The conflict between conservative and liberal values has forged a deepening social divide in the United States. Dr. Russell Moore and Molly Ball comment on the nature and future of the American culture wars. The two agree: the culture wars continue, and they are changing. Dr. Moore, an Evangelical Christian himself, examines the conflict from the perspective of the Evangelical Christian population and conceptualizes their place in 21st-century America. Ms. Ball reports the status of public opinion on the most salient issues in the culture wars, gay marriage and abortion, and explains how these issues play out in politics.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Dr. Russell Moore is here with us, and we’re delighted. Many of you have read about Russell because he’s been in the news since his appointment as President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Russell Moore has a Master’s of Divinity in Biblical Studies from New Orleans Baptist Seminary, a PhD in Systematic Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s written widely on issues related to theology, culture, and public policy. Many of you have interviewed him, and you know of his great reputation. And so Russell is going to be speaking to us this morning on “The Persistence of the Culture Wars.” And then some of you may not know that our respondent — I’ll introduce Molly after Dr. Moore finishes, but Molly — one of her claims to fame that you do not know is that she won $100,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
DR. RUSSELL MOORE: Oh, really?
MR. CROMARTIE: So I thought what a perfect respondent to our subject is someone who won $100,000 on — and when we introduce you, Molly, we want you to tell us the thing you could not answer, and see if any of them can answer it. Anyway, Dr. Moore, thank you for coming. It’s great to have you.
DR. MOORE: Good to be here. Well, thank you very much for having me. It’s a joy and an honor to be here. When I think about the first stage of the culture wars in this country, I tend to frame it as Joan Baez versus Merle Haggard, and that is when Joan Baez is singing in the 1960s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” this was quite consistent with the musical heritage of the counterculture, of a sense that something old was being torn down, something new was dawning. “This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius.” Bob Dylan talking about the fact that “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and get out of the way, or else you’re going to be drowned by this new wave that is coming in.
But there was, of course, a response to that that also showed up lyrically and musically. Merle Haggard sang “Okie From Muskogee.” “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee. We don’t wear our hair long and shaggy like the hippies out in San Francisco do. We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse, and we don’t burn our draft cards,” and so forth, and so on.
Also singing, responding to the counterculture, “When you’re running down my country, you’re walking on the fightin’ side of me.” Don’t mind people switching sides and standing up for things that they believe in, but there’s a real America that they’re taking on.
That’s the sort of language that was adopted by Richard Nixon and by the silent majority strategy in the late 1960s, early 1970s, and continuing on that essentially argued that the counterculture is not representative of America at all. It’s a small, elite group of people who don’t speak for most people in this country, and certainly not the majority of people in this country. They’re out of touch.
That, I think, morphed into what we saw in the 1980s and early 1990s with the religious right, even in nomenclature, the Moral Majority, the sense that this isn’t a distinctively Christian witness; this is something that the majority of people in this country already believe.
I think that the problem is that as time has marched on, the illusion of a Moral Majority is no longer sustainable in this country, and there’s a new move happening as it relates to the culture wars. I don’t think the culture wars are over, but I think the culture wars are moving into a new phase that will be quite different from what we saw in the last generation of the religious right.
Evangelicalism is changing, but changing not in the ways that some people assume. There is a theological renaissance happening among evangelicals — conservative evangelicals, especially younger conservative evangelicals — embracing older forms of a theological heritage, some of them more Calvinistic, some of them more Augustinian, and an alliance that is happening with a more theologically robust Catholicism as well.
In some ways, I think that the future of evangelical engagement when it comes to cultural matters is going to be, on the one hand, narrower, and on the other hand, broader; narrower in the sense that I think it is less likely that we will see the sorts of things that we saw in, say, the 1990s with voter guides that had a Christian position on everything from abortion to a balanced-budget amendment and a line-item veto.
I remember, in 1992, seeing one of these voter guides and wondering how on earth one comes to a Christian position on the line-item veto. That sort of mentality bred cynicism, because many people saw this and rightly assumed, well, what’s happening is this is someone who’s simply taking a party platform, attaching Bible verses to it, in order to advance the agenda of that political party.
On the other hand, broader, in the sense that evangelicals are concerned, and many people have raised this, even in the time that we’ve been here today. Younger evangelicals, including younger, very conservative evangelicals, are concerned about issues ranging from human trafficking to orphan care to domestic abuse to creation stewardship and environmental concerns. I just don’t think that those things are at the expense of a concern for, for instance, sanctity of human life and a traditional, for lack of a better word here, family structure.
I don’t think what we’re seeing among younger, conservative evangelicals is a move to the left in the way that some have articulated it; the rise of, for instance, a progressive majority, because I think that in all of these polls, we need to take into account not only who is responding to the polls, but also who is actually going to church? Who are the people who are in congregations? Who are the people who are giving? Who are the people who are leading?
I also don’t think that we can see — in terms of a move to the left, we can’t equate that simply with a weariness for culture wars. There are younger evangelicals who do not want to return to the mode of discourse seen in the last generation, who don’t necessarily want to move away from many of the issues that were held by the last generation. They also have a different ethos about them.
A vibrant evangelical church plant often will include people wearing tattoos and earrings and nose rings, but this doesn’t mean that these people are moving into the age of Aquarius. It means that these are people who are, in many cases, not to the left of their parents and grandparents, but theologically speaking, to the right of their parents and grandparents.
Many of them are rejecting a style of preaching that they heard in the seeker-sensitive movement of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s that essentially turned the biblical text into the equivalent of Aesop’s Fables: Here are the ways to apply the text in terms of having your best life now. They are now speaking sometimes for 45 minutes to an hour about issues that are quite theologically complex, dealing with complex matters of biblical exegesis, and are also recovering a robust sense of church discipline, of the accountability of the people within the congregation to one another.
That includes the issue that was the scandal of the last generation of evangelicals: divorce. Sometimes I will hear people say, “One never hears” — and I’ve made this critique myself. “One never hears evangelicals speaking about divorce.” Actually, increasingly, I do hear evangelicals speaking about divorce, and those evangelicals typically are under 30, many of them having experienced the divorces of their parents, having seen the wreckage of a divorce culture, and speaking to that theologically and also in terms of church accountability.
Many of these very conservative, younger evangelicals are also quite suspicious and skeptical of politicians. Again, that does not mean that they are moving to adopt another group of politicians and public officials. It means that they have been disappointed by some of the attempts in the last generation to adopt or to baptize political figures as spiritual leaders.
“What we must do is to have genuine reconciliation, which means that we speak, again, to use the biblical language, both with truth and with grace. We speak with kindness toward those with whom we disagree. We have civil disagreements with those with whom we disagree.”
We’ve seen that both with politicians who are living and with politicians who are dead. An evangelical that would seek to claim Glenn Beck or Donald Trump as a Christian leader, or an evangelical who would seek to claim Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin as an evangelical leader, is a liberal, is what the last generation — the first generation of evangelicals — would have called that. That is not consistent with a biblical understanding of what Christian orthodoxy is.
They’re also very skeptical of applying biblical texts directly to America, texts applying to Old Testament Israel, bypassing Jesus and the Church, and applying those things to some illusion of a Christian America, the classic illustration of this being, “If my people, who are called by my name,” 2 Chronicles, “will humble themselves and pray, then I will hear from heaven, and I will heal their land.” Much of the last generation of religious right activism has used that in terms of civil society, in terms of America, rather than seeing this as being applied to the covenant people of the Church.
I also think what’s happening is that there is a loss of the illusion of a majority in this country. And I think that is a good thing for the gospel and for the church. I often tell people, when I was in college, I had an atheist friend with whom I would have an ongoing dialogue about the claims of Christ, and we would disagree until sometimes late in the night.
He came to see me one day and said, “I need you to recommend for me a good Southern Baptist Church to join, but one that’s not too, you know, Southern Baptist-y.” And my initial response was to say, “So you’ve become a Christian?” And he said, “No, no, no, no.” He said, “I don’t believe any of that.” He said, “But I want to go into politics, and there’s no way that I’m ever going to be elected as an atheist or an agnostic in the State of Mississippi, and so I need to be a member of a Southern Baptist Church. I just don’t want to be part of one that’s too creepy.” He was especially honest, I think, but I don’t —
MR. CROMARTIE: Did you recommend one?
DR. MOORE: I did not recommend one.
MALE SPEAKER: Is he currently serving in Congress?
DR. MOORE: No, no. He wasn’t quite able to pull it off. He was especially honest, but I don’t think he was especially unusual. In 20th century America, there was a sense in which church membership was a necessary step, at least in most parts of this country, to be seen as a good person, to be seen as a good citizen, to earn the God and country badge, to be the sort of person who can be involved in the marketplace, who can be involved in the public square, who can have something to contribute, which created the sort of world that Walker Percy spoke of in terms of the Bible Belt as essentially a stoic lodge that really had nothing to do with Christianity itself.
That illusion is being torn down. As Christianity becomes, with a secularizing America, increasingly strange and increasingly freakish to many people, nominal Christianity does not carry with it a social good. That means I think what we will see is essentially what the old dispensationalists once warned of as a rapture of the Church, but it’s a reverse rapture, a rapture of nominal believers out of congregations, where those congregations will not do them any good.
What’s left is, I think, the sort of evangelical that is concerned preeminently about the gospel, which means not the sort of Veggie Tales gospel that takes moral truths of the Scriptures and attempts to apply those to normal American Christian life, a bland sort of gospel, but instead, the sort of gospel that is speaking from a deep theological rootedness with a prophetic distance and skepticism of political powers and is especially willing to distance itself from hucksterism and from those who would seek to have a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.
I don’t think that what we’re seeing is a move within evangelicalism or, frankly, within orthodox Roman Catholicism, away from, for instance, a Christian sexual ethic. I do think, though, that we’re seeing an era in which Christianity is able to be clear. Nominal, cultural, almost-gospel Christianity is going away, and with it, the impulse to try to make Christianity marketable by making Christianity normal.
Best example that I can think of that is several years ago, an evangelical publisher published a Bible called the Revolve Bible that was attempting to market itself to teenaged girls. Teenaged girls, this publisher said, they’re not standing around in malls, reading King James Gideon Bibles, but many of them were, at the time, reading fashion magazines.
