheer amount of incoming fire from fellow Baptists that he is.”
There was good reason for this, after all:
The core of his critique was simple: that American Christians shouldn’t excuse or rationalize sin for the sake of political victory in any single election. Moreover, the same moral standards one applies to political opponents should also apply to one’s political friends. If sexual misconduct, for example, rendered Bill Clinton unfit for office in the 1990s, how should Christians think about a thrice-married serial adulterer in 2016 — especially one who bragged about grabbing women by the genitals?
Many Evangelicals acknowledged this, yet within living memory of having openly condemned Clinton for consensual matters, not only rationalized but openly fought for Trump, dismissing his sexual offenses and defending him with a variety of measures.
I can’t count the number of times I have heard King David referenced as proof God can use an adulterous man to lead a nation. It doesn’t seem to occur to the same people David was also a cold-blooded murderer. Shall we excuse elect these next?
It also doesn’t seem to occur to the same people that David’s adultery had dire consequences not only for his immediate family, but lasting consequences in his administration. These consequences resulted in further degradation of the culture and government after only one generation, in which the entire nation was jack-booted under a tyranny, split, then crumbled into destruction. Assyrians invaded and carried away 10/12ths of the nation captive.
Lesson: no border walls can save you when the nation’s primary faults are moral.
The parallels between the sexual sins of Trump and Bill Clinton have been widely cited. From the beginning, I could not help but recall the title of a book that religious right hero (at the time) Bill Bennett wrote after the Lewinsky affair: The Death of Outrage. It was a phrase on the lips of Republicans throughout the time, as a majority of Americans seemed “meh” to the whole thing: “Where’s the outrage?”
Pulling up a New York Times Review of Books review from 1998, I was moved by the striking prophetic tone of that book:
The central point of Bennett . . . is that the public’s willingness to shrug off ”among the most corrupt” Administrations ”in the history of the republic” has dangerous consequences for the future. . . .
”In the end,” Bennett writes, ”the President’s apologists are attempting to redefine the standard of acceptable behavior for a President. Instead of upholding a high view of the office and the men who occupy it, they radically lower our expectation.”
The reviewer felt Bennett had overplayed his hand: “it does not mean that voters will be eager to elect another President who is known for his marital infidelity.”
What French’s piece tells us, however, is that not only were they eager, even many among the perceived righteous core of moral fiber—the Southern Baptists—are so eager to defend such a man that they will threaten the most drastic ecclesiastical censure known in Baptistdom: stop giving.
This is where French draws attention to something that should have some relevance to these people:
[I]n making his critiques and stating his case against Clinton and Trump, Moore was doing little more than quoting the Southern Baptist Convention back to itself. In 1998, as Bill Clinton faced impeachment for his sexual misconduct, the Convention penned a short but powerful Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials. The resolution laid out a series of key biblical truths, including truths that should prick the conscience of politically involved Christians of both parties.
You could not script a tragedy better. Southern Baptists today who want Moore’s head over Trump are acting in hypocrisy, and in defiance of the truths they once officially proclaimed in Convention:
Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment (1 Kings 16:30; Isaiah 5:18-25).
Boy, were they right. Look, now, whose consciences have become seared!
Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we . . . affirm that moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders; and . . .
That we implore our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties . . .
That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.
French applies this:
Did Trump’s zealous supporters “embrace and act” on this conviction in 2016? It’s clear that Moore most certainly did. If the Baptists do fire Moore (or force his resignation), I hope they also have the integrity to revoke and rewrite their 1998 resolution. Insisting on “consistent honesty, moral purity, and the highest character” will be left to the primaries, at best. After that, it’s all partisanship, and the “lesser of two evils” will be the only moral guide that matters.
In 1998, conservatives and Christians everywhere were decrying the death of outrage. Today, if outrage is not dead among them, too, it has only been rechanneled against that which is biblical and right.
French comments, “Perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of the Christian role in the 2016 election was the sad absence of faith. It was as if millions of Americans believe that the government is the prime defender of the faith, not Christ, and thus compromising long-held moral positions wasn’t just a painful possibility but an urgent necessity. Yet in far more dire circumstances, believers have looked to God, not government, and God has always been faithful.”
The saddest part of all is that, apparently, Christians today have to be told that.
The good news is that National Review and the upper levels of church leadership are finally demanding biblical truth with no compromise. They’re through with the lesser of two evils slouch into tyranny and destruction. I pray they remain consistent with this over time, and expand it into ever more areas of life: education, welfare, money, executive power, police reform. The problem is, while these unlikely leaders have finally come around, too many of the people are in revolt and don’t seem to want anything to with it.