Christian Theocracy, Authoritarianism, And The Blind Support Of Roy Moore
If you spend some time in and around the beating heart of this country, it might seem friendly at first. If you’re an outsider, some towns might begrudge you a welcome, but in others the degree of acceptance you feel will depend upon the degree of deviation between your appearance and the locals.
If you didn’t grow up in one of these towns—like I did—it might be hard to imagine the unforgiving world order that makes the majority tick. But if you did, it’s probably not hard to envision the steely infrastructure that these towns are built on and to which a large portion of residents subscribe.
If you were raised evangelical like I was, then you might have experienced the pillars of the community calling upon this infrastructure to suit their power. The most important non-debatable I-beam of Truth is absolute and unerring, found in the Bible—preferably in sanctioned translations such as the New King James Version. Life is presented in stark black-and-white, where sinners go to hell and only believers in Jesus get to enter the pearly gates.
When you are brought up in communities that adhere to biblical code, you are conditioned to block out anything that might interfere with your faith. You are conditioned to expect and participate in culture wars that only exist because evangelicals cannot abide letting everyone in this great country enjoy equal rights. You are conditioned to believe you are persecuted, daily and often, for your faith.
Most insidiously, you are groomed to accept damaging messages that affect your own self-worth in grim ways.
The Evangelical-Authoritarian Hierarchy
Evangelical fundamentalist leaders have mastered the art of perpetuating white male power over women and people of color. Worse, this system is rigged for them to stay in their appropriated seats of power. Here’s the hierarchy of who matters in Evangelical America, neatly articulated by George Lakoff:
Where evangelicals are concerned, authoritarianism starts and ends in the home — with a male father at the helm, firmly in charge. This heartless hierarchy demands self-reliance—and a ridiculous amount of “luck” as to how one enters the world.
This moral hierarchy makes it easy to see how evangelicals were able to justify slavery at one time and how easy it is for them to justify their discrimination towards the LGBTQIA+ communities. It also spells out the plain truth of how Alabama evangelicals could possibly support Roy Moore at all costs. This is how they can justify sending a known sexual aggressor—a pedophile—to the U.S. Senate over Doug Jones, who successfully prosecuted two of the Klansmen who assisted in the bombing of a church in 1963 that killed four young girls. They will choose the man who will fight for their God-blessed right to outlaw abortion, rather than check the box for the man who actually sent people to prison for killing humans already born.
This construct will always place a man’s word above a woman’s — especially a girl’s — and if this man cries persecution of the Christian faith as Moore has countless times throughout his career, his victory is sewed up tight.
Looking at the hierarchy with Roy Moore in mind, unmistakable lines can be drawn from the favored groups to the theology that he allows to dictate his professional life. The declarations he has handed down as a judge have been so compromised by this moral hierarchy that it has led to his removal and suspension from office on two occasions.
Removed as Chief Justice in 2003 due to his refusal to remove a 2.6-ton monument of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the Alabama state judicial building, Moore claims he was not surprised and was removed because he “acknowledged God.” Last year, Moore was suspended — without pay — from serving out the remainder of his term because the Alabama Court of the Judiciary found him guilty of six violations against the canons of judicial ethics. He was suspended for ordering probate judges to defy federal orders of protection for same-sex marriage.
Moore has been on the radar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) since he first took office in 1992 and hung a homemade wooden carving of the Ten Commandments behind his desk. The SPLC has documented his numerous infringements upon the constitutional separation of church and state here, which included a 2002 opinion that suggests that the state would be justified in executing gay men and lesbians to protect children.
Roy Moore, Folk Hero
These acts of defiance towards the ethics of his profession have made Moore a folk hero among evangelicals in Alabama. Recent allegations of sexual misconduct and attempted rape of minors have done seemingly nothing to dissuade them. Why should it, if the majority of these same people were able to pull the trigger for Trump, who has an even more sordid history with women?
In fact, 37 percent of evangelicals say the recent allegations will make them even more likely to vote Moore into office. Thirty-four percent say the allegations make no difference, and only 28 percent are less likely to vote for Moore. Among the same group, evangelical support remains strongly in favor of Trump—63 percent approve of his performance, while only 29 percent disapprove.