So the idea was let’s create a Bible that looks like a fashion magazine, and the text of Scripture is there, along with pictures, along with features, “Cute guys speak out,” and some boy would be asked the question, “What do you really look for in a girl?” “I really like a girl with a quiet time and a close walk with Jesus” and so forth. And the publisher said, “What we really want to do is to try to make Christianity less freakish for teenaged girls.” I think that was an impulse that many evangelicals had, and still have, to some degree. I don’t think that is the future. Christianity, even in some of its most basic claims, is going to seem strange, is going to seem freakish, and I say we should embrace the freakishness of Christianity, because it enables us to talk clearly about what really matters.
Several months ago, I was having a conversation with a lesbian activist in San Francisco and we were having a very civil conversation. She said, “I want to talk to you, because I’ve never met anybody who believes the sorts of things that evangelicals believe.” As a matter of fact, she said, “I’ve never met anybody who would say there are people you shouldn’t have sex with that you love,” and she said, “So I just need to understand why you all think that and what’s in your mind.”
So as I’m explaining to her what evangelical Christians believe about these things, she says, “You just have to understand that that sounds so profoundly strange to me.” My response was to say, “Well, I believe in even stranger things than that.”
I believe a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky on a horse. That’s a strange and freakish claim. And every time that the gospel is being articulated in the Book of Acts, the immediate response from the surrounding culture is, “You’re out of your mind.” Christianity didn’t emerge in Mayberry. It emerged in a Greco-Roman Empire that found these claims very strange.
I think that moving into a more secularizing time gives the church the opportunity to refocus on what the gospel is, to refocus on what the mission is, which means to do what, in our scriptural text, is called a distinction between 1 Corinthians 5, “those who are on the inside from those who are on the outside,” not in terms of moral discernment, but in terms of accountability, and also as seeing ourselves, as, again, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “ambassadors of reconciliation.” I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m cheered, to a great degree, by what Pope Francis is doing and saying. I don’t ultimately know what Pope Francis’ end game is, but I think the sense of joy and the sense of speech about reconciliation is a good thing.
Having said that, I think that what we must do is to have genuine reconciliation, which means that we speak, again, to use the biblical language, both with truth and with grace. We speak with kindness toward those with whom we disagree. We have civil disagreements with those with whom we disagree. We speak in different terms and in different tones, as Jesus and the Apostles themselves do, with those who are on the outside from those who are on the inside.
And that means that we spend a great deal of time informing and educating our own people on what the theology of Christianity is while offering an apologetic to those on the outside. But I think we do so without surrendering, on the one hand, to the sort of radio talk show Christianity that seeks to vaporize opponents; on the other hand, to seek to abandon Christianity itself. There is always a tendency — a friend of mine said recently that it seems to him that secular media often see Christianity in only one of two terms: Pope Francis in caricature or Westboro Baptist Church.
In reality, that is not what Christianity is about. Christianity has certain things that are at the root and core of what Christians believe. We must articulate those things, and we cannot give those things up. At the same time, we’re a missional people —
MR. CROMARTIE: Remind people what Westboro Baptist Church is.
DR. MOORE: Yes. Westboro Baptist Church. Fred Phelps, of course, died this week. Westboro Baptist Church was essentially not a church, but a sort of performance art that sought to spew hatred. And, actually, I spend a great deal of my time differentiating ourselves from Westboro Baptist Church because they bear the name “Baptist” and “Church.” It’s really just a family cult existing there in Kansas, with a theology that — I don’t know a single evangelical who holds the theology that Westboro Baptist Church held. So the way I would often explain it is to say that Westboro Baptist Church is to Baptist Christianity what The Book of Mormon, the Broadway play, is to the Latter-day Saints, which is almost a group of people who relished in taking every caricature of Christianity and then projecting that onto the outside world.
On the other hand, there is always this tendency to see a group of professionally young evangelicals in every generation that this is the wave of the future, meaning that evangelicals are giving up on all of the harder-edged doctrines of evangelicalism or of historic Christianity, whether that’s a Christian sexual ethic or the exclusivity of the gospel or any number of other things.
We saw that ten years ago with the Emergent church, which was going to eclipse all of us. Didn’t happen, and why doesn’t it happen? Because there’s a sort of person in evangelicalism who uses evangelicalism as a marketing niche, speaks to evangelicals, but speaks largely to the evangelical college crowd with a sense of “aren’t we naughty” by — “we’re just raising questions. We’re not actually making assertions. We’re just asking what if,” and then speaking to mainline Protestant denominations, repeating back the shibboleths of those mainline Protestant denominations so that the Episcopalians could say, “Look, even an evangelical is saying what we’ve been saying all along.”
The problem is, whether it’s Brian McLaren or whether it’s Rob Bell or whether it’s a thousand other figures that we could name, there always comes a point where the questioning ends and assertions actually begin, and the moment that that person veers outside of Christian orthodoxy, he or she no longer has a place in evangelicalism. Rob Bell, last I checked, was trying to become a reality show star in California and does not have a base among evangelicals right now.
Instead, I think the future is going to be for evangelicals to recognize they are going to be seen as strange in the culture. That means not expecting political leaders to be spiritual leaders. That means also not expecting their religion to bring with them a social good. And that also means holding on to the essentials of the gospel, which means not seeing our opponents as, as the Bible puts it, flesh and blood, but principalities and powers in the heavenly places.
I’m encouraged by the fact that Pope Francis is probably, more than any other pope I have heard in perhaps a hundred years, speaking of the devil, which doesn’t seem to fit with Pope Francis’ image. Why would someone so joyful and conciliatory speak of the devil? I think that’s precisely because the reason that evangelicals are called to show kindness is because we do believe in the devil. We do believe that there are personal forces of darkness that seek to work in two ways biblically: on the one hand, to deceive, and an evangelicalism that says, “You shall not be held accountable; you shall not surely die” is an evangelicalism that is no longer Christian or biblical.
On the other hand, the power, the Scripture says, the devil has is to accuse. What I often say to evangelical audiences is that no one is more pro-choice on the way into the abortion clinic than the devil. No one is more pro-life on the way out of the abortion clinic than the devil. There is a way in which we can say to people, “You are too good for the gospel. You do not need to be called to repentance.” But that’s not faithful with the gospel.
On the other hand, we can speak to people with condemnation and without an offer of mercy and reconciliation, to say, “You’re too bad for the gospel.” When we’re speaking about sinners, we’re talking about only certain sorts of sinners. That is devil empowering, if you will permit me to use evangelical language here. We have to be the people who are speaking both of those two things at the same time.
In terms of culture wars, I’m not sure whether one would call it culture wars if what we mean is to stand with what Christians have always believed, but to be Christ-shaped culture warriors, contending for culture, but contending not for culture as the end goal, and certainly not contending for electoral politics as the end goal, but contending for reconciliation seen in churches as the ultimate priority, which means I think the future ought to include sometimes some strange alliances of Christians who are willing to work with others without adopting those others as spiritual leaders; ought to be characterized also by an end to triumphalism on the one hand or panic and hand-wringing on the other.
Some conservative evangelicals look around and see what’s happening in the culture and wring their hands in defeat, and the only way they’re able to do that is because there was a Bible Belt illusion of a Christian America that never existed. We need to be the sort of people who are consistently speaking for the things we believe in, for the things that we value, but without the sort of defeatism that lends itself to the perpetual outrage machine so often heard on Christian radio, but also without the sort of capitulation that simply turns us all into Episcopal Church U.S.A. mainline Protestants.
And so I think the future of culture wars as it relates to evangelical Christians really is neither Joan Baez nor Merle Haggard, but is probably summed up best by the Grateful Dead in their song “Touch of Grey”: “It’s even worse than it appears, but it’s all right.” And that’s the message that I’m seeking to give to our constituents.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Dr. Moore. Thank you very much. I was hoping maybe you were going to sing some of those. I’ve asked Molly Ball to respond because, as many of you know Molly’s work, she’s written extensively on the culture wars for The Atlantic. Before she was at The Atlantic, she was at POLITICO. Molly’s a graduate of Yale, and she won, in 2012, the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting for her coverage of the presidential campaign. And, as I mentioned, in 2007, she won $100,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. So she’s a very appropriate person to respond to Dr. Moore. Thank you, Molly, for joining us.
MOLLY BALL: Thank you.
MR. CROMARTIE: Tell us, please, how you got on and what you lost —
MS. BALL: Yes. As requested, I will start with the Millionaire story. They had tryouts in Las Vegas, where I was living and working as a political reporter at the time, and I went to New York. I was on the show and got up to $100,000, had used all my lifelines. The $250,000 question was: “A character in the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore, is an archaic word meaning what? Is it wardrobe, bumblebee, raincoat, or sofa?” Would anybody like to guess, without looking it up?
MALE SPEAKER: Can I use a lifeline?
MS. BALL: No lifelines. The answer is bumblebee, and I declined to answer that question, walked away with $100,000, and have a house today as a result.
So I’d like to give a sort of report from the front of the culture wars. I am not — unlike Dr. Moore, not a combatant in the culture war. I am more of a war correspondent, if you will.
So as an observer, I’d like to sort of give a survey of the landscape of the culture war, as it relates to politics. I’m a political reporter. And I think, as the title of this panel has it, the culture war does persist, but it isn’t static. So all we have to do is go back to a decade ago, it was 2003 when the partial-birth abortion ban was enacted. It was 2004 when bans on gay marriage were on the ballot in 11 different states, passed in all of those states with an average of about 70 percent of the vote. It was in 2005 when we had the Terri Schiavo controversy that called Congress into a special session.
So in all of these cases, essentially the religious right had the upper hand in American politics, and I think things look very different today. I’m going to start by talking about the issues that the culture war revolves around today, gay marriage and abortion, give a quick state of play of each of these, and then address what I think is possibly more interesting, which is what we’re not talking about in the culture wars today, and look at how it’s playing out in our partisan politics.
