The Roy Moore Time Bomb
Nearly 40 percent of Alabama evangelicals said in a new poll that they are more likely to vote for GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore following allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
A JMC analytics poll found that 37 percent of evangelicals surveyed said the allegations make them more likely to vote for the GOP Senate candidate in the upcoming election.
Just 28 percent said the allegations made them less likely to vote for Moore and 34 percent said the allegations made no difference in their decision.
So, while national Republicans are cutting themselves off from Moore, Alabama Evangelicals are either doubling down on him or don’t care — 71 percent in all. Sen. Pat Toomey today repudiated Moore, saying that we will likely never know for sure what happened between Moore and 14-year-old Leigh Corfman, but her accusations of sexual assault are more plausible than Moore’s denials of same — especially given that Moore conceded the other day that earlier in his life, he had a thing for much younger women. I think Toomey is right, and as a conservative Christian, I think it is important to stand up for this woman.
According to the Washington Post today, Moore is doubling down on conservative Evangelicals:
Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama sought to refocus his campaign on the conservative religious ideals most likely to motivate his base voters, dismissing the national firestorm over allegations that he pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Addressing a gathering at the Huntsville Christian Academy in Huntsville, Ala., on Sunday night, the former judge suggested that he was investigating his accusers, threatened to sue The Washington Post and called on the United States to restore its culture by going “back to God.”
“We can be proud of where we came from and where we’re going if we go back to God,” Moore said at his second public event since The Post reported the allegations of misconduct last week.
“If we go back to God, we can be unified again,” he said.
All of this is going to cement in the public’s mind that Evangelical Christians are morally bankrupt. They have learned nothing from the Catholic Church’s gutting of its own moral credibility because of its own sex abuse scandal. It is possible — unlikely, in my view, but possible — that Roy Moore is not guilty of what Corfman alleges. But the fact that so many of his Alabama Evangelical supporters are willing to stand by him anyway is a fact that will be devastating in ways that they cannot grasp.
Maybe Roy Moore did it. But I have to tell you that the pile on and rush to condemn and destroy the man increasingly strikes me as more politically motivated than based on the allegations, which just provide a nice cover.
If Roy Moore did do to a 14 year old as he is accused of, he should quit the race. (and the alleged victim’s prior unwillingness to tell her story does, in my mind, tend to boost her credibility) But how does Roy Moore go about proving his innocence? We’re to demand he drop out of the race and just disappear whether he is innocent or guilty? I know most of you would like that, but then you all hated him to begin with. When a man is piled on top of by the press and his political enemies at the most opportune moment in the most convenient way to capture national attention and shut down the Bannonite rebellion you’re all opposed to, I think we need to slow down and ask if it is fair. And I’m not sure it is.
I agree with Erickson’s point that one’s reaction to the Moore accusations likely depends on one’s pre-existing opinions of the man, and that it’s worth examining oneself to discern one’s motives on that front. Mostly, though, this is confused thinking. Erickson (who’s a friend of mine) seems to accept the credibility of Corfman, but wants to give Moore the benefit of the doubt because the claim is politically convenient for Democrats and establishment Republicans. It is certainly true that the timing of the Corfman allegation is convenient for Moore haters. But that has nothing to do with whether or not it is true.
Corfman is a Trump supporter, so she has no ideological axe to grind. What does she get out of making these accusations against Moore? Seems to me that she had nothing to gain except hatred and grief, which lots of conservative Alabamians and others are piling onto her. Why didn’t she come out earlier? Look around you at how she’s being treated. Besides, if you have spent any time talking to sex abuse victims, especially if they were kids when the abuse happened, you have no trouble at all understanding why they stay quiet for years. It could be that Corfman felt emboldened by what’s been happening since the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke — in the same way that scores of victims of Catholic priest sexual abuse came forward after the dam broke in Boston.
This does not make Corfman’s allegations true, but it does offer a plausible non-political explanation for why she didn’t come out until now. Also, she didn’t seek out the media to peddle her story. The Post found her. Had any reporter approached her during one of Moore’s earlier races, perhaps she would have come forward, or perhaps not. Roy Moore was a powerful man in Alabama — and still is, judging by the backlash against her for speaking out.
