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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

The Prophetic Minority

On April 2, Russell Moore captivated the crowd in Gasson 100 with his vision of the evangelical community as a “prophetic minority” amidst a secular culture, as he delivered the Boisi Center’s 13th annual Prophetic Voices lecture. The lecture series honors people who have drawn upon the prophetic traditions of their faith communities to challenge the consciences of all who hear them. Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is one of the country’s most visible and prominent evangelical leaders. His impeccably delivered Prophetic Voices lecture intrigued audience members of all faith traditions and inspired a robust question and answer session with supporters and critics alike.

Moore began his lecture with a personal narrative, recalling his time as a Cub Scout seeking the God and Country badge. While working toward the badge, he asked the pastor at a local church whether Christians could be possessed by demons; the pastor replied that not all of the Bible should be taken literally. For Moore, this was his conversion moment, the instant he experienced a pull to a Bible-based Christian life. Southern Baptist congregants, Moore explained, are a narrative-driven people; they experience God through personal connections, mo- ments of conversion to their faith. Moore realized as a child that earning the God and Country badge was parallel to being a “good citizen” in the American context, devoid of specific Christian convictions. It was a way to preserve Bible Belt Christianity, making it broad enough to allow political pluralism to coexist with Christian morality.

Against the backdrop of secular society, Moore feels that now, more than ever, the individuals who attend church are those who truly believe in its message. Gone are the days where Church membership was a ticket to social acceptance and economic prosperity in America. Nominal, cultural, God-and-Country-badge Christianity is too shallow, he argued; it is part and parcel of the secular culture that presently dominates our society. Today’s culture war will not be fought by the majority, but rather by a minority of true believers. The shift from a majoritarian self-identity, which was key in the old culture wars, to a minority identity will ultimately benefit the SBC by strengthening the prophetic voice of the community and re-centering it on Gospel truths.

Moore analogized the new culture war to the difference between Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan: both have complex lyrics, but where Dylan speaks for today’s liberal mainstream, Haggard’s is a conservative counter-cultural voice: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/ We don’t take no trips on LSD/ We don’t burn no draft cards down on Main Street.” The prophetic minority must be like Haggard in a culture increasingly consumed by Dylan’s ideals, Moore said.

The minority must be engaged in the political arena, yet with the understanding that they are first citizens of the kingdom of God, and second, citizens of the earthly kingdom. As Moore closed his speech, “We’re for God and country, yes, but Jesus taught us to seek first the kingdom and His righteousness. We may not be a moral majority, but Jesus told us not to expect to be a moral majority. Broad is the path to destruction; narrow is the way He has called us to.”