Commentary
By Jim Wallis 12-13-2017

Tuesday night was a surprise — a joyful surprise to many of us who have grown accustomed to seeing our country’s immorality find new depths. White racial bigotry lost Tuesday in Alabama. Misogyny, the abuse and mistreatment of women, lost Tuesday in Alabama. And let’s be clear: It was black voter turnout — and black women, in particular, who voted against Judge Roy Moore by 98 percent — that made the difference.

Despite predictable voter suppression efforts, black voters — who make up 26.8 percent of Alabama’s population — comprised 29 percent of Tuesday’s vote. Selma, Ala., was the place that African Americans mobilized to secure voting rights despite the bloody violence against them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, and black organizers and mobilizers in places like Selma did it again Tuesday. And while the vast majority of white voters supported Moore, just enough white Republicans chose conscience over party by rejecting a man who is not morally fit for public office. To these black Alabamians and white allies who joined them the nation owes its gratitude. And I want to particularly thank African-American Christians who helped protect the reputation of the gospel against white evangelicals who compromise it for political power.

But let us not simply move on from this troubling special election in celebration without examining what we almost became.

Let’s not forget that our country’s president, Donald Trump, in his support for Moore, was doubling down on his support for racial bigotry, and his dismissal of predatory sexual behavior and lying about it — all more permissible now because of him. Given the substance and tone of his own election and actions since, this is not surprising, but we can’t let it numb us into normalizing such behavior. Gratefully, Trump also lost in Alabama Tuesday night, along with his white nationalist sidekick Steve Bannon. The election results were a repudiation of the ugly American future they endorse, and a victory for the better American future that we do. The Moore, Trump, and Bannon values are an antithesis of the gospel, and black Christian voters and a minority of their white allies reminded us of that this week. In an age when it seems like we’re always finding new lows, we must continually look to our faith and what it tells us about what is acceptable and what is not. The perverting and coopting of our Christian faith by people like Moore — who quoted Psalm 40 to explain his refusal to concede — and Bannon and Trump and the ghosts of Alabama politicians like former Gov. George Wallace is not acceptable.

This election also revealed the utter hypocrisy of the extreme leaders of religious conservatism who engage in mental and linguistic gymnastics to justify support for a candidate despite his racial bigotry and misogyny and in exchange for political power. The Christian far-right’s support for Moore and Trump will become a classic historical example of the empty ethical philosophy of the ends justifying the means — fundamentally compromising Christian values for the aspiration for political power. I have said that the Christian far right will rise and fall with Donald Trump and people like Roy Moore — and, Tuesday night in Alabama, that fall began. Many religious right leaders, some of whom are on the president’s evangelical advisory board and were with him at the White House earlier this week, spoke out in favor of Judge Roy Moore or did not speak out against him, his racial bigotry, or his alleged child molestation.

“Evangelicals can choose Roy Moore, who vehemently denies the very serious allegations of child abuse from 40 years ago, or they can choose Doug Jones, who openly and proudly embraces the most extreme example and kind of child abuse: abortion,” Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress told Fox and Friends before the election.

In mid-November Franklin Graham criticized “Washington” for denouncing Roy Moore:

Many of these leaders — Ralph Reed, Paula White, James Dobson, Tony Perkins— did not respond to requests for comment on their stance on Moore early this week.

Jerry Falwell Jr. offered a personal endorsement of Moore early in the race and reaffirmed support after the first accuser came forward but hasn't added anything since. But he did tweet out some Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics on Monday in apparent support:

It’s time to hold these leaders of the religious right accountable for a candidate like Roy Moore. At the end of this piece is a list of the names of President Trump’s evangelical advisory board. Ask them if they supported Judge Roy Moore, an alleged child molester who wore his racial bigotry plainly.

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. White evangelicals who voted came in at 80 percent (a familiar number) for Moore, even as they slipped in turnout Tuesday. And most of the nation’s top evangelical leaders and megapastors did not speak out against him. As my friend Wes Granberg-Michaelson put it on Wednesday:

“81 percent of white evangelicals do not constitute a majority — not in the U.S., and not even in Alabama. They don't even constitute a majority of all Christians. In the 2016 presidential election, ‘other Christians’ doubled the number of white evangelicals. But these Christians get ignored by the media, and often by the Democratic Party. Yet, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was in a Tuesday morning Bible study group when she got word of President Trump's offensive tweet. Elizabeth Warren taught Sunday School. And Doug Jones is a faithful church member. ‘White evangelical’ has come to equal ‘Christian’ in the popular culture, which is devastating for the public witness of our faith, ignores the vital faith of people of color, and distorts the relationship of religion and politics.

It’s not just those outside of white evangelicalism who tire of the religious right’s invocation of Christianity in support of some of the worst offerings of leadership for our country. Beth Moore, an evangelical preacher, declared that “this idea that God puts up with secret sins from His servant for the greater good is a total crock,” and Nancy French, evangelical writer and speaker, stated that “when there's a credible accusation or two or three or four and we still bury our heads and cry partisanship that is intolerable." Russell Moore, one of the few conservative evangelical men who has consistently vocally opposed Moore and white evangelicals’ support of him, issued this strong condemnation: “Christian, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism.”

These voices are important, and I applaud them. But it doesn’t let white evangelicals off the hook. We can and we must do better. It’s past time to sit with the shame of what has been deemed allowable in the name of our faith. Bryan Stevenson, who lives and voted Tuesday in Alabama, put it well when I interviewed him for the ninth episode of my Audible series, in reference to Southern pride and Confederate statues:

“ … we are unwilling to confront our mistakes and we are afraid of being ashamed. And I actually think shame is an important emotion. It's an important portrait relationship you have to have to issues that are in fact shameful — in the church. We understand that sometimes you have to give voice to things that don't make you look very good, that don't make you feel very good, but they are necessary. It's necessary that we give voice to them because we're trying to get to someplace better.”

We are trying to get to someplace better. After this very difficult year, I am hopeful we can get there or at least do our faithful best to try.

 

President Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board:

  • Michele Bachman – Former Congresswoman
  • A.R. Bernard – Senior Pastor and CEO, Christian Cultural Center (Resigned)
  • Mark Burns – Pastor, Harvest Praise and Worship Center
  • Tim Clinton – President, American Association of Christian Counselors
  • Kenneth and Gloria Copeland – Founders, Kenneth Copeland Ministries
  • James Dobson – Author, Psychologist, and Host, My Family Talk
  • Jerry Falwell, Jr. – President, Liberty University
  • Ronnie Floyd – Senior Pastor, Cross Church
  • Jentezen Franklin – Senior Pastor, Free Chapel
  • Jack Graham – Senior Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church
  • Harry Jackson – Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
  • Robert Jeffress – Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dallas
  • David Jeremiah – Senior Pastor, Shadow Mountain Community Church
  • Richard Land – President, Southern Evangelical Seminary
  • James MacDonald – Founder and Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel (Resigned before election)
  • Johnnie Moore – Author, President of The KAIROS Company
  • Robert Morris – Senior Pastor, Gateway Church
  • Tom Mullins – Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship
  • Ralph Reed – Founder, Faith and Freedom Coalition
  • James Robison – Founder, Life OUTREACH International
  • Tony Suarez – Executive Vice President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
  • Jay Strack – President, Student Leadership University
  • Paula White – Senior Pastor, New Destiny Christian Center
  • Tom Winters – Attorney, Winters and King, Inc.
  • Sealy Yates – Attorney, Yates, and Yates

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His new Audible spoken-word series, Jim Wallis In Conversation, is available now, as is his book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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