Russell Moore answers questions from reporters Tuesday in Houston. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)
Russell Moore answers questions from reporters Tuesday in Houston. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)

ERLC leader to work with moderates

Russell Moore has replaced Richard Land and promises not to view opponents on issues as enemies.

By Jeff Brumley

The new leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s moral concerns agency says he hopes to build working relationships with moderate and cooperative Baptists, and that he will not treat those who disagree with SBC positions as adversaries.

Russell Moore, 41, recently took over the presidency of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission from Richard Land, who led the agency for 25 years and more recently became an embattled figure deeply involved in controversies over race, violence and theology.

“I don’t think kindness is a weakness,” Moore told reporters Tuesday at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, where nearly 5,000 messengers are attending the SBC’s annual convention.  “I don’t see our opponents on issues as enemies.”

Before being named to the position in March, Moore was at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration. He was also a professor of Christian theology and ethics.

In a separate interview with ABPnews on Tuesday, Moore said he hopes to work on common causes with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and other Baptist groups.

“There are going to be issues where we can stand together,” Moore said.

BJC Executive Director Brent Walker said those issues will likely revolve around preserving the free exercise of religion.

Walker said he’s encouraged by the cooperative tone Moore has taken toward other Christian and religion groups. He added this could be a pivotal moment in Baptist relations.

“It would give credibility to what we’re saying if all Baptists agree,” he said. “That’s a pretty powerful swath of humanity.”

However, Walker predicted continued disagreement with Southern Baptists on subjects like prayer in schools and Ten Commandments displays.

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Moore agreed.

“We’re going to see some things differently, of course,” Moore said.  “Sometimes it’s going to depend on where progressive Baptists come down – but I’d like to talk to them about that.”

During the afternoon press conference, Moore was asked how his style of leadership will differ from Land’s.

He declined to compare himself to Land, but said he plans to “speak prophetically” to churches and the wider culture with “kindness and gentleness to all.”

Asked about  the rise of same-sex marriage, Moore said churches must model biblical marriage within their own congregations, and that means beginning to tackle divorce and other sins present in their own ranks.

He declined to take a position on how Southern Baptists should deal with the recent Boy Scouts of America decision to allow sexually active gay boys into the organization. Instead, he said the misguided policy is now a church-by-church matter that he hopes will not divide the convention.

Moore differed with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s suggestion -- in a Monday-night sermon at the SBC Pastors’ Conference -- that churches may be more prophetic if they give up their tax-exempt status – and the speech limitations that come with it.

Tax-exempt status is important because taxation can be a powerful government weapon. “The power to tax is the power to destroy,” he said.

But he agreed that there may come a time when such action is necessary. “I just don’t think we’re there, yet,” Moore said.