Making a Deal with the Devil: Roy Moore, Donald Trump, and the Religious Right

21 Nov

Introduction

Recently, there have been a virtual explosion of allegations about celebrities, and rich, powerful men abusing their positions and sexually assaulting women. Of course, this is not limited just to women alone, unfortunately, as the Kevin Spacey allegations attest. But it seems that most critically, it’s women who have been the target of much of the abuse by men.

Added to the trauma of the actual assault itself, perhaps making the situation worse is this grim reality: there has been a long history of women being bullied into silence by the very ones who assaulted them; either that, or by those interested parties desiring to keep their stories under wraps for a variety of ends. Some women have quite literally been bought off for their acquiescence in not publicly sharing their experiences. Former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros alleged in 2016, for example, that Fox News had “bought off a lot of women” to ensure their silence regarding the prevalent culture of sexual assault there.

Sadly, even when women have tried to come forward and share their stories of being assaulted by men, there is a long history of them not being believed, or branded as liars. This is, for example, the current White House stance on the more than a dozen women who have accused President Trump of sexual assault over the decades. (Here is a link to an overview by Meg Kelly of The Washington Post of a comprehensive list of each woman accusing Trump of sexual misconduct).

Is it any wonder, then, that women don’t feel that it is a safe, or even wise thing to do, to come forward and speak out? They know that they indeed may be vilified by the media, White House spokespeople like Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who recently stated in a press conference that Trump’s accusers “are all liars”), or by the very men who attacked them in the first place?

Fortunately, we are seeing some signs that the tide is turning—albeit very slowly. For example, the recent #metoo campaign was fueled by celebrities such as Alyssa Milano, who encouraged women to speak up and share their stories of sexual assault; it’s taken off in a big way. Georgina Lawton of The Guardian reported, for example, that “Twitter reported that the hashtag was shared nearly a million times in 48 hours. On Facebook, the comments and reactions totalled more than 12m in 24 hours.”[1]

In the last few months, there have been several high-profile cases of powerful men whose careers have been affected (to say the least) when stories of their abuse of women (and men) finally started gaining traction in the media. Among those listed include: Producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, Senator Al Franken, President Trump, and Alabama Republican Senate hopeful candidate, Judge Roy Moore.

Trump, Moore and the Religious Right

Of all these men accused of sexual assault against women listed above, the last two are the most interesting to me, since in both cases, they are being defended by a largely white, evangelical, Christian, Republican voting bloc. This is basically the same base (80-81% of white Christians) that not only helped elect Donald Trump to the Oval Office, but continue to support him and his agenda.

What we are witnessing now, in the case of Judge Roy Moore’s bid to win the vacant Alabama Senate seat, is much the same type of rhetoric. Let’s take a look at two prominent evangelical leaders who have spoken out in defense of Moore.

Dr James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family ministries and conservative evangelical, recently came out with a statement supporting Roy Moore in his Senate race. Referring to the allegations of sexual assault against Moore, Dobson states that he regrets the “smear campaign” that has stained Moore’s good name. Vouching for him, he also declares that he has known Moore for over 25 years, and that (in Dobson’s opinion at least) he “is a man of proven character and integrity.” On that basis, then, he unequivocally urges the citizens of Alabama to cast their votes for Moore in the upcoming December Senate election.

Why does Dobson support Moore, beyond his “proven character and integrity”? Critically, Dobson links Moore’s political stances on certain issues to his ties to evangelical Christianity. Dobson states: “He [Moore] has always stood for our Christian conservative values including the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious liberty. He will be a champion for families in the United States Senate.”[2]

Therefore, it is clear that for evangelicals like Dobson, the most important issue in this upcoming election is this: that the people of Alabama send Moore to the Senate. Why? Troubling allegations of sexual assault on minors aside, Moore will continue to uphold traditional Christian, and family, values. That’s what is most important here, it would appear.

A second evangelical supporting Moore is Franklin Graham, a noted conservative Christian leader and founder of The Samaritan’s Purse ministries. Graham also spoke out positively about Moore recently when he stated: “I admire the fact that he’s got guts. Over the years he has been suspended for standing for his faith. He’s one of the few willing to stand firm for truth and against the erosion of Biblical principles. He sets a good example for all of us. God bless him—he and his family have my prayers.”[3]

What does Graham mean when he states Moore has got “guts”? He is referring to the fact that in the past, Moore “was twice removed from his post as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, first for dismissing a federal court order to remove a 5,280-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments he had installed in the state judicial building, and later for flouting the United States Supreme Court’s decision affirming gay marriage.”[4]

Fortunately for Moore, then, the fact that Graham is praying that God will bless him must mean that he’ll win that Senate seat, and there continue to “take a stand for the truth.”

Different Perspectives, Same Issue

On the one hand, looked at from Graham and Dobson’s evangelical, conservative Christian, point of view, Moore stands as a righteous Christian crusader, boldly taking an increasingly-unpopular stand in the public square for such important issues like: traditional family values, shoring up “eroding biblical principles,” his conservative Christian faith, religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and so on. In this narrative, the fact that he’s been twice removed from his judgeship for taking such an uncompromising stance, then, merely proves that he’s on the side of right.

Evangelical Christians like Dobson and Graham are convinced that the Bible and traditional Christian values are under relentless assault in society. In the case of Moore, his inflexible stance on not removing the 10 commandments from the courthouse, and his opposition to gay marriage, have won him a few friends and more enemies. It has twice cost him his job as an Alabama judge. Of course, he and his supporters would claim that he is nothing more than a righteous martyr; he is a victim who was unfairly terminated (twice) for daring to take an unpopular—but essentially correct—stand.

