NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump doesn't like Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. That much is clear.
In a tweet from the New York billionaire's Twitter account at 3:05 a.m. May 9, Trump swiped at the denominational leader for his insistence that evangelicals pull back from supporting the Donald's campaign. The tweet was fired broadside "@drmoore."
"Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!" Trump said. Since then, the comment has been retweeted nearly 1,500 times and liked 5,000 times.
On CBS's Face the Nation Sunday, Moore compared Trump's rise to power in the Republican Party to "reality television moral sewage."
"One of the key aspects of conservatism is to say 'character matters' in public office and in the citizenry, and that virtue has role to play in our culture and in our politics. And now we have a Republican Party that seems not only to surrender in the culture wars but to join the other side," Moore said.
"What we have in the Donald Trump phenomenon, as well as in the Hillary Clinton phenomenon, is an embrace of the very kind of moral and cultural decadence that conservatives have been saying for a long time is the problem."
The SBC leader, who openly criticized Trump's speech at Liberty University, calling him a "golden calf" – a reference to Old Testament idolatry – said conservatives were wrong to support Trump. He also said the effort to support Trump is a betrayal of decades of conservative, principled opposition to social changes pushed by liberals.
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"Conservatives who previously said we have too much awful cultural rot on television now want to put it on C-span for the next four years ... really with either [Trump or Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton]. That isn't what we believe in," Moore said.
Moore said he believed most evangelicals are debating what to do in the upcoming election. He said many evangelicals will consider writing in a candidate or voting third party, while others will still vote for Trump in the belief that his future U.S. Supreme Court nominees will be more conservative than those Clinton would nominate if elected president. Many also might simply stay home, he said.
Moore has also been vocal about Trump's willingness to divide Americans by race and religion. In a New York Times editorial May 6, Moore said the candidate was presenting American Christians with "some scary realities that will have implications for years to come."
"This election has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country. There are not-so-coded messages denouncing African-Americans and immigrants; concern about racial justice and national unity is ridiculed as 'political correctness.' Religious minorities are scapegoated for the sins of others, with basic religious freedoms for them called into question. Many of those who have criticized Mr. Trump's vision for America have faced threats and intimidation from the 'alt-right' of white supremacists and nativists who hide behind avatars on social media."
Several Southern Baptist pastors and theologians have come to Moore's defense on his Twitter page. One of those, Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Farmersville, Texas, and a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the insult from Trump was a badge of honor.
"I've long thought that one of the better measures of the health of the Southern Baptist Convention is the nature of the people who attack us and protest against us," Barber later told Christian Examiner.
Malcolm Yarnell, director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Seminary, also told Christian Examiner Moore's critique of Trump is driven by two primary concerns:
"The first is preserving the integrity of evangelical witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The second is promoting Christian virtue. While I have sometimes differed with Dr. Moore over tactics and rhetoric (mostly in private), I have no doubt that we are operating from the same conservative Christian purposes."
"The undeniable truth is that Russell Moore has been serving as a prophet of God to both believers and unbelievers in the political arena. My hat thus comes off to honor him in his early, continuing, and proper critique of both Republicans and Democrats in this presidential election cycle. Sadly, the Donald's guttural twitter response only reinforces the truthfulness of Dr. Moore's criticisms."
Moore himself responded at 6:21 a.m. He posted only a selection of Bible verses: 1 Kings 18:17-19.
The passage reads:
"When he saw Elijah, [Ahab] said to him, 'Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" And he answered, 'I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now, therefore, send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table."
The message is likely one most conservative evangelicals will understand.