Moore to the Point
Hello, fellow wayfarers. How caring for the vulnerable often puts us out of step with our “tribes” … Wendell Berry on Christian nationalism … Why we shouldn’t say, “Even if Christianity is not true, it’s the best way to live” … And a Desert Island Playlist from the United Kingdom … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.
Russell Moore
Abortion, Social Justice, and the Call of the Tribe

From all indications, the Supreme Court is poised to overturn the almost 50-year precedent enshrining legal abortion as a constitutional right.

As expected, this does not sit well with supporters of Roe v. Wade (a majority of the country, according to most polls). Some are suggesting that it manifests a kind of soft theocracy—that we who are pro-life are imposing our religious views on the rest of the country. For others, the charge is not that pro-life Americans are too consumed with abortion but that abortion is just a stalking horse for the real issue: white supremacy and Christian nationalism.

The first argument goes back almost to the days of Roe itself. The idea is that most people oppose abortion because of a religious commitment. Sure, the argument goes, you might find an atheist pro-lifer here or there, but most people participating in the March for Life or working at the nearest crisis pregnancy center are Roman Catholics, evangelical Protestants, or sometimes Orthodox Jews. In this view, then, to oppose legal abortion is to impose that religious viewpoint on others, thus violating the religious freedom of those who don’t believe the fetus to be a person.

Of course, such allegations would be true if anyone were seeking to impose a religious dogma. That’s why I oppose, for instance, public school teachers offering a gospel invitation at the close of a class period or municipal governments declaring that the Trinity is the truth.

A religion cannot and should not be coerced. But this doesn’t mean that religious motivations shouldn’t inform what Christians—or others—care about.

I support religious freedom for everybody—Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, atheists, my fellow evangelical Christians, and so on—not only because I believe in the founding principles of this country but also because I believe, on the basis of biblical revelation, that the gospel must be received by faith, not by force.

I care about not coercing people to accept my religious doctrines. I think it’s demonstrably bad for society, but more importantly, I think it confuses the gospel and hurts the church.

All sorts of issues are bustling about all the time. And there is always the question of why someone is motivated to pay attention to some of them.

In my community, for example, the people who work with Afghan refugees to help them resettle, find work, and provide for their families may have many different motives. An evangelical Christian like me may feel that because our storyline in Christ includes being on the run from the likes of Pharaoh and Herod, we ought to care for people in similar places of vulnerability. Someone who was a refugee from Cuba a generation ago might feel a kinship and want to care for those who are hurting in the same way. An Afghanistan War veteran might care for the refugees because he saw the humanity of the Afghans suffering under Taliban rule. Another person might view Joe Biden as politically offensive and find motivation in blaming his administration for the Afghans’ suffering after the American pullout from the country.

Each of us is there with very different motives—often ones we do not share with each other. Our motivations may tell you why each of us is spurred to action, but they don’t reveal whether the action is right or wrong.

Some locales are trying to write and enact laws that criminally charge homeless people for sleeping in public parks. If a person opposes this because he realizes that he can’t mistreat homeless people when Jesus himself was homeless, is he imposing his religion on everyone else? No. He’s expressing why he’s motivated to care about another human being. While this person’s religion advises him he has responsibilities to his homeless neighbors, the notion that these homeless neighbors are human beings is not a specifically religious teaching.

The fact that the Qur’an tells Muslims to care for the poor doesn’t make a homeless shelter sharia law. The fact that the Bible tells Christians to care for “orphans and widows in their distress” doesn’t make a foster-care safety net a theocracy.

The second charge—that the pro-life issue is really about white supremacy—is plausible to many people right now because of the awful realities we’ve seen revealed in the church and the world over the past several years. I’ve written about those repeatedly.

Christian nationalism is real. It is a threat to the witness of the church, and it’s a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And yes, we’ve sometimes seen the pro-life issue used by people whose viewpoints—about women, the disabled, refugees, and the vulnerable in other ways—in no way uphold a pro-life vision with any integrity or consistency.

