Dear Russell Moore,
I do not expect you will read this letter, but I hope someone who knows you will. First, let me send my heartfelt gratitude for the work you have done in the SBC and now are finally leaving, as you should. I feel the pain in your words describing what you have experienced psychologically in an abusive organization. I hope you get therapy to deal with it. Once you leave you will start feeling the wounds more and more as you heal being away from the abuse. You will need a good support group and a therapist. Healing is holy work, but it can also feel violent. You have endured a lot of abuse and your ability to smile and pretend like everything is okay is exactly what trauma survivors do to get by until they are safe. A lot of people you once trusted and loved with all your heart have turned out not to be who you thought they were. The relationship and the work you were doing for the SBC was not happening as a whole, because the SBC has been about power–and this has been true for a long time. I, too, have experienced this betrayal and shock–mine just does not make religion news. I would like to share with you my story and to also plead with you to reconsider some of the stances you hold because you believe in the doctrine of hell. Psychologically that is a very bad doctrine that creates hell, not heaven, on earth. That doctrine you hold will need to be deconstructed to be part of your healing work.
I need to start off by saying this is Pride Month. I am a bit frustrated you are getting so much attention at the start of this extremely important month. You have worked tirelessly against the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, and I suspect this comes from believing in hell. You made it clear you care about justice because of hell, not because you believe in human flourishing. Human flourishing is a different approach, and it changes the way one sees the world when it becomes about life and not hell. You said this about abortion and racial reconciliation, and I will to get to those next. You signed the Nashville Statement when Houston and Florida were under water because of hurricanes. What made that seem like a good idea when our nation was experiencing trauma? You went after the precious lives of our siblings who are made in the image of God and were (and still are) my healers when I almost left the church completely. Like you, I saw the abuse and the resistance to meaningful change because money was getting the last word, not the truth which protects the vulnerable. I saw people rally behind a sexual predator white nationalist and treat the LGBTQIA+ community and women like they were the threat instead. You said you smiled and wanted “the lost” (another term we need to rethink) to not know about this stuff and associate it with Jesus. You did not want them to leave tired and defeated not believing in God. Well, that would have been the safest thing for so many. I left, and God pursued me. The LGBTQIA+ community helped me piece myself back together and find church again. When I looked for a church home to return to, I would not enter a church if the lives of the LGBTQIA+ community was not fully valued and welcomed at the table, same for women. Letting people leave can be the greatest act of love and protection. Jesus will find the lost sheep, and it is not because they were lost because they did not know God, but because they are deeply wounded and God cares about that. My journey led me to a Baptist church, but not that kind of Baptist.
I grew up in the Church of Christ tradition and loved it. But looking back now, I remember things that were troubling for me as a girl/woman in a complementarian church. Of course, it did not have that name then, we just made sure women were not preachers or elders because god forbid a woman make a decision in church. The patriarchy would crumble. I am not one who likes to stand up and speak, but one time after a mission trip I really wanted to and I was blocked because I was a girl. I had never been so angry at the church in my life. I had something in my heart that I wanted to share but my gender prevented that from happening. Why are so many people participating in churches that do this to our girls? This is why women and children are abused at such a high rate in the SBC and the Catholic church–and smaller churches like Church of Christ that do not typically make national headlines. As you reported the misogyny is fierce in the SBC. The racist remark against Tricia Newbell was because they feared an egalitarian woman and believed she was one because she is black. It is gross and reveals what they think about women. I am trying to raise the red flag about how serious this is. You mentioned Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. They are two women who are influential and did amazing work for the flourishing of life through our Baptist tradition locally and worldwide–work men were not willing to do. Both of them believed in patriarchy, though, and this is probably why they are remembered and Nannie Helen Burroughs is not.
White and black women, both, created women’s societies because they were blocked by men. The SBC most viciously blocked women. The cruelty towards women is not new in the SBC, especially toward black women. Annie Armstrong did a lot of great work, but she also worked against women preaching and agreed their women’s society would be subordinate to the SBC convention. The women who were better fundraisers and doing the social justice work necessary to keep the faith as tangible good news to the community, became subordinate to men not only in personhood but organizationally too. Nannie Helen Burroughs said no, though. She is the woman most responsible for changing the status of women in African-American Baptist life. She gave an impactful speech at the Women’s Convention: “How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping.” The NBCUSA wanted the WC to become one of it’s boards and Nannie Helen Burroughs said no. She was not going to risk their organization coming under control of men who had resisted their participation. She did a lot more amazing work, and I suggest Baptists learn more about Nannie Helen Burroughs, in addition to the women you have already mentioned. Women are the ones who have been doing the social justice work and receiving little to no credit, and definitely no official titles.
Now let’s talk about the abortion debate. Russell, I implore you to reconsider this argument you keep making that is not rooted in facts. I called the pregnancy center that Prestonwood Baptist runs a few months ago to see what kind of help they offer women–prevention or women’s healthcare. Zero! They are trying to take out Planned Parenthood who does offer education to help prevent unwanted pregnancies, pass out birth control, and give necessary medical care for women in need. All Prestonwood Baptist Pregnancy Center does is offer an ultrasound and pregnancy tests. This is not prolife by any stretch of the imagination. They also do not offer licensed therapy for women who are experiencing trauma. They give unsolicited spiritual advise that can be deadly used this way. This needs to be taken seriously. Plus, abortions are lower when they are legal. There are so many reasons they happen, and they are not the reasons you push in your argument because you fear hell. I am begging you and your community to listen and rethink. We need to create a culture that trusts women. Texas is passing such extreme policies and it is to prevent women from voting. If we can make women felons, then women can’t vote. This will affect the poor most significantly, and guess who just happens to be the largest population of the poor community?
Russell, I am coming to you not because I believe in hell, but because I believe in heaven. Oh, I am probably considered a liberal and I will just own it. I love living life wide open and full of love. I trust people when they say they are hurt. I just realized, in this very moment, that the moment that made me so angry as a teen in church is being redeemed. The pulpit is being offered to me now to speak–not to speak from fear or obligation, but out of my abundance. The same feeling I had that day as a teen when I wanted to speak to my church about what I had seen. This is also happening in Baptist life. The SBC is not the whole story. I hope you will hear me in some way and join the family story. You are just like all of us, we do not know a whole lot, but we know what we were doing before is not/was not working anymore.
Praying for you. I know there is a lot of healing work to be done. I am holding space in my heart for you as you go and heal.