Tweets this week by two evangelical leaders about the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border demonstrate the growing tension among Christians about who has the right to respond and the proper response to the challenges facing our nation.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted, “The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this.”
He posted the comments with a news report saying the government had moved hundreds of children from a Texas border facility after being detained in “perilous conditions.”
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and an influential evangelical voice, replied: “Who are you @drmoore? Have you ever made a payroll? Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch? What gives you authority to speak on any issue? I’m being serious. You’re nothing but an employee - a bureaucrat.”
As a Christian, I am saddened by how Falwell’s comments damage the perception of a faith leader in the United States. As a proud alumnus of Liberty, I was surprised by Falwell’s disrespectful and condescending response. Falwell’s comments on Twitter reflect a concerning mind-set toward public discourse.
As a partner in a public relations firm, I am grieved that a faith leader’s right to communicate on societal issues is being challenged based on false authority.
Moore is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has been the head of a church. He has served as provost and dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and an ethics professor at various Baptist seminaries.
If a pastor cannot speak about taking care of children, then who can?
Falwell’s argument relies on the following reasoning: Because you’ve never been in situation X, you have no right to weigh in on Y. Falwell asserts that because Moore is not a business owner, he is not qualified to speak about anything with financial implications.
Issues are not so easily compartmentalized. Many of the debates on social media and in the news are political issues while also being ethical and financial issues. Immigration and asylum are not just matters of dollars and cents, as Falwell implies; they have biblical and human dignity implications as well.
Church leaders have a right and a duty to engage. They have a right to speak about accountability and moral obligation as made clear in the Bible.
Falwell’s claim that Moore does not have a right to weigh in on what is clearly more than a financial or business issue is ill-founded. A pastor’s job is to provide moral guidance as it relates to scripture, and the Bible’s direction to care for the vulnerable is clear (James 1:27). The Bible also commands leaders to speak up in troubling times (Proverbs 31:8).
Leaders should be informed when they speak, but suggesting that they should weigh in only on issues of professional experience is antithetical to Scripture.
By making his voice heard on important issues, Moore is not only doing what the Bible calls him to do, but also what the United States, its people and organizations need him to do.
In my work with faith-based organizations, I am concerned with what seems to be a void of pastoral voices on critical societal issues. Parachurch groups, which are consequential in providing care for a significant portion of the world’s hurting, are being forced to take positions on complicated issues that have biblical connections.
Falwell, who is not a pastor but is president of one of the world’s largest Christian universities, has spoken out many times about issues of theology. If the same logic were to apply, Falwell’s law and business experience would preclude him from being an important Christian voice and leader. This would be absurd.
Now more than ever, we need to encourage pastors to lift their voices to communicate clearly and purposefully about issues confronting our society. This kind of communication is how we will work through the difficulties we face as a country.
David Fouse is a partner and lead strategist with a national public relations firm based in the Washington area.