In his book Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right, historian Randall Balmer argues that the idea that Roe v. Wade mobilized evangelicals into political action is a myth. He contends that the motivating factor was, in fact, religious conservatives’ backlash against Carter Administration initiatives to remove tax exemptions from racist, all-white “segregation academies” run by church groups.

Balmer is hardly the only one to make this case. Almost 30 years ago, historian Godfrey Hodgson quoted pastor Ed Dobson, a key lieutenant of Jerry Falwell Sr., as saying, “The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion. I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something.”

Over the past several years, we have seen a lot revealed. We’ve seen that many of our deep beliefs have been used scornfully by those who care only about the power such beliefs can bring. It can be disorienting.

Maybe you saw a pastor preach powerfully about evangelism but you now know that he was just trying to amass numbers for his own personal empire. But does that cynical use of the Great Commission mean the commission itself is a lie? The pastor’s use of evangelism was cunning precisely because he was exploiting something true for false ends. That doesn’t mean everyone who has witnessed door to door or mustered the courage to talk about faith with their neighbors is motivated by ego and power.

Even with the most skeptical view possible, the question is not whether some leaders have callously used the issue of abortion for their own contradictory or immoral objectives instead. The question is, why emphasize abortion if that’s the case? Why not simply mobilize people to protect segregation?

The answer? One can mobilize people only with something they actually care about.

When we look past the power brokers and politicians, we can see people in the countless small pro-life ministries around the country who genuinely believe in caring for the suffering of their neighbors—the unborn child in jeopardy of violence, the pregnant woman in peril of violence herself or of poverty, the newborn in need of food or a home.

But do some use abortion as a cudgel to say, “If you don’t vote for otherwise reprehensible candidates or policies, you are guilty of murder”? Yes. Do some pro-choice employers pressure women to abort because they refuse to provide the support and benefits that women with small children need? Sure.

Are there people who support democracy because it’s the way they can get votes to hold office? Yes. Does that mean that’s all democracy is? No.

Do any of these realities nullify the central question? No.

Do not let your allies determine who your neighbor is.

Once, when I was putting together an event on human dignity from womb to tomb, someone offered to participate—but only if I promised not to mention race or refugees or migrant children. He claimed that, in his view, pro-life applied only to abortion.

I asked if we could also talk about adoption and foster care. He agreed. About the wrongness of euthanasia? He said yes. About the sexual exploitation of women and girls? Yes. About genetic engineering and other bioethical questions? Yes.

I realized he didn’t want me to mention race, migrants, or refugees because that would get him in trouble with his allies. He wanted to make some people invisible because their presence would be inconvenient to someone with power.

That sounded exactly like the abortion culture to me. And I refused to agree to stay away from talking about those “inconvenient” people.

Of course, I’ve seen it work in the opposite direction too. People who work diligently on behalf of migrants, refugees, the trafficked, or the poor will blanch at the mention of the unborn—not because they don’t believe the unborn are persons deserving of protection but because it will put them in a camp with people they don’t like or respect.

However, either way, Jesus told us that defining a neighbor by the expectations of our tribal allies leads to nowhere good. That’s why he chose a Samaritan to treat the man beaten on the side of the Jericho Road as a neighbor.

And that’s why it didn’t faze Jesus that some people objected to his talking with the tax collector Zacchaeus, whom they considered a collaborator with Rome. Jesus cared about Zacchaeus, not about his own tribal standing.

And neither should we.

Since the unborn are created in the image of God, let’s care for them. Since women are created in the image of God, let’s care for them. If white supremacy and Christian nationalism are of the devil—and I believe they are—let’s oppose them.

Let’s be pro-life even if that makes some of our pro-justice allies uncomfortable. And let’s be pro-justice even if that makes some of our pro-life allies uncomfortable.

And when our tribe—whatever it is—says the cost of admission is to make some other category of person invisible to us, then let’s tell them the price is too high.

What Wendell Berry Can Teach Us About the Perils of Christian Nationalism

My presentation at the 2021 Hutchmoot, “Faith, Fiction, and Christian Nationalism,” is up now at The Rabbit Room’s Hutchmoot podcast. In it, I focus on the writings of Wendell Berry to show how the impulse toward “blood-and-soil religion” can be identified and overcome—through a renewed sense of the meaning of membership, as defined by the Bible.