So starting with gay marriage, gay rights generally, as you probably have heard, are sort of on the march in American politics. Just this past week, Michigan became the seventh state where a gay marriage ban has been struck down by a judge since the Supreme Court, a year ago, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 in California. Incidentally, this is exactly what Justice Scalia warned us about in his dissent in the DOMA case. He warned that this was essentially opening the door for gay marriage to be legalized nationwide, and the majority sort of said, “Oh, no, not at all. This is just a narrow ruling,” and it turns out Scalia was right.
Public opinion is moving so rapidly on the issue of gay marriage that I have mostly stopped writing about it. It’s become sort of boring and predictable to people, this sort of steady march of public opinion in favor of gay marriage, but we don’t always appreciate the magnitude of it, so I’m going to go over some numbers quickly.
In 1996, 27 percent of Americans thought the state should recognize gay relationships and give them the same rights as heterosexual marriage. As of last year, that’s now 54 percent. This is driven by overwhelming support among young people. One poll has 69 percent of 18-to-33-year-olds in favor of gay marriage. Even among Republicans under 30, 61 percent support gay marriage. It is not just opponents of gay marriage dying and being replaced by supporters, however. People are changing their minds. Now 40 percent of Republicans, 48 percent of Southerners, and between 50 and 55 percent of African Americans support gay marriage. Those are all huge shifts in numbers.
People of faith have shifted, in large part; 57 percent of Catholics, 55 percent of mainline Protestants. Opposition remains concentrated among white evangelicals. Even they are shifting. In the past ten years, the number of white evangelicals who support gay marriage has gone from 11 percent to 24 percent.
So there’s rapid movement, basically, everywhere, and the numbers on this issue only seem to move in one direction. There’s no sign of a retreat or a reversal. I think the last hope of some of the opponents of gay marriage was that the overreach of activist judges and the clashes with claims of religious liberty would produce a backlash, and we would see people rethinking their support for legal same-sex marriage. That wasn’t entirely an unreasonable thought. We have seen backlashes before, whether it was the judges who decreed same-sex marriage in Hawaii and Massachusetts in the 1990s or the Iowa Supreme Court, where, in 2010, three justices were voted out of office.
But this time, it doesn’t seem like that backlash is forthcoming. We saw recently the national controversy over the Arizona religious liberty bill, which created a huge national debate. There have been similar bills in 12 other states this year, and almost all of them have died after this same sort of controversy and conversation about the balance between protecting gay people from discrimination versus protecting florists and bakers and photographers from having to violate what they see as their religious liberty, and in most cases, what we were seeing — in almost all cases, what we’re seeing is that lawmakers and the public have decided that this is about discrimination, not about religious liberty, and these bills are dying as a result.
And I think what accounts for this, in large part, is that even people who are opposed to same-sex marriage seem to believe that it is inevitable.
“I think there’s an interesting phenomenon that when an issue hits a tipping point where it ceases to be partisan, which is something that is starting to happen with gay marriage, where so many Republican politicians are now in favor of gay marriage that it is no longer a pure Democrat versus Republican issue.”
Dr. Moore has talked about this. He has written that this is something that is happening, whether we like it or not, and so the best attitude to take is one of forgiveness and of charity. Nationally, in polls, 85 percent of supporters of gay marriage believe that it is inevitable nationally, and 59 percent of opponents also believe that.
So on abortion, the picture is a lot more complicated. Public opinion — American public opinion on abortion is remarkably static. For four decades, there has not been a significant change in the number of Americans who favor abortion being legal in some circumstances. That’s generally how the question is asked in polls, and it’s about 54 percent. Usually, you have about 25 percent of Americans who believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances and 20 percent who believe it should be legal in no circumstances.
On the state level, there’s quite a lot of legislative activity. You had 22 states enacting abortion restrictions in 2013. Occasionally, as in the case of Wendy Davis in Texas, this created a national outcry, but for the most part, this was happening in conservative states with very little resistance beyond sort of national lefty hand-wringing.
There was a 20-week abortion ban that passed the House, and then died, and I think that’s also another theme that we’re seeing is that, on the national level, this is not something Republican leaders really want to talk about. Even after that ban was passed and you certainly have some House conservatives who are very active on this issue, there isn’t a national spokesperson for the religious right who is in elected leadership today, who has a very prominent position, with that as their signature issue.
You have religious right figures like Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins, who have become, I think, increasingly marginal on the right, and the spokespeople for social conservatism as a political issue — Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum come readily to mind, and they are not in elected office. They’re sort of freelance potential presidential candidates.
And so this leads to my next point, which is that it is the left now that is on offense on these cultural wedge issues. It is the other side of the culture war as opposed to ten years ago that is bringing up these issues, wants to talk about them, wants to make them into campaign ads. At the Democratic Convention in 2012, you had speakers on the main stage of the Democratic Convention talking about gay marriage very aggressively. You had the presidents of NARAL and Planned Parenthood and Sandra Fluke on the stage at the Democratic Convention.
At the Republican Convention, it was in the platform, but the speakers who were not elected officials were business leaders. The Republican Party wanted to be seen as the party of economic issues and business, and I think really wanted — has wanted, on the national level, to sweep a lot of this under the rug and keep it quiet.
And, in my own reporting on the 2012 election, I saw the way this issue was playing out, particularly women’s issues. Democrats now don’t use the word “abortion.” They like to call it “reproductive health.” But I talked to a lot of suburban women swing voters, and a lot of them were inclined toward Mitt Romney on economic issues, and it was hard for Democrats to convince them that reproductive issues were in play, because most of them felt very strongly that Roe v. Wade was settled and over and done with and not something that was in danger. But once they became convinced that that was at stake, it tended to swing them toward Obama. And so I met a lot of these suburban women voters — many of them Republicans — who were leaning toward voting for Obama for that reason.
So this is quite a turnaround from ten years ago, as I mentioned, when Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman were turning out evangelicals for George W. Bush and Democrats were asking, “What’s the matter with Kansas? Why are all these heartland voters so eager to vote Republican on these issues of family values?” when the Democrats thought they had a more compelling pocketbook agenda.
The other thing I think is interesting is the fact that these two issues seem to comprise almost the entirety of the culture war in our politics these days. We are not having much of a national conversation right now about prayer in schools, about the teaching of creationism, about whether to put up the Ten Commandments at courthouses. Even end-of-life issues: three states have legalized physician-assisted suicide, and according to Sarah Palin, we have death panels, but this is not a very active national conversation that we are having.
And I think the fact that abortion and gay marriage seems to constitute today’s culture war has led to a mainstream view, a mainstream caricature of social conservatives as sort of narrowly sex-obsessed; this idea that family values is not a worldview so much as a set of sexual hang-ups, and this has, I think, damaged the mainstream of social conservatives and contributed to the narrowing that Dr. Moore talks about.
I think there are some interesting sort of possible future fronts for the culture war, issues that I think touch on culture and identity and the way that people respond to them, even if they are not overtly religious. The marijuana issue that is gaining steam nationally also is seeing a very rapid movement of public opinion and also plays into the ’60s dualities of Joan Baez versus Merle Haggard. Public opinion — in 1969, 12 percent of Americans thought marijuana should be legal; today it is 58 percent. And so the problem, I suppose, if you’re on the Merle Haggard side of this issue, is that it’s a loser, but it does seem to touch on some of the same issues of identity and generational issues. Guns, I think, can be loosely categorized as a cultural issue, the whole bitter clingers dynamic, clinging to guns and religion, but — it’s not clear to me where this lines up with Scripture — but it’s clearly an issue of sort of cultural identity for a lot of people, in a way that I think many Democrats fail to appreciate, many sort of pro-gun control Democrats have failed to appreciate.
On immigration, here at the Faith Angle Forum back in November, we had a very interesting presentation with Dr. John Green from the University of Akron, going over the numbers on immigration. A lot of faith leaders, including Dr. Moore, have been strong voices in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, but what we saw in that presentation is that their flock is not necessarily with them; that opposition to immigration reform is the highest among white evangelical Protestants, among any faith group. So that’s an uneasy fit.
The environment is an issue that’s been taken up very strongly by the so-called religious left, and that is something that we could potentially see more of. And then I wonder if we are going to see more discussion of economic issues as a culture war topic, in the way that Pope Francis has struck a nerve with his moral critique of unfettered capitalism and the political conversation that we’re having about inequality. On the other hand, as Dr. Moore mentioned, the traditional alliance in American politics has been of the family values right with the free-market capitalism side of the political aisle, with the Republican Party, essentially. And this has meant that we’ve seen these odd gyrations, like the finding of a Christian position on the balanced-budget amendment. One wonders whether — and I don’t know how this would play out, but if there does start to be a more nuanced conversation about economics among religious people, how that might play out.
So this leads to my final point, which is the uneasy relationship of social conservatives in the Republican Party. I think the Republican establishment, quite bluntly, has long seen the Christian right as a sort of nuisance. They had to accommodate them. They were clearly the foot soldiers. But the establishment and the consultant class, the country club wing of the Republican Party, had a lot of disdain for social conservatives, and so it was often an uneasy marriage, and there was this sense that Dr. Moore has talked about, that they were being coopted, that they were being used. And so it’s been an uneasy fit, I think, for a long time. Even George W. Bush, the president who has most clearly come from the American evangelical movement, was accused of selling them out by not pushing strongly enough for things like a marriage amendment.
And so today, you have documents like the GOP autopsy report that came out a year ago, and this told the party that they should embrace an economic message. They should embrace this message of low taxes and small government while basically downplaying social issues, embracing immigration reform, getting away from talking about gay marriage in order to attract more young people. And this, I think, is the view of the consultant class in the GOP.
There is an alternative case that you hear being made by some social conservatives that what the parties should actually do is the opposite; that Mitt Romney ran this sort of entirely secular, economically based campaign. He was the ultimate distillation from central casting of the pro- business establishment Republican who avoided talking about social issues at all costs, and what happened was that the other side successfully painted him as this paragon of rapacious capitalism, as the man from Bain who was going to take your job and get you fired and represented this caricature of trickle-down economics.
