“A government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice,” Moore said. “We may not agree in this country on every particular case and situation, but it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”
Moore, who is white, is also preparing the Southern Baptists to take a closer look at those issues. “We were planning to have a national event on racial reconciliation issues in 2016,” Moore told The Post in an interview. After a “sleepless night” following the Garner verdict, Moore said that he and the other leaders of the organization are trying to make that conference happen much sooner. “We’re talking March. But we don’t know yet if we can pull that together.”
Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant affiliation in the nation. And he’s increasingly making the SBC — a socially conservative faith group founded in 1845 by pro-slavery Southern whites — an effective but unlikely voice on issues of racial reconciliation, even as the denomination remains very traditional on other social issues.
That transformation owes a lot to two major leadership changes.
First, there’s Moore’s appointment last year to his new role, in which he has served as an energetic and effective spokesperson for the church. The convention also elected Fred J. Luter Jr. as its first black president in 2012. Luter served the maximum of two one-year terms as president before Ronnie Floyd succeeded him as president this year.
The change in tone represents a growing shift in the denomination’s members, even as its ranks — and those of other organized denominations — decline overall. Although the SBC is still overwhelmingly white, Moore said in an interview that “the African American community is is one of the fastest growing demographics in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Here is some of what Moore told The Post this week. The interview has been condensed.
On his conversations with the African American Southern Baptist community following the Garner verdict:
“It’s a sense of great distress and alarm and sadness. There’s a great deal of lament that has come out over the last year, from the Trayvon Martin situation, all the way through now, that has brought up many conversations within churches and within our denomination, about experiences that black Christians face that white Christians just don’t.
“I had an African American pastor talk to me about working though his son’s applications to college. And that he was praying over some of those applications, that his son would not be accepted into those schools, because of where they were located and he was afraid that it would not be safe for his son. That was one of the most impressive conversations I’ve ever had, because I realized that I will never be in a situation where I’m praying that about my children.”
On why the Garner decision produced such a unified response among liberals and conservatives:
“The Garner case is much clearer in terms of the facts of the case. With Ferguson, there was a dispute on what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. We don’t have access to adjudicate between all these conflicting testimonies, and so in many ways it was almost as though conversations were being had past one another on Ferguson. In this case, the situation is much clearer; we saw the unfolding of this with our own eyes on videotape. I think that changes the dynamic.
“There was a great deal of disagreement at the national level over the specifics of Ferguson. I don’t see much disagreement at the national level on the specifics of Garner. I mean, Peter King. I can’t really think of anyone beyond Peter King defending the police in the Garner case. But you do see that out in social media.”
On the Southern Baptist Convention’s history and support from its current members:
“The founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were wrong and wickedly wrong on the issue of human slavery. And the problem wasn’t just that they were on the wrong side of a social issue; they were on the wrong side of Jesus and the gospel when it came to brothers and sisters in Christ made in the image of God that they treated with injustice. The Southern Baptist Convention acknowledged that in 1995, in a formal resolution process.
“For the most part, I think most people would be surprised by how Southern Baptist rank and file really are concerned about racial reconciliation and justice. White and black. Of course, we do have a fringe of people, as I think every segment of American life does. But I think that’s a very small fringe that would not be supportive.
“We cannot pretend that these issues went away with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They’re still with us. And we have to recognize how to combat those things with the gospel in our own churches. ”
On the theological argument for reconciliation:
“The New Testament tells us that the unity of the church is a sign of the gospel itself. So that’s important theologically. It also has public consequences. I think that churches are where our consciences are formed. We learn to love one another by being with one another. I think that has public consequences.
“You don’t simply have African American people saying we have a problem in American society. We need white Americans to be addressing things on behalf of their black brothers and sisters. That needs to take place. That can only take place if we’re unified with one another. I think the church is the primary place that God has designed for us to live with one another in a household.
“I think some of our political conversations in political discourse right now, tend to treat the person being disagreed with as an idea to be vaporized, rather than a person to be engaged and to be persuaded. And I think when it comes to the church, we don’t have the option to simply speak to whatever one niche wants to hear. We have to speak to an entire body of people who must have unity. And I think in political discourse right now, disunity wins often. Dividing people up with polarizing speech can be a winning in the realm of secular politics. It doesn’t win if what one is trying to do is build a church that models the gospel.”
On the reaction to his statement about the grand jury’s decition:
“Overall very very positive. Most people in the Southern Baptists Convention are driven by gospel and the mission of Christ. I’ve also received some awful hate mail, and I’m really astounded by that. It’s hard to know where it’s coming from really.
“We have an evangelical hip-hop artist, Trip Lee, who wrote a song kind of expressing his feelings on the Garner case. He texted it to me, and I posted it on Twitter. And immediately, I had white supremacists responding with racial slurs and so forth. I get a lot of white supremacist hate stuff. I block them most of the time because I don’t ever really have to see it.”
“At the national level, I think there will be a great deal of attention given to this in the presidential campaign, really on both sides of the aisle. I think some issues that were already on the table and being discussed with criminal justice reform and the questions that are related to that — I think those conversations are going to be heightened during the presidential campaign, which will drive the discussion. Hopefully drive it somewhere good.”