How a “culture of temptation” excuses Christian perpetrators

Hi Joel,

I wish every thought I have about Roy Moore would be the final thought I ever have to have about him, but, alas, it’s Monday, and he still hasn’t conceded that he lost the Alabama Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones.

Roy Moore continues to clam that “the battle is not over,” and, indeed, the election won’t be certified until sometime between Christmas and January 3rd. As he has often done in the past, Moore sees himself as playing a key role in God’s plan for the world–which is to make (or, in Moore’s view, return) America to its status as a “Christian nation” and, in doing so, incur God’s supernatural (but also economic and military) blessing on it. He makes himself the hero of that story, comparing himself to the long-suffering Job of the Hebrew Bible. The Republicans who have called for him to step aside are no better than Job’s wife, who encouraged him to “curse God and die” when things got tough.

The Washington Post reports that 80% of white evangelical voters voted for Moore. To outsiders, that seems like a hypocrisy, given the repeatedly verified charges that Moore sexually assaulted children–and the very clear evidence that he dated his wife while she was married to someone else. Many white evangelicals went to the polls believing that the accusations were likely true–and still chose Moore. I’ve written before about the power of whiteness to persuade white women to throw their lot with white men, even men who abuse them, but we also have to consider the question of evangelical support for a man who has personally violated the Religious Right code of sexual ethics. We saw it with Trump, but Moore may seem like even more a surprise, given that he, unlike Trump, claims to be a Bible-believing Christian.

In voting for Trump, white conservative Christian voters didn’t think they were getting a Sunday School teacher. They didn’t even think they were getting a King David–a man “after God’s own heart,” even though he’d committed a lot of sexual sins. Instead, they were voting for a King Cyrus–the Persian king who allowed the Jews in diaspora to return to their homeland to build a theocracy. He himself wasn’t a man of faith, but his policies supported the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral land and the re-assertion of their faith. Christian nationalists like Moore might have preferred a man with fewer ex-wives or appearances in Playboy productions, but they were willing to vote for him to further their larger goals.

Likewise, many white conservative Christian voters who find Moore personally objectionable can stomach his personal behavior in order to advance their shared vision of Christian nationalism. This argument is easier to make, of course, when his political opponent supports abortion rights. After all, then we are comparing a man who sexually assaults children with a man who would murder unborn babies. But, really, many white Christian voters can excuse Moore’s sexual crimes with a shrug of their shoulders. Too many of them know adult men who coerced girls and teens into sex, and many of them know parents who pressured those girls to marry their assailants. To think poorly of Moore would mean thinking poorly about the many men they know who use power and religion to keep minors in abusive relationships.

When confronted by their sexual sins, conservatives often blame feminism, sexual liberation, gay rights, the 1960s. A Senator gets his mistress pregnant and they blame the birth control movement for teaching men that sex comes without responsibility; a TV personality sexually harasses his co-host and they complain that it’s impossible, in the era of women in the workforce, to figure out what is and is acceptable behavior. Here is Claire Berlinski piling it on in her recent attack on the #Metoo movement in The American Interest:

“The absence of any notion of sin (and hence forgiveness), or any notion of male/female complementarity, along with the fetishization of “consent” and the absolute authority of internal states of feeling (the crux of Kennedy’s Obergefell ruling) has rendered us unable to think sensibly about how men and women relate to each other.”

In one sentence, she blames liberal theology, a rejection of Biblical complementarianism (a kind of religious “separate but equal” for gender), the belief that individuals have the right to bodily autonomy, and gay rights for men’s sexual abuses. Notably, she does not blame the actual perpetrators–you know, men who abuse.

Conservative Christians do the same. When conservative Christian men fail, some of their followers fall away–but others double down, forgetting the commitment to “personal responsibility” that inflects so much of their victim-blaming. They don’t blame the man but the culture, which, they argue, practically invites the sexual abuse of minors. And they aren’t entirely wrong. magazine named a 13 year old girl their “sexiest actress of the year.” She still has baby teeth. We live in a culture that sexualizes children–and children who are vulnerable (economically, because they are queer, because they don’t have parents who are invested in their safety) are far more likely to be exploited. Like other sexual predators, Moore himself selected a child who was fragile, one who was actually at her own child custody hearing.

Image result for roy moore on horseback

Roy Moore is a real man, as you can tell by the way he rides his horse to the voting booth.  Further evidence: real men sometimes fall to temptation, which is abundant in a culture that allows women’s suffrage, contraceptives, and gay Boy Scout leaders. 

Of course, for the rest of us, My culture taught me that it’s okay to sexualize children isn’t a justification for child sex abuse. But for some conservative Christians, it can be exactly the excuse they need to hear. It frames the perpetrator as 1) heterosexual, 2) sexually powerful, 3) and prone to weakness. Both his appetites and his failures demonstrate that he’s a real man. If you’ve ever sat through a revival service and heard the testimony of a born-again sinner, you’ve heard the story: in the end, God saves him, but you’re really listening for the sins. And the more depraved the sin, the greater God’s rescuing love.

And, best of all, this framework ultimately blames the culture–which is, after all, what Christian nationalism seeks to change. We need a culture that represses women and punishes sexual minorities because, otherwise, even good men like Roy Moore might give into temptation and sexually assault kids. Roy Moore might not be the ideal candidate for conservative Christian voters, but at least he’s pushing for the goal.









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