This story in the Wall Street Journal was timed for the start of the Southern Baptist Convention and as I explained to the reporter when he interviewed me a month or so ago, I fundamentally disagree with the premise. I do so from first hand knowledge and conversations with people inside the White House and inside the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The picture painted is not true and I believe that is not the fault of the reporter, but the fault of those pushing their own agenda trying to undercut the ERLC and build up their own network.
First, I would note that one of the general underlying impressions given is wrong. The article spends time dealing with major churches pulling funding from the SBC because of Russell Moore, but those churches actually rapidly restored their funding. One of the biggest news stories since the election was Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church, a mega-church, threatening to pull funding. That funding is still flowing today. The way the article is structured, you’d go half-way through it before learning that.
Likewise, as I am quoted in the article, “I know for certain, when the president signed the religious liberty executive order, people in the White House were mindful of what guys like Russell Moore would think.” And I do.
I think one of the overarching quotes of the story to give it credibility is this from Johnnie Moore.
“Dr. Moore’s office reached out to ask if I could give them a good email address for the White House,” said Johnnie Moore (no relation to Russell Moore), a 34-year-old Southern Baptist member of Mr. Trump’s evangelical advisory board and founder of the Kairos Co., a public-relations firm that represents many religious figures.
“It was a strange question from a multimillion-dollar public-policy organization. They apparently still couldn’t find the front door, despite that door being in plain sight,” said Johnnie Moore, who sent Mr. Moore an email address for the White House. “The polite thing to do was to help.”
I think it is probably relevant that Johnnie Moore represents both Paula White and Robert Jeffress, two of the loudest pro-Trump voices out there. Jeffress was quoted in the article as well making negative comments about Russell Moore.
I don’t pretend to claim I was in the room or overheard the conversation, but I know that cannot be true as characterized in the story because I know at least a half dozen people who work directly with the President who have Russell Moore’s personal cell phone number, follow him on Twitter, and deal with the ERLC regularly. These relationships existed before the election.
I was personally invited to speak at an ERLC event in DC in May where several of the President’s advisors attended.
I know for certain members of the White House have reached out to the ERLC on religious liberty matters because they called and discussed it with me in the lead up to the President’s religious liberty initatives. Again, I have no knowledge of the call between the ERLC staff member and Johnnie Moore, but there is absolutely, fundamentally, literally no way that anyone from the ERLC could could or would have asked such a question in that way because Russell and his staff have personal, pre-existing friendships with the relevant people. It is absurd to think that this could be true as characterized in the story.
It is true that Russell Moore is not sitting in the Oval Office with President Trump. But he is dealing with the White House staff. The ERLC staff engages with the White House staff and cabinet level staff. Several of the President’s top advisors hold Russell Moore in high regard. I know all this first hand. I know all this from my own interactions and conversations with the President’s advisors. And I also know this because Russell and I have several mutual friends in the White House.
Again, I am absolutely baffled by the quote from Johnnie Moore because Russell and his staff not only get White House advisors showing up at their events in DC — events I’ve been asked to be a part of — but they maintain personal friendships with people inside the White House.
I think it is unfortunate the Wall Street Journal ran a story like this right before the Southern Baptist Convention convened claiming the ERLC is somehow alienated from the White House when White House staffers follow Russell on Twitter to gauge his reaction to policy and regularly engage with the ERLC to get evangelicals on board. I explained all this to the reporter including my first hand knowledge of the situation and conversations to demonstrate that the story of Russell being shut out is self-interested spin by others and not actually reality based.
Despite past relations, the political arm of the White House is not foolish. They would love to get Russell Moore and those like him on board for 2020 and they aim to do it. To suggest otherwise is simply not true.
I suspect the reporter did a very good job putting this story together, but others who would love to have Russell’s job and take over the ERLC are putting their own agendas ahead of telling the truth. That is very unfortunate, but then when you deal with religious leaders in politics you’ll often find a lot of liars and Pharisees.