And so you have some social conservatives now saying, “Wait a minute. The antidote to this, and the antidote to that attack that has been so potent, is the opposite of the autopsy report. It’s a conservatism that is more socially conservative and less economically conservative. And you see Rick Santorum making this case in a lot of recent speeches and even in his 2012 campaign, saying what we need is to put values forward in a way that Republicans have been leery of doing and to moderate some of the economic stances to perhaps offer some more economic benefits to the lower and middle classes, even if that means growing government, and making the message one that is more about the traditional family.
So I don’t know where any of this leaves us. I think I’ll wind up where I began, which is that the culture war persists. It is alive and well, but in different ways than it’s been in the past; in a way that I think has dramatic and interesting implications for basically all of our political conversations.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Molly. Thank you very much. Let me quickly mention for everybody’s benefit two things. Number one, I forgot to mention that Dr. Moore has his own blog called “Moore to the Point.” You’ll want to look at.
Also, I did mention that Molly, in 2012, won the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. Our colleague and your friend who was going to be here as of three weeks ago, Karen Tumulty, won that prize last night and had to cancel coming to this meeting, because Karen won the Toner Prize, and it was all confidential until last evening. But Karen won the prize, and that’s why she’s not here.
Russell, did you want to make a quick comment before I started calling on people?
DR. MOORE: Well, just a couple of things. One of them, I agree with much of what Molly said. On the issue of marijuana, for instance, one of the things that I find is that it increasingly does not seem to me to be a Baez versus Haggard sort of issue. I am often hard-pressed, when I’m with conservative evangelical young voters and church members, to find people who are for criminalizing marijuana, regardless of whether or not that’s good or bad.
There does seem to be a Libertarian streak that is not, on the one hand, socially libertarian in the way that some people would expect, and it also is not comprehensibly Libertarian in the Ron Paul/Rand Paul strain, but is interested at some points of intersection with some of the things that Rand
Paul, for instance, is saying when it comes to prison reform. A great deal of interest among younger evangelicals about minimum sentencing, about people who are being hardened into lives of crime by being put into prison for non-violent offenses, those sorts of things. So I think marijuana, you’re right, is off the table as a culture war issue.
I think when it comes to the environment, younger, conservative evangelicals in my tribe are much more interested in creation care environmental stewardship. Having said that, it seems to me that that doesn’t mean that they are able to connect that with any specific legislative agenda. So I think that because younger evangelicals aren’t intuitively suspicious in the way that the last generation of the religious right would have been — anytime environmental is mentioned, it’s the green dragon of new age
whatever — younger evangelicals, I don’t think are there. That doesn’t mean they’re ready to sign up for cap and trade, not because they think cap and trade is immoral, but because they don’t know that cap and trade will work.
And when it comes to the Republican Party, I think you’re largely right, although Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican Party, was present at the March for Life this year. I think that is the first time I’ve ever seen a Republican National Committee Chair at the March for Life; not just present at the peripheries, but there, actively engaged. I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s a sign of something.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Kirsten Powers and Byron York and Will Saletan and about five others. Kirsten?
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA Today, Fox News, The Daily Beast: Thanks, Russell. That was a really interesting talk, and Molly, thanks also for your insights. And the point that you were just talking about, I’m fascinated with trying to figure out how millennial evangelical beliefs actually translate into the political world. So like you were saying, what they said — they have these beliefs, but what does it really mean? And so on the abortion issue, they’re more pro-life than in the past, but what does that mean? Does it translate the same way as it did for their parents? So their parents, if they’re pro-life, that means they don’t vote for pro-choice candidates, right? But it seems like with evangelicals, a lot of them — young ones were voting for Obama. How do you see that playing out in the future? Do you think that they’re going to be as active politically on their religious beliefs as their parents?
DR. MOORE: I think they are on the abortion issue. If anything, I think that is increasing. I think there was a time a few years ago where there were some millennial evangelicals who were wanting to say, “Let’s bracket abortion as one issue and move to a broader spectrum of other” — I hear that with decreasing frequency these days and more of a concern of talking about abortion, how abortion fits in a consistent life ethic, those sorts of things, but abortion as being a minimal threshold of social justice.
I think where there is a difference is that younger evangelicals do not wish to see themselves, I think, as political power brokers and so are less concerned about whether or not political candidates are repeating back all of their — there was an anecdote several years ago in a biography that talked about John Connally, the former Governor of Texas, running for President in 1980, speaking to a group of evangelicals — he was seeking their support, and they asked him the famous D. James Kennedy “evangelism explosion” question: “If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and he were to say, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say?” And his response was, “My mom was a Methodist, my dad was a Methodist. If that’s not good enough for you, I don’t know what is.”
Wrong answer, and he lost the room.
I think, increasingly, younger evangelicals are less concerned about whether or not their political leaders are able to parrot those things back; they are more concerned about whether or not they’re with them on justice issues. I, frankly, without making any sort of a retroactive endorsement, I was looking forward to the possibility of a Romney presidency, not because of any political consideration, but because of what it would mean for the church to have a time-out, on the one hand, from Christian talk radio conspiracy theorizing about the president and also a president that evangelicals couldn’t identify as a tribal leader, as a Latter-day Saint. He’s obviously not one of us. I think it would have been healthy for the church, and I think that may well be where we are —
MS. POWERS: Right.
DR. MOORE: — in just a few years.
MR. CROMARTIE: Does the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas agree with you on that point?
DR. MOORE: Probably not.
MR. CROMARTIE: Just wondering. Byron York, you’re next, and then Will Saletan.
BYRON YORK, Washington Examiner: I just want to go into a little more about how political candidates can appeal to these evangelicals. Looking at the exit polls, white evangelicals went 78 to 21 for Romney —
DR. MOORE: Right.
MR. YORK: — in ’12, which is exactly the same breakdown — 78/21 — that they went for Bush in 2004, who made a big push for evangelicals.
DR. MOORE: Yes.
MR. YORK: So they’re still really Republican.
DR. MOORE: Yes.
MR. YORK: And you talked about these new issues — creation stewardship, orphan care, human trafficking —
DR. MOORE: Yes.
MR. YORK: — I mean, which do not supplant life or marriage.
DR. MOORE: Right.
MR. YORK: But is that something that a Democratic candidate could actually use to appeal to this, or is this really a bunch of window dressing and they remain basically Republican?
DR. MOORE: I think they remain basically Republican, but not because they are deifying the Republican Party, but simply because they’re out of options, given the way that the sexual revolution is so strongly felt in the Democratic Party right now. I’m someone who started my life as a pro-life Democrat working in politics for a Democratic Congressman, and in the State of Mississippi at that time the —
MR. YORK: You worked for Gene Taylor —
DR. MOORE: For Gene Taylor.
MR. YORK: — who was the most Republican Democrat.
DR. MOORE: He was the — yes, and now he’s actually a Republican running for his old seat now. But at the time, the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in Mississippi were always a little bit behind the rest of the country. But the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party — the differences were basically on economics and race, and not on those social issues.
Now we’re at a point where the Democratic Party is very clearly alienating to convictional conservative evangelicals on those issues of abortion, which, again, I think is a threshold issue for theologically robust evangelicals. So I don’t think that the Democratic Party is going to be able to appeal to those people by saying, “We’re not with you on abortion, but we are with you on human trafficking.” But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be points of common effort.
I’m part of the — something called the Christian Alliance for Orphans. We have an event every year talking about adoption, orphan care, so forth. Mary Landrieu was a speaker for us last year. We worked very closely with her. We don’t agree with her on abortion or on some other things, but she’s very good on this issue. We’re willing to work with her without it appearing that we endorse everything that she says.
I’m willing to work with the White House on issues where we agree with the White House without there being any confusion — but I think that doesn’t translate into voting. You’re exactly right that there was all of this conversation in the media, “Are evangelicals going to vote for a Mormon?” Yes, they are going to vote for a Mormon. That doesn’t mean there’s been any change in terms of the way that evangelicals view Latter-day Saints. They’re saying, “This is who we would rather have as president than President Obama.”
I think that would change if there were a Republican candidate who was openly hostile to the things that evangelicals are concerned about. Romney was not. Romney didn’t talk about them. Molly’s exactly right. Romney was very much a country club, big-business sort of Republican, but he wasn’t hostile to those things.
And so I think we’re at a point right now where most conservative evangelicals actually aren’t voting for president at all, they’re voting for the Supreme Court.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Will Saletan, you’re next, and then Napp.
WILL SALETAN, Slate: I have one question for each of you. For Molly, I wanted to know what’s $100,000 after taxes?
MS. BALL: About 60.
MR. SALETAN: All right. Dr. Moore, I wanted to ask you about a couple of things that you guys were discussing that seem to be coming apart. One is the difference between the trend lines on abortion and the trend lines on homosexuality.
DR. MOORE: Right.
MR. SALETAN: So obviously, on abortion, as Molly said, they’ve held firm. There’s been, as she also discussed, big changes on homosexuality, including among evangelicals. So one question is about why that difference. The other question is, in particular, if we zoom in on the gay stuff, I think you said during your talk that — you were talking about a Christian sexual ethic.
DR. MOORE: Yes.
MR. SALETAN: And I was looking for a definition, and I heard you say, speaking to some person, she said, “I never met anybody who would say there are people you shouldn’t have sex with whom you love.”
DR. MOORE: Yes.
MR. SALETAN: So I take it as sort of a basic boundary rule, that believing that there are people that you love, but shouldn’t have sex with is the beginning of that. Are you noticing changes in your flock? Are you noticing people saying things different from what they used to say, and are they changing on, say, the question of same-sex marriage? I think, Molly, the number was something like going from 11 to 24 percent, and I was just looking at the most recent Washington Post poll, and it was 28 percent among white evangelicals, I believe.
Are you noticing changes or questions about that issue among people who are still trying to maintain what they see as the Christian sexual ethic? Are you noticing those two things coming apart in any way? Can they come apart? Can you still have a Christian sexual ethic while accepting same-sex marriage or something like it?
DR. MOORE: I am not seeing a change when it comes to the definition of what is moral and immoral in terms of — by a Christian sexual ethic, I mean the understanding held historically by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and evangelical Protestantism that sexual activity is moral only within the confines of marriage, being defined as conjugal union of a man and a woman. That’s not changing in my flock.
