WASHINGTON – In the afterglow of a historic vote to denounce racism and the alt-right, Dr. Russell Moore, a leading figure in the Southern Baptist Convention put an exclamation point on a statement the church made last week at its annual meeting in Phoenix.
"The Southern Baptist Convention sent a very clear message that white supremacy is not only wrong, white supremacy is Satanic," said Dr. Moore, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Moore compared the vote to taking a stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and against all forms of bigotry and racial superiority.
The process required two separate resolutions after the initial motion failed. The first resolution reportedly contained inflammatory and broad language that "potentially implicated conservatives who do not support the 'alt-right' movement," according to Barrett Duke, who led the resolutions committee.
But Moore described the entire process as an opportunity to minister to both black and white Southern Baptists and to experience the power of healing through racial reconciliation.
Still, Moore rejected calls from LGBT activists who want the world's largest Protestant denomination to reexamine the issue of homosexuality as a sin.
"We didn't make up a Christian sexual ethic. Jesus gave it to us, so we cannot revise," Moore explained.
But he's quick to remind Christians to respond with conviction and kindness.
"We love people as people, and that means telling people the truth about what it is we believe, while also realizing that there's mercy and grace found in Jesus Christ," he continued. "I think we love people and we stand with conviction. We know how to do that in other areas. We ought to do that here as well."
Moore made those remarks exclusively to CBN News after taking part in the unveiling and signing of the Justice Declaration, where he and other religious leaders called on Christians to mobilize around the issue of criminal justice reform.
The group believes some of the ways the country responds to crime is misguided, fails to make America safer, and harms many families and society with devastating consequences.
The coalition released the Justice Declaration document, which states the Church across America needs to do more to raise the level of morality so people won't commit crimes.
It also seeks more proportional punishments and alternatives to jailing to help offenders abandon a life of crime.
And it calls on churches to spend more time ministering in jails and prisons and working to welcome and assist those who have paid their debts to society.
"We wanted to say with a unified voice the system isn't working the way it is," Moore explained. "These are real people who are involved; real lives that are at stake, and something needs to change."
Crime rates may be down about half over the last three decades, but the number of Americans declared criminals is soaring. Some 65 million now have a criminal record.
Logic would suggest locking bad people up is what's brought those crime rates down, but the research doesn't support the idea. In fact, experts believe prison often serves as sort of a crime incubator, turning low-level offenders into more violent ones more likely to offend when they're released.
"Jesus commands us as churches to care for those who are prisoners, to care for those who are vulnerable, which our churches are doing right now," Moore said.
"Scripture also mandates that the government maintain order. That's not happening right now. We have a criminal justice system that isn't adequately dealing with crime," he added. "So we want a government that's tough on crime; in fact, even tougher on crime than it is right now. But with a criminal justice system that works."
As incarceration rates have soared over the past few decades, so has the bill to pay for it. It costs on average about $31,000 to lock up someone for a year, according to a report by the coalition.
In 1980, the nationwide price tag was $17 billion. Today the cost exceeds $70 billion, an increase of 324%.
The coalition believes spending more time rehabilitating criminals and giving them a chance to pay restitution to their victims could save taxpayers money as well as make America safer.