Thursday, October 24, 2013

Russell Moore Calls Evangelicals to Tone Down the Rhetoric

Russell Moore, the new head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (replacing Richard Land), does not appear to be a culture warrior.  Over at The Wall Street Journal, Neil King Jr. presents a man who does not want the church to be held captive by politics. Instead he wants Southern Baptists to "tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray, given what he calls a 'visceral recoil' among younger evangelicals to the culture wars."  Here is a taste of King's article:

"We are involved in the political process, but we must always be wary of being co-opted by it," Mr. Moore said in an interview in his Washington office, a short walk from Congress. "Christianity thrives when it is clearest about what distinguishes it from the outside culture."
Along with much of the religious right, Southern Baptists are undergoing a generational shift as Mr. Moore and his allies recalibrate their methods and aims. The moment is significant not only for America's religious life but for its politics, given the three-decade engagement by evangelical leaders that kept social issues on the front burner and helped Republicans win national elections.
Self-described evangelicals still vote heavily Republican. Exit polls show that nearly eight in 10 sided with Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, a larger share of that group than either of the previous two Republican nominees received.
But Republican operatives with ties to the evangelical movement say much is changing. Every year tens of thousands of evangelicals, particularly the young, leave the Southern Baptist and other big denominational churches for more loosely organized assemblies that oppose abortion but are less likely to hew to other Republican causes.
"Republicans are finding it increasingly hard to collar evangelicals for political purposes, simply because the movement is so fragmented now, so decentralized, and a growing number of evangelicals simply find politics distasteful," says Mark DeMoss, a former chief of staff to Mr. Falwell and an adviser last year to Mr. Romney's campaign.
Mr. Moore is responding to this drift. He warns evangelicals to avoid becoming "mascots for any political faction." He focuses on how to keep millennials engaged in the church. His advice to church leaders: Be "winsome, kind and empathetic."
His advice meshes with those in the Republican Party who want the GOP to back off hot-button cultural issues to stress themes such as job creation and education. Party leaders earlier this year released a manifesto calling for the GOP to become more tolerant, welcoming and inclusive. The shift also comes as Republicans face a growing rift in the party between its activist tea-party flank and its more traditional business wing.
Mr. Moore and other prominent Christian conservatives are blunt in conceding that their long quest to roll back the sexual revolution has failed. The fight, they say, sowed divisions within the movement and alienated young believers.
This is an evangelicalism I can believe in.