Kevin Ezell (left), president of the North American Mission Board, interviews Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. NAMB photo by Micah Kandros
With the influence of the Church eroding in Washington, how can people of faith build bridges toward the gospel without compromising biblical truth? North American Mission Board president Kevin Ezell sat down with Russell Moore, the newly elected Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president, to discuss adoption, human trafficking and more.
KEVIN: Dr. Moore, would you explain the ERLC’s role as you serve Southern Baptists representing us in Washington, D.C., and throughout the United States.
RUSSELL: The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission serves two functions. One is to speak to churches. What we want to do is equip churches to think through what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the 21st century. How do we make decisions about how to live, what it means to love our neighbors and what it means to seek first the kingdom of God? What do we do as a congregation in ministering to people who have same-sex attractions? Secondly to speak for churches in the culture and in Washington, D.C. To say these are the things that we believe are critically important, especially issues of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
KEVIN: What would you say to a pastor who looks at the current political climate?
RUSSELL: Engage, but engage in a different way. One of the things that happens is we tend to move back and forth between extremes. Sometimes we have the tendency to overreact. But think about what the New Testament says, though: “Fear not little flock, for it’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We shouldn’t be fearful. We shouldn’t be outraged. We need to see the culture around us as a mission field.
KEVIN: Recently you said we need to stop longing for Mayberry. What should we be working toward as we try to intersect the gospel and culture?
RUSSELL: We need a realistic view of the world around us and not just look backward in nostalgia. That tends to lead to a “You kids get off my lawn” reaction. We live in a fallen world with a lot of brokenness around us. What we’re moving toward is reconciliation. Never in the New Testament, when you see Jesus looking at the outside world, is He shocked. We need to be the same way.
KEVIN: How would you suggest pastors navigate when it comes to political parties?
RUSSELL: We need to keep a certain prophetic distance from any outside group to not become easily co-opted. We’re not an interest group. We stand apart from that. We need to keep a certain amount of distance, even as we’re speaking to issues, not necessarily to supporting party infrastructure.
KEVIN: I live in Atlanta where there are more Southern Baptists per square inch than just about anywhere, and yet Atlanta is one of the biggest hubs for human trafficking in the United States. What kind of impact is the church having on this issue?
RUSSELL: One of the first things that we need to do as a Church is to recognize the enormity of human trafficking as a problem. I think most people in our churches are not aware of it because it’s invisible—that’s the way it works. While you and I are having this conversation [there is likely] a 12-year-old girl [somewhere] waiting for a knock at the door from [a man] who’s paid less than he would pay for a meal at a steakhouse to do unspeakable things to her. We have to recognize this is going on all around us and provide the sorts of places in our churches that can not only address the issue of human trafficking as a justice issue, but also be the sort of safe places where women [or men] who are being exploited can come and receive the gospel and healing.
KEVIN: How do we continue to stand against sin in this culture, yet still build bridges with people so we can share Christ?
RUSSELL: I think we are a minority. I think we always have been a minority in one sense. So the question is not whether we’re going to be a minority. The question is what kind of minority are we going to be. There’s a way of being a silent minority, there’s a way of being a cranky minority and then there’s a way of being a prophetic minority that speaks to the culture about the danger of sin and judgment. It speaks honestly and truthfully about those things—but with a redemptive focus and an end goal of redemption.
KEVIN: How can our churches continue to cross the racial divide and become more ethnically diverse?
RUSSELL: The first thing is to change that mindset and to recognize that we are part of a global body of Christ. So the body of Christ isn’t a white church that has some black and Latino people. As a matter of fact white American people are a tiny, tiny minority of the body of Christ. We need to recognize that and ask, “What does Jesus want?” I don’t think He wants white churches and black churches. He creates instead Ephesians chapter three congregations that demonstrate the reconciliation of the kingdom of God.
KEVIN: You are a spokesman for Southern Baptists on adoption. Would you share what adoption has meant to your family specifically?
RUSSELL: I was really reluctant to adopt. And the Lord really showed me a lot of things in my own heart, because, when Maria and I had been through years of infertility and miscarriage, she came to me and said, “I think the Lord might be leading us to adopt.” I’ll never forget my response. “Oh, I’m all about adopting. I think that’s really something we should do, but I want to do it later after we’ve had (in my words at the time) our own children.” The Lord, through that process, changed my heart and mind. I think I had the assumption that a lot of people have: that you’ve got biological children and then adopted children, where adopted is the other category—that they’re not truly yours. Going through the adoption process changed my mind about my kids. And I know you have had the exact same experience. It changed my mind about my kids, but it also changed my mind about the gospel. What the Scripture means when the Scripture says, “You have been adopted as sons.” You notice what’s happening in Romans 8 and Galatians 4; you don’t have regular children and adopted children. Once you’re there, you’re part of the family with everything that it means to be a child of God.
For the latest on the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Russell Moore, visit https://www.erlc.com. To view a video of the full interview, visit https://www.namb.net/Moore. This interview was edited for clarity and length, and was originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of On Mission.
Published February 25, 2014