The extremist Republican politician Roy Moore, suspected of sexual misconduct, by no means lacks a chance to win a Senate seat in Alabama.* Since Donald Trump, evangelical voters have had less trouble with immoral behavior.
Before the Rev. Lewis Smith’s dancing and screaming brings the members of his congregation to ecstasy – where, filled with the Holy Spirit, they will writhe on the floor – there is a serene calm in the Church of God. The small church building is located in the town of Dora, in the impoverished countryside of Alabama. Dora has only 2,000 inhabitants and more than 20 evangelical churches.
About 30 elderly churchgoers have arrived an hour early. With the Bible in their laps, they chew on texts full of Old Testament doom. “I want to talk with you about the arrogance of our leaders,” says the discussion leader, who introduces herself as Sister Margaret.**
The conversation is about King Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who, according to the Bible, turned away from God and was punished with war. Later, he repented. Rehoboam, says Sister Margaret, is a warning for present-day America. “Our leaders have stopped listening to God. They deserve their punishment.”
An old man stands up. “Politicians in Washington are all the same,” he exclaims. “Democrats, Republicans, I don’t care. They enrich themselves; they help each other. The Senate is corrupt!”
A woman in the back, even older, also gets up. She shouts: “I saw a scorpion the other day. That was an omen. Something is on its way to sting us. The devil is coming!”
Sister Margaret says, “God has told me what I must do. I have received my marching orders. You too, Sister Martha. You have testified about it.”
Without mentioning his name, all those present in the Church of God know who they are talking about. Sister Margaret offers a disguised voting recommendation for the controversial Senate candidate Moore.
Take Joseph and Mary
On Tuesday, Alabama will experience the most exciting election in recent history. It is an election with national, even global consequences. The sparsely populated, profoundly conservative state must send a new senator to Washington to fill the vacancy left by former Sen. Jeff Sessions when he became U.S. Attorney General. Under normal circumstances, the Republican candidate Moore would win easily. But nothing is normal about this election. A Moore victory is not at all certain. The Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, could easily win on Tuesday.
A radical-right-leaning former judge, Moore is an extreme candidate, even for Alabama. He was removed twice from the Supreme Court of Alabama. Last year, he refused to approve gay marriage, which was implemented nationwide, in the state, insisting that homosexuality must be punishable under law. He said that Muslims should not be allowed to have a seat in Congress. He waved a gun at a campaign meeting to make it clear that he is in favor of the free possession of firearms.
The accusations started in November. The Washington Post described how Moore met a girl, Leigh Corfman, in court in 1979. At the time, Moore was a 32-year-old public prosecutor. Corfman was 14. Moore offered to babysit the girl while her mother appeared in court. After that, he met her several more times. In the newspaper article, she talks about how he kissed and assaulted her.
Six other women say they have been assaulted by Moore. In all cases, the women were young, sometimes underage. Moore approached girls in the mall in Gadsden, where he lived. He forced himself upon a girl that worked behind the bar of a restaurant and wrote in her high school yearbook.***
A former student told The Washington Post that Moore asked for her phone number at the mall. She refused. Moore then called the high school and had the girl called out of her math class. Moore managed to get a date and kissed her by force.*** The New Yorker revealed that Moore’s behavior drew so much attention, that police banned him from the mall.
Moore initially acknowledged knowing some of the women, but claimed that he never dated any teenager “without the permission of her mother.” One of Moore’s allies, the Rev. Flip Benham, said that the Senate candidate had trouble, as a returned Vietnam vet, finding women of his own age and that “the purity” of young women is “something that is good, that’s true.” Jim Zeigler, a prominent Alabama Republican, said, “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
Moore subsequently changed his story. He now denies everything and says that he is the victim of a conspiracy. Democrats and Republicans are working together to keep him out of Washington, he said this week, during a visit to an evangelical church in Dora.**** “They don’t hold conservative values. They are the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender who want to change our culture. They are socialists who want to change our way of life and put man above God and the government is our God,” Moore said.
By acting this way, Moore has turned the election from a sexual misconduct scandal into a cultural battle. And even though most Republicans want to get rid of him, Moore appeals to a sentiment that was apparent during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign; the globalist world order, the “sexual agenda of [billionaire] George Soros,” as Moore calls it, which threatens conservative Alabama.***** Not surprisingly, Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, the man who created “Trumpism,” is fanatically campaigning for Moore. In addition, Trump himself fully supported Moore this week for the first time. “He denies it … he totally denies it,” Trump said.
Evangelical voters in Alabama, including members of the Church of God, are now facing a dilemma. Do they support the candidate who is haunted by multiple credible accusations of child abuse? Or do they support a Democrat?
