Resign? Southern Baptists voted for judges to 'resist'

by Will Hall, |
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, shares his negative views on reparative therapy during "The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage" conference in Nashville, Tenn. | Screen Capture/ERLC

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, a national entity charged with representing Southern Baptists' beliefs on issues of culture and public policy, told Baptist Press, the SBC's official news service, that a judge or other government official "faced with a decision of violating his conscience or upholding the law, would need to resign and protest against it as a citizen if he could not discharge the duties of his office required by law in good conscience."

Since then Baptist Press has issued a "correction" that includes the entirety of a written statement from him, but the added material did not change what was quoted in the original article.

Now questions have been raised in comments on social media about whether Moore's perspectives represent the official position of the Southern Baptist Convention, and his views may be at odds with published Southern Baptist statements.

In 2003, Southern Baptists passed the resolution "On Same-sex Marriage," which urges judges to "resist and oppose the legalization of same-sex marriages." The resolution came to the floor for a vote with the approval of the SBC's resolutions committee, which included Russell D. Moore.

Ironically, Moore was a member of the SBC's 2003 resolutions committee -- an appointed body that receives and develops consensus statements about biblical issues -- that crafted a declaration, approved by the Convention ("On Same-sex Marriage"), calling for "all judges and public officials to resist and oppose the legalization of same-sex unions."

At the time Moore was a member of the faculty for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, having been hired in 2001 as instructor of Christian theology and ethics before defending his doctorate the next year.

Three years later he became dean of the school of theology and chief academic officer for the seminary, also serving as senior vice president for academic administration for the school until he was hired as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in 2013.

The 2003 resolution, approved in Phoenix, Arizona, was at least the second time Southern Baptists have urged Christian public officials to stand resolved against any legal or legislative effort to normalize same-sex marriage.

As early as 1996, Southern Baptists called for "all judges, all persons in public office, and all candidates for public office, to do all they can to resist and oppose the legalization of homosexual marriages" ("Resolution On Homosexual Marriage"). Moreover, this resolution, approved in New Orleans, Louisiana, included a commitment to pray for and affirm "all persons" who, at both the state and federal levels, were opposing "through judicial actions, through public policy decisions, and through legislation" the legalization of homosexual marriages.

In that same policy statement, Southern Baptists also staked out the position, based on Daniel 3:17-18 and Acts 4:19, to "never conform or obey anything required by any governing body to implement, impose or act upon any such law. So help us God."

Southern Baptists also repeatedly have bemoaned the lack of judges who "interpret rather than make law" and specifically lamented the lack of Christian judges.

In 2005, while meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, the Convention condemned liberal "obstructionists" who had blocked "nominees who hold biblical convictions on issues such as the sanctity of life and the definition of marriage" ("On The Federal Judiciary"). The next year in Greensboro, North Carolina, the denomination passed a companion motion ("On The Nomination And Confirmation of Federal Judges") restating a call for President Bush to name conservative-minded candidates to the bench.

Russell Moore originally made known his position that "there is a time for civil disobedience" but not for "judges and state Supreme Court justices ... in their roles as agents of the state" in a written statement on Feb. 10 (a comment that remained unchanged in the subsequent release). This was the same day Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, no relation but also a Southern Baptist, appeared on CNN to explain why he and an estimated 43 of 67 state probate judges are refusing a U.S. district judge's order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In his statement to Baptist Press (in both the original and amended articles), Russell Moore said Alabamians "are rightly concerned" that a federal court would impose "a federal definition of marriage on a state."

But unlike the 2003 resolution he helped construct that urged judges to "resist," Moore said 1 Peter 2:13 and Romans 13 instruct Christians to maintain their convictions but also respect "the rule of law."

Moreover, appearing to defer to "our system of government," he said a state cannot "defy the law of the land."

"Religious freedom and conscience objections must be balanced with a state's obligation to discharge the law," Moore wrote.

The Tennessean reported Moore making similar comments about "civil disobedience" regarding "Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore" at a Feb. 12 luncheon in Nashville.

"If Christians can't follow laws in good conscience, [Russell Moore] said, they may have to resign as agents of the state and act in accordance with their beliefs as regular citizens," according to the article.

Russell Moore consistently has argued for a biblical view of marriage, and, against abortion. Prior to entering a career in academia, he served four years as an aide to pro-life Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi, Baptist Press reported.


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