Russell Moore: Romans Can Guide Us Forward from the Capitol Insurrection
- Russell Moore President of the ERLC of the Southern Baptist Convention
- 2021 11 Jan
This week we watched an insurrection of domestic terrorists, incited and fomented by the President of the United States. We saw the attack on our Capitol, the desecrating of the seat of our democracy, the harming of innocent human lives, and the murdering of a Capitol Police officer. We saw a mob threatening to lynch the Vice President of the United States and Members of Congress—all in an attempt to stop a constitutional process and to overturn an election by the American people.
Part of me hesitates to address this at all. That’s because my views are well known and haven’t changed. But that’s also because I don’t at all want to be heard as saying, “I told you so.” That’s not for me to say, and I’ll leave whatever judgements are to be made to others. In any case, I know that I’ve been wrong about many things in my life—and might even do a whole series here on “Stuff I Was Wrong About.” But for now, I will simply speak honestly about these things as I see them.
Throughout all these years, I held out the possibility that maybe I am crazy, that I am completely unable to see what others were seeing. And all of this was even more confusing because many of the people who would say boldly in public how great this leader was and would say, privately, the exact opposite. Behind closed doors, they said he was mentally unstable. That he was “an immoral man worse than LBJ ever dreamed about being.”
But, again, I told my wife in 2017: I am almost all alone here. I am going to pray that my critics are right—and that I am just incapable of seeing what they see. “I’m voting for a platform, not a person; an administration, not an individual,” people would tell me. I could not do that—in good conscience—but my attitude was, and is, “Who am I to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls” (Rom. 14:4). We could disagree on all that, and still bear with one another—knowing that all would be sorted out in God’s timing.
This is a different situation from all of that. This is not about politics. This is about our country, about the rule of law, and about the sanctity of human life. The President invited mobs to Washington—promising a “wild” time—and told them to march to the Capitol. Despite the fact that there was not one thing that Vice President Pence could have lawfully done, the President called him a coward, and whipped up crowds against him who, many of them, then chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” while constructing gallows on the Capitol grounds. An American flag was thrown down and replaced with a Trump flag, while another insurrectionist paraded a Confederate flag through the Capitol. Police officers were attacked. Congressional leaders hid while the doors buckled from mobs seeking to attack them. People are dead. The Capitol is ransacked. Administration officials are resigning in protest.
If you read nothing else, read this: If you can defend this, you can defend anything. If you can wave this away with “well, what about…” or by changing the subject to a private platform removing an account inciting violence as “Orwellian,” then where, at long last, is your limit?
The country must turn to our Constitution, to the founding principles of this nation, in order to address this. And, as Christians, we must be the people who are shaped and formed by the Word of God. As a teenager in a Southern Baptist church, I was taught to evangelize using what was called “the Roman Road.” What that meant was that, while all Scripture is profitable and able to be used to share the gospel, one could guide someone through the plan of salvation using verses all found in the Book of Romans. Rather than flipping all over the canon, one could just turn pages in this one book and show people God’s love, God’s judgment, the necessity of the cross, the power of the resurrection, the meaning of faith and repentance, how to live in the Spirit, etc.
This is not a gospel presentation, but I would suggest that, while the entire Bible speaks to the roots of this crisis, we can, just from the Book of Romans, see where we are to go from here. Here are some thoughts.
Truth Cannot Be Brought About by Lying
From the very onset of Paul’s letter, he wrote about God’s holy judgment on “deceit” and ruthlessness. That includes those who know “God’s decree” on sin but nonetheless not only do such sins themselves but who “give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32). In establishing the sin that God judges, Paul wrote of those who “use their tongues to deceive” as well as those whose “feet are swift to shed blood” (Rom. 3:13-15).
It is not true—and it never was true—that this election was stolen. That’s why such a charge was never even made in any court of law, where perjury penalties would hold, but only in social media streams and demagogic rallies. No matter what one wanted to happen in the election, as the saying goes, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” Joe Biden was elected and, as Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday, it was not particularly close. The crowds attacking the Capitol were not “antifa plants”—we know, in many cases, their names and faces and backstories.
Some will argue that any Democratic president will mean the loss of religious liberty forever, the inability to ever again protect the lives of the unborn, or some other outcome. Let’s just assume for a minute that such were true—it would still not justify lying about who won the election “by a landslide” or by lying about whether Congress could just set aside electors or by lying about whether the Vice President was a part of a conspiracy to defraud the American people by refusing to do what the Constitution clearly forbids him to do.
Paul wrote: “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Rom. 3:4). And to those who suggest that “if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory why am I still being condemned as a sinner?” Paul charged them with “slander” and said that “their condemnation is just” (Rom. 3:8).
He warned about those who would serve “their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery” deceive “the hearts of the naïve” (Rom. 16:18).
The truth is that many of the people making these claims knew they were false, and thought that some outcome—raising money, establishing their political futures, assuaging their egos—would make those lies alright.
Good Cannot Be Brought About by Committing Evil
Along with the slander of lying for God’s glory, Paul quoted those who would say, “Let us do evil that good may come” (Rom. 3:8). Later he tells us that vengeance cannot bring about good because of the command: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).
Murder is wrong. Insurrection is wrong. Rioting is wrong. Terrorism is wrong. If someone says in response to the brutal attacks on innocent people on September 11, 2001, “Yes, but try to understand the desperation of the people of Afghanistan,” they are wrong to do so. If someone says, “Yes, abortion takes a human life, but poverty is worse,” they are wrong. And if someone says—when confronted with a violent insurrection on the nation’s Capitol, “Yes, but what about….” they are wrong.