I’m not a fan of Mitch McConnell, and arguably he made this Roy Moore mess for himself by backing Luther Strange over the much more electable Mo Brooks in the GOP primary. That said, McConnell this morning called on Moore to drop out of the race, saying that he believes the accusers. McConnell surely knows that a Roy Moore victory would be a bigger headache for the GOP going into the 2018 elections than a Roy Moore loss. From a Democratic perspective, Moore is the Platonic ideal of a Republican poster boy in 2018. Moore is an anchor that every Democratic candidate for House and Senate will attempt to tie around the necks of Republicans, who are going to face a daunting battle anyway to keep the House.
They face a much easier task in the Senate, given that the GOP only has to defend eight seats, while Democrats have to defend 25. Still, with the political landscape so unsettled, you don’t want to take any chances. The thing that religious and social conservative voters care most about, Supreme Court appointments, depend on having a Republican Senate and a Republican president to go through. Losing the Senate in 2018 might well mean that Trump would get no SCOTUS picks through until after the 2020 election (the Dems will remember Merrick Garland). And even if the Republicans keep the Senate, if Roy Moore is sitting in it, Trump is going to have a hell of challenge getting any social conservative approved by the Senate, because Republican senators coming up for re-election in 2020 will not be eager to open themselves up to attack on that front.
And think for a moment about how Roy Moore will become in the eyes of many Americans — not only liberal ones! — the symbol of politically engaged religious conservatives. Of course it won’t be fair, but you know that it’ll be coming if he wins.
The point is that Roy Moore in the Senate will likely hurt the political causes favored by religious conservatives for reasons many of them are not grasping now, because they’re yielding to tribal emotions. Backing Roy Moore to stick it to the liberals is like smashing your Keurig to show solidarity with Sean Hannity, and then wondering why its harder to find a cup of coffee around your house the next morning.
But that’s politics. What I care about much more than politics is the church.
It is shocking that you don’t see most Evangelical Christians in Alabama saying that they are troubled by these allegations, and calling on Roy Moore to provide a more convincing defense of himself, or drop out. The idea that such an allegation against a Senatorial candidate, especially one whose entire public persona is based on defending traditional Christian values, is of no consequence to 34 percent of Alabama Evangelical voters, and that 37 percent are more likely to vote for him because of these allegations — well, it’s shocking. The “more likely” voters aren’t saying that because they would think better of Moore if he did go after a 14-year-old. They are saying that because if liberals hate Moore, they love him even more.
That is moral corruption. That is loving worldly power over righteousness. For confessed Christians to take this stand is many things, but it is at the very least deeply damaging to their public witness. And not just their public witness, but the public witness of all conservative Christians.
Take a look at excerpts from this op-ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The author is Kathryn Brightbill:
We need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old-girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage. That segment is evangelicalism. In that world, which Moore travels in and I grew up in, 14-year-old girls courting adult men isn’t uncommon.
I use the phrase “14-year-old girls courting adult men,” rather than “adult men courting 14-year-old girls,” for a reason: Evangelicals routinely frame these relationships in those terms. That’s how I was introduced to these relationships as a home-schooled teenager in the 1990s, and it’s the language that my friends and I would use to discuss girls we knew who were in parent-sanctioned relationships with older men.
The allegations against Roy Moore are merely a symptom of a larger problem. It’s not a Southern problem or an Alabama problem. It’s a Christian fundamentalist problem. Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, who leads the organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment), believes that the sexual abuse problem in Protestant communities is on par with that in the Catholic Church.
The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning. Women raised in evangelicalism and fundamentalism have for years discussed the normalization of child sexual abuse. We’ve told our stories on social media and on our blogs and various online platforms, but until the Roy Moore story broke, mainstream American society barely paid attention. Everyone assumed this was an isolated, fringe issue. It isn’t.
OK, wait. I completely agree with her that this is a problem, and it ought to be confronted and dealt with. I have written myself critically of Doug Wilson, mentioned by Brightbill in her piece, and the way he has handled these matters within his community. I feel very strongly about this stuff. But it is massively unfair to blame all Evangelicals for the actions of some.
