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The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol frightened and enraged millions of Americans, but it was the mob’s self-identification as Christians that struck at the heart of the influential Baptist leader and religious thinker Russell Moore.
“When I saw the images of ‘Jesus Saves’ signs, next to gallows being constructed to hang the vice president of the United States and other officials, my response to that was one of rage, just internal rage,” Moore said. “Because I love my country. I love the United States of America. I love Jesus more.”
The mixing of Christian symbols with violent insurrection, Moore said, “communicates to the outside world something that is the opposite of who [Jesus] actually is.”
Since 2013, Moore has been the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the U.S. He was one of the most prominent evangelical critics of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, and after Trump was elected president, Moore came under attack from Trump supporters inside the SBC who wanted him out of his job.
Moore survived the challenge but was less outspoken about Trump after that. He continued, however, to call on conservative Christians to care more about racism, refugees and poverty, while also maintaining conservative positions on abortion, sexuality and marriage, and other hot-button issues. Still, a sprawling network of hard-line conservative religious bloggers has continued to complain about Moore over the past few years.
After Trump inflamed his supporters with lies about the 2020 election, encouraging them to participate in a “wild” day on Jan. 6, and gave a speech that day exhorting them to march on the Capitol, Moore made a decision to speak out against Trump once again. He wrote a 2,600-word essay and sent it out to the ERLC mailing list.
Moore dismantled the arguments that led to the attempted insurrection, stating clearly that “it is not true — and it never was true — that this election was stolen,” and said the riot had been “incited and fomented by the President of the United States.”
Furthermore, Moore leveled the most serious charge a Christian can make against the actions of Jan. 6.
“The sight of ‘Jesus Saves’ and ‘God Bless America’ signs by those violently storming the Capitol,” he said, presented to the world “a picture of Jesus Christ and of his gospel that is satanic.”
Moore said he thought Trump should resign, or be removed by the Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence, or be impeached and convicted by Congress.
“If I were a member of Congress, I would vote to impeach. And if I were a United States senator, I would vote to convict. And I would be willing, if necessary, to lose my seat to do so,” Moore wrote. “As a matter of fact, I am willing, if necessary, to lose this seat.”
That was a reference to his own job, and an acknowledgment that those who tried to oust him four years ago might try again.
Moore’s latest book, his fifth, is rooted in that experience of feeling isolated and afraid. It’s titled “The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul.”
The book uses the story of the Old Testament prophet Elijah to explore what Christianity has to say about the ideas of strength, courage and power. Elijah is known for calling fire down from heaven against rival prophets, but Moore focuses instead on the moment when Elijah was driven into the wilderness by threats to his life from a hostile ruler. The book argues that the urge to “‘fight” can be just as cowardly, if not more so, than the urge to “flight.’”
And courage, he says, is found in uncertainty, not in displays of strength. Those relying on God for strength “probably seem to be those lacking in courage, because they have given up on their internal resources or their external reassurances,” he writes in the book.
True Christian strength, he writes, is the willingness to endure weakness, isolation, threats, uncertainty and even harm, while standing on principle.
“Elijah is consistently saying, ‘I don’t know.’ And he’s also consistently saying, ‘I’m the only one here. And I’m standing here by myself.’ I’ve experienced that,” Moore said. “And I’ve also dealt with a lot of people who have experienced it in very different realities.”
“You assume that that courage means this sense of invulnerability. And that’s not at all the case,” Moore said. He mentioned a poet named David Whyte who examined the word “courage,” and the case of “people who feel as though they are cowardly, because they are just sensing this kind of fear, and they don’t know what’s about to happen.”
This lack of resolution, the sense of confusion and uncertainty, is central to Moore’s definition of Christian strength and courage. It is in refusing to seek easy answers in conspiracy theories, or reductionist thinking, or demonizing one’s opponents that one shows these qualities.
Whyte, Moore noted, said that “walking through that [uncertainty] and living in that is what courage actually is.”
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