What has changed, to some degree, is there are some people who are making the distinction between the civil arena and the ecclesial arena, what’s happening within the church, what we affirm to be moral, and what they see as inevitably happening in the culture around us. That’s changing.
I think there’s also a change in terms of tone and the way that we — the way that people within Christian communities speak about the issue, largely because there was the evangelical belligerence, often, in the last generation that spoke, for instance, about the gay agenda, in which there was this picture, almost as though there is a group of super-villains in a lair, plotting somewhere the downfall of the family. I almost never hear that in evangelical churches anymore.
Instead, issues of sexual morality are being addressed consistently across the board, recognizing that everyone in the congregation has gay and lesbian children or parents or neighbors or friends and that many of the people in our own congregations are same-sex attracted. That’s changed quite a bit, as well as the understanding of — I almost never hear, in evangelical churches anymore, the easy conversionism, reparative therapy understanding of gay to straight, that sort of caricature. It’s always more complex than that.
Doesn’t mean that those churches have changed their understanding of what morality is; it’s that they have a more complex understanding of what the Christian life is about across the board in terms of what it means to live chastely and to deal with temptation. That has changed, I think, significantly in evangelical churches, and as far as I’m concerned, all to the better.
Also, increasingly, evangelicals are starting to recognize that American culture is moving towards same-sex marriage. As Molly pointed out a few minutes ago, several of us have been saying to our people for years and years, “Look, same- sex marriage is inevitable in American culture.” Doesn’t mean we think it’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean that we think we should give up on it, on the issue of marriage.
It doesn’t mean that we should stop talking about why marriage is a public good and in the common good, but it does mean that we must have congregations that aren’t simply holding to, “We can hold this back with a majoritarian understanding of what marriage is.” It means we need to start preparing our churches for a new generation, which means not simply assuming that the outside culture agrees with us on marriage, as every — almost every evangelical church in the last generation would have sermon series on marriage in which the assumption is everyone wants to be married, and everyone wants to be married in a Cliff and Clair Huxtable understanding of marriage, and Jesus is the way to get there.
Now we’re in a situation where what I’m saying to my flock is, “You’re going to have to define what you mean by marriage, and you’re going to have to define how that connects theologically to the gospel, and this isn’t something that you can simply do at marriage retreats and at premarital counseling. It has to be part of the ongoing ministry of the church.” That’s what I think has changed.
MR. SALETAN: Can I just ask quickly? So if I hear you correctly, you were saying that there is a new understanding of the distinction between civil marriage and the theological view of marriage, but I’m not hearing you say that you — it sounds like you are not hearing any theological doubts, doubts about —
DR. MOORE: Correct.
MR. SALETAN: — the theology of marriage —
DR. MOORE: Correct.
MR. SALETAN: — as it pertains to homosexuality.
DR. MOORE: Correct. Correct.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Thank you. Napp Nazworth is next, and then Barbara and Robert and Carl and David.
NAPP NAZWORTH, The Christian Post: I’m going to push back a little against your description of young evangelicals.
There’s been some research done on the people who are leaving the church over the past decade or so, and it’s not just because you no longer need to go to church if you’re going to be a business leader in your community or — and those sorts of things. It’s that people are being turned off by the political activity of the Christian right and leaving the church. There’s that direct correlation. There’s some research that suggests that.
You talked about the negative aspects of the Christian right, which has turned some people off. And so within that, you have the evangelical dilemma, which is that evangelicals evangelize. They don’t want to turn people off.
DR. MOORE: Right.
MR. NAZWORTH: They want to bring people into the church, right? At the same time, you want to speak to all these issues — “If God cares about politics, we should too” kind of view, right?
And then within the young evangelicals, you also have this other reaction, and I don’t think it’s this fringe emergent community. I think it’s, speaking with a broad brush, the liberal evangelicals; the reaction with regard to politics has been to avoid the controversial issues and to just engage in the issues that are trendy: The “cool” thing to do is to speak about sex trafficking and things like that, right?
And so I see, within this broadly defined liberal evangelicalism an avoidance of the issues of abortion, marriage, religious freedom — the Manhattan Declaration issues, right? Those are the three. So I’m wondering what your reaction is to that reaction to — you have one reaction to the Christian right, and they have their reaction to the Christian right. So what would you say to that group of evangelicals?
DR. MOORE: Well, what I would say is, first of all, liberal evangelicalism isn’t leading the way on those so-called trendy issues of human trafficking and so forth, because liberal evangelicalism is much more of a media phenomenon than a church phenomenon. I mean, in all of these questions, when we look at the conservative evangelical celebrity culture, I can point to churches and ministries; when we talk about liberal evangelical celebrity culture, I can point to people who are speaking for themselves and have no constituency, have no church, and have almost the same sort of professional dissident profile that Frances Kissling would have in Roman Catholicism. No one would pay attention to Frances Kissling if she were an Episcopalian. They’re paying attention to her because she’s saying, “I’m a Roman Catholic, and this is why the Pope is wrong on abortion.”
I think you’re right that there are evangelicals who are emphasizing some of those issues more than they are some of the more traditional culture war issues, and I think the reason for that is because there is a persistent temptation in evangelicalism to ping back and forth between extremes. That happens on the personal level, and it happens on the social political level.
Whenever I meet someone who will say, for instance, “We shouldn’t worry about the imperatives and the commands and obedience in Scripture. Let’s simply emphasize who we are in Christ and the grace of God in Christ.” Nine times out of ten, I can tell you that person’s family background. This is someone who came out of a very rigid, legalistic home or church and says, “I do not want anything to do with that anymore.” Conversely, whenever I meet someone who has a long list of rules and regulations, typically, that’s someone who’s coming out of a very chaotic background who says, “I want to protect myself from where I was before and protect my children from that.”
Same thing happens at the social and political level. The religious right was, itself, a reaction to the pietistic withdrawal of the older fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and there is, correspondingly, a response among an entire generation of younger evangelicals who have not, I think, changed their minds on issues of sanctity of human life, on issues of marriage and sexuality, but who say, “I don’t want to be Pat Robertson, and so whatever it takes not to be Pat Robertson, I’m going to do that.”
I think that’s a mistake because one of the things that I’m trying to say to my constituency is to say, “There is no way that you can retreat into an apolitical sort of existence, because the most apolitical Christian experiments in world history and in American history have turned out to be the most political, because they tend to baptize whatever’s in the status quo of the culture.
Instead, what we need to do is to move away from that close identification of the gospel with America, before we even get to politics in the Republican Party. The emblematic totem of this is something I once saw in a Christian bookstore, in which there was the letters “Jesus Saves” with the U, the S, and the A in stars and stripes. That’s precisely what younger evangelicals are revolting against, and more power to them in that revolt. It’s not because they’re saying, “We’re hostile to the American experiment” or “We’re hostile to political engagement.” It’s because they’re saying, “That is a perversion of the gospel,” and they’re right about that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Barbara, and then Robert.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: Sorry for always bringing up science, but I think it’s almost part of the culture war issues. By the way, thank you so much. It was a great presentation, both of you, so thank you so much.
A couple years ago, we had Francis Collins here, who, as you know, is the head of NIH. It was great. He wrote a book called The Language of God. And it was interesting that not a single evangelical, even though he considers himself an evangelical, endorsed his book, and the reason they didn’t is because he subscribes to evolution.
And so I guess one question I have is for young people who are highly educated, probably a group that you want in the evangelical community, how do you appeal to that group of people when some of the ideas of evangelicalism seem to be counterfactual to them? And so we’re not talking about culture wars or opinions. People are brought up to think science actually is valid and provable.
And so I’m wondering how do you appeal to a young, educated group who just doesn’t subscribe to some of the basic tenets of evangelicalism?
DR. MOORE: Well, on the one hand, I would say what I think many people misunderstand about evangelicalism is that evangelicalism is not entirely made up of young earth creationists who believe the earth is six to ten thousand years old. There are many evangelicals who do believe that, but that is not essential to evangelicalism, and there are many evangelicals, perhaps most evangelicals, who don’t believe that.
What evangelicals do believe is that — the reformation principle of sola Scriptura, which is to say that Scripture is the ultimate norming authority. And so what we would say is — I think right now, where the current debates are is not so much about what is the age of the earth and those sorts of questions, but about, for instance, is the Scripture accurate when the Scripture says there was an Adam, the historical Adam question, which BioLogos and some other groups have at least been ambiguous on.
Evangelicals who hold to the authority of Scripture are never going to reject what the Scripture teaches about the existence. We may differ about when Adam existed. We may even differ about how Adam came to exist. But when science says, “There’s no way the human race descended from an original pair,” evangelicals are going to go with Scripture.
And that is largely because there are all sorts of things that we believe that would be seen to the secular world as being counterfactual to reality. When Mary says to Joseph, “I’m pregnant,” the response in the Gospel of Matthew is not, “Well, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
The response is, “You obviously have cheated on me,” because pre-modern people understood how people get pregnant, and pre-modern people also understood that dead people don’t come back to life. That’s counterfactual to science. But that’s what the entire Christian faith is built upon.
So I think that in some ways, evangelicals are caricatured as being more anti-science than they actually are, but on the other hand, I think there is always a persistent strain in American Protestantism especially that says, “By removing the supernatural element from Christianity, Christianity can become more appealing to the outside culture.” That experiment never works. And so that’s where I stand on that.
MR. CROMARTIE: I have a sense that you have a follow-up, Barbara.
MS. BRADLEY HAGERTY: I mean, there is actually a real debate. I’ve reported on this real debate among Christian scientists about whether there’s one Adam, whether that’s even —
DR. MOORE: Sure.
MS. BRADLEY HAGERTY: — possible in the amount of time —
DR. MOORE: Sure.
MS. BRADLEY HAGERTY: And, I notice — I can’t speak for all young people, but I’m not sure that the idea that, gee, science says this, but we have a supernatural patina on top of that that explains everything, I’m not sure that flies. I’m not sure it appeals. Now, I haven’t taken a poll, but it seems to me when evangelical scientists are, in fact, peeling off on this issue. I wonder if you’re going to have a hard time corralling — keeping all the troops in line?