You can listen to my talk here.

If Jesus Is Dead, the Christian Life Is Not Worth Living

A few weeks ago, I was with a very joyful fellow Christian who said something I’ve heard many, many times: “Even if the gospel were not true, I would still want to be a Christian because this is the best life to live!” I get what he means. I just completely disagree.

The apostle Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is that if Christ is not raised, “our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (v. 14). As a matter of fact, Paul wrote, if Christ is not raised, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19).


First of all, people undergoing persecution for the faith cannot claim that the Christian life, even if the gospel is not true, is the happiest life possible. If Christ is not raised, a first-century woman who lost her husband, her extended family, her social safety net, and all her friends was not living her best life. She was doing so only if she looked beyond the momentary affliction toward something real.

If Jesus’ bones are somewhere in the ground in Jerusalem, then the Chinese believer in danger of arrest or the Sudanese believer in danger of execution are wasting the happiness that can come with the little securities and pleasures of this one short life.

Even those of us with strong community ties, rooted in faith, should see that Christianity simply isn’t worth it if salvation through Jesus isn’t true. After all, as Will Willimon once put it, this would mean that “the Easter women” were lying. The apostolic faith would be a fraud, and our community would be merely the bonds of natural affection, dissolved by the inevitabilities of biology and history.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). He actually is alive! The stories are true.

The Christian life is worth it.

Desert Island Playlist

This week’s submission comes from reader Glyn Davies from Wales.

Glyn writes: “This was a lot easier than choosing the Desert Island Booklist. I wish I’d done this over lockdown—it might have gone quicker. It’s a mix of songs: the ’60s and ’70s soul music I grew up with, stuff I heard later, Welsh/Celtic music with a country and western slipped in. They say the music you loved when you were 17 stays somewhere in your heart forever, and I think there’s something in that.”

Here’s Glyn’s list:
  • “Stardust” by Nat King Cole—This just beat Louis Armstrong’s version by a hair’s breadth. If I could only take one to my desert island, it would be this one.

  • “Gymnopédie No. 1” by Erik Satie—I heard this on a chocolate advertisement in the days before Google. I don’t know much classical music, and it took me ages to find out who it was.

  • “Myfanwy” by the Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir—The most beautiful song of unrequited love that I know.

  • “Strange Feeling” by Billy Stewart—He made some beautiful, sweet soul songs, and this is my favorite.

  • “Gentle on My Mind” by Tammy Wynette—I never really listened to the lyrics of this song until I heard her sing it. What a great voice and a great song.

  • “La Vie en rose” by Edith Piaf—I only know a little bit of French, so I don’t really want to know the translation of the lyrics in case it ruins the song for me. I’ve got my own version in my head.

  • “Look Over Your Shoulder” by The Escorts—These were four guys from Newark serving long prison sentences who made an album and some singles while in prison. I wonder what happened to them?

  • “Confessing a Feeling” by Sly, Slick and Wicked—A lovely, sweet soul song from guys who I think are still performing live.

  • “My Garden of Eden” by Entertainers IV—A bit obscure, this one. Never heard anything else by them. That’s a shame.

Thanks, Glyn!

Readers, what do you think? If you were stranded on a desert island and could have only one playlist or one bookshelf with you for the rest of your life, what songs or books would you choose?

  • For a Desert Island Playlist, send me a list of up to 12 songs, excluding hymns and worship songs. (We’ll cover those later.)

  • For a Desert Island Bookshelf, send me a list of up to 12 books. If possible, include one photo of all the books together.

Send your list to, and include as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like.

Quote of the Moment

It is as impossible for man to demonstrate the existence of God as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle. …

In the last analysis, you cannot pontificate but only point. A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, “I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross—the way he carries me.

—Frederick Buechner, in Wishful Thinking

Currently Reading (or Rereading)

Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a true story) (Levine Querido)

Thomas S. Kidd, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh (Yale University Press)

Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future (Simon & Schuster)

George Orwell, Coming Up for Air (Harcourt)

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Russell Moore

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