During the service, Smith, a large man with a beard, does not allude to the election. He puts the palm of his hand on the forehead of congregation members, after which some collapse on the floor trembling. He blows a ram’s horn, the shofar. “I know where the people with sinful thoughts are seated, I have seen you,” he says. While the music rouses the congregation members, he dances around. Afterward, he says, “I really don’t have to say this: everyone, vote for Roy Moore. We’ve had eight years of misery from Barack Obama. My congregation members know exactly what’s at stake.”**
Jen and Butch Morgan nod their heads. Butch is a truck driver and moonlights as a slumlord. Jen does not work. Butch has a large, grey beard. Never, he says, would he abandon Moore. “He is a man of God. I look at what Roy Moore has done, not at what they say about him. They hate him because he believes God is more important than earthly laws,” Morgan says.**
Jen adds, “Those women have been silent for 40 years. Why? I don’t believe them. I read that the yearbook with his signature is a forgery.”** Among others, Bannon’s website, Breitbart, reports that Moore is the victim of a conspiracy.
Later, Butch Morgan says that he does have his doubts sometimes. He has also had reservations about Trump, who bragged about assaulting women. “But then I say to myself: God knows what is good for us. God has put Mike Pence on Trump’s path. He must have a reason for wanting us to vote for Roy Moore,” Morgan says.
The Fall of Man
Evangelical Americans are an influential factor in the Republican Party. One out of four Americans identifies as an evangelical, born-again Christian. Historically, this group did not interfere with politics; everything was aimed at life after death. That changed in the early 70s, when abortion was legalized.
Mediagenic leaders like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell used the resistance movement against abortion as a means to unite the church. The movement rubbed ever closer against the right wing of the Republican Party. Often, evangelical voters are the decisive factor in American elections, as in 2004, when they ensured the re-election of George W. Bush. Last year, four evangelicals out of five voted for Trump.
Abortion is still the most important issue among this group. That explains why Moore seems to be immune from all the accusations. On the campaign trail, he says that he will always work to prohibit abortion. Other topics are simply less important. But Moore is also capitalizing on a rapid social upheaval in the evangelical movement. In 2011, only 30 percent of evangelicals agreed that politicians could remain in office when they divorced, cheated or demonstrated other “immoral behavior.” Last year, that percentage had risen to 76 percent, probably because of Trump’s emergence.
On Sunday night, the Rev. Andy Frazier stands in front of about 30 followers in Grace Baptist Church in Dora. It is by no means full; there are more people in the church choir than churchgoers in the room. Frazier is a young, dynamic pastor. Churches empty out, including his, and he knows why. On a whiteboard, he lists what congregation members have given as the reasons for leaving a congregation: lack of time, a message which no longer inspires them, the church is too rigid, the church is too political.
Afterward, Frazier says that he wants to teach the church a lesson. “In the Deep South, ministers determine what people should think. I get asked that question often from congregation members: how should I vote?” Frazier says.**
Most of his colleagues advise voting for Moore, Frazier says. “It is club behavior. The evangelical movement is pushed more and more to the right. It is not wrong as a pastor to say that you are a Republican, or that you are pro-possession of firearms. I agree with that. But the enforced evangelical support for Roy Moore has nothing to do with the message of Jesus.”**
Together with 85 other evangelical ministers, Frazier signed an open letter condemning sexual misconduct. Moore’s name is not on the letter, but every reader in Alabama understands that it is a dismissal of the Republican candidate. “We believe that the result of man's fallen condition and deviation from God's perfect design for His creation is the brokenness of relationships between men and women,” the letter reads. That is evangelical jargon for beware of Roy Moore!
It is a sign that resistance is rising in conservative Christian America. For years, the movement has been losing influence, writes the evangelical minister, the Rev. John Dickerson, in his book “The Great Evangelical Recession.” The country thinks increasingly more progressively about abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia. In response, evangelicals latch onto the ultraright even more firmly. But, writes Dickerson, “Tactics that once worked, are now self-destructive.”**
Frazier says that Moore is the result of a decades-long radicalization of the Christian right. “I, therefore, tell my followers: This man is a false prophet. But I don’t know whether they listen to me. The pressure to vote for Moore is tremendous. This is the Deep South; people are law-abiding. Women vote what their husbands want them to vote; men vote what their church leaders tell them to vote.”**
Frazier, who voted for Trump last year, will now vote for an independent third candidate. And is Doug Jones the Democrat who can stop Moore? Frazier laughs: No, that is pushing it.
*Editor’s note: On Dec. 12, 2017, Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in the Alabama election for the U.S. Senate seat.
**Editor’s note: The quoted remarks of churchgoers, pastors and John Dickerson, although accurately translated, could not be independently verified.
***Editor’s note: These accusations are based on acts alleged to have happened.
****Editor’s note: This speech was given in Theodore, Alabama.
*****Editor’s note: Roy Moore’s full comment is: “He is pushing an agenda and his agenda is sexual in nature, his agenda is liberal, and not what Americans need.”