Christian leaders are responding to the departure from the Southern Baptist denomination by respected author and Bible teacher Beth Moore.
Born Wanda Elizabeth in 1957, her departure was intensely covered in the secular media over the weekend, sometimes spilling over into condemnation of Christianity in general.
Many news reports focused on Moore’s use of the term “Christian nationalism.” That descriptive has been used in the past, critics say, to conflate patriotism held by Christians to that of white nationalism. They also focused on Moore’s opposition to former President Donald Trump.
But after interest by the national media fades, discussion over the announcement within the Christian community continues this week.
SBC President J.D. Greear tweeted: “I have loved and appreciated Beth Moore’s ministry and will continue to in the future. Personally, she has been an encouragement to me and I will always be grateful. I am grieved anytime someone who believes in the inerrant Scripture, shares our values and desires to cooperate says that they do not feel at home in our convention.” He went on to say “My prayer is that this news will cause us to lament, to pray, and to come to Nashville rededicating ourselves to be Great Commission Baptists who keep the Gospel above all and to become a Convention united around the message that Jesus is the only way.”
Author and speaker Danielle Strickland tweeted: “We are in a reformation. Time for a rethink of everything and a rebuild on the rock who is Jesus. Congrats @bethmoore for choosing love over fear. The Kingdom marches on and the gates of hell will not stand.”
Moody Publishers editor and author Trillia Newbell tweeted: “I have deep love and respect for @BethMooreLPM. She let me know this was coming because she is human, and she loves others fiercely. As I think about our tendency to analyze and tear each other apart, I hope we’d resist it here and instead pray.”
The historian at Duke Univerity’s Divinity School says Moore’s departure is a significant loss for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Kate Bowler, who has studied female celebrities within evangelicalism, says Moore is a laudable female leader within the denomination, whose platform was based on her own “charisma, leadership and incredible work ethic.”
“Ms. Moore is a deeply trusted voice across the liberal-conservative divide, and has always been able to communicate a deep faithfulness to her tradition without having to follow the Southern Baptist’s scramble to make Trump spiritually respectable,” Bowler said. “The Southern Baptists have lost a powerful champion in a time in which their public witness has already been significantly weakened.”
“I am still a Baptist, but I can no longer identify with Southern Baptists,” she told Religion News Service. “I love so many Southern Baptist people, so many Southern Baptist churches, but I don’t identify with some of the things in our heritage that haven’t remained in the past.”
Allegations of sex abuse, issues of race and partisan politics played a part in Moore’s departure. In the interview, Moore highlighted several moments that left her disillusioned with the denomination.
Part of her reasoning had to do with support for President Donald Trump.
Moore, whose college degree is in political science, says she understands why Trump’s pro-life platform is attractive to many Christians. She says, though, she couldn’t forgive decades-old comments by Trump on the Access Hollywood tapes. Because of that, she couldn’t get behind the widespread support for him within the faith community. “He became the banner, the poster child for the great white hope of evangelicalism, the salvation of the church in America,” she said. “Nothing could have prepared me for that.”
In the same year, allegations of abuse and misconduct within Southern Baptist churches began to surface, causing Moore to further question the denomination’s view toward women. Then in 2019, after Moore replied to a friend’s tweet saying that she would be speaking at a church on Mother’s Day, she watched as SBC leaders turned their attention away from what had grown into what Moore called the “biggest sexual abuse scandal that has ever hit our denomination” and toward the topic of whether women should be preaching from the pulpit.
During this time, Moore received harsh criticism from several of her male counterparts within the SBC for preaching in a church. Perhaps most notably, Moore was rudely called-out by megachurch pastor John MacArthur who, while speaking at a leadership conference, told her to “go home.”
As well as leaving the denomination, Moore told RNS that she is also bringing to an end her longtime publishing partnership with LifeWay Christian. RNS reports that the two will still support each other. LifeWay is expected to continue selling Moore’s books and promoting some of her events, but the company no longer will be publishing Moore’s books or putting on her events. Moore has not announced if she will be moving to a secular publisher. That could be tough after recent refusals to publish books by other Christians or conservative political figures.
But Moore offered some encouragement for those who still remain in the nation’s largest Baptist denomination.
Moore says she still loves the things that Southern Baptists believe. She has repeated her commitment to the pro-life cause, traditional marriage, and other hot-button topics. She is also determined to stay connected with a local church. Moore hopes that at some point, the denomination will reform its public witness for the better good of the Gospel.
As for Moore, her connection to the denomination and Lifeway proved fruitful. Financially, connection to Evangelicals and the denomination she now criticizes has been very good for her. She leaves as one of the richest women in America.
RNS reports that between 2001 to 2016, Moore’s Living Proof Ministries built its assets from roughly $1 million in to nearly $15 million. A celebrity wealth tracker website lists her personal net worth at $9 million.
As for what the departure means for the SBC, some are saying it’s time to pay attention.
Bible teacher Jacki C. King tweeted: “Pastors, I hope you are watching women in the SBC and their response to Beth Moore. Whatever your thoughts or feelings may be, there is a deep gratitude for her and a loss felt by many. Don’t just brush it off. Watch, listen, and ask.”
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice