‘The Bible Belt is Collapsing’
August 17, 2013 - 4:38 pm
A fascinating interview in the Wall Street Journal with Russell Moore, the incoming president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. This influential position was held previously by Richard Land, who became a well known face on the cable nets and Sunday shows.
Moore says, in essence, that the culture war has been lost:
‘The Bible Belt is collapsing,” says Russell Moore. Oddly, the incoming president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission doesn’t seem upset. 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.”
The phrase is arresting coming from such a prominent religious leader—akin to a general who says the Army has shrunk to the point it can no longer fight two wars. A youthful 41, Mr. Moore is among the leaders of a new generation who think that evangelicals need to recognize that their values no longer define mainstream American culture the way they did 50 or even 20 years ago.
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.
He is definitely pushing a new tone for this generation of evangelicals. “This is the end of ‘slouching toward Gomorrah,’ ” he says. Not only is the doomsaying not winning Christians any popularity contests, but he doesn’t think it’s religiously appropriate either. “We were never promised that the culture would embrace us.”
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.
Politically, the evangelical right isn’t going anywhere. They will still play a large role in Republican Party politics, and will still be indispensable to the campaigns of dozens of Republicans in many districts.
But to a secularist like me, Mr. Moore’s words sound like a welcome dose of pragmatism. Achieve what is doable, accept the world not for what you would have it be, but for what it is. This is not to say that there shouldn’t be an effort — a war, if you will — to fight on many issues. But perhaps the battles will be fought on a different kind of battlefield — one where moral authority is gleaned not from numbers or political power, but from the light of example.
Read the whole interview for some fascinating insights.