The name, Louis Moore, is not new to Southern Baptists. Nor, in fact, is his name stranger to religion in general in the United States.
A veteran religious journalist exceeding four decades, Moore may be best known, at least in Southern Baptist circles, as one of the major journalists of the Conservative Resurgence that began among the nation's largest Protestant denomination in 1979. Indeed, as Moore writes his perspective in the Prologue, "View from the Skybox,"
"As this scene unfolded in front of me, I marveled that I was there--actually there!--witnessing firsthand what would become one of the most important developments in 20th century Christianity--the transformation of the Southern Baptist Convention from a little-known (outside of the south) church group with a distinctively Southern Democratic style into one of the most powerful conservative political and social forces in the United States of America" (p.16).
In his newest book, Witness To The Truth: Lessons Learned by a Veteran Journalist through Four Decades of Watching the Church (Witness), Moore intends to reminisce as both a skilled observer and an insider on the inner workings of denominational life of the nation's most influential Christian bodies. Covering several different denominations through his career, our focus here is particularly Moore's inside insights on the people known as Southern Baptists.
Others have offered their initial thoughts on Moore's work. For example, Pastor-Scholar, Dr. Bart Barber offered an excellent introduction some time back. Pastor Robin Foster at SBC Today reviewed Moore's work as well. One would do well to consult their analysis.
Witness is a chronological collage of experiences that Moore and his wife have had through the years beginning with his conversion (p.23), his early years as a Baylor student and first job as a journalist with the university student newspaper (p.31). As Witness proceeds, Moore''s concern is to "reveal certain core truths, discerned from [his] unique vantage point, that [he's] gleaned about organized religion--truths that link together Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, charismatics, and even to some extent, Jews, Mormons, and Buddhists" (p.20). Though to clarify, it is not doctrinal similarities between such diverse groups Moore finds intriguing.
Rather, it's the personalities of the leaders themselves within each faith community that guides his thinking. Indeed, according to Moore, despite such theological differences between the aforementioned communities, "their leaders and psychological interactions with others reflect similar traits, characteristics, motivations, and attitudes" (p.20). At one point, Moore likens Southern Baptist bureaucracy to the historic bureaucracy of the Roman Catholic Church. He writes:
These myths, however, camouflaged the reality that the Southern Baptist bureaucracy then as well as now can stand toe-to-toe with the Roman Catholic bureaucracy in the United States in size, scope, and power. In fact, a solid argument could be put forward that Roman Catholics are less bureaucratic in many ways than Southern Baptists. Nashville was the prime example" (p.224).
This particular quote from Witness calls for mentioning one of the able qualities of Moore's work--believability. The ink was hardly dry on the pages when charges came that his book was little more than hyped-up lies and pro-Conservative Resurgence propaganda. As I read Witness, what struck me most, I think, was Moore's rather evident independence from any "party" within the Southern Baptist Convention. In short, Moore appears to possess no beholdings to anybody, a necessary trait for any semblance of professional journalism. For my part, Moore wears that garment well.
Perusing through the index offers the would-be reader a sampling of the people with whom Moore either personally interacted or whose actions he engaged, a virtual who's who in Southern Baptist life--Charles Allen, Carl Bates, Harold Bennett, Martin Bradley, Wade Burleson, Jimmy Carter, Ken Chafin, John Claypool, W.A. Criswell, Russell Dilday, James Draper, W.C. Fields, Roy Honeycutt, Don Krammerdiener, Richard Land, Dan Martin, Charles Page, Dorothy Patterson, Paige Patterson, Nancy Pressler, Paul Pressler, Jerry Rankin, Adrian Rogers, Al Shackleford, Bill Sherman, Cecil Sherman, James Sullivan, Foy Valentine, and etc, and etc.
Interestingly, Moore offers an olive branch to no one and attempts to honestly share as objective an account as possible. With perfect balance, he refuses to cover over the less than sparkling actions of many while offering surprising insight into well-know "enemies." And, he gets really personal at times, sharing his own enduring pain for both himself and his wife as his journey following the Conservative Resurgence years unfolded.
At one meeting he attended, the room was so tense and the viciousness of the public, verbal attacks against him were so prolonged, he left the room in tears. Along with some other anecdotes, he tells of the weird actions of some of Nashville's leaders when he first arrived there to work with the Christian Life Commission.
- Do grown men, men with household names in Southern Baptist life, meet in conference rooms with lights off, curtains pulled? Do they meet in one stall restrooms?
- Do leaders share nasty things about a particular staff member at a church you're thinking about joining, and then, once they've convinced you to look elsewhere, they and their family join the church they just talked you out of joining?
- Do high ranking executives at one of our agencies quote you one salary and, after you've taken the position and ready to move, drop the salary down to even lower than what you were at your old job? A mistake? Possibly. But why did the next guy experience the very same thing?
- Do these same executives spend a million dollars of unapproved funds the trustees had no say in?
- Do these same executives quote a renovation project estimate to be approximately $14m when the final tally is more like $40m?
- Do our Southern Baptist agencies really hire Unitarian Universalists to work for our denomination? In evangelism and missions?
Make no mistake. Moore has the goods. And, Moore is believable.
Finally, while Witness sounds like "whistle-blower" genre, I do not think it fits such. For me, Moore appears to possess no toy to fix or club to pound or even a revelation to give. He was simply sharing snippets of his experience as a journalist--albeit an insider--covering the largest Protestant group in the United States.
Nor does his portrayal diminish my love and respect for either our denomination, its agencies or its employees. It does, however, deepen my concern that solid, faithful Southern Baptist trustees continue to be appointed to oversee our agencies. Not to mention that Moore's book should nail in place once again the single plank of our existence: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief" (italics mine).
Get the book. Now. With that, I am...