Alabama evangelicals are likely feeling the pressure to make a stand against Moore because of the allegations that have brought his known history as a predator of young girls to light. But, because women cannot be trusted as much as a man’s word according to the moral hierarchy they ascribe to maintain, the vast majority will remain stoic in their support of the guy that went to bat for their ideals—even the women.
Roy Moore Supporters: The Women
Growing up evangelical equated to a giant list of commandments that began with “you can’t” and “don’t you dare.” And, as a girl, this list led with “you can never hope to.” Women who support Moore over their fellow women are complicit in upholding the moral hierarchy that keeps them oppressed. By choosing to stay in the lines this construct outlines for them, and not standing up to challenge Moore on his behavior, they keep their known world in rotation. This complicity will only lead to ongoing mistreatment of women and girls in the evangelical culture.
Shut Your Eyes, Shut Your Minds — And Definitely Shut Your Legs
As a girl, and then a woman, when you are groomed to believe that your highest duty is to support the men in your life—first God, then your father, husband, brother, etc.—you quickly learn where your place is. When abuse comes to light, only the ones willing to upend their entire life will speak up and argue for justice. Losing everything is what happens to women who do not fall in line in this culture. Women can stay in situations that perpetuate Moore-like behavior for their entire lifetimes. Sixteen years ago, I myself fled evangelical culture (and a husband) and lost everything. It’s not an easy culture to break free from.
Kayla Moore, Roy’s wife, came under fire last week for posting a regurgitated letter of support for him from 53 pastors. Three requested their names to be removed and noted that they were not consulted before she posted it. One pastor said he was never asked to sign the original letter, which was written during the GOP primary.
The leading text sums up the evangelical position succinctly, and even refers to the “culture wars.” It also shows unbending support from Ms. Moore for her husband in classic form: “For decades, Roy Moore has been an immovable rock in the culture wars — a bold defender of the “little guy,” a just judge to those who came before his court, a warrior for the unborn child, defender of the sanctity of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty. Judge Moore has stood in the gap for us, taken the brunt of the attack, and has done so with a rare, unconquerable resolve.”
Religious liberty only applies to Christians in the eyes of an evangelical. In a recent poll, the Public Religion Research Institute found that white evangelicals believe they face more persecution than Muslims, people of color, Jews and atheists. A full century-and-a-half of conditioning to accept populist wisdom over hard facts play out in full sunlight in these numbers.
Enemies Are Legion
In addition to “knowing your place,” evangelical kids are groomed to fight tooth-and-nail to defend the faith they were born into and conditioned to feel that the world is against them. There are absolute, recurring themes that are on endless repeat:
Fundamentalist evangelicals believe they are the underdog and that they are persecuted for their beliefs daily by the media, by institutions, by the court of public opinion. Their beliefs are not based in fact—rather, facts and education are classified as the enemy because they could lure people, especially the young, away from the faith. Therefore, they are overly conditioned to accept populist stances, especially when they are framed as anti-elitist and anti-establishment.
We Are Living In The Upside Down
Whether the evangelical community believes it is true or not, Hollywood has acted swiftly to punish sexual assaulters while our GOP-led government is quick to bring the victims’ credibility into question. Moderates and liberals are leading with a moral compass, while conservative ideologues are floundering in a morass of their own making.
As someone who grew up inside the culture, I have wondered many times since Trump became the GOP nominee last year when their ideology would hit bottom. I’ve wondered when, if ever, evangelicals would begin to understand how their faith has been co-opted for one party’s political gain. I’ve wondered if the women might start to wake up to their own repression and start fighting for their children and community, rather than blindly supporting the system that’s rigged against them.
This is what I know: when evangelicals help to elect Roy Moore, choosing a man with pedophilia and numerous assault charges on the record—instead of checking the box next to Doug Jones, a man who has lived a principled life and worked for social justice—they have forfeited any claims they might have once held on moral superiority.
When confronted about their choice for Moore, and for others like him, they’ll remain fierce and proud in their conviction. They have fetishized the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage to the extent that they will go to extreme lengths to protect the unborn but will look the other way when the already-born are in danger. When confronted with facts or dissenting opinions, they’ll cry persecution and thump cherry-picked verses from the Bible. At the end of the day, they’ll be fine with the derision they deserve and that they’ll receive. They’ve been groomed and trained for this very moment.