Religious Freedom, Evangelicals and Culture
~ An interview with Dr. Russell Moore
Dr. Russell Moore serves as the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
The Wall Street Journal has called Moore “vigorous, cheerful, and fiercely articulate,” while The Gospel Coalition has referred to him “one of the most astute ethicists in contemporary evangelicalism.”
An ethicist and theologian by background, Dr. Moore is also an ordained Southern Baptist minister and the author of several books including Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (B & H Publishing, 2015). He blogs frequently at his website and hosts a program called Signposts. Outcomes editor W. Scott Brown interviewed Moore regarding religious liberty issues facing Christian leaders today.
How can we best maintain a winsome gospel witness while advocating for religious freedom?
We have to be explicit about advocating for religious liberty for all, and not just those inside the Christian church. In an American system of government, religious liberty is everyone’s problem because the state is accountable to the people, who are, ultimately, the governing authorities. A Christian, then, who doesn’t care about working for religious liberty is a Christian who is not only wishing to be persecuted and to consign others to persecution, but is also a Christian who wishes to be, by his silence, a persecutor of others.
So we have to be clear that what we are striving for is not some form of “Christian privilege” but freedom of conscience for all people. This advocacy isn’t opposed to gospel evangelism but flows out of it: Because everyone is made in the image of God, and because it is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin, and not the magistrate, we believe in religious liberty for all. We believe the gospel is big enough to fight for itself, so we believe in a free marketplace of ideas, and we contend for a free church in a free state for the sake of the advance of the gospel.
How is the ERLC doing that today?
As an organization, we have a two-pronged approach. We daily work with media, legislators and all branches of government to try to pursue legislation and policies that promote religious freedom. But we are also directed toward our churches. We are regularly hosting events, creating content, traveling to churches and equipping them on the issues of the day that matter.
In Onward, you address religious liberty. How do you hope your book influences the thinking of readers on this critical topic?
My hope for Onward has been that it would help us gain a hopeful, forward-looking model for seeing our primary identity as not 1950s America, but as an embassy of the coming kingdom. If we gain that vision, then our defense of religious liberty won’t be rooted in panic or hand-wringing outrage. We can advocate for religious freedom with confidence and kindness because we’re not on the losing side of history. We’re not slouching towards Gomorrah; we’re marching towards the new Jerusalem.
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