Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal hired a new religion reporter.
In that role, Ian Lovett has produced some interesting pieces, such as a story last week on Donald Trump's election reinvigorating the religious right.
But I don't know that Lovett has made a bigger splash than he did Monday: He scored what appears to be a major scoop on Southern Baptist discord over Russell Moore, influential president of the denomination's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission:
As one of my fellow GetReligionistas pointed out, this story is one that we'd typically expect from the likes of the Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey (who wrote a 2015 Christianity Today cover story on Moore) or the New York Times' Laurie Goodstein.
So kudos to Lovett for a clutch home run in the Godbeat big leagues! (If somehow I missed the story elsewhere before reading it in the WSJ, feel free to charge me with an error.)
Lovett's lede sets the scene:
During the presidential race, Russell Moore, the public face of the Southern Baptist denomination, emerged as one of the most persistent and high-profile conservative critics of Donald Trump. He denounced the Republican candidate’s stance on immigration and his moral character, and sharply questioned many of the evangelical Christians who supported him.
That message has prompted indignation from prominent figures within the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., with more than 15 million members. And it has put Mr. Moore in a precarious position, as Baptists argue over the political direction of an organization with a global reach and a powerful impact on American life.
Some Baptist pastors are considering cutting funds that flow from their congregations to the Southern Baptist Convention—or to its policy agency, which Mr. Moore heads—in a potentially dramatic rebuke.
Keep reading, and the WSJ writer has solid sources with a variety of viewpoints, including Jack Graham, pastor of a Dallas-area Southern Baptist megachurch, and Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
In fact, in Graham, Lovett has a better source than he may realize. Although the WSJ doesn't mention it, Graham served two years as president of the Southern Baptist Convention during George W. Bush's time in the White House.
I highlighted Graham's political ties in a 2004 interview for The Associated Press:
PLANO, Texas — President Bush welcomes the Rev. Jack Graham to the Oval Office in a photograph that hangs in the conference room beside the Baptist minister’s office.
In another picture, Graham – pastor of the 22,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in this Dallas suburb – poses with former President Bush and his wife, Barbara.
Other images show the minister joking around with a friend, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and praying with the world’s most famous evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, no relation to him.
The photos attest to the influence of Jack Graham, 53, who grew up in the small town of Conway, Ark., and pastored small churches in Texas and Oklahoma before rising to the top of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Mohler, too, is a powerful figure in the SBC world.
The WSJ does an excellent job of highlighting the debate over Moore. Yes, theology is part of it. But politics seems to be a bigger part: In other words, some Baptists are worried about access in Trump's White House:
Brad Whitt, the pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Georgia, said he worried during the campaign that Mr. Moore’s rhetoric would be a problem if Mr. Trump won. His church, too, has discussed withholding its funding of the ERLC, and he said he has expressed his concerns to Southern Baptist Convention staff and trustees.
“We want to see what he says, and whether he has a seat at the table in Washington,” Mr. Whitt said. “If not, we’ll be wasting a whole lot of time, energy and finances that could be going to the mission field.”
As the old saying goes, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." NPR's Godbeat pro Tom Gjelten has his own story today on the backlash against Moore:
Jonathan Merritt, the progressive Religion News Service columnist whose father, James, is a former SBC president, quotes the WSJ as he offers his take:
Yes, the story is generating plenty of discussion on social media:
And the subject of the discussion has published his election-year thoughts:
So it seems that — since Lovett's story hit the internet less than 24 hours ago — everybody is talking about this.
Hey WSJ, that's what we call a scoop!