More than one-third of all Christians in America are Evangelicals. It is vitally important to understand that “Evangelical” is NOT a synonym for “fundamentalist.” All fundamentalists are Evangelicals, but not all Evangelicals are fundamentalists. Click on that link for a more detailed explanation. Fundamentalists are very strict Evangelicals who tend to be separatist and hard-edged. No matter where you live and work, you probably know at least one Evangelical. But it’s less likely that you know any fundamentalists. Brightbill, at the end of her op-ed, recognizes a difference between Evangelicals and fundamentalists, but she conflates the two in her lede. I’m pretty sure that most readers do not understand the difference, and think they’re all the same.
My knowledge of Evangelical culture is admittedly superficial, but I would be absolutely shocked if any of the Evangelicals I know personally practice or approved of the kind of creepy pedo-patriarchalism Brightbill discusses in her piece. Brightbill is a progressive Evangelical who was a homeschooled fundamentalist in the 1980s and 1990s, and who says that she had a great experience with homeschooling. She makes it clear in her statement that not all homeschoolers are bad actors, but some are, and that they need to be confronted and exposed. I believe her, and agree with her on that point. Believe me, as a member of a family who has been doing homeschooling in some form for over a decade, few people hate those who abuse homeschooling in the ways Brightbill says more than responsible homeschoolers do. That’s because we know that people who have a deep suspicion or loathing of homeschooling think we’re all like that. We’re not — not even close. But yes, some are, and it is our responsibility to police our own ranks to the extent that that is possible.
Still, the Washington Post just published a good piece putting the “child bride” culture in historical and religious context. In an agrarian context — and America used to be an agrarian nation — it makes sense for women to marry much earlier, and men to marry later. But we have not lived in that kind of culture for a very long time. Key excerpts:
The culture of courting that Easter and Brightbill described is one limited mostly to fundamentalist religious communities, including certain Christian groups and those of other religions, such as some Orthodox Jewish or Mormon communities. For most evangelical Christians, relationships between older men and teenage girls are viewed as wholly inappropriate.
See that? Most Evangelicals strongly reject this, and only “certain” groups within fundamentalist circles practice this. As for Moore:
Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who studies marriage and families in the United States, said that while people tended to date and marry younger in the 1970s, when Moore allegedly was dating teenagers, an age gap such as that between Moore and the girls would still have been highly unusual. “In the South, in general, younger marriages would have been more common. But we’re talking here about … teenagers going steady in high school — maybe a year or two or three between him and her,” Wilcox said. “You don’t have 30-year-old guys dating a 14-year-old. It may have happened in some occasional context, but it would not have been a cultural norm.”
He said the reaction of most Southern evangelical communities would be “extraordinarily negative. … I would imagine a shotgun involved.”
Right, and it is hard for me to imagine that in 1970s Alabama, a 32-year-old man courting a 14-year-old girl would be taken as business-as-usual. I’m willing to cut Moore slack on the older teenagers, but the 14-year-old was sick stuff, if true. And I believe it is.
Here’s why this Roy Moore thing is going to be a time bomb for conservative Christians.
It is massively important to keep in mind — and I say this as someone who has spent most of his career in the mainstream media — that the prejudices against conservative Christians, especially homeschoolers, are enormous. This is not news to most conservative Christians, I know, but what many may not appreciate is how liberals and moderates are prepared to weaponize those prejudices in an attempt to take away our liberties. If we give them reason to believe that all, or most, of us don’t care about sexual abuse and corruption as long as it helps us to get power, you can be very sure that they will come after us all when they come back to power.
One of the smartest things that the LGBT movement did was to make advancing gay rights in schools a matter of “safety.” Everybody wants safe schools. Nobody wants any kid to be in danger in school. They conflate safety with approving of homosexuality and transgenderism. If you do not approve of homosexuality or transgenderism, then you must be a supporter of social environments in which LGBT kids are bullied — or so goes the logic.
