Defrocked Judge Roy Moore issued a defiant rejection of the outcome of this Tuesday’s senatorial race in Alabama, which he lost by 21,000 votes. He said he would not concede his loss because the state hasn’t yet counted the absentee and military ballots, which is apparently not true in regards the absentee ballots sent in by voters resident in the state (some overseas ballots may not yet be counted), and it is irrelevant regarding the military ballots, which cannot get him to 21,000 votes since Alabama does not provide 10% of the nation’s armed forces.
Roy Moore has been denying reality for so long that his frantic protests don’t surprise anyone. Along with his refusal to concede defeat and honor the wishes of the electorate, he issued a long series of moral condemnations that have formed the basis of his campaign. These are the issues which have been part of the Roy Moore image for decades, and which are characteristic of Evangelical Christianity in the South. Like Trump, Moore received over 80% of the white Evangelical vote, which is often described as the white Christian nationalist vote, since the idea that America is God’s Chosen Land (along with Israel just because the Bible says so) is a foundation of Southern white Christianity since before the Civil War.
The problem for Moore was that there are a substantial number of Christians in Alabama who are conservative in their views and, like white Evangelicals, they too subscribe to the mission of evangelizing for Christ. They do not, however, subscribe to white nationalism, because they are not white, and the idea that America is God’s Chosen Land does not appeal to them. Their ancestors who were slaves had no reason whatever to feel part of the Chosen Land, and it was free slaves who formed the first race-based Christian denomination in the early 19th century – the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Over 90% of Alabaman African-Americans, many of them AME Church members, voted for Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, and they were a significant part of the coalition that drove Jones to victory and Moore to a shocking defeat.
And now, white Christians in Alabama who supported Moore really do have a grievance. Their candidate lost, and the natural order of things in Alabama, where whites have always ruled, has been upended. Roy Moore is stoking their feelings of oppression and martyrdom by blaming a Godless culture for his loss, and most assuredly almost all of his followers will adopt this excuse. That is because all their life, white Evangelicals have heard about the godless secular politicians, the evil liberals, the genocidal abortionists, and the sexual reprobates who populate the Democratic Party.
Doug Jones’ victory was remarkable but also problematic, because his margin of nearly 2% was so low. He will have to defend his Senate seat a few years from now, and if his opponent is not as flawed as Roy Moore, Evangelical white Christians will once again turn out in force for the Republican candidate. It is relatively easy to see that this victory is a fluke of chance, because white Christian nationalism still comprises the dominant political philosophy in Alabama.
Since Roy Moore has just given us an entire list of white Christian grievances, let us look at these complaints to better understand how white Evangelicals in the South persist in supporting a cult which equates religious “truth” with voting Republican.
We have stopped prayer in our schools. No we haven’t. The Supreme Court forbade teachers or administrators from leading students in prayer, so that the state would not be associated with a particular religion, and so that students would not be compelled to pray. But students can pray silently or crack open the Bible in any public school during breaks and at lunch. Bible study groups meet on school property all the time, and the trend of “meeting at the flagpole,” where students pray out loud outdoors, is very popular in the South. So is a public prayer to Jesus before football games.
We have killed over 60 million of our unborn children. All reasoning Americans accept the fact that at some point in its development, a fetus has a right to life that transcends the rights of the mother to abort the fetus. Most Americans also agree that that “point of development” has to be set conservatively in favor of the fetus, and that the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade was reasonably conservative in setting this point at the end of the first trimester. Beyond this, however, it is extremely difficult for most Americans to accept that a zygote or a blastocyst, which are the very earliest stages of fetal development and invisible to the human eye, are not yet “children” or “babies,” and there has been no holocaust going on that killed 60 million babies. Conservative Christians, which includes many Catholics, Mormons and others beyond Evangelicals, are simply wrong in characterizing the early stages of fetal development as human beings.
We have redefined marriage and destroyed the basis of family, which is the building block of our country. If the family is the building block of American society, no one has done more damage to the family than heterosexual couples, who divorce at a rate of 50%. Divorce is more prevalent in the South, and among Evangelical Christians, so Roy Moore would do well to look within his own community of supporters before he condemns gay marriage. Moreover, there is no evidence that gay marriages are more prone to divorce than straight marriages, and there is good evidence that gay couples are providing a benefit to society by adopting unwanted children (real children, that is, the sort who have emerged from the womb only to discover no adults want to take care of them).
