Southern Baptist Leaders Condemn the January 6th Insurrection

*By Lucianne Nelson
Time Period: 2020-present
Location: United States
Main Actors: The Southern Baptist Convention; Russell Moore
– Personal Statements
Blogging or Online Article Writing
Newspapers and Journals

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. This denomination is also among the more conservative evangelical faith communities. Since the early 2000s, the SBC has appointed increasingly right-leaning leaders who are determined to stop what they see as a concerning submission to progressive social positions around immigration, racial reconciliation, gender and sexuality, and women and families. As the SBC began to merge its American and Christian identities, linking traditional faith with America’s constitutional democracy, the internal denominational culture conditioned the rise of Christian nationalism (an ideology which seeks to merge Christian and American identities) among its members. That ideology was on prominent display during the January 6th attack on the US Capitol. This caselet provides an overview of how the Southern Baptist Convention responded to the insurrection. It also addresses the SBC’s struggle to develop a unified front against subsequent attacks on American democracy. 

Unlike other religious traditions, the SBC is not governed by a top-down hierarchy; instead, it is made up of individual churches that voluntarily opt into participation by agreeing to a shared faith and practice. Churches are not required to seek or receive approval from a central authority prior to affiliation, and every church that joins the Convention has equal standing. All churches are completely independent of each other and, as such, fully autonomous. The SBC has an executive committee that manages the day-to-day operations of the denomination. The independent churches select members to that committee at regular intervals through a popular vote. This executive committee has the authority to represent the SBC’s public stance on various social issues, discipline churches who stray from the official theological pillars of the faith, and pursue any other actions delegated to them by the denomination as a whole. The SBC has also created other committees to support the Executive Committee in this work, including the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (which acts as the public policy arm of the SBC). 

In the early 2010s, divisions over ‘social’ issues related to race, politics, and gender began to take hold of the Southern Baptist Convention. Many self-identifying Baptists encouraged their churches and delegates to the SBC to push the Convention to adopt a more progressive stance on these issues while others insisted that the SBC maintain its conservative position. Russell Moore, who was president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) from 2013 through early 2020, garnered national attention as a more measured voice within the Convention. He warned about the growth of Christian Nationalism and encouraged the SBC to distance itself from Donald Trump in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Though Moore remained staunchly conservative on issues like abortion and LGBTQ-related policies, he nonetheless warned that sacrificing the church’s moral values in the short term would result in a long-term acceptance of what he deemed immoral behavior.

After the January 6th storming of the United States Capitol, Moore used his personal blog to condemn it as “an insurrection of domestic terrorists, incited and fomented by the President of the United States.” Moore told his readers that, if he were a sitting member of the US Congress, he would have voted to remove Trump from office even if it cost him his seat.Moore immediately urged Christians to be truthful that democracy is under assault and called upon the church to be “people who are for integrity” under all circumstances by acknowledging that Joe Biden was elected president. The SBC Executive Committee assembled a task force to investigate Moore, ultimately issuing a report that reprimanded him for making these public comments in contradiction to official SBC positions. Moore resigned from leadership within the SBC and listed the “threats from white nationalists and white supremacists, including within [the] Convention” he received after condemning the insurrection among the reasons he was stepping down.

While many other evangelical leaders—within the SBC, as well as from other denominations—also issued statements condemning the violence of January 6th, Moore directly connected that assault on democracy to a pattern of permissive silence within the American church more broadly. Since stepping down from the SBC, Moore has continued to speak out against the anti-democracy trend he sees gathering momentum within evangelicalism. Moore also continues to write to an evangelical audience about why democracy matters. He also regularly interviews with mainstream journalists and often makes guest appearances on podcasts to encourage evangelicals to bolster democracy. 

Moore is the most public and high-profile figure within the Baptist denomination to engage in this work but his resignation from the SBC functioned as a catalyst amongst affiliated churches as individual members and more local leaders also push back against the anti-democracy trend Moore identified. These efforts are relatively informal. While many members of the SBC are still figuring out what tactics will be the most impactful in the long-term, some recurring activities have included:

  • Publicly posting on social media platforms to condemn the insurrection like Beth Moore (Founder of Living Proof ministries, not related to Russell Moore), Greg Laurie, and Rick Warren (pastors at two of the largest nondenominational megachurches in the US).
  • Elevating a pro-democracy vision for “faithful citizenship” via externally-facing outlets such as op-eds (see here and here), news programming, and podcasts.
  • Using trade-specific publications to inform, encourage, resource, and connect ministry leaders in pushing back against Christian nationalism and anti-democratic trends within conservative faith communities. 
  • Joining with affiliated Baptist and Evangelical institutions to denounce the insurrection on January 6th, condemn Christian Nationalism, and create resources to combat anti-democratic beliefs amongst the Christian Right.

The key takeaway, though, is that there is growing momentum within the SBC and other conservative Christian denominations to take on a campaign for protecting democracy here in the United States. Russell Moore, along with other prominent conservatives, launched a project called The After Party which is intended to help Christians work against any anti-democratic movement within the American Religious Right. Moore recently emphasized that the future of democracy requires him—and other evangelicals—to come alongside other pro-democracy groups in a trans-religious, multicultural coalition (or, to use Moore’s framing, “a cross-cutting friendship”). Other conservative evangelicals have also formed coalitions to combat the rise Christian Nationalism and anti-democratic trends within the American church. These include Vote Common Good (which aims to inspire, energize, and mobilize people of faith to make the common good their voting criteria) and Christians Against Christian Nationalism (who fight the ideology’s violence from within the faith). Moore firmly believes that these kinds of pro-democracy projects “must be done for the sake of our country and our common humanity.”

Where to Learn More
Southern Baptist Leaders Condemn Storming of US Capitol
Christian nationalism & the January 6 attack on the Capitol
What is Christian Nationalism?
Southern Baptist Convention president, ‘White Evangelical Racism’ author, and Respecting Religion co-host discuss Christian nationalism

You can access all the caselets from the Pillars of Support Project here.