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Bible Teacher Beth Moore Breaks From Publisher, Says ‘I Am No Longer Southern Baptist’

Bible Teacher Beth Moore Breaks From Publisher
Beth Moore addresses attendees at the summit on sexual abuse and misconduct at Wheaton College on Dec. 13, 2018.
RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

The Banner has a subscription with the Associated Press to republish religion and faith content from AP, RNS, and The Conversation. This story from Religion News Service has been edited for length. You can read the full article here.

Beth Moore, prolific Bible study author and teacher, told Religion News Service in a March 5 interview that she recently ended her longtime publishing partnership with Nashville-based LifeWay Christian. While Lifeway will still distribute her books, it will no longer publish them or administer her live events. (Full disclosure: The author of this article is a former Lifeway employee.)

“I am still a Baptist, but I can no longer identify with Southern Baptists,” Moore said in the phone interview. “I love so many Southern Baptist people, so many Southern Baptist churches, but I don’t identify with some of the things in our heritage that haven’t remained in the past.”

The departure comes after Moore’s public criticism of President Donald Trump’s abusive behavior toward women and her advocacy for sexual abuse victims turned her from a beloved icon to a pariah in the denomination she loved all her life.

Kate Bowler, a historian at Duke Divinity School who has studied evangelical women celebrities, said Moore’s departure is a significant loss for the Southern Baptist Convention.

Moore, she said, is one of the denomination’s few stand-alone women leaders, whose platform was based on her own “charisma, leadership and incredible work ethic” and not her marriage to a famed pastor. (Moore’s husband is a plumber by trade.) She also appealed to a wide audience outside her denomination.

“Ms. Moore is a deeply trusted voice across the liberal-conservative divide, and has always been able to communicate a deep faithfulness to her tradition,” Bowler said. “The Southern Baptists have lost a powerful champion in a time in which their public witness has already been significantly weakened.”

Moore’s first study, “A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place,” was published in 1995 and was a hit, leading to dozens of additional studies, all backed up by hundreds of hours of research and reflecting Moore’s relentless desire to know more about the Bible. 

From 2001 to 2016, Moore’s Living Proof Ministries ran six-figure surpluses, building its assets from about a million dollars in 2001 to just under $15 million by April 2016, according to reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Her work as a Bible teacher has permeated down to small church Bible study groups and sold-out stadiums with her Living Proof Live events.

For Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention was her family, her tribe, her heritage. Her Baptist church where she grew up in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, was a refuge from a troubled home where she experienced sexual abuse.

“My local church, growing up, saved my life,” she told RNS. “So many times, my home was my unsafe place. My church was my safe place.”

As an adult, she taught Sunday school and Bible study and then, with her Lifeway partnership, her life became deeply intertwined with the denomination. She believed in Jesus. And she also believed in the SBC.

In October 2016, Moore had what she called “the shock of my life,” when reading the transcripts of the “Access Hollywood” tapes, where Trump boasted of his sexual exploits with women.

“This wasn’t just immorality,” she said. “This smacked of sexual assault.”

She expected her fellow evangelicals, especially Southern Baptist leaders she trusted, to be outraged, especially given how they had reacted to Bill Clinton’s conduct in the 1990s. Instead, she said, they rallied around Trump.

“The disorientation of this was staggering,” she said. “Just staggering.”

Moore, who described herself as “pro-life from conception to grave,” said she had no illusions about why evangelicals supported Trump, who promised to deliver anti-abortion judges up and down the judicial system.

Still, she could not comprehend how he became a champion of the faith. “He became the banner ... the salvation of the church in America,” she said. “Nothing could have prepared me for that.”

When Moore spoke out about Trump, the pushback was fierce. Book sales plummeted as did ticket sales to her events. Her criticism of Trump was seen as an act of betrayal. From fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2019, Living Proof lost more than $1.8 million.

After allegations of abuse and misconduct began to surface among Southern Baptists in 2016, Moore also became increasingly concerned about her denomination’s tolerance for leaders who treated women with disrespect.

In 2018, she wrote a “letter to my brothers” on her blog, outlining her concerns about the deference she was expected to show male leaders, going as far as wearing flats instead of heels when she was serving alongside a man who was shorter than she was.

She also began to speak out about her own experience of abuse, especially after a February 2019 report from the Houston Chronicle, her hometown newspaper, detailed more than 700 cases of sexual abuse among Southern Baptists over a 20-year period.

Related: At Wheaton Summit, Evangelical Leaders Share Stories of Abuse

In May 2019 she was dismayed over reactions to posts on Twitter between her and friend and fellow writer Vicki Courtney mentioning preaching engagements on Mother’s Day.

“We were in the middle of the biggest sexual abuse scandal that has ever hit our denomination,” she said. “And suddenly, the most important thing to talk about was whether or not a woman could stand at the pulpit and give a message.”

When Moore attended the SBC’s annual meeting in June 2019 and spoke on a panel about abuse, she felt she was no longer welcome.

Things have only gotten worse since then, said Moore. The SBC has been roiled by debates over critical race theory, causing a number of high-profile Black pastors to leave the denomination. Politics and Christian nationalism have crowded out the gospel, she said.

While all this was going on, Moore was working on a new Bible study with her daughter Melissa on the New Testament’s letter to Galatians. As she studied that book, Moore was struck by a passage where the Apostle Paul, the letter’s author, describes a confrontation with Peter, another apostle and early church leader, saying Peter’s conduct was “not in step with the gospel.”

That phrase, she said, resonated with her. It described what she and other concerned Southern Baptists were seeing as being wrong in their denomination.

“It was not in step with the gospel,” she said.  Moore still loves the things Southern Baptists believe, she said, and is determined to stay connected with a local church. She hopes at some point, the public witness of Southern Baptists will return to those core values and away from the nationalism, sexism, and racial divides that seem to define its public witness.

So far that has not happened.

“At the end of the day, there comes a time when you have to say, this is not who I am,” she said.

Moore had formed long-term friendships with her editing and marketing team at Lifeway and saying goodbye was painful, though amicable. “These are people that I love so dearly and they are beloved forever,” she said. “I just have not been able to regard many things in my adult ministry life as more of a manifestation of grace than that gift of partnership with Lifeway.”

Becky Loyd, director of Lifeway Women, spoke fondly about Moore.

“Our relationship with Beth is not over; we will continue to love, pray and support Beth for years to come,” she told RNS in an email. “Lifeway is so thankful to the Lord for allowing us to be a small part of how God has used Beth over many years to help women engage Scripture in deep and meaningful ways and help them grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.”

By Bob Smietana for Religion News Service

© 2021 Religion News Service

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