Religion and politics, separation of Church and state, freedom of religion — can the power of religion change politics for the better? Part II of Rare’s conversation with Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Religion and politics. Separation of church and state. Freedom of religion. Can the power of religion change politics for the better? Here to discuss is Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Mr. Moore, thanks for being with us today.
Russell Moore: Good to be with you, Kurt. Thank you for having me.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: You had stated on The Daily Caller, “My ultimate goal is to be the minister of reconciliation.” Could you elaborate?
Russell Moore: Yeah, the Scripture calls on us, as Christians, to be ambassadors of reconciliation. Well, what does that mean? That means that we, on the one hand, are very clear about God’s justice and God’s judgment, and one of the most unloving things that we can do to the culture around us is to pretend as though God has not made His moral will known. We need to be very clear about publishing and pressing on consciences that the standards by which we are all going to be judged at the judgment seat of Christ. But we don’t end there. Our end point is not to condemn — we’re not prosecuting attorneys. We’re ambassadors for Christ, seeking to persuade people to ultimately be in Christ. And so, with that the case, that means that we’re able to speak with winsomeness. We are able to speak with hope, and we never stop with the argument — we have the argument — we don’t stop there — we continue on, and as the apostle Paul says, “With tears in our eyes…we plead with people to be reconciled with God.” I think that’s our unique calling as Christians in this world.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: In terms of the church, reaching out and helping the communities, you raised an interesting thought for me in preparing for this interview in terms of the human spirit and the role of government. There are those who believe that man will not take care of their neighbors and therefore we need government to step in and fill in that role of caring for the indigent — mentally and physically less fortunate — and then those on the other end who believe in the better nature of the human spirit. And that it is only in our nature that our neighbors can effectively lift up one another. And I see that there is a very significant promotion that can occur and be revitalized in the church in this respect. What is your thought on it?
Russell Moore: Absolutely. I think we all would agree — or most of us would agree — that government does play a role at having a very basic social safety net. But government cannot love neighbor. Only neighbors can love neighbors. And if we simply outsource that to some other entity — whether to the government or to big, charitable, nongovernmental organizations, then we are not only really ministering to our neighbors, but we’re also robbing the church of a vital part of its mission and of the way that Jesus conforms us into the image of Christ. And so there’s a way for us to say, “Who is my neighbor,” and then say “We don’t care about the people around us. Let’s not worry about them at all. Let them starve to death.” And that’s wrong. There’s also a way to say, “Who is my neighbor,” meaning somebody else, some big impersonal entity out there will take care of all of those things, and we as local congregations aren’t the ones to do it. And I think that’s a fatal error. I think instead we need to be as the family of God, as the people of God — those who are doing what the Scripture calls us to do which is caring for widows and orphans in their distress. And if you notice what’s happening in the New Testament, the New Testament has a very realistic view of human nature. The apostles are writing about how to care for people without encouraging dependency without making the caring for the people themselves a way to keep them from the sort of labor that God has given to them — and so simply giving money is not the end result. The end result is to move people to where human flourishing, which includes imaging God in our labor. And so that’s been given to the church, and I think that recovering that will enable us to see the limits of government and also the limits of just big, abstract society.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Well, promoting personal responsibility on that level is something that libertarians like myself really encourage, and it is the real way to live in natural law. In terms of a global aspect in our neighbors, how does your message fit with foreign policy and the relationship between Christians and Muslims and the use of our U.S. military overseas?
Russell Moore: Well, I think it has everything to do with the fact that we understand that our foreign policy has implications on real human lives, and I think we have to take into account how every single action of foreign policy, which is much more complicated now in many ways than it has been in the past. In traditional just-war theory, which I hold, in classical Christianity, there was war, and most people understand what war looked like. Now we are living in the day in which technology has made that much much more complicated. The debates that we have are tremendously nuanced from what they would have been in the days of Augustan or Thomas Aquinas or someone else. And so we have to say for instance not only what should we do, but how can we do it when we have to in a way that’s not going to have a sort of unintended consequences that are going to, for instance, would up with the persecution of Christians? I recently, over the debate over Syria, opposed the president’s call to strike Syria, because I don’t think it measures up to a just war that says we’ve got an achievable goal that we can win, and because I’m afraid that simply going in and striking Syria when I don’t see who the good guys are in Syria; I don’t see who’s going to be able to come in and take up a bunch of the government, probably is not going to end the bloodbath that’s going on in Syria right now and they actually exacerbate it, including by wiping out Christian communities in Syria that have existed since the time of Saul of Tarsus. So, I think we have to be very careful in thinking through, how is our foreign policy going to have unintended consequences? I think it’s a very good debate. And I don’t think it’s easily solved. I think that often Christians are going to disagree, and we’re not going to reject one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re going to recognize that we’re dealing with the same principles, but sometimes we have a different way of looking to have those things apply.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Senator Rand Paul gave a speech recently at the Value Voters Summit, and what I gathered from it, is that he was trying to encourage Christians to understand and be understanding of the Islamic world — Muslims — the history of the Middle East and some of the important values and contributions to mankind that have come out of the Middle East and that the radical Islam element is a portion of it and should be recognized as a danger yet we should be engaging Islam and looking for ways to encourage them to police themselves and come together as a stronger force, unifying Christians with Muslims.
Russell Moore: Well I think that Senator Paul is right — that we need to have a complex view of Islam. We’re not going to be able to deal with this problem if we simply act as though Islam is all one very easily identifiable thing and write off all of the Islamic world as simply being consigned to the al Qaeda. We do have to have an aggressive sort of campaign to appeal to people all over the world to recognize basic human rights. That means that we do have a realistic understanding of Islam, what it is theologically, what it is sociologically and also the complexity that’s involved there. I think that Senator Paul is right about that. I think that one of the things that I think is unfortunate is that there have been some voices — and Senator Paul is not one of these — but there have been some voices who have suggested, well we need to understand that because American culture is corrupt in so many ways — with pornography and abortion and homosexuality and all of these sorts of things — that we kind of had September 11 coming. I totally reject that understanding. I think that radical Islam must be opposed. And it must be opposed militarily, but it also must be opposed diplomatically and in terms of presenting a clear, alternative vision of what life can be like. And I think that’s what Senator Paul was getting at, and I think he’s right about that.
Russell Moore: Good to be with you, Kurt. Thank you for having me.