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In New Book, Russell Moore Urges Evangelicals To Stop Lying and Come Back to Jesus

Russell Moore
“Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America" and author Russell Moore. Photo by Eric Brown

(RNS) — Russell Moore has a bit of advice for his fellow American Christians in his new book, “Losing Our Religion.”

Don’t lie.

A simple principle, based on the Ninth Commandment’s ban on bearing false witness, and one many Christian leaders are tempted to break by repeating claims that are popular but untrue, argues Moore.

“I’m not really talking to the people who are intending to deceive and destroy — yes, I would hope they stop lying too,” said Moore in a recent interview about the new book. “I’m talking more about the disconnect between what people really believe and what the expectations of the tribe demand. And that is what I see to be so dangerous and exhausting to people.”

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Following Moore’s advice could come with consequences. The former Southern Baptist ethicist was a rising star in 2013, when he was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission after the group’s former leader left amid scandal. Moore was known for his love of 1970s outlaw country stars Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, his advocacy for immigration reform and his skepticism about the close ties between the Republican party and evangelicals.

Things went well until the rise of Donald Trump, which turned evangelical leaders into would-be contestants on a real-life version of “The Apprentice” — Trump’s reality television series— “all clamoring to make the cut on the next episode and fearful of hearing the words you’re fired,” he writes in “Losing Our Religion,” out Tuesday (July 25) from Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Moore’s criticism of Trump as a candidate and as president, along with his advocacy for survivors of abuse in the SBC, made him enemies and eventually cost him his job. In 2021, he resigned from the ERLC to take a new role at Christianity Today, where he is now the editor-in-chief.

His new book was inspired by conversations Moore has had in recent years with disillusioned evangelicals, some of whom he said are feeling a sense of despair at the state of the church and of American culture. The book is part altar call for his fellow evangelicals and part retelling of the surprising lessons he’s learned in recent years.

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The book recounts Moore’s struggles to reconcile what he believed with how he saw Christian leaders acting during the Trump era. He recalls a Baptist leader who told him he was playing the game of leadership wrong. That leader suggested Moore give people “90% of the red meat they expect” — referring to conservative politics and the culture wars — and then he could spend 10% of his time on things he cared about, like immigration.

He also recalled being told to “get real” — meaning he should give up on naive ideals like telling the truth or acting with personal integrity because the cultural and political stakes were too high for such niceties.

“People who have higher expectations for themselves and for others are often made to feel naive and stupid,” he said.

That willingness to do anything to succeed in politics, he writes, was rooted in the way churches treated celebrity pastors and leaders. As long as they got the job done, those celebrities could be terrible people and Christians would shrug it off.

That habit of overlooking the character flaws of Christian celebrities — such as disgraced former megachurch pastors Bill Hybels and Mark Driscoll or abusers like the late evangelist Ravi Zacharias — made it easier for evangelicals to overlook Trump’s flaws, Moore said in an interview.