Our borders are not secure. Illegal immigration fell consistently year after year when Barack Obama was president. He holds the record for deporting more immigrants than any other president. For those immigrants who arrive illegally in the U.S., most of them don’t walk across the U.S. border with Mexico – they fly over it. The easiest way to immigrate to the U.S. is to fly in on a tourist visa and overstay your welcome. The entire conservative argument that there is rampant crime afoot in the U.S. from illegal immigrants is bogus, and is based only on magnifying anecdotal cases of immigrant crime. If anything, illegal immigrants hide in the shadows for fear of attracting attention from the authorities.
Our economy is faltering under an enormous national debt. This is utterly ridiculous and hypocritical beyond even the high standards of hypocrisy set by white Christian politicians. The economy has been on an eight year tear under Obama and is approaching an overheated stage under Trump, which Trump is about to aggravate to dangerous levels with his tax cut. As for the “enormous national debt,” it is obviously not a danger at all if the Republicans feel comfortable adding $1.5 trillion to the debt.
We have a huge drug problem. This is the one grievance that Moore gets right. There is an opioid epidemic in America of frightening dimensions, and as serious as the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s. The good news is that American society is well aware of this epidemic and has chosen not to castigate, demonize, or jail its many victims. The bad news is that most of these victims are rural white males – the sort of people who vote for Roy Moore, and none of these people, nor society at large, was willing to take such a tolerant attitude to addiction when the victims were inner-city blacks in the 1980’s. They were sent to jail for being a junkie, and not classified as a victim in any way, and if they are fortunate to be out of jail, in red states they continue to be penalized by being deprived of the right to vote.
We have even begun to recognize the right of a man to claim to be a woman, and vice versa. No we haven’t. Society has come to realize that there are people who from birth have sensed that their body does not comport to their own sexual identity. What they are claiming is that they are not a man who wants to become a woman, but a woman who wants to obtain a woman’s body. Moreover, this is a natural condition, not of anyone’s choosing, and such individuals now have available therapies and surgical treatments that can allow them to have a single sexual identity, emotionally and bodily. None of this does any harm to white Christians.
We have allowed Judges and justices to rule over our Constitution, and we have become slaves to their tyranny. Oh dear. Look to the mote in thine own eye, Roy Moore. You have made a career of violating your oath as a judge to uphold the Constitution. You have trampled all over it, to the degree that twice you were removed from your position as a Supreme Court Justice in Alabama. You are the poster boy for judges who “rule over our Constitution,” and you are the person imposing your tyranny on the rest of society.
Immorality sweeps over our land. It certainly did forty years ago, when as a thirty-year-old district attorney, Moore fondled teenage, underage girls. Roy Moore started out responding to the women who accused him of sexual harassment by saying it was entirely possible he dated teenagers. Then he changed his story to say that he couldn’t remember such incidents. Finally, he took to outright denouncing his many accusers as political hacks and opportunists who were lying. This allowed him the advantage, in the eyes of his followers, of being a victim and a martyr to the white Christian cause. And so his campaign unfolded, premised on all the white Christian grievances Roy Moore has been espousing for decades.
What Does it Take to Deconvert Evangelicals from White Christian Nationalism?
There is no obvious precedent for convincing people steeped in a cult that their entire view of the world is delusional. The propaganda techniques that dragged them into a cult take years to grab hold of millions of volunteers, and part of the indoctrination that keeps them as followers, besides isolation from the rest of society, is repetitive teaching that claims outsiders are lying, and they are the source of “fake news.” Cult authoritarians instinctively know the paramount importance of denouncing outsiders and critics as lying, phony hypocrites.
To give just one example of how ingrained social behaviors are resistant to change, look no further than Roy Moore himself. When he was in his thirties, it was not uncommon for white men of his age who were members of certain Evangelical or fundamentalist Christian churches to date teenage girls. Moore was a follower of a very influential teacher at the time, Bill Gothard, the same minister who inspired Jim Bob Duggar to raise a family of nineteen children, and take patriarchal possession of the bodies of his daughters by controlling their dating and marriage options.
In Gothdard’s cultural view, teenage girls who were able to have children as young as fourteen were excellent candidates for marriage and immediate child-rearing, all of which was necessary to foster God’s kingdom on earth. Because these young girls were destined to be housewives and brood mares, to use a farm term, they were not allowed an education that would give them any independence from their husband. Gothard taught that the husband needed to have an established career, good income, and proper savings to raise such a child and the many babies she was destined to deliver. Hence the doctrine that thirty-year-old men were certainly entitled and expected to date and marry teenage girls, with the active permission of their parents, of course.
