Just before noon on the day of the contentious special election in Alabama for the