Now, that tense stand-off seems like a lifetime ago. Jack Graham was one of the pastors who signed onto the ERLC’s “coalition” letter in support of Kavanaugh, along with Ronnie Floyd, another Trump adviser and former Southern Baptist Convention president. “I was glad to do it, because it shows the unity … around something very important to all of us,” Graham told me. “I am really glad that Russell Moore … circled back on this. He has not been vocally supportive of the president, and I’m hoping this is an indicator that he’s going to be more supportive.”
Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is the consummation of one of the big bets behind the 2016 election. Many white Christians voted for Donald Trump because they believed he would appoint conservative justices who would protect religious liberty and advance the pro-life cause. Now, ostensibly, they’ve been vindicated. With less than two years in office, Trump will very possibly see the confirmation of his second Supreme Court nominee, another handpicked choice of the conservative legal establishment.
At the time, however, it wasn’t at all clear how this bet would play out. Particularly in the evangelical world, the divisions over the 2016 election were bitter. A number of prominent leaders stepped out to urge their fellow Christians to consider what their vote would say to the world. Two years later, their largely positive reaction to Kavanaugh’s nomination is one sign that the intense political fractures in the evangelical world are fading—at least on the surface, and at least for now.
“I’ve never seen the SBC this unified,” said one of these leaders—Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention—in an interview on Wednesday. That unity has emerged in personal relationships and attitudes, he said, but it also seems to be the case in politics. Eighteen months into the Trump era, evangelical leaders are looking for ways to come together under this administration, even if existential questions about the future of the evangelical movement remain.
When Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced, Moore’s office—the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, or ERLC—put out a jubilant statement. “Supreme Court nominations are a crucial aspect of any president’s legacy,” it read. “With Judge Kavanaugh, President Trump has an opportunity to shape the direction of the Supreme Court for a generation or more.” On Wednesday, Moore told me he was “very happy” with the pick: “[Kavanaugh] is a thought leader,” Moore said, “not just someone who’s parroting slogans.”
Around this time three years ago, Moore was not speaking so positively about then-candidate Trump: His “attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord, not that of a statesman of character,” the evangelical leader tweeted. In the months leading up to the election, even Trump took notice of Moore’s consistent digs: “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!” the presidential candidate wrote in May 2016.
Other Southern Baptist leaders took a different route than Moore. By the time of the election, many had decided to support Trump, whether holding their noses or cheering him all the way. Some resented Moore’s public feuding with the presidential candidate and what they perceived as derision toward Trump voters. A few months after Trump’s inauguration, this disagreement spilled out into the open: Jack Graham, a prominent Texas megachurch pastor who also serves as one of Trump’s advisers, threatened to pull his church’s funding for the Southern Baptist Convention because of Moore’s actions. His staff, along with other Baptist pastors, criticized Moore in The Wall Street Journal.