Furthermore, they would argue, Moore desperately needs that continued voter support so that he can “fight the good fight” in the corridors of power in Washington DC. Fortunately for his supporters, they’ve given themselves a way out, however: if (by some chance) the allegations against him are somehow “proven to be true,” then by all means he should step aside. Of course, there have even been some who have unashamedly used the Bible to justify his behavior, showing that there are virtually any lengths to which they will go to make their case for Moore.

On this side of the issue, conservative evangelicals view themselves (and their values system) as being under relentless assault; they are being actively, and unfairly, persecuted by society for their standards and traditional Christian values. This explains, by the way, in large part, why that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and continue to support him: he promised to uphold and protect their religious liberties. Dobson, by the way, said that Roy Moore is desirous of the exact same ends; good enough reason to elect him to the Senate, apparently, and overlook all of the very disturbing allegations.

For many evangelical Christians, then, whatever personal, moral problems a potential candidate might display are of lesser importance; what matters far more is the preservation of those traditional Christian values in the political realm—that will then extend into the public arena. In this view, those traditional values will continue to be upheld and protected, but perhaps to the long-term detriment of both the church, and to conservative evangelicalism.

On the other hand, many take a somewhat different viewpoint on the situation. Looked at from a different perspective, Moore could certainly be characterized as a crusader, all right; but here we are speaking of that type of “moral crusader” who, convinced of the inherent rightness (and righteousness) of his position, uncompromisingly and sanctimoniously wants to force everybody to conform to the same set of rigid ethical standards.

The problem with going down such a line, of course, is the fact that history has demonstrated time and time again that this type of activity simply does not work. Can you force people to adhere to a rigid set of religious rules, and even get the State to enforce them? Yes–the case of Savonarola in 15th-century Florence shows that, to look at but one example.

As a fanatical moral crusader, Savonarola did succeed in the short term in enforcing his vision of morality on the populace, ending in the infamous “bonfire of the vanities” in 1497, in which the Florentines burned their wicked and indecent posessions in the public square. Although he succeeded in the short term, in the long term he made powerful enemies, and ended up himself being executed. One could conclude that he “won the battle, but ultimately lost the war.”

Conclusion

In my opinion, what we are witnessing is nothing less than a clear demonstration of the total moral bankruptcy of the evangelical Christian Religious Right. The problem here is that they can’t seem to see, or admit, the long-term damage they are doing to themselves by taking such a stance. Others have picked up on it, and called them out for what is occurring.

For example, many journalists have already commented on the blatant hypocrisy of the conservative Christians who ignored Donald Trump’s clear moral failings as both a candidate, and now as the President. For example, Trump (although claiming to be a Christian), routinely lies on any number of topics, virtually on a daily basis.

In the process of electing Trump, that 81% voting bloc essentially turned a blind eye to the number of women who came forward with allegations of Trump sexually assaulting them; they turned a deaf ear to Trump’s clear statements on sexually assaulting women (as heard clearly in the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape), and cast their ballots for him.

Cognitive dissonance? Whatever do you mean? He promised to support our eroding religious freedoms and traditional values, and so we will ignore the glaring problems, and blindly cast our votes. Besides, conservative evangelical leaders like Dobson and Graham endorsed him, and so we’re on safe ground…. surely.

But these types of issues are less important than preserving traditional values, it would appear. Due to their loathing for Hillary Clinton, with her liberal stance on topics like same-sex marriage and abortion rights, many evangelicals could not countenance voting for her at all; but essentially, in my opinion, they have in turn made a deal with the devil.

In the case of Moore, once again we notice the same dynamic at play. Conservative Christians, pastors, and many Republicans continue to support him, despite the growing mountain of evidence arrayed against him by a growing number of accusers. But rather than electing a Democrat (the party assaulting traditional Christian values, in their view), they would rather overlook the issues, brand all of his accusers as liars…and send an alleged sexual assaulter to the Senate. Better Moore than a Democrat, it would seem.

The message seems to be clear: a person’s moral failings are less important than their potential to safeguard the things we believe are most important to us.

Ethics and morals be damned.

Here’s my question, thought: have they truly thought the issue through? Is this a hill worth dying on? Conservative Christian Republicans who continue to support both Trump and Moore are guilty of squandering their political and cultural capital.

The reality is one of two possibilities: either they don’t know that the culture war is over, and so continue to fight on in hopes of a distant victory; or if they do know that is the case—and they’ve lost—they simply haven’t admitted to themselves that it might indeed be true. They may win the battle in the short term, but the truth is that they have already lost the culture war.

Where will the church be after the presidency of Donald Trump is finished? Where will the church be if Roy Moore gets elected to the Senate? Does a short-term victory make sense if you end up losing the entire war?

I suppose that from their point of view, either option is equally problematic—and just as terrifying.

Bibliography

[1] Lawton, Georgina. “#Metoo is here to stay. We must challenge all men about sexual harassment.” The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/28/metoo-hashtag-sexual-harassment-violence-challenge-campaign-women-men (Accessed 21 Nov 17).

[2] Frost, Katie. “Dr James Dobson Endorses Judge Roy Moore.” https://www.roymoore.org/Press-Releases/38/DR.-JAMES-DOBSON-ENDORSES-JUDGE-ROY-MOORE (Accessed 21 Nov 17).

[3] Smith, Samuel. “James Dobson, Franklin Graham Praise Roy Moore Ahead of Alabama’s Senate Runoff.” The Christian Post https://www.christianpost.com/news/james-dobson-franklin-graham-praise-roy-moore-ahead-of-alabamas-senate-runoff-200328/ (Accessed 21 Nov 17).

[4] Bidgood, Jess, Richard Faussett, and Campbell Robertson. “For Roy Moore, a Long History of Combat and Controversy.” The New York Times (18 Nov 17). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/18/us/roy-moore-alabama.html (Accessed 21 Nov 17).

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