Many have believed the accusations against Roy Moore of sexual assault and harassment against teen girls to be massively hypocritical since for years he’s presented himself as a hardcore evangelical man of faith, and he has a loyal white Christian evangelical following.
But what if Moore’s alleged actions actually meld with a religious belief among some evangelicals, even if the adherents won’t outright admit it?
Moore in fact represents an extremist wing of an already theocratic-leaning base of the GOP that believes all women must be subservient and submit ― as Mike Huckabee, who hasn’t pulled his full-throated endorsement of Moore, infamously once said of women with regard to their husbands, expressing his own “Handmaid’s Tale” dream come true ― and that would no doubt include young women such as teen girls. After all, as one of Moore’s defenders in the Alabama GOP said in dismissing the allegations, “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
And since the advent of Donald Trump, this more extreme group of evangelicals has cleaved away from others and joined the alt-right and white nationalists, led by former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon ― who is a front line warrior for Moore’s election campaign ― and which include white supremacists and racists like those we saw in Charlottesville.
Jack Jenkins, senior religion reporter at Think Progress, has been charting the growth in the Trump era of Christian nationalism ―the melding of some evangelicals and their beliefs with nationalistic movements and ideologies ― in several excellent and important articles. He, too, puts Roy Moore at the nexus of the white nationalist movement and the extremist evangelical movement.
As someone who has covered the Family Research Council’s annual Values Voters Summit (VVS) for years, I, along with other observers, saw a marked difference in the speakers and in the crowd this past October, when Donald Trump became the first sitting president to speak at the event. Some long-time leaders like those from the Southern Baptist Convention ― whose Russell Moore is a Never Trumper ― were not there, along with their followers. They were replaced by Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and other white nationalists and their followers who never had an interest in VVS and are far from what anyone would think of as devout Christians.
“White Nationalism and Christian Right Unite at Values Voter Summit,” was the headline of Adele Stan’s piece on Bill Moyers.com last month. A longtime progressive journalist, Stan, too, has covered VVS for years, as has Right-Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery. Both of them agreed in a discussion on my radio program that this marriage of evangelicals and white nationalists was clear at this year’s VVS, a sort of realignment taking place. The star of VVS this year was Roy Moore ― backed by Bannon and his minions ― who would become the test candidate for catapulting Christian nationalism further into the mainstream.
It’s no secret that the alt-right and white supremacists like those we saw in Charlottesville aren’t just about white supremacy; they’re about male supremacy as well, as we saw in their brutal, misogynistic attacks on Heather Heyer after her murder by a white supremacist. Let’s not forget last year’s headlines on Breitbart ― then and once again led by Steve Bannon ― from “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy” to “Would You Rather Have Your Child Have Feminism or Cancer?”
This past weekend, a group of clergy opposed to Roy Moore, including some evangelical leaders, held a rally in Birmingham to speak out against him. Their aim was to counter those evangelical pastors who gathered last week to support Moore, which included extreme Christian dominionists, such as Janet Porter. (Peter Montgomery’s “Trump’s Dominionist Prayer Warriors Organizing To Build Christian Nation” is a must-read on this topic.) The Moore evangelical defenders, and the politicians who pander to them, mostly claim that they do not believe the allegations from nine women to be true, and that the charges are part of some wide-ranging political hit job. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas said the allegations were all concocted to destroy Bannon.
But Alabama GOP governor Kay Ivey actually admitted she has reason to believe the allegations but also believes it’s still important to elect a Republican and will vote for Moore. This no doubt reflects the belief of many Alabama voters who continue to support Moore in polls, and many evangelicals and white nationalists across the country who still support Moore ― and still support Donald Trump, who of course is an accused sexual assaulter as well.
It’s becoming clear that, for many evangelicals and many in the alt-right and white nationalist movements, sexual assault against women and girls is not only not a deal-breaker for a candidate but is also perfectly acceptable, whether they want to admit this or not. The uniting of white nationalists and the religious right, and the rise of Christian nationalism, is premised not only on the false idea that people of color, LGBTQ people and other minorities are exerting too much control, but also very much so on the belief that women ― coming forward now and speaking out about sexual assault and demanding equality ― must be put in their place.
That’s perhaps one reason why Roy Moore and everything he represents is galvanizing both the religious and the secular far right. And that’s why the rise of Christian nationalism is very dangerous.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile
Language in this story has been amended to clarify that the group of pastors who organized a Birmingham rally to speak out against Moore were not all evangelical.