When religion and politics collide, the line between right and wrong is increasingly determined not by unwavering moral clarity but by the letter next to a candidate’s name.
If only that were an exaggeration. But reactions to allegations that Roy Moore, Alabama’s Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, made physical sexual advances to teenage girls when he was in his 30s prove that it is not.
If decency and integrity carried the day, all reactions to the extensively corroborated Washington Post story would be along these lines: “Moore’s alleged crimes are atrocious. We believe the separate accounts of the four women and commend them for stepping forward. If he remains a candidate and wins the election, we will not allow him to caucus with the Republicans. No political advantage is worth countenancing his behavior.”
The overwhelming Republican reaction, however, has been tone-deaf, inadequate and astoundingly apologist.
“Take the Bible — Zachariah and Elizabeth, for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” said Alabama state auditor Jim Ziegler, who called the allegations “much ado about nothing.”
“Also take Joseph and Mary,” he continued. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe a little bit unusual.”
Never mind that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus and that a fundamental precept of many Christians is that Jesus was the product of an immaculate conception.
Moore, a Christian theocrat, is not shy about his longstanding belief that “God’s laws are superior to the laws of men.” But if we are to accept the Bible literally as a legal standard, there are a few other practices we will also have to accept as legal, such as having rebellious children stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) and selling one’s daughter as a slave (Exodus 21:7-8). Ziegler may argue that Moore’s behavior was excusable based on 2000-year-old age-of-consent laws, but by the same standard, cheeseburgers (Exodus 23:19 and Leviticus 3:17), immature jokes (Ephesians 5:4) and picking up fallen grapes (Leviticus 19:10) are sinful. Over his career — during which he has suggested that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress and that homosexuality should be punishable by law — Moore has proven that when his religious ethos conflicts with the laws of the land, he is willing to suspend the latter. The recent allegations, which Moore has construed as a politically motivated attack on the conservative faithful, are appalling, but Moore was unqualified to be a senator long before they came to light.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the four women’s allegations have not been proven in a court of law. However, a troubling pattern emerged among many Republican lawmakers’ statements: qualified disapproval conditional on the words “if true.” By far, the most common reaction has been for Moore to step aside if the allegations are true. Sens. Lamar Alexander, John Barrasso, John Boozman, Richard Burr, Shelley Moore Capito, John Cornyn, Michael Crapo, Ted Cruz, Mike Enzi, Joni Ernst, Deb Fischer, Dean Heller, John Hoeven, James Inhofe, Ron Johnson, John Kennedy, James Lankford, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, David Perdue, Jim Risch, Pat Roberts, Mike Rounds, Marco Rubio, Richard Shelby, Dan Sullivan and John Thune all made statements along these lines. “If true.” On the surface, these words look like an unequivocal call for Moore to leave the race. But they aren’t. It suggests that there will be some final reckoning of facts removing any doubt from the situation; perhaps DNA evidence will magically appear 40 years hence. But it won’t. Moore will continue to deny the allegations and Alabama voters will have to choose between the Washington Post’s carefully substantiated evidence and Moore’s lack of it. “If true” allows Republicans to toss the ball back into Moore’s court — they can hedge and defer action until he owns up to the allegations, which he never will. “If true” renders the question of a productive response inert and is a breathtaking abdication of integrity.
Fortunately, some leading Republicans such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have shown more backbone with unequivocal calls for Moore to step aside. Sen. Jeff Flake has had the most right-minded response among Republicans by a country mile. He has backed calls to expel Moore from the Senate if elected and tweeted, “If the choice is between Roy Moore and a Democrat, I would run to the polling place to vote for the Democrat.”
Here will stand an important test for those who see themselves as good and righteous people of faith. If you find yourself excusing sexual predation, you are not driven by justice or decency but by the worst and most inexcusable type of tribalism. Based on overwhelming evidence, Moore is a sexual predator. His career has proven that he is a bigot with contempt for the rule of law. If Republicans willingly accept him into the Senate, they will demonstrate loud and clear that protecting a conservative majority is more highly-prized to them than the moral compass or social fabric of our country.