As a follow-up to the discussion of the significance of Russell Moore replacing Richard Land as the political face of the Southern Baptist Convention, Moore himself seems concerned the portrait of him painted in a highly favorable Wall Street Journal profile isn’t really all that accurate, as he suggests in his blog (h/t to Sarah Posner):

The headline, as is often the case with headlines, is awfully misleading. I am not calling, at all, for a “pullback” from politics or engagement.

If anything, I’m calling for more engagement in the worlds of politics, culture, art, labor and so on. It’s just that this is a different sort of engagement. It’s not a matter of pullback, but of priority.

Okay, but surely we’re talking about a downgrading of standard-brand “culture war” issues like abortion in favor of a broader ethic of peace, love and justice, right?

What I’m calling for in our approach to political engagement is what we’re already doing in one area: the pro-life movement. Evangelicals in the abortion debate have demonstrated convictional kindness in a holistic ethic of caring both for vulnerable unborn children and for the women who are damaged by abortion. The pro-life movement has engaged in a multi-pronged strategy that addresses, simultaneously, the need for laws to outlaw abortion, care for women in crisis pregnancies, adoption and foster care for children who need families, ministry to women (and men) who’ve been scarred by abortion, cultivating a culture that persuades others about why we ought to value human life, and the proclamation of the gospel to those whose consciences bear the guilt of abortion.

Hmm. Does this “convictional kindness” and “holistic ethic” comes with a measure of God-fearing doubt regarding the righteousness of banning abortion, which, after all, isn’t really mentioned at all in the Gospels? No, sorry:

A culture of death that denies personhood to the unborn is a culture that is assaulting the very image of Christ himself. The unborn children the culture categorizes as “fetuses” or “embryos” are those whose cries go up to the One who hears them. When we stand against legal abortion, we do so because we believe—because of the gospel—that life is better than death, and that a person’s value is more than his or her utility. We simultaneously speak of justice and of justification, prophetically standing up for the unborn in the public arena while extending the mercy of Christ, through the cross, to those who are guilty. We plead for life while we recognize that our ultimate enemy isn’t the person screaming at us from the sidewalk outside a crisis pregnancy center. The Enemy is the snake of Eden that wishes to destroy, both through empowering wickedness and through accusing those who have sinned.

So prochoice folk aren’t The Ultimate Enemy, but are instruments of Satan, and while guilty, can receive mercy. And antichoice folk can rightly claim the mantle of prophecy, and presumably with it the right to ignore such laws as contradict the divine judgment on this evil, evil land.

Those who wish to retreat are wrong. Ignoring so-called “political issues” doesn’t lead to a less politicized church but to a more political church. One cannot preach the gospel in 19th century America without addressing slavery without abandoning the gospel. One cannot preach the gospel in 21st century America apart from addressing the sexual revolution without abandoning the gospel.

If that’s the template for political engagement by a new, sophisticated generation of conservative evangelicals, the path ahead on “culture war” issues will be rockier than ever.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.