DR. MOORE: Well, what I would say is that is almost precisely the argument that was being used in the 1920s in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, which is to say there is no way that an evangelical Christianity that holds to ideas so obviously contrary to a scientific worldview is going to be able to live and survive in the 20th century. And there was an entire group of Christians who said, “If we have to choose between Christianity and mass acceptance, we choose Christianity. And we would rather have both, but if we have to choose between the two, that’s what we choose.”
And I think the same thing is true when it comes — now, the issue is that evangelicals must distinguish between those things that the Bible does speak to authoritatively and those things that the Bible does not speak to authoritatively. That’s where, for instance, we have the debates over the age of the earth, where many evangelicals are saying, “The Bible doesn’t say when the earth was created, when the universe was created, and so we shouldn’t make that a test of orthodoxy,” but there are clearly places where a scientific worldview conflicts with a supernatural worldview, and specifically with Christianity, and in those places, we’ll retain Christianity.
ROBERT DRAPER, The New York Times Magazine: You used a very intriguing, and I think deliberate, phrase when you described as your preferred version these days of a culture war, you’re a Christ-shaped culture warrior. Now, I’m going to assume that that shape is not the shape of Frank Luntz, or of any other pollster, for that matter.
DR. MOORE: Right.
MR. DRAPER: So departing from your conversation with Will about your own observations about the types of public opinion, what stance on gay marriage would your ideal presidential candidate publicly espouse? And as an altogether different question, putting a question mark behind an observation that Molly made, where do guns line up with Scripture?
DR. MOORE: I’ll take the second question first. I don’t think the Scripture speaks to issues of gun control. I have a position on gun control, but I don’t have a biblical text that goes with that, so I don’t speak with that with some sort of Christian authority when it comes to the issue of gun control. I will tell people, when they ask me, “This isn’t thus saith the Lord. This is thus thinketh Moore. Those are two very different things.”
If there were a government that said, “We can confiscate any weapon because we have no authority above ourselves,” that’s obviously unbiblical in terms of limits of government. And if someone said, “Have guns and shoot whomever you want,” that’s obviously unbiblical, and we speak to that as well. But I think when Christians are debating gun control, they’re typically not debating the moral questions of guns. They’re debating the prudential wisdom of how to get to those moral objections. So I think congregations have people who differ. I have on my own team people who differ radically on the question of gun control, not because they have different culture war sorts of mindsets, but because they differ on how —
MR. DRAPER: Do they differ, though, on whether they believe there is a scriptural basis?
DR. MOORE: No.
MR. DRAPER: Okay.
DR. MOORE: No, no. And in terms of the issue of marriage, what some people would suggest is let’s simply abandon the question of marriage altogether and simply be dealing with the religious liberty issues. I don’t think we can do that, because part of what we’re dealing with in the religious liberty issues is talking about the issue itself and why — the fact that we believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman isn’t because we have hostility and animus toward gay people. We have theological reasons why we believe this.
Having said that, I do think we have a recognition that there is not going to be a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. I would want a presidential candidate who understands the public good of marriage, and I want a presidential candidate who is not hostile toward evangelical and Catholic concerns about those things, and I would want a presidential candidate who is going to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience; for instance, for Catholic adoption agencies to say, “We wish to place children in homes with both a mother and a father.”
I think that’s where most evangelicals are going to be, which is one of the reasons why I think it will be really interesting if the 2016 presidential election turns out to be a race between Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton, because most evangelicals would be very different from Rand Paul when it comes to global issues. Most evangelicals, regardless of where they are in the theological and ideological spectrum, are very concerned about global human rights, very concerned about issues of foreign aid, very concerned — even when they don’t share the old dispensationalist theology — concerned about Israel, but, preeminently, they’re concerned right now about issues of religious liberty.
And so I don’t think — I think most evangelicals would say Rand Paul probably doesn’t care much about social issues in the way that other people did, and many evangelicals would probably agree on foreign policy more with Hillary Clinton than they would with Rand Paul. But if I had to bet — as a Baptist, I’m not allowed to — but if I had to bet, I’d bet, given that choice, they would vote for Rand Paul, simply because, again, they’re voting for the Supreme Court preserving those First Amendment religious liberties.
MR. CROMARTIE: Before we go to Carl, first, Russell could you remind everybody of the anecdote of your experience being on Barbara’s radio station, NPR, what happened?
DR. MOORE: I’m not exactly sure that it was on NPR. It was on some interview, and it’s not unique to me. Every evangelical I know, just about, has had this experience, where the first question was about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the second question was about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the third question, fourth question, fifth question, and then the interviewer said, “You know, you’re supposed to be the Southern Baptist Pope Francis, but you’re talking about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and he says not to do that,” and I had to say, “Well, you asked me five questions in a row. I’ve just answered them.” So I think obsession goes both ways sometimes.
MR. CROMARTIE: Yes, okay. Carl Cannon.
CARL CANNON, RealClearPolitics.com: Both of you conflated the issues of abortion and gay marriage. As Molly said, those are the dominant issues in the culture war, so I’m not blaming you for that, but I’d like to unpack them. And so if I can, Michael, ask Russell Moore one question and Molly Ball another, I’d — you can imagine which one you’re going to get, so — it’s not a talk show, but still.
But first, as a preamble, you had that Merle Haggard/Joan Baez analogy, and the two songs that I think you mentioned were “Okie from Muskogee” and “The Night They Drove Dixie Down,” and this is not just — I’m actually building to a question here. I submit to you that “Joe Hill” would have been a better song, and would be a better song, if you’re going to use that in the future. The “Dixie” song is set in the Civil War, and it’s a song sung from the standpoint of a Southern white male, and Joan Baez didn’t write it. She took it from The Band. And, in fact, she liked the song so much, she played it only after hearing it on the radio, and so she bollocked some of the words, and one of them is she didn’t say, “The night Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again,” she said, “The night” — I don’t know what she said, but she apparently never heard of George Stoneman, which is weird, because she was from California, and he was the first Governor of California, and he, by the way, went to West Point and roomed with Stonewall Jackson, but I am digressing now.
Yeah. Joan Baez also was on the 1963 March on Washington, and there, she sang “We Shall Overcome.” And as gay marriage has become, really, as Molly said, very quickly a civil rights issue, it strikes me that — I’m not sure that’s the analogy you want, because you said that, in the context of — why evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 thing, I think, was Andy’s question. You said in some of these elections, evangelicals are voting for the Supreme Court.
DR. MOORE: Right.
MR. CANNON: But to win the Supreme Court, to appoint people to the Supreme Court, you have to win.
DR. MOORE: Yes.
MR. CANNON: And I — from the polling I’ve seen — and Molly’s polling, and many of us have written stories about this — I just don’t see that the Republicans will ever win another national election if they don’t get in sync on gay marriage with the rest of the public. Do you? If you want to win elections, if you want the judges — if there’s any other issues you care about —
DR. MOORE: Yes. Well, I think that the issues are perhaps more fluid than we assume them to be. I think that, conceivably, there are more issues on the table than simply same-sex marriage. I do find it very hard to imagine any time in the next several years a Republican candidate who is pro-same-sex marriage, just — whether that’s good or bad, I find that very difficult to imagine right now. Ultimately, perhaps, yes, but not in the next — certainly not in the next election cycle or two.
MR. CANNON: You mean — when you say imagine — because there are Republicans who are pro-gay marriage. You’re saying it’s hard for you to imagine one becoming the nominee?
DR. MOORE: Becoming the nominee, yes.
MR. CANNON: Well, you might want to get used to losing, then.
DR. MOORE: I’m not here for the Republicans. I don’t ultimately care whether the Republicans win or lose. I’m more concerned about the church.
MR. CANNON: Fair enough. All right, Molly, now you. You noted that the polling on abortion is stagnant, and I don’t contest that, but I want to ask you two questions about it. The first is, is that you also noted that the Democrats won’t even — most of them don’t even like to use the word “abortion” anymore. I submit to you — and I’d like you to comment — that that actually reveals a pretty deep- seated unease with what it is they’re defending. That’s the first question.
And the second one is that, on this issue, abortion, I really think it’s quite clear that the science is all towards earlier viability. We — I’ve had a nephew, and people in this room, have had children born in their family who could be aborted — terminated under Roe v. Wade. Six months is now — they take the preemies — the science is all on the side of earlier and earlier definition of the human being and earlier and earlier viability, and so you might say the pro-life side has religion and science on their side.
My second question is you talked about how this was an avalanche on gay marriage, that this picked up speed and became this — in ten years, changed. Why couldn’t that happen on abortion too? Those are my questions.
MS. BALL: I don’t pretend to predict the future. I would just note that there has not been a trend line in the polling on abortion in the last 40 years. It has deadlocked in terms of American public opinion. Could we discover something in science that dramatically breaks that? Or could there arise some winning new political tactic that reverses that?
I think there is a role for political tactics and clever messaging in all of this, and that’s a lot of the reason that you don’t hear Democrats use the word “abortion.” I think they have very cleverly figured out, based on poll testing and focus grouping and the work of smart political consultants, figured out ways to talk about “reproductive rights” and “women’s health” in a way that they have seen very dramatically work politically, in a way that the word “abortion” does not, and that’s been a winning strategy for them.
So, do we see the right find a way to contest that? I don’t know. I think what we’ve seen is that there has not been a real willingness — and I think that Dr. Moore’s point about Reince Priebus attending the March for Life was a good one, and we do see some Republicans looking at these polls and saying, “Hey, wait a minute. This looks a lot better for us than some of these other issues. Why don’t we campaign on it?” I think this is a live issue within the GOP. It isn’t settled. Some candidates want to run campaigns on this issue, and some don’t, and it’s a division within the party.
MR. CANNON: Why is it necessarily a right/left issue at all? Why isn’t the pro-life mission actually the more liberal position and the — ultimately the — sort of where it leads you? There’s Democrats who say this. The Catholic bishops say it.
MS. BALL: Yeah, that’s just the way that the parties have come down traditionally in our politics, and that’s what makes it a culture war, I think, is that it is polarized and partisanized. There are topics that religious people care about that are not part of the polarized, partisan conversation, and that means we don’t have a culture war over them, whether it’s something like human trafficking and some of the other social conscience issues that Dr. Moore talked about, but by definition, if you’re not fighting about them, it’s not a culture war.