You watch: people who want to regulate or shut down homeschoolers, restrict religious liberty of conservative believers, or in some other way disempower and marginalize conservative churches in the public square, will seize on things like the Roy Moore case to tar us all. As a practical matter of self-defense in our increasingly anti-Christian culture, we have no choice.
Beyond that — and most important of all — if we want to maintain our credibility of the church as a place of moral order, of justice, of healing, of love, and of compassion, we have to be hard on ourselves. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard, and to repent when we fail to meet it. Yes, we will undoubtedly be made to suffer for our beliefs — and that is a blessing, according to Jesus Christ.
But when we suffer for failing to live up to our convictions, then that is a curse — a curse that we will have brought onto ourselves. And we bring it not only onto ourselves, but onto Jesus Christ, insofar as we are supposed to be a reflection of Him.
Too often individual Christians fail to understand this, with public consequences. Back when I was a Catholic, and then shortly after I lost my Catholic faith, well-meaning Catholics were often quick to say that it made no sense for people to leave the Catholic Church, or to turn away from pursuing entry into it, because of the abuse scandal. To them, it was cut-and-dried. All human institutions are bound to fail at some point, they would say, and the failure of priests and bishops say nothing about the truth or falsity of the Church’s claims.
Strictly speaking, they are right. But we are not lawyers or automatons. The all-too-human failures of bishops, priests, and ordinary Catholics affects the ability of people to listen to and to consider objectively the case for Catholicism. How can Catholicism be true, people ask themselves, if this is how Catholics behave?
This is true for every church, my own included. It is not unfair for people outside the church to judge us on how we act. Yes, we are bound to fail, but if we handle failure in the right way, there can be forgiveness. Just think:
An interesting question is what the polls would look like if Roy Moore had immediately confessed, begged forgiveness, and placed himself in the hands of voters.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) November 13, 2017
This, from the Evangelical writer Michael Wear, is worth considering in light of the theological narrowmindedness I identified above. It’s an Evangelical version of same:
So much of evangelicals’ political expression over the last year has been an outflow of this thinking pic.twitter.com/OUno1hzg1Z
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) November 12, 2017
The reason why some evangelicals are not responding to Roy Moore in the way they should is because it is difficult for them to reconcile the expression of right belief with wrong action.
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) November 12, 2017
And it some point, “justified by faith” became utilitarian for many. A way to flatten out the human condition, to delineate tribe
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) November 12, 2017
As I was finishing this long post up, I watched the press conference by the new Roy Moore accuser, Beverly Young Nelson. She gave an excruciatingly graphic depiction of what she says was his attempt to sexually assault her when she was 15 and a waitress at a restaurant frequented by Moore. Accompanied by her lawyer, Gloria Allred, Nelson went on to say that she told people what happened at the time, but she never spoke out publicly because she was afraid of him. But the courage of the other women who spoke about him gave her the strength to speak out.
She identified herself as a Trump voter. She said she is willing to testify under oath against Roy Moore if the Senate holds a hearing (under what authority they would do that, I have no idea). It was an astonishing presser. Excerpts from the timeline of live coverage:
I’m not going to erase everything I wrote before the presser, because it’s still valid. I have no idea how any decent person, especially a Christian, votes for Roy Moore after that press conference. It is possible that he is being falsely accused, but you’d have to have fallen off the turnip truck yesterday and bonked your head to believe that.
Roy Moore is a swine. Christians who support him after these credible accusations are a herd of swine into which the demon of lust for power has entered — and it’s going to run the church off the cliff.
“He said ‘You’re just a child.’ And he said, ‘I am the District Attorney of Etowah County. And if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you,” accuser Beverly Young-Nelson says Roy Moore told her after the alleged sexual assault. (via CBS) pic.twitter.com/3GZNQqIO0A
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 13, 2017
Nelson says Moore would eat at the restaurant where she worked, flirting and pulling her hair starting when she was 15. He allegedly wrote this in her HS yearbook. pic.twitter.com/MeIrRVPUlb
— Alex Silverman (@AlexSilverman) November 13, 2017
Roy Moore’s signature from that 1977 yearbook matches Roy Moore’s signature on his US Term Limits pledge this year. pic.twitter.com/4gQz9ytZZX
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) November 13, 2017