NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) — For nearly three decades, Beth Moore has been the very model of a modern Southern Baptist.
She loves Jesus and the Bible and has dedicated her life to teaching others why they need both of them in their lives. Millions of evangelical Christian women have read her Bible studies and flocked to hear her speak at stadium-style events where Moore delves deeply into biblical passages.
Moore’s outsize influence and role in teaching the Bible have always made some evangelical power brokers uneasy, because of their belief only men should be allowed to preach.
But Moore was above reproach, supporting Southern Baptist teaching that limits the office of pastor to men alone and cheerleading for the missions and evangelistic work that the denomination holds dear.
“She has been a stalwart for the Word of God, never compromising,” former Lifeway Christian Resources President Thom Rainer said in 2015, during a celebration at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville that honored 20 years of partnership between the Southern Baptist publishing house and Moore. “And when all is said and done, the impact of Beth Moore can only be measured in eternity’s grasp.”
Then along came Donald Trump.
Moore’s criticism of the 45th president’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.
“Wake up, Sleepers, to what women have dealt with all along in environments of gross entitlement & power,” Moore once wrote about Trump, riffing on a passage from the New Testament Book of Ephesians.
Because of her opposition to Trump and her outspokenness in confronting sexism and nationalism in the evangelical world, Moore has been labeled as “liberal” and “woke” and even as being a heretic for daring to give a message during a Sunday morning church service.
Finally, Moore had had enough. She told Religion News Service in an interview Friday (March 5) that she is “no longer a Southern Baptist.”
“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.”
Moore told RNS 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.)Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
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 without having to follow the Southern Baptist’s scramble to make Trump spiritually respectable,” Bowler said. “The Southern Baptists have lost a powerful champion in a time in which their public witness has already been significantly weakened.”
Moore may be one of the most unlikely celebrity Bible teachers in recent memory. In the 1980s, she began sharing devotionals during the aerobics classes she taught at First Baptist Church in Houston. She then began teaching a popular women’s Bible study at the church, which eventually attracted thousands each week.
In the early 1990s, she wrote a Bible study manuscript and sent it to Lifeway, then known as the Baptist Sunday School Board, where it was rejected. However, after a Lifeway staffer saw Moore teach a class in person, the publisher changed its mind.
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.