Are Southern Baptists Softening Stance on Immigration?

In recent comments after visiting Central American refugees in Texas, the Southern Baptists’ emerging point man in the culture wars, Russell Moore, cleverly managed to capitalize on the polarizing problem, even after the public statement of Texas’ Catholic Bishops that “Now is not the moment for inflammatory political rhetoric, but of compassionate and orderly resolution to the conditions of these women and children who are already in a difficult humanitarian situation.”

Moore evidently interpreted this statement to mean that he had permission to engage in the art of subterfuge as long as his message was sufficiently masked by expressions of kindheartedness for the children he had encountered. Even as he melodramatically expressed compassion he also managed to resonate with hardline opponents of immigration reform, implying, for instance, that the onus for the crisis rests on the president.

By identifying the current “moral crisis” with the activities of Latin American drug cartels he managed to relieve his intended audience of any sense of responsibility for the very refugees and validating the anger of those currently using them as hostages in a campaign against meaningful immigration reform. Moore uttered no words of “moral outrage” over the collapse of immigration reform in America.

While some have taken Moore’s comments as an indication that he and other Southern Baptist leaders are backing away from their commitment to the hardline agendas of religious and political conservatives, his calculated rhetoric is in reality a manifestation of Southern Baptists’ current focus on building coalitions with them.

Moore is working overtime these days to strengthen the partnership of Southern Baptists and like-minded congressional republicans. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year co-written with Ralph Reed, the pair issued a call for the creation and passage of a GOP version of immigration reform that reflects “conservative Christian values.” Although the doublespeak of that manifesto was laced with effusive expressions of admiration for immigrants it effectively associated immigration with crime and emphatically ruled out any proposals for blanket amnesty or special paths to citizenship.

Meanwhile, his mentor Al Mohler has been devoting his energies to building a political alliance with Mormons. Effusive proclamations of affection for Mormons, despite the proviso that he believes no Mormons are going to heaven, can be explained by Mohler’s appreciation for the political benefits of a Baptist/Mormon alliance. (Mohler’s “loving” way of saying that Mormons are going to hell—i.e. not going to heaven—was an ingenious way of allowing fellow Baptists a means of stomaching what would otherwise be considered an unacceptably unholy alliance.)

Mohler and Moore recognize that they will increasingly need these various alliances because Southern Baptists have now settled into an irreversible pattern of numerical and financial decline.

While Moore has somewhat curtly told his fellow Baptists that they should embrace their newly discovered status and see themselves as a “prophetic minority,” Mohler believes they should see themselves as the faithful remnant preparing for a coming persecution. They and the Mormons will soon go to jail together, he claims, because of their joint refusal to peacefully surrender their religious freedoms.

Moore has also been known to lend his voice to this developing mythology of religious persecution, as when he applauded Marco Rubio for condemning “the recent trend of intolerance among some liberals toward those who disagree with them about same-sex marriage.”