Russell Moore: Evangelicals Honor MLK Because He’s Dead

Russell Moore

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, compared the evangelical church in America to the Pharisees in Jesus’ day because the church hasn’t done enough to bring about racial reconciliation.

Moore, speaking at “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, read from Matthew 23:29-39:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Prophets who spoke out against injustice were opposed and sometimes killed by the religious and political leaders of their day. Moore said evangelicals likewise opposed Martin Luther King: “The hatred was not limited to the bullet that killed him,” adding, “The few white Evangelical leaders who said his message was just and right endured withering criticism.”

Moore said the Pharisees had no problem honoring the prophets because they were no longer alive to disrupt their social order. In the same way, he said Martin Luther King is not controversial in evangelical churches today because he hasn’t been speaking for 50 years.

Moore chided the church and Christians who say, “If I had been here, I would have listened to Dr. King even though I don’t listen to what is happening around me in my own community and my own church.”

Racial Justice and the Uneasy Conscience of American Christianity

Welcome to MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop. We are joined by Russell Moore for the first keynote of the conference: Racial Justice and the Uneasy Conscience of American Christianity Watch the entire simulcast at MLK50Conference.com/simulcast #MLK50Conference

Posted by ERLC on Tuesday, April 3, 2018

King was in Memphis the day he was shot to speak out about the dangerous working conditions city sanitation workers faced and racial injustice.

Moore said in today’s world, “sanitation workers are still endangered, young black men are shot so often we aren’t shocked anymore,” and in light of these injustices asked, “Why is American evangelicalism white and middle class? Why aren’t we bearing one another’s burdens? Because the evangelical movement needs to be more evangelistic—it also needs to be more evangelized.”

He called on pastors to speak out against racial injustice even if it’s unpopular, and called on Christians to accept change that will be uncomfortable.

“If we have to change our worship styles, let’s crucify our worship styles. If it upsets our political alliances, let’s crucify our political alliances. We will have consciences that are alive to hear the people who some say are invisible.”

And Moore warned that a failure to speak out against injustice will have dire consequences for the evangelical church:

“Why in church after church after church are we having young people who are having a crisis of faith? Because they are wondering if we really believe what we preach and teach and sing all the time.

“Jesus will build his church and it will be a sign of reconciliation that comes through Jesus Christ—the question is ‘Will that happen with us? And that I don’t know.’

“God doesn’t need an American evangelical movement or a Southern Baptist Convention or a Gospel Coalition…all are good and right as long as they are lined up [with] the purposes of Christ, but if they don’t, God will build his church without us. Look what’s happening in Africa and in Asia. The question is whether we will join ourselves to what God is doing in the world.”

Moore said although MLK has been dead for 50 years, his message still speaks and the gospel still saves. “The cross is still the power of God unto salvation and the church of Jesus Christ will one day be whole.”

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.

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