It was bad enough for the nation’s soul that Republican evangelicals---the self-designated “Values Voters”---supported the totally values-free candidate Donald Trump and boosted him into the presidency, becoming the most reliable bloc of his base since he took office.
Now, in the upcoming Senate race in Alabama, these same voters purporting to reflect Christian values are standing by the embattled former judge Roy S. Moore, despite the disturbing allegations from a series of women---at last count, nine (9)--- that Moore had inappropriate sexual encounters with them when he was in his thirties and they were under-age (also here, here, and here).
Says a Moore supporter, “He’s nothing but a godly man trying to make this country come to its senses because of liberals and the other side trying to protect their evil ways.” Says a pastor supporting Moore, “I don’t know how much these women are getting paid.” This same pastor said he’d vote for Moore even if he was proved to have sexually molested the girls: “There ought to be a statute of limitations on this stuff.”
Seriously? I pray you, Values Voters: Don’t do this. Think of the nation’s soul: Putting an alleged sexual predator in the Senate, after putting an admitted sexual predator in the White House, only reinforces the wrong path taken in the 2016 presidential race---elevating political gain over character---and further hurts a hurting America.
Christianity traditionally has preached the importance of moral character and action, expected both in our leaders and in ourselves. Christianity has also preached against the wickedness of hypocrisy: saying one thing---the moral thing---but doing its opposite, while maintaining a façade of rectitude. “For they preach, but do not practice,” as the Bible puts it. It’s a good precept, whether you are Christian or not.
But in recent decades, the conservative right has “evolved” its thinking in a more politically expedient direction. While still requiring adherence to moral values in their personal lives, they’ve become far more lenient of the politicians they support, starting with their embrace of Ronald Reagan, a divorced Hollywood actor. Why the expediency? Because, they believe, the pursuit of their Holy Grail---to do away with abortion---requires it. For years their focus was on getting Congress to reverse Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion, but more recently their focus is the composition of the Court itself. The conservative right supports candidates vowing to reshape the Court so as to overturn Roe v. Wade, also protect religious freedom.
This shift in stance is remarkable. As political philosopher Samuel Kimbriel writes in The Washington Post, citing a Public Religion Research Institute survey, “Whereas in 2011 only 30 percent of evangelicals thought that a person who commits immoral acts in their personal life could still behave ethically in their public duties, by 2016, that figure had leaped to 72 percent.” Regarding the allegations against Roy Moore, Kimbriel notes that while many on the right condemn his candidacy:
“Still, the fact that there is even a debate on whether the allegations, if true, are disqualifying is deeply revealing. It betokens a Protestant right that is open to establishing a pattern whereby even egregious moral failure is a price worth paying for political and cultural power, and whereby one need not seek actual goodness, but rather need only not to exceed the badness of one’s opponents.”
Speaking of opponents, the far right regularly brands the opposition as bad, even evil. In the 2016 presidential race, with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton holding abortion rights as “sacrosanct,” to evangelicals she became evil incarnate. But since when do the Scriptures preach hate? What about “Love thy neighbor”---and thy opponent---“as thyself”? Strange, how support for morally dicey candidates like Trump and Moore, constructed as that support is on expedient and contingent grounds, translates into hard unyielding hatred of opponents.
Moore is a queasy-making piece of work. The allegations of the women against him are hard to read but credible, describing acts with teenage girls that should disturb any conscience, most especially a Christian conscience. Moore vehemently denies the allegations, characterizing them as “political,” but no less a skeptic than Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says, “I believe the women.” (Thank you, Mitch McConnell.) But Values Voters hate McConnell too, arch-representative of the Republican establishment. (Of “political” note: the Russian disinformation campaign in the U.S., which, regarding this race, cites pastors claiming that the anti-Moore allegations reflect a “war on men” and that women are the real sexual predators.)
It’s hard to imagine Moore as a judge, given his questionable judgment to date girls half his age. Moore was expelled from the bench twice (as chief justice), the first time for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he’d had erected in Alabama’s Judicial Building. In light of the allegations of his earlier un-Christian behavior, that monument, as well as his creation of the Foundation for Moral Law, might be seen as a hypocrite’s over-compensation. (There is no Commandment explicitly prohibiting sex with children, but there should be.)
Moore appeals to the conservative right by making Christian nationalism a hallmark of his campaign---which Christian nationalism needs to be understood for what it proposes: to elevate the Christian God over the U.S. Constitution, a radical departure from one of America’s founding principles, separation of church and state. At the recent 2017 Values Voter Summit, Moore declared, “Our foundation has been shaken to the core because we have forgotten the source of our morality”---this, from an alleged sexual predator. The admitted sexual predator, Donald Trump, also spoke.
The Values Voter Summit, founded in 2006 near the end of the George W. Bush administration, is the marquee event of the Family Research Council, which was founded in 1983. It still boggles the liberal mind that entities calling themselves the Family Research Council and the Values Voters Summit (italics mine), who together claim to be leading defenders of “faith, family and freedom” in America, could embrace such corruption as represented by Trump and Moore.
This is not to discount the corruption liberals are capable of, as I’ve written about before (here, for example). But Values Voters might be surprised at how many liberals are as agonized as they about the moral tone in America today. We’re agonizing now at the high participation rate of liberals in the current sexual harassment scandal, just as we agonized over former president Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct. On abortion, the right’s Holy Grail, many of us liberals believe there should be restrictions. As to our alleged paganism, many liberals, myself included, are believers who left the church in big part because of religion’s politicization and ensuing hypocrisy.
As to the election on Dec. 12: The people of Alabama will decide. Moore’s campaign has released a list of 50 pastors who support him no matter what. Another set of 59 pastors has released a letter declaring Moore “not fit for office”; other pastors are speaking out, deeply troubled by Moore (also here and here). Weighing in finally, President Trump says, “We don’t need another liberal in there, a Democrat”---again liberal-hatred. The Democrat is Doug Jones, a former U.S. Attorney who, 35 years after the crime, convicted two Klansmen for the murder of four African-American girls in a Birmingham church in 1963. Initially silent on the Moore allegations, Jones is now citing them in TV ads. With Moore’s poll numbers falling, this race is a toss-up. The battle, political and moral, is on.
With fully half of all Alabama residents calling themselves evangelical, election day will be a kind of Judgment Day, requiring quiet time in Gethsemane to ponder. To be pondered there: how far political expediency has diverged from Biblical precepts of moral character; how expediency leads to hypocrisy---and has led to an alleged sexual predator on the ballot; how this vote impacts not only Alabama but the nation’s soul.
One last thing to ponder: With the sexual harassment scandal currently churning nationwide, a moral reckoning---a reawakening?---seems at long last to be taking place in the larger culture. A troubled America seems to be repairing some of its troubles---repair work which History tells us nations rarely do. Meaning: One wants to land, not only on the right side of the Bible, but also on the right side of History.
Carla Seaquist’s latest book is titled “Can America Save Itself from Decline?: Politics, Culture, Morality.” An earlier book is titled “Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character.” Also a playwright, she published “Two Plays of Life and Death” and is at work on a play titled “Prodigal.”