Evangelicals in America have long felt a burden to use the political arena to advance God’s kingdom. They’ve wanted this so badly, and so blindly, that they just missed their best chance to do so, instead choosing to defend a sexual predator.
There was a brief window of time when Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore seemed done. Multiple women had accused the then 30 year old Moore of pursuing relationships with them when they were teenagers. One accused him of forced sexual assault. He became so infamous for this behavior a mall barred him from entry. A girl he said he didn’t know had a yearbook signed by him. Moore’s explanation was so nonsensical that even Sean Hannity - reigning king over the land of nonsense - said in effect, “this guy needs to get it together.” Despite holding a tenuous edge in the Senate and badly needing that seat, the Republican National Convention cut off funding. President Trump’s support became ambivalent at best, and Republican senators discussed write-in candidates or throwing him out of the Senate altogether if he was elected.
Pretty much everyone knew two things: 1) Moore was clearly guilty of sexually preying on teenage girls and 2) That was bad. Everyone that is except Alabama evangelicals. In a poll released days after the scandal broke 34% of Alabama evangelicals said the allegations made no difference in their opinion of Moore, 28% said they were less likely to vote for him, and 37% said they were more likely to vote for him.
For a period of time the democratic challenger to the Alabama seat, Doug Jones, surged in the polls, but over time Moore has inched his way back and now seems likely to win. As this has happened the usual lineup of evangelical sycophants - Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress - have either exonerated, minimized, or excused Moore’s behavior. Meanwhile Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler said Moore’s behavior wasn’t a big deal because “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” Alabama State Representative Ed Henry told The Cullman Times “If they believe this man is predatory, they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 years,” “I think someone should prosecute and go after them. You can’t be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion.”
To be fair, many evangelical leaders, such as Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer, expressed outrage at this turn of events, but these leaders had already been dubbed “snowflakes” by the Trump supporting evangelical community when they also suggested that maybe Christians shouldn’t vote for a presidential candidate caught bragging on tape about grabbing women by their genitalia. Seizing the moment, Roy Moore hit his supporters will a flurry of messages claiming he was the victim of a literal witch hunt, suggesting forces of evil were attacking him and his campaign, which Moore sees as being synonymous with God’s kingdom.
As voters continued to support Moore, and as D.C. politicians realized, to their surprise, that multiple allegations of assaulting teenage girls isn’t a dealbreaker, their distancing ended. Trump came out in full support of Moore. The RNC resumed its funding. The Republican Party, the party that focuses on the family, the party where character matters, the party who had constantly pandered to an evangelical base it believed insisted on at least the appearance of a moral code, learned that there is literally nothing a candidate can’t get away with, as long as they promise to vote the right way once in office.
Growing up I watched Republicans attempt to impeach Bill Clinton not so much for lying under oath (that was the legal justification) but for being a man too poor in character to be president. Now those same people vocally defend both Trump and Moore, and looking back I can see the whole thing has really always been a lie.
A sizable amount of self-identifying evangelicals have decided that political influence is more important than morality, selling the church’s birthright to a party that despite holding power in the house, senate and presidency, has not made one serious move to do anything to limit abortions. Meanwhile, under democratic control, abortions dropped to their lowest rate since the inception of Roe v. Wade, a point that organizations like the Family Research Council don’t talk about much, because it would seem that readily available contraceptives really do help reduce unwanted pregnancies, and that’s a “liberal” point of view.
The truth is it’s always been about fear, power, and “our side” winning, and the Republican Party is beginning to realize if that’s the case, they can pretty much get away with anything, including preying on young girls.
There’s a pretty famous story about Jesus, where a woman is caught in adultery and used as a political tool. Jesus is basically told to pick a side in the culture war of his day, but Jesus doesn’t pick sides because Jesus is only on HIS side, and his side doesn’t mesh with worldly power systems well.
Evangelicals like to think they’re Jesus in this story, but the degraded girls in the Roy Moore story aren’t on their side, they’re standing in the middle, and 71% of voting Alabama evangelicals are the ones with rocks in their hands. The difference is the Pharisees at least had enough sense of shame that when they were called out, they dropped the rocks and walked away. I’m not sure how many self-proclaimed “evangelicals” still have that capacity.
And it makes me wonder who is going to take the place of Jesus between the hypocrites, and the victims.