Van Ens: Ditching church but not leaving Jesus
Decent folk avoid brash people who put down women and minorities, utter racial slurs and brag about their accomplishments.
Sick of the Southern Baptist Convention showing similar offensive traits, evangelical Bible study leader Beth Moore has left this Protestant denomination. On March 5, 2021, this best-selling author announced she had enough and was “no longer a Southern Baptist.” Baylor University’s Dean and history professor Beth Allison Barr predicts, “If she walks away, she’s [Beth Moore] going to carry a lot of those women with her.”
Among evangelical women, Moore’s gospel light shines very brightly. Leading Bible studies, she packs huge auditoriums. Moore’s knack for telling home-spun stories about how the Bible helps her deal with life’s challenges connects with huge audiences. She gets listeners to laugh and weep after hearing her poignant, witty and wise observation tied to the scriptures.
Duke Divinity School historian Kate Bowler, in her 2019 book “The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities,” hails Moore as an “exegetical [biblically interpretive] powerhouse” because she digs deep into scripture, mining treasures from Jesus’ teachings, like a prospector discovering nuggets others overlook.
Moore strenuously objected to former President Donald Trump’s racist allusions, contentious personality and put downs of women and minorities. She believes the Southern Baptist Convention mimics his rhetorical slurs and confrontational tone.
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Last August, in a critique sounding like a prophetic jeremiad, Moore called out racism, sexism and white nationalism in the Southern Baptist Convention. She declared, “White supremacy has held tight in much of the church for so long because the racists outlasted the anti-racists. Outlast them!” But do it without name-calling.
Moore teaches listeners to delve deeply into the Bible to rid churches of racist roots. “Stay in your Bibles,” she insists. Moore points seekers of Jesus to ponder what biblical prophets taught, starting with Isaiah, and learn about “God’s displeasure over injustice.”
Learn from how Jesus expressed himself to bewildered disciples on Easter evening. He greeted them, “Peace be with you.” Then the risen Christ repeated this prayer-like introduction later in his conversation, telling fearful followers to act like God and “forgive the sins” of whomever they meet” (John 20:19-23).
Moore is offended by how Trump habitually twisted Christ’s message of forgiveness on his self-aggrandizing campaigns. Trump bragged he never had to ask Christ to forgive his faults because the president’s winning record was near perfect. So perfect that he seldom, if ever, studied scripture, using it instead for a photo op by raising a Bible in front of a church near the White House he did not enter.
Southern Baptist leaders did not invent this verbal playbook of rude posturing and demonizing opponents. In the early 1970s, a little-known history professor from Georgia, Dr. Newton [Newt]Leroy Gingrich, spurned showing forgiveness or peacefully conversing. He urged freeing America from its slide into godlessness by sounding bold, brassy, and bombastic against our nation’s irreligious enemies.
Speaking to a convention of young Georgia Republicans, young Newt described how bare-knuckled Christian brawlers beat back the Devil. “One of the greatest problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal, and faithful, and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around the campfire but are lousy in politics.
“You are fighting a war, a war for power. … What we really need are people willing to stand up in a slugfest,” asserted Newt (“Reaganland,” by Rick Perlstein, Simon & Schuster, 2020, p. 233).
Moore is sick of this fighting between evangelicals and secularists. She believes white nationalism festering within Southern Baptist churches erupted on Jan. 6 when a mob invaded the Capitol, incited by then-President Trump. Some insurrectionists desecrated the hallowed Senate floor, filling it with their prayers, such as, “Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots who love You [God] and love Christ!” Others waved flags emblazoned with “Jesus Saves” and they protested a “stolen election,” resulting in the Biden presidency.
Moore echoes Tish Harrison Warren’s convictions. She serves as priest in the Anglican Church in North America. Warren posted a rebuttal the day following the Capitol insurrection in the evangelical flagship magazine Christianity Today, founded in the 1950s by Billy Graham (“Speaking Out: We Worship with the Magi, Not MAGA—Making America Great Again,” January 7, 2021).
“The conflation [blending] of the Christian faith and Trumpism did not suddenly spring up in a vacuum four years ago,” Warren contends. “It arose through decades of poor catechesis [Bible study forming Christian character] and spiritual formation. Through false teaching that the American flag and the cross of Christ do not conflict. Through evangelical leaders who counted losing their souls a small price to pay for grasping political power. Through white supremacist assumptions that sneaked their way into church pulpits and pews. And through belief that the Church exists not to show forth the light of Christ to all people but to Make America Great Again.”
Moore has not given up her teaching of Jesus Christ, but she has quit the Southern Baptist Convention. She wants this denomination to stop acting like the strong arm of the Republican Party. Instead, they must return to Jesus’ core values. Moore rejects white Christian nationalism, sexism and racial discord woven into Southern Baptist public exhortations.
History reveals it is easier to kill the messenger than obey a redeeming message that cleanses the church of its errors. Some of Moore’s critics brand her a heretic because she has preached from a pulpit, which the Southern Baptist Convention rules off-limits to women.
So, this Baptist Christian walked away from her denomination, instead continuing the journey alongside the risen Christ.
The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries, (www.thelivinghistory.com) which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations that make God’s history come alive.