MR. CANNON: Thank you.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. David Gibson, and then Michael Paulson. David?
DAVID GIBSON, Religion News Service: Dr. Moore, I wanted to ask you about the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative, and then I realized it’s actually 30 years since it went by, and I hate when I lose a decade like that, which increasingly happens.
DR. MOORE: No, it was 20. Ninety-four. That’s 20.
MR. GIBSON: Is it ’94 or ’84?
DR. MOORE: Ninety-four.
MR. GIBSON: I just gained ten years. Thank you. You really are Pope Francis. Miracles. Are you involved with that? It seems to me, to a degree, talking to people around it and seeing some of the stuff that’s come out, that that effort to kind of find a greater understanding theologically, has come to a bit of a stalemate or a halt. I don’t know if that’s true. I’d like to get your take on that, where that initiative is.
Second point, does it matter? Does it matter, in terms of our social polity and all of these things we’re talking about in the culture wars, whether evangelicals and Catholics can come together theologically, whether it’s really about the ecumenism of the trenches kind of a thing.
And third point, I guess, where are evangelicals and Catholics going in terms of the culture wars and in terms of public policy, public profile, in the age of Pope Francis and Russell Moore?
MR. CROMARTIE: And, no, you had a fourth question, Dave.
MR. GIBSON: I wanted to ask you what you think’s going to happen at the other great discussion in America this morning in the Supreme Court with Hobby Lobby. I wanted to get your quick answer.
DR. MOORE: My quick answer is that I think that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood will win on the basis of RFRA. That’s my prognostication.
MR. GIBSON: $100,000 coming to you.
DR. MOORE: That’s right. That’s right. On the ECT project, I don’t think that the evangelical and Catholic conversation has come to a stalemate as much as it has won. In 1994, there was a great deal of reason to make the case that evangelicals and Catholics shouldn’t see one another as enemies, that we should cooperate on various issues, in a way that I don’t think is contested to the same degree now as it was then. Evangelicals are very comfortable now, not only working with Roman Catholics, but benefitting from Catholic social thought. Michael Gerson is in the room. I remember during the Bush campaign how much of what President — then Governor — Bush was saying was resonant with Catholic social thought and with Abraham Kuyper’s wing of Christian reform thought; great deal of overlap there in terms of a social ethic, in terms of how we speak.
MR. CROMARTIE: That’s because Michael wrote every one of those speeches.
DR. MOORE: That’s right. I understand that. And so I think in the years since, evangelicals and Catholics have become much more comfortable working with one another together.
“The future is going to be for evangelicals to recognize they are going to be seen as strange in the culture. That means not expecting political leaders to be spiritual leaders. That means also not expecting their religion to bring with them a social good. And that also means holding on to the essentials of the gospel, which means not seeing our opponents as, as the Bible puts it, flesh and blood, but principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
In my denomination, Southern Baptist Convention, people often forget that the SBC was pro-choice on abortion in the early 1970s, both before Roe vs. Wade and after Roe vs. Wade. My predecessor at the time was part of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. That was largely due to two factors. One is a very undeveloped bioethical sense within Southern Baptist life; hadn’t been a lot of attention given, or in larger evangelical life. And secondly because Southern Baptists assumed that the great threat to religious liberty and separation of church and state would be coming from the Vatican; assumed wrongly. And we’re at a point now where that’s no longer the case. So I think evangelical-Catholic cooperation is something that is here to stay.
MR. GIBSON: Do theological discussions and that sort of thing — can that go forward? Or is it really just about having these common grounds on the social issues?
DR. MOORE: Well, we have real theological divisions, of course, but they’re not the same sorts of theological divisions that we would have, for instance, with the Latter-day Saints. I wouldn’t identify them as Christians. They wouldn’t identify me as part of the church. That’s a very different thing between Catholics and evangelicals, who are able to say, “We have very real theological differences going back all the way to Martin Luther nailing the theses to the door, but we still recognize and are able to claim one another faithful members of both communities, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and work together.”
MICHAEL PAULSON, The New York Times: I wanted to ask each of you to what degree you think these culture war issues arise organically from people of faith and clergy and to what degree they’re fermented by politicians and their abettors in Washington and whether that matters.
DR. MOORE: I think there are different sorts of culture war issues, and they originate from different places. On the issue of life, for instance, and on family stability and various issues related to marriage, I do think those are organic and at the grassroots level and moves up in the stream. On other issues, though, yes, I think the media culture has a great deal to do with what happens in local congregations. When I was preaching pastor every week, I remember saying one time, “We have to be very careful that our primary identity isn’t built around whatever seems immediate to us, and it is more likely that two people in this congregation could get into a raging debate over whether or not Sarah Palin is smart or dumb than a raging debate over whether or not God is triune. That’s a problem in terms of our theological identity.” So a great deal of it, yes, I do think filters down from both sides of the culture war, with a sense of often fake outrage on issues, which leads to cynicism.
MS. BALL: Yes, I think that’s absolutely right. I don’t have too much to add to that. There’s clearly money and political advantage to be gained by manufacturing outrage over basically anything. I think there’s an interesting phenomenon that when an issue hits a tipping point where it ceases to be partisan, which is something that is starting to happen with gay marriage, where so many Republican politicians are now in favor of gay marriage that it is no longer a pure Democrat versus Republican issue, and as a result of that, I think there’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon that’s both fed by the trend in public opinion and feeds the trend in public opinion. When people cease to see something as an irreducible component of their partisan identity, it’s out of the white heat of that partisan political conversation, and it’s much easier for people to reconsider their views, to change their views on something.
ERICA GRIEDER, Texas Monthly: Dr. Moore, I wanted to ask you about the sanctity of life issue, which you’ve described as a threshold issue. I was wondering if you could talk me through how it manifests as a threshold issue in the political sphere. I think we’ve seen in the past 30 years the rate of abortions decline in the country, somewhat unrelated to the state and national legal restrictions, or lack thereof, that have been implemented since then. So is it a plausible position for conservatives, for evangelicals, to have a candidate who’s saying that they support the sanctity of life, but they’re not focused on advancing that goal through state legislatures or through Congress?
DR. MOORE: When I say a threshold issue, I think at the level, first of all, of the moral integrity of the candidate, what evangelicals are asking is, is this someone who recognizes the personhood of those that Jesus describes as the least of these? Are these our neighbors, persons bearing natural rights? That’s even before one gets to the issue of policy and what’s the best way forward in terms of policy. That’s what I mean by a threshold. And so someone who would say there shouldn’t be legal protections for unborn children is someone evangelicals would immediately say, “This is someone who does not have the sort of values that we want to see in the White House,” and then also, whether or not this is someone who’s going to appoint justices and judges who are going to be working to restrict the abortion culture, rather than to advance it. I think those are the two primary issues.
Then there comes the question of, well, what, then, do we do? One of the things, when it comes to the abortion issue, that I find myself doing with my constituency often is seeking to, on the one hand, restrain cynicism and pessimism that evangelicals are always given to; on the other hand, the sense of irrational exuberance when it comes to the sorts of polls that you’ve mentioned and that others have mentioned here today, because there’s a sort of evangelical who will read those polls and say, “We’re winning on abortion. Onward, Christian soldiers.”
And the problem with that is that it doesn’t take into account whether or not the number of pro-life people correlates with how secure the American people think the abortion right is. We need to take that into account. But also, we need to be prepared for the abortion debate changing over time from a less clinical discussion and a more chemical discussion.
And so one of the warnings that I give to people, despite the very real progress that has been made on the abortion issue in terms of persuading people, is that we don’t want to find ourselves in the situation the religious right was in and pro-family groups were in in, say, the 1980s and 1990s on the pornography issue, when they seemed to be persuading people about the social dangers of pornography, and they were winning in certain ways, but winning by restricting the sale of pornography in 7-Eleven stores in their communities. What was immediately around the corner was a digital revolution that made pornography ubiquitous and seemingly anonymous.
So I always want to give that word of caution that we ought to genuinely be glad for the points of persuasion and connection that we’re making, and I actually lament what Molly mentioned a few minutes ago, that the abortion issue has become a red state/blue state, Republican/Democrat divide. It was not always the case.
And I think having pro-life convictional people in both parties is a better situation, but that’s not where we are.
MS. GRIEDER: Conversely, do you think that there’s room for pro-choice Republicans in the Republican Party?
DR. MOORE: Yes. I think the question for evangelicals is twofold. The one is that question I mentioned earlier in terms of a threshold of moral integrity. Secondly is this somebody who is going to be working to restrict abortion?
MS. BALL: One of the interesting things that you’ve come across in some of the more open-ended polling on abortion is that about two-thirds of Americans say they are pro-choice, and about two-thirds say they are pro-life. So there’s at least a third in the middle that’s conflicted or that sees themselves in both camps or that sees the virtue both of allowing women to make decisions about these things and also sees the virtue in protecting the rights of the unborn. So I think that in that sense, our sort of very polarized politics about this doesn’t necessarily represent where a lot of people are.
MR. YORK: You said, “I want a presidential candidate who understands the public good of marriage and one who is not hostile to evangelical concerns and who is going to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience,” and you mentioned Catholic adoption. Not all that long ago, a number of evangelical leaders, like yourself, would say they wanted someone who was going to protect traditional marriage. Now you’re in the fallback position of wanting to protect religious liberties. These activist groups who are pushing gay marriage, who identify test cases, who file lawsuits, do you think after gay marriage is the law of the land, they’re not going to come after you on adoption and say, “Why would you deny, to a legally married, loving couple, the right to adopt a child?” Do you see this as something where you draw a line and make a stand, or could you see adopting another accommodating fallback position?
DR. MOORE: Well, what I’m not suggesting is that we cut a deal and say, “We’re for same-sex marriage as long as you give us our religious liberty.” That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. What I’m saying is that we recognize where the country is right now and how the country has moved right now, and so having some sort of movement to register voters in order to fight for a constitutional amendment for same-sex marriage is a politically ridiculous thing to talk about right now. We need to recognize where we are and to say we need to be ready to deal with these religious liberty issues before they start hitting us and talking to the rest of the country to say, “We ought to be able to agree, as Americans, on religious liberty and freedom of conscience, even if we disagree on the issue of marriage.” So it’s not, for me, an either/or, but it is a recognition of where the country is right now.