Roy Moore was acting in what he thought was an appropriate Biblical manner. But he went seriously wrong by engaging in sexual behavior with these girls. Even Bill Gothard would have argued that much, since he had put in place a dating ritual that didn’t allow even hand-holding on dates. The first kiss was intended to occur at the wedding ceremony. Gothard, however, has not been able to comment on the Roy Moore scandal. He has been out of the public eye since 2014, when he resigned from the institute he headed following over a dozen allegations of sexual harassment from women who worked directly for him.
Gone are the days when thousands of young men and women eagerly lapped up Gothard’s teachings on moral Biblical behavior. Even at the height of his influence within the Evangelical community, Gothard’s views were unknown among the more mainstream Christian denominations, much less in broader American culture. To the extent there were families living by his principle, exalting the role of the father as a Biblical patriarch whose rulings and punishment could not be questioned, and even as thousands of young girls were being courted in their teenage years and married off by their fathers before they were twenty, all of this happened out of the public eye, and predominantly in Southern states.
It should be no surprise that Roy Moore’s first response to the allegations of sexual misconduct forty years ago was one of perplexity, a fumbling around to explain behavior he thought was moral and superior to whatever secular dating culture allowed. This also explains why a number of his supporters, including clergymen in the South, insisted that if he did date teenage girls, he was only following his faith. Their confusion was the result of living in a secluded world most of their life, rejecting the heathenistic secular culture as they saw it.
The culture clash here is significant. On the one hand you have men determined to marry young girls, some of them under the age of eighteen, because they are religiously conditioned to accept this behavior. On the other hand is the rest of society, including millions of other Christians, who find this behavior reprehensible and crossing the line into pedophilia. Even Jim Bob Duggar has said sexual molestation of young girls is common in Christianity. He should know. His son Josh was brought up before church authorities after his sisters accused him of fondling them, including one who was age five.
Evangelical and fundamentalist ministers who have investigated sexual abuse in their churches have said publicly that the problem is rampant in conservative white Christian churches. But these men are few in number, and so the problems remain hidden, and a cult-like policy of omerta is easily enforced because these are churches which are profoundly suspicious of outsiders, especially if they are viewed as secular or liberal interlopers.
The answer to the question of what it would take for white Christian nationalists to abandon their “faith” is sadly easy to determiner. Nothing is going to change soon. The dissonance Evangelicals experience between the moral failures among them is easily set aside and ignored, because to do otherwise would call into question the entire cult teaching that constitutes white Christian nationalism. Abortion will still be interpreted as the ultimate evil. Liberals and secular humanists will continue to be viewed as enemies. If their ministers and preachers tell them global warming is just another form of fake news, they will resist any measures to deal with it. If Roy Moore insists that Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a manifestation of God’s hand bringing the world to an end in a fiery Armageddon, they will cheer him wildly, as they did, because they know they and they alone will be saved from destruction through the Rapture.
As there is no evidence that white Christian nationalism can reform itself from within, and as its absolutist doctrines that are immune from factual challenge are becoming existential dangers to a world threatened by climate change and the possibility of nuclear war in several parts of the globe, resistance will have to come from outside Christian culture. This will take the active participation of politicians to confront religious thinking, something that is alien to U.S. politics.
Religious thought is often viewed as personal and immune from political criticism, but that ignores the fact that white Christian nationalism sees no problem in enforcing its recidivist and harmful doctrines on the rest of society. Now it believes it has an instrument of divine intent available for reforming American society into a Christian theocracy which they will control and manage. That providential instrument is Donald Trump and the people around him, especially Mike Pence, who views himself as a humble instrument of God’s will.
At some point, politicians with a national standing will have to confront White Christian nationalism head-on, which means standing up to Evangelical preachers of the Franklin Graham or Pat Robertson kind. Ideally, these would be Republican politicians, because some of them have credibility as ministers or preachers, and the confrontation will have to be on Biblical terms to make any impact. The notion that the End Times are near is very popular in Evangelical communities, and this will have to subjected to criticism based on Christ’s own teaching. The concept of the Rapture, a peculiarly American invention of the 19th century, will have to be fiercely denounced as being entirely unbiblical, which it is.
It is the End Times theology which is allowing white Christian nationalists to reject any scientific evidence that global warming is manmade. Many prominent ministers in Evangelical churches deny global warming has anything to do with us, but cheer on its effects nonetheless, just as they cannot wait for Israel to destroy the Islamic holy site of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, so that the Third Temple can be built, which prophesy says will usher in the End Times.
There is a highly disturbing strain of self-annihilation running through white Christian nationalism, and that alone should tell us these people should have no access whatever to secular power. Just as Roy Moore refuses to face reality in this week’s election, so his fellow Christians refuse to face reality in their daily lives. This nation can no longer be held hostage to a religious doctrine based on a death wish.