Keeping It in the Family

The Medium is the Message

In all likelihood, far too much ink has been spilled by conservative Evangelicals concerning Russell Moore. One could argue his errors have been sufficiently exposed and that other conflicts and disagreements would be a better use of our time. However, he continues to provide ample opportunity for the making of important distinctions, and his participation in the “God and Country” documentary, followed by his most recent article in Christianity Today, marks such an opportunity. 

Rob Reiner, an avowed atheist with a familial history that is well known for its open opposition to Christian influence on American society, released the trailer for “God and Country” on December 7th. Moore received his well-warranted criticism in light of his involvement, and not coincidentally, he released an article on January 5th in Christianity Today titled “Evangelicals Shouldn’t Criticize Evangelicalism (Unless the Evangel Really Matters)” in which he defends his penchant for publicly criticizing the American church. He does acknowledge the hostility facing Christians in our day and age but outlines an argument for why the timing of his critiques is necessary. 

Interestingly, he ends up addressing the same conversation that Charles Haywood and others have been having regarding “No Enemies to the Right,” though Moore does not mention any proponents of that framework by name. I would not claim to fully subscribe to the NETTR framework, but I do believe the conversation is a vitally important one for public-minded, conservative Christians to have. When facing a monolithic enemy, what kinds of alliances should we make? How should we police our own ranks? What does public accountability look like? Important questions. Moore provides misleading answers to them, especially considering his personal history. I plan to demonstrate why that is the case. 

Same Context?

At face value, it is not difficult to find agreement with parts of Moore’s argument. Jeremiah was in fact a true patriot for calling Israel to humbly receive their judgement from God at the hand of the Babylonians. Jesus minced no words when facing down the Pharisees. Paul makes clear that the members of the church are commanded to deliver the gospel to the sexually immoral of the world, while the adulterers in their midst were to be removed from the congregation. But…

Did Jeremiah publish his prophetic word in The Babylon Times? No. Jeremiah’s prophetic utterances were delivered directly to the people of Israel, specifically their leadership. Did Jesus deliver his “woes” as an op-ed for The Mediterranean? No. He taught with authority in the midst of the Pharisees, and they killed Him for it. Did Paul call out the sin in Corinth by mentioning it in his speech at the Areopagus? No. He wrote them a letter directly. In fact, I cannot find a single biblical character that delivered words of accountability to the people of God by means of God’s enemies. 

Moore loves to hearken back to his upbringing in a small Southern Baptist church, a raising I happen to share with him. I was raised to keep problems I had with family members “in the family.” If I were to have a disagreement with my wife at a dinner with friends, then we would have the wisdom to have such a conversation at home. If my son acts up at a birthday party, then I will discipline him in the bathroom or when we return home. I will not do so in front of his friends and the other parents. We all lose respect for any professional coach or athlete who airs out the “dirty laundry” from the locker room at a press conference instead of handling it behind closed doors. If I have a problem with the church, then I am not going to write an op-ed for the New York Times, The Atlantic or appear on MSNBC. This principle seems fairly simple. 

Glaring Omissions

That takes me to what I believe to be Moore’s first glaring omission. It happens to be only one chapter after one of his biblical quotations from the same epistle. 

1 Corinthians 6:1-5a – “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame.”

We all know that Paul is addressing legal suits in this section of the epistle. However, is the court of public opinion not just as important, especially in our day and age? Moore evidently pays no mind to the general equity of Paul’s teaching here. Christians should not be able to care less about the approval of the establishment, which seeks to undermine Christ’s message and authority. Yet, Moore finds a way to be the Evangelical darling of those people who despise us the most, and he has managed to do so at a time when the Church’s standing in the public square is at an all-time low. I thought they were supposed to revile and persecute us, not hire one of our own to do the work for them. (Matthew 5:11)

The other omission that leaps off the page pertains to the direction of his ire. Near the end of his piece, we find the following paragraph:

Even at an infinitely less serious level than that of politics, for those of us who actually care about conservatism, the equation of “conservatism” with authoritarian demagoguery or sexual predation is actually the greatest possible victory for the Left. It leaves the country without principled conservatism and lets an entire generation equate conservatism with white nationalism, anti-constitutional illiberalism, or base misogyny. It makes progressivism, in many people’s minds, the only perceived alternative to insanity or cruelty.