MS. BALL: I think we’ve seen an interesting position on this carved out by Rand Paul, who has said that he would leave the marriage issue up to the states, and he is hoping, I think, that that wins him some points with social conservatives, who say that means that we can keep these marriage amendments in all these red states. Now that judges are knocking those down, I don’t know if that is as tenable a position of outreach to the social conservatives that he hoped it would be. But I think initially, that was his way, as a Libertarian leaning, states’ rights Republican, to try to say, “Here’s a way we can preserve states’ ability to preserve traditional marriage in some cases.”
MR. YORK: Does that appeal to you?
DR. MOORE: I think that there is going to be an increasing alliance between social conservatives and Libertarians, not because social conservatives and Libertarians agree on the fundamental grounding of the issues, but an alliance in terms of protecting conscience and religious liberty. And I see among confessional evangelicals and traditionalist Roman Catholics an increasing skepticism of the power of the government, precisely because of some of these incursions in religious liberty that would not have been present before. And so many New Deal-ish sorts of Southern evangelicals and social justice-y — the traditional Roman Catholics — who are a bit chastened now, because it does appear that some of the things that the sons and daughters of Ayn Rand were saying that we’ve always objected to, that an administrative state that has the power to do all of the things you want it to do will also have the power to direct your life at the level of conscience, in too many instances, seems to be true.
MS. BALL: Well, and the pure Libertarian position on marriage is to get the state out of the marriage game altogether and to say churches should do that, that those should be essentially private recognitions, not something that the state does. But then I wonder, if you believe that the state has an interest in promoting the family and promoting marriage as a social good, can you go along with something that goes that far?
DR. MOORE: I think the state has to be involved in marriage because coming out of marriage are children, and unless we have a complete laissez-faire society where children are left without any state intervention deciding who belongs to whom, when it comes to parents and children, and who owes whom what, when it comes to custody and those sorts of things, the state is going to be involved in marriage, if in no other way, in divorce and child custody and those sorts of issues, and because marriage is tied in with so many other questions in the social fabric.
MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: There does seem to be sometimes a liberal strategy in the culture war that can provoke a backlash. [There is] a larger political and legal argument that you hear on the left sometimes, that religious motivations are inherently illegitimate as the basis for public policy; that they’re constitutionally suspect, so you can be influenced by John Stuart Mill or John Rawls, but not by Catholic social thought. And it is kind of disqualifying your opponents and saying that they have constitutionally illegitimate motivations when it comes to public policy. I’m just wondering how common you think that is, how effective the perils of using that argument in the culture war. And then I’d love to hear your reaction.
MS. BALL: I think that after the doldrums for the Democratic Party that were the ’80s and early ’90s, the party largely rebounded by stepping away from that identification with purely secular culture. And so democrats started to win presidential elections again when they started to move toward more overt expressions of religion or embrace of religion in the public sphere, in recognition of the fact that that’s where most Americans are. The vast majority of Americans are religious. A smaller number are churchgoing, but you don’t get very far in American politics being an atheist or by being totally in thrall of secular culture. So as a purely political tactic, I think the Democratic Party has recognized that, and individual politicians who transgress that or a party that transgresses that is going to risk a backlash, is going to risk a sense of overreach. Americans don’t like the idea of their politicians imposing secular culture on them, I don’t think.
DR. MOORE: I would disagree a little bit with Molly, because I think there’s a distinction between the Democratic Party Clinton era and Barack Obama 2008 from Barack Obama 2012. I think that those campaigns were very different. Bill Clinton, I think, was very adept at using the language of Zion. This was somebody who was accustomed to campaigning in Pentecostal camp meetings in Arkansas. And Barack Obama, I think, in 2008, used that 2004 keynote address, “We worship an awesome God,” which was a dog whistle, kind of like when President Bush says “There’s wonder-working power.” Evangelicals know that’s a line from a hymn, and evangelicals also know an “Awesome God” is a Rich Mullins tune. I think that there was much more of an openness to the idea of religion in 2008 Barack Obama than in 2012, when we had some really startling things in terms of messaging and advertising that I don’t think I could have ever imagined in a previous presidential campaign of either party, even at the level of sexual innuendo and bleeped-out profanities and so forth in some of the Web ads being used by Democratic groups. I think there was a definitive shift between 2008 and 2012 in which the Democratic Party assumed, “We’re not going to be able to win over evangelicals anyway. Let’s move toward our base.”
I think you’re also right that when it comes to having our convictions formed by the things that we hold most dear, there is a bit of hypocrisy when it comes to bringing that into the public square. For instance, I’m pro-life. I’m also pro-immigration reform. I have not encountered, among secular progressives — when I do talk about why I’m concerned about immigrants or why I’m concerned about protecting the environment or why I’m concerned about poverty, and I ground those things in the prophets and in the teachings of Jesus, there’s no objection. But when I speak about the fact that my faith informs me that the child in the womb is my neighbor, then their response is often, “How dare you impose your religion on us?”
DOYLE MCMANUS, Los Angeles Times: I want to go back to the red state question in a slightly different way. You framed your principal argument really on the national level; the discovery that an America, as a Christian nation with a Moral Majority, was an illusion.
That’s not working. There’s kind of a tactical retreat on some issues to religious liberty rather than marriage amendment. But there is about half of America that still does have a Moral Majority. If we look at red state America, the climate is entirely different at the state level. And does that mean that social conservatives should think about a way in which they can do national politics and in a very different way than they do their state politics? Is it possible to have your head in both places at once?
DR. MOORE: I think that even at the state level — one of the things that I am attempting to do with my constituency is to say, “Your understanding of the Bible Belt is changing because the nation is changing. And so just because there’s a remnant of Mayberry around you doesn’t mean that that’s the world your children and grandchildren are going to live in. You need to prepare them to be able to live, as Christians, as, in many cases, strangers in a strange land.” We just don’t live in the sort of America that is isolated from one another because of changes in media, changes in technology, changes in culture. Even the decline of regional accents is something that ought to give us pause when it comes to thinking that we can have regions of the country that are strikingly different from one another.
MR. NAZWORTH: I want to bring up a couple of recent examples and have you apply some of the things you’ve talked about. So recently there’s the case of this bill in Arizona that sought to clarify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in response to the Elane Photography case and the Hobby Lobby cases. And much of the media labeled that an “anti-gay bill.” And at the same time that this was going on, you had, in Uganda, a bill that would basically throw gays in prison. And you had a little bit of a conflation of the two, often. The media coverage was brutal for anyone who’s a religious conservative, where people who are defending religious freedom are at one with people wanting to throw gays into prison, right? So what would your advice be to Christians on how to navigate those minefields?
DR. MOORE: I think that works both ways. I think that there is a persistent temptation to equate, on the one hand, state persecution with people saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” which trivializes genuine state persecution around the world. And the same thing, I think, is true with people who would, in a very sloppy manner, equate — regardless of whether someone agrees or disagrees — with the bill in Arizona or the bill in Kansas or the bill in Mississippi or other places.
The bill in Mississippi, for instance, is essentially the same thing as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, sponsored by Chuck Schumer, signed into law by Bill Clinton, and actually is something that is part of a longstanding coalition from the far left to the far right. So I think that was a mischaracterization. I think what we should have been doing instead is having a debate on the merits as to whether or not this bill is the best way to guarantee religious liberty and freedom of conscience and where the blurry lines are. We all agree that there are blurry lines there.
I don’t think that an evangelical Christian web designer ought to be forced, under penalty of law, to design pornographic websites just because they’re legal, and I think there are certain points in which we must say the conscience of the person in participating in something that he or she believes to be a sin, the state ought to make an allowance for that. We can have the debate as to where those lines are, and largely that’s what courts are for.
I’ve spoken out against Uganda and Russia. It rankles me to hear Vladimir Putin and Russian apologists claim to be pro-family because they’re, on the other hand, using the state to harass gay and lesbian persons. They’re also using the state to harass evangelical Christians, and they’re also using the state to harass people who dissent from the government, and they have children packed into orphanages that Vladimir Putin is using as pawns of his nationalist agenda. We ought to speak out against human rights violations, wherever they are, consistently.
MR. GIBSON: Back to the Supreme Court case, the Hobby Lobby case, of course, we’ve got six Catholic justices and three Jewish justices. When are we going to get an evangelical to make this a proper joke, and does that matter? Has the evangelical culture in institutions developed enough so that these law schools are producing those kind of top-flight lawyers who can argue before the Supreme Court and then potentially be appointed? And would it matter, really? Justice Scalia says he doesn’t consider himself a Catholic justice. He says that makes no sense. Does it matter to have an evangelical on the High Court at some point?
DR. MOORE: Not to me. It doesn’t matter in terms of identity politics of having an evangelical. I want someone who is just and wise on the Supreme Court. It doesn’t matter to me whether that person is evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, whatever.
JAMES HOHMANN, POLITICO: I see on the campaign trail Republicans — very few want to talk about abortion, and it feels like this year, more and more are saying they support kind of the two or three exemptions that poll really well. As you guys interface with candidates and others, is that something that you’re okay with? How problematic is it? Are you talking to candidates who say, “I’m pro-life, but I need to take this position to win?” What’s that tension like?
DR. MOORE: Well, in terms of the exceptions, my position would line up exactly with that of the Pope. I think that every human being, from the moment of conception, is worthy of life and ought to be loved and respected, regardless of how that person came into existence.
That said, there are some people in American life who assume that unless you’re with us 100 percent on every issue, as it applies immediately in the legal realm, then you’re our enemy. That happened in recent days when my organization, for instance, spoke positively about legislation to protect pain-capable unborn children. There were some pro-life organizations that said, “Can you believe this? The Southern Baptists are for anybody under 20 weeks being aborted.” Well, obviously not, but politics is about gaining consensus and implementing that consensus into law. So I certainly would not refuse to work with people who have varying levels of an incremental strategy on those things.
MR. CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to finish, and before we do let’s thank both of our speakers, please.