Russell Moore Attacks Trump From the Right Just Like Jeb

Like a lot of progressive Christians, I’m intrigued by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a much more interesting cat that his predecessor in this gig, the old-school Christian Right warhorse Richard Land. It’s not like Moore has done anything really startling like abandoning bibliolatry and legalism or the belief that yesteryear’s sexual ethics and gender roles are normative for Christians. But he has, as I wrote about recently, taken a very dim view of Christian Nationalism, and with it the conflation of Christianity with the United States of America and of fidelity to God with fidelity to the Republican Party. He’s even gone so far as to question whether “values” are what Christians should be promoted (as opposed to theological imperatives like repentance and forgiveness), and seems genuinely to be pained by God ‘n’ Country pieties, especially when combined with racist and nativist prejudices.

So it’s hardly a surprise he’s no fan of the blustering nationalist and race-baiter Donald Trump, and is aggrieved The Donald seems to have secured quite a foothold among conservative evangelicals. He goes after this contradiction in a New York Times op-ed today that will raise eyebrows.

But I still find his take very disappointing. Like Jeb Bush sticking to the criticism that Trump is no “true conservative,” Moore chooses to go after Trump less for the things about him that attract evangelicals than for aspects of his record, career and character that belie his current stances:

We should not demand to see the long-form certificate for Mr. Trump’s second birth. We should, though, ask about his personal character and fitness for office. His personal morality is clear, not because of tabloid exposés but because of his own boasts. His attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord. He tells us in one of his books that he revels in the fact that he gets to sleep with some of the “top women in the world.” He has divorced two wives (so far) for other women.

This should not be surprising to social conservatives in a culture shaped by pornographic understandings of the meaning of love and sex. What is surprising is that some self-identified evangelicals are telling pollsters they’re for Mr. Trump. Worse, some social conservative leaders are praising Mr. Trump for “telling it like it is.”

In the 1990s, some of these social conservatives argued that “If Bill Clinton’s wife can’t trust him, neither can we.” If character matters, character matters. Today’s evangelicals should ask, “Whatever happened to our commitment to ‘traditional family values’?….”

Gotta admit that “long-form certificate for Mr. Trump’s second birth” is clever, and a rare example of conservative evangelical humor. But Moore keeps on thundering:

[T]he problem is not just Mr. Trump’s personal lack of a moral compass. He is, after all, a casino and real estate mogul who has built his career off gambling, a moral vice and an economic swindle that oppresses the poorest and most desperate. When Mr. Trump’s casinos fail, he can simply file bankruptcy and move on. The lives and families destroyed by the casino industry cannot move on so easily.

He’s defended, up until very recent years, abortion, and speaks even now of the “good things” done by Planned Parenthood.

Finally Moore comes around to a criticism that might not have just as easily been made by Land or Tony Perkins or any of the other Old Guard:

In a time when racial tensions run high across the country, Mr. Trump incites division, with slurs against Hispanic immigrants and with protectionist jargon that preys on turning economic insecurity into ugly “us versus them” identity politics. When evangelicals should be leading the way on racial reconciliation, as the Bible tells us to, are we really ready to trade unity with our black and brown brothers and sisters for this angry politician?

Glad to hear Moore say that. We’ll see if it has any effect. If nothing else, David Brody’s ears must be burning.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.