Let’s get this straight. Progressivism is the perceived alternative to identity politics, authoritarianism, sexual predation, and anti-constitutional illiberalism? Those of us who are paying attention know this is not the case, and this is the problem with Moore’s employment of “third-wayism” here. He is implying that the Republican Party, currently led by Trump, is given over to these types of “sins.” He may acknowledge that the Left is just as guilty if you pressed him on it, but we all know that is not the focus of this particular argument. The Right is in the crosshairs. Here’s the problem – there is no third party. Which one murders children without impunity? Which one is seeking to mutilate our children and rip them from the protection of their parents? I could go on, but the point is established. Not to mention, my line of questioning even grants that conservative Christians are guilty of these political thought crimes, and that is more than a debatable assertion. 

Where are Moore’s hit pieces for Christians who vote for Democrats? Did he have anything to say about self-professed Christian Raphael Warnock’s run for the Senate? Is he not an even bigger threat to the Church’s witness than Trump, being that he is a minister of the gospel, supposedly? I would be fine in one sense if people like Moore aimed their barrels at both sides. Trump’s recent campaign video is worthy of scorn from Bible-believing Christians, but the same energy better be present when Biden or his ilk lie and profane the name of Christ, which they do with regularity. 

Not Whether but How

It is incumbent upon the Church to hold each other accountable – whether that be over everyday sins or political ones. The question is not whether or not we hold the line and even “punch” our own. The question is how are we supposed to do it? 

Matthew 18:15–17 – “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Jesus always makes it simple for us. At no point in this process does He advocate for taking our concerns to the pagan platforms of the world to hold our brothers and sisters accountable. Even if the situation involves the corporate sins of the corporate church, then I do not believe this principle would change in the slightest. 

Obviously, in our digital age, the lines between public and private comments can be blurred. A pastor or evangelist can deliver a message at a ministry conference for the world to see. However, even a recognition of this reality does not make it more difficult for us to properly draw this distinction. The intended audience and means of delivering said message have to be brought into consideration if we are going to practice biblical accountability. 

One great example of someone who strikes this balance is Paul Washer. We have all seen his “Shocking Youth Sermon” where he holds the attendees of that conference to the standard of the Scriptures, but he is still delivering sharp, necessary reminders today, as evidenced by this recent clip from Founder’s Ministries on the cultural mandate. 

The American church should yearn for biblical correction and critique when she missteps. It is why God raises up godly men like Paul Washer to deliver the words we need to hear. What we should not accept is lecturing on how to be a Christian from the mouthpieces of the secular regime, even if the critique is delivered by someone who was once considered a leader in our ranks. 

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Cagan Baldree

Cagan Baldree lives with his wife and two children in Central Texas. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University where he was a three-year letterman. He is set to start law school at Baylor University in the spring. He can be found on X @CaganBaldree

2 thoughts on “Keeping It in the Family

  1. Cagan,

    I find much of your article compelling. To build off of it, what platform would you suggest someone like Moore use (if we grant that the message he has is worth sharing)? Moore doesn’t have the luxury of writing directly to American Christendom the way that Paul could write directly to the Philippian church?

    1. Josiah,

      Thanks for reading the piece.

      Though I agree that the analogy to Paul’s letter has its limitations, I do not believe that it is difficult to distinguish between the platforms I mentioned above that should not be used and those others that would be available to someone like Moore.
      First, he could share his points of critique at his local church, which I obviously cannot speak to whether or not he has and have no reason to believe he has not done so. Second, he could use his former platforms at the ERLC or the Southern Baptist Convention, which he he did do historically. Now, he has his platform at Christianity Today.
      He has never lacked a wide enough platform to share his message. He has simply chosen to utilize the avenues I criticize above.
      In addition, it is God that ordained for Paul’s message to Corinth to reach the broader Church. Otherwise, it would have just been a letter to a local body.

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