You cannot stand for “law and order” while waving away lawlessness. You cannot champion the pro-life cause while waving away murder. You cannot support police by the murder of police officers. You cannot support religious liberty by trashing the United States Constitution.
Beyond that, good policy cannot absolve bad character. Character matters. Integrity matters. That is not just about “manners” or “self-righteousness” or “elitism” or “aesthetics,” but the ethics of Christ.
Evil means are justified by no ends. Thus, the Scriptures tell us, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9).
Justice Demands Accountability
Christians have sometimes disagreed about the meaning of Romans 13, but there is no interpretation of Romans 13 that would support murderous and violent insurrection, or the inciting of the same. The powers-that-be, Paul wrote, are “instituted by God,” and are to operate within limits: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (Rom. 13:4), and the sword is to be exercised—not by vigilante mobs—but by those legitimate authorities and only against “the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).
The governing authorities do not have a choice as to whether or not to hold people accountable for inciting and carrying out insurrection. To do otherwise would be to cease to be a just society, and to empower future evildoers to do the same. Everyone who attacked our Capitol or planned or directed such a storming of the Capitol, should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
You will hear people saying that for the sake of “unity” we should quietly put such things away. God forbid. The unity of the people cannot come with a lack of accountability. The police do not have the option to ignore these mobs. The Congress does not have the option to ignore their constitutional obligations on high crimes and misdemeanors. The Vice President and the Cabinet cannot put aside questions of their responsibilities for fear of their futures. To hope that this all will just quietly go away and resolve itself is to incite future terrorists and is to do exactly what the Bible forbids—to “justify the wicked and to condemn the righteous” (Prov. 17:15).
Unity demands accountability. Justice demands accountability. Without such, all we are left with is “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” (Rom. 6:19).
You don’t have to agree with me. I might be wrong. I don’t speak for anyone else, only myself. But you deserve to hear from me what I honestly think. If I were the President, I would resign. If I were the Vice President, I would assemble the cabinet in accordance with the 25th Amendment. If I were a Member of Congress, I would vote to impeach. And if I were a United States senator, I would vote to convict. And I would be willing, if necessary, to lose my seat to do so. As a matter of fact, I am willing, if necessary, to lose this seat.
Again, I might be wrong. But, if so, propose what can be done to make sure that justice is done and that this never happens to our country again.
Is that easy? No. Will people say you’re a “closet liberal.” Yes. Will people threaten “psychological warfare” or conduct endless investigations against you? Maybe. Will people send threats to kill you and your family or to destroy your reputation and ministry? Perhaps.
You can survive all that. Trust me.
Integrity Demands Consistency
Paul wrote, “Those of you who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (Rom. 2:21-22). The lack of consistency is a lack of integrity, he warned, and that has consequences not just for one’s own conscience. “For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Rom. 2:24).
People are watching. People are overhearing. Some of them are your children.
The sight of “Jesus Saves” and “God Bless America” signs by those violently storming the Capitol is about more than just inconsistency. It is about a picture of Jesus Christ and of his gospel that is satanic. The mixing of the Christian religion with crazed and counter-biblical cults such as Q-Anon is telling the outside world that this is what the gospel is. That’s a lie, and it is blasphemous against a holy God.
Look around us, five years into this experiment. Every family I know is divided over this personality. Every church I know is too. Friendships are broken, for almost everyone I know. And, most importantly, every survey shows that the church is hemorrhaging the next generation because they believe that evangelicalism is a means to an end to this political movement. You may say, “Well, we can’t make decisions based on what people want”: true. If I were speaking every week to people who are leaving because they reject the Trinity or the Incarnation or the bodily resurrection or sexual morality or whatever, I would agree with you.
But if people are walking away not because we believe too much for them, but because they don’t think we believe what we say we believe, what then? How can the witness of the church be rebuilt? What are the consequences? A start—a small but necessary start—is for the church to say, clearly, conspiracy theories and insurrections and riots and murders and incitement are out of step with the Word of God and we will not—not one of us—spend one second hemming or hawing about that.
If President Obama tried to overturn an election, and incited his supporters to storm the Capitol, to desecrate the flag, to kill innocent people and to terrorize many others with pipe bombs and hand-ties and weapons, every evangelical Christian would be, rightly, denouncing such with the strongest possible terms (and many would be suggesting that we were in the reign of the Antichrist), and every one of us knows that is true.
If the world rejects us because of Christ and him crucified, so much the worse for the world. If the world rejects us because they think Christ is just a mascot for what we would already be supporting or doing even if Jesus were still dead, then God have mercy on us.
“Let us sin all the more that grace may abound” or “Let us lie our way into the truth” or “Let us riot our way to peace” or “Let us murder our way to life”—these things are all completely contradicted by the words of our Bible, by our gospel. Does our mission field know that? If not, is it our fault?
Hope Starts in Lament
The situation in this country looks bleak. We have been here before. The church at Rome to which Paul wrote would see the empire fall a few centuries later. At the time, they seemed pinned against the wall by Caesar and the imperial cult. For many, God seemed to be invisible in the promises he had made to Israel. And yet, Paul presented a gospel in which we “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and that endurance produces character, and that character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Rom. 5:3-5).
God is not unfaithful to his purposes, Paul wrote, but has always worked through a remnant (Rom. 11). Our hope of salvation starts with repentance, grieving over our own sins (Rom. 6:20-23). And our hope of the future glory in which we will share starts with our groaning by the Spirit, with the creation around us, that this is not the way it is supposed to be (Rom. 8:19-27).
The times look dark, and we are tempted to despair. But, in Christ, we are “more than conquerors” because nothing—not “rulers nor things present nor things to come, nor powers” can ever “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).
A version of this first appeared in my weekly newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox here.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/YayaErnst
Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC is the moral and public policy entity of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.