I can only imagine what my father, a lapsed Methodist, would have said about charges from multiple women that Judge Roy Moore, candidate for Senate in Alabama, and famous for having illegally planted the Ten Commandments in front of his courthouse, had groped them as teenagers. “Jesus!” my dad would have yelled. To which my mother, an equally lapsed Presbyterian, would have replied: “Phil, Jesus has nothing to do with it.”
Wacky things continue to happen in the Age of Trump, wackier than we ever could have imagined a year ago. Yet it seems that the removal of Roy Moore as a candidate for United States Senate from Alabama has stalled, even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have finally understood that dithering on this point is making them look immoral and foolish. Both men have urged Moore to withdraw from the race, after almost a week of appending: “If these allegations are true…” to the beginning of every sentence.
What caused McConnell, Ryan, and numerous other Republican senators to start looking for the exit lights? Probably Beverly Young Nelson, a 56-year-old woman who told her story at a press conference yesterday. She was sixteen when, she alleges, Moore pawed her relentlessly in his car, and reminded her before he let her go that no one would believe her because “you are a child and I am the district attorney” may have tipped the scales. A self-declared Trump voter, she wept as she recalled this experience decades later, lawyer Gloria Allred by her side. I don’t know about Mitch McConnell, but I found it searing.
The most vigorous defense of Moore, who has been accused of groping girls as young as fourteen, has come from another Alabama public official. “Take Joseph and Mary,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner, on November 9. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
Rather than sputter about this, which was my first response, it seemed worthwhile on a Purple Wednesday to hear from religious writers and people of faith on this topic. With the help of one of our Public Seminar editors, I rounded up a few stories to share with you.
- On November 9, Christianity Today‘s Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, responded: “So, let’s be clear. No. Normal. Evangelical. Believes. This. About. The. Bible.” If you haven’t got the point, he adds, “And to all you reporters out there, THIS IS NOT WHAT EVANGELICALS BELIEVE.”
- On November 10, Jesuit priest James Martin, the editor at large of America Magazine also responded to Zeigler with an outstanding series of tweets, succinctly encapsulating the theological scholarship on the Jesus, Mary and Joseph issue. “First, sexual abuse is a crime,” Martin tweeted. “Any comparison between the loving relationship that existed between Mary and Joseph and sexual abuse, or sexual harassment, is monstrous, even blasphemous.” Read the rest of the tweets here — and if you are on Twitter, follow this guy.
- Also on November 10, the normally temperate protestant Pastor Dan Schultz at Religion Dispatches called the religious defense of Moore “disgusting.” Schultz offers a great refresher on the history of the Holy Family, noting that while Mary was young, she would have been of marriageable age at the time and Joseph was probably three or four years older. Furthermore, Schultz points out that Joseph was Jesus’s foster father. “No, goddammit,” Schultz writes: “it’s not okay to molest children because you’re potentially interested in marrying them like the supposedly older Joseph did with Mary, except he didn’t, and he wasn’t Jesus’ biological father in any case and gah, my brain just exploded having to explain that Joseph wasn’t a 30-something prosecutor preying on vulnerable teenagers and Mary was not a potential harlot in need of a man to disciple her awakening sexual lusts. In any sane world, anyone using such a line of reasoning would immediately die of shame.”
- In a story originally published on November 12 and updated yesterday, CNN‘s religion editor Dan Burke points out that an explanation that sounds ridiculous to the rest of us perhaps makes sense when you consider the context. “The longtime Alabama Supreme Court judge has made Christianity and the Bible central to his political identity. He has insisted on displaying a monument to the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, even after he was told to remove it, and earned a suspension for refusing to follow the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage.
It’s hard to know how this will turn out. There may not be much that the GOP can do at this point, even if it wants to. Having harbored this creep for decades, they may be stuck with him. Furthermore, if he stays on the ballot, according to my favorite Trump Republican insider, it is likely he will be elected. Why? “Because Alabama conservatives love Donald Trump,” my friend said with confidence; ” and more importantly, they hate Mitch McConnell.”
Claire Potter is professor of history at The New School, and Executive Editor of Public Seminar. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Research for this story was provided by Patrick Gilger, SJ.