Principles have given way to raw, ugly partisanship.
Left: Roy Moore, photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call; Right: Donald Trump, photo by Mark Wilson/Getty
No one should be surprised if, after everything, Roy Moore still becomes the next US senator from Alabama.
In a Thursday Washington Post article, Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in a December special election, was accused by a woman of initiating sexual contact with her when she was 14 and he was 32. This puts the Southern evangelical Christians who have supported Moore—who is so far to the right on social issues that he said in 2005 that “homosexual conduct” should be illegal—in a position to make a choice. This is a chance to draw the line and begin declaring, again, that their faith, their principles, matter more than blind partisanship.
I’m not so sure they will.
From what I’ve seen up close, these voters embarked on this path long before Donald Trump arrived on the scene. They have allowed politics to supersede what they’ve been telling themselves every Sunday. That’s why too many of them hated a Christian like Barack Obama, even though he had lived the kind of adult life evangelicals say all men should and whose policies helped push the abortion rate to its lowest level since Roe v. Wade. They then embraced Trump, who bragged about his adulterous ways, said he never asked God for forgiveness, then was caught on video bragging about casually sexually assaulting women.
I’ve lost friends for pointing this out—friends who are white evangelical Christians I spent nearly two decades praying with in the same church pews. They despise me for daring to bring up this inconsistency between how they talk about their faith and how they live it in the political sphere. That’s why I’m not convinced that even the accusation that Moore molested a 14-year-old is necessarily enough to turn them off of him. Opioids and heroin are killing the bodies of too many people in my region, but the drug of political partisanship has killed off the principles of many more.
Top national GOP figures, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, were swift to condemn Moore’s alleged actions and said the candidate should drop out of the race if the allegations are true. Arizona senator John McCain and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney went even further, leaving out the “if true” caveat and simply saying Moore should leave the race. But their words won’t hold water with Moore’s base, which overlaps mightily with Trump’s base.
You would think that those who repeatedly preach that no earthly wealth or power is more important than a relationship with God and truth would give one moral clarity about this situation. But in the hours after the Moore news broke, there was no groundswell of white evangelical Christians loudly declaring that they would be pulling their support from Moore, even if that meant Republicans would lose an invaluable Senate seat. That might seem a lot to ask of Alabama voters, but that’s what those who have strong principles do: willingly suffer short-term pain and setbacks for the greater good. That’s what evangelicals were taught in Sunday school and Bible study, as was I. And yet, there has been no crescendo of “principle over party” from white evangelicals after the Moore news broke.
Instead, you got responses like a tweet from high-profile Christian conservative Erick Erickson that said, “The rush of Senate Republicans coming out to quickly denounce Roy Moore is convincing Moore supporters that this is a coordinated hit job.”
Responses from Alabama itself were worse. “It was 40 years ago,” Marion County GOP chair David Hall told Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale. “I really don’t see the relevance of it. He was 32. She was supposedly 14. She’s not saying that anything happened other than they kissed.” (Actually, she claimed Moore essentially picked her up while she waited outside of a courthouse as her mother attended a custody hearing then later snuck her to a secluded house where he began kissing her and touching her and asking her to touch his penis.)
Bibb County Republican chair Jerry Pow said he will vote for Moore even if the allegations were true, because he can’t stand the thought of voting for his Democratic opponent. “I’m not saying I support what he did,” he told Dale.
It was much of the same when the Washington Examiner caught up with Alabama state auditor Jim Ziegler. Moore supporters might be angrier with the Post than Moore, Ziegler told the paper, before defending his fellow Republican. “Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth, and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Ziegler said. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager, and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Ziegler said. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
I've heard that sort of rationale before where I live in South Carolina. I have had passionate white evangelical Christians tell me years ago it wasn’t wrong to pray for Barack Obama’s death and pointed to a few passages in the Bible to back up that belief. When I asked how they could say their faith is more important than anything and eagerly support a man like Trump, they again went to the Bible, pointing to all the flawed, powerful men who ended up doing great things, claiming that God often uses uncouth men for higher purposes. They frequently use the Bible to justify any political decision, and most of those decisions happen to be about protecting or supporting the Republican Party. They didn’t leave Trump after the Access Hollywood tape came out. Why would they leave Moore?
Establishment Republicans such as McConnell and McCain condemning Moore may only increase the sense among that group that such things are happening only because God is “using” men like Trump and Moore. If things go well, it is because God has his hand in it. If things are going poorly, it is because God has his hand in it. If men like Moore and Trump—who won white evangelical voters in both the primary and general elections—make it to the top, that’s evidence that God wants them there.
I know that might not sound logical to many people who don’t understand how religion is lived in Trumpland. But for many white evangelical Christians, nothing Trump has said or done is a bigger threat than to our democracy and decency and faith than the presence of a Democrat with political power. I suspect Moore knows this. That’s why I doubt he’s going to drop out, and may very well be on his way to the Senate.
Follow Issac J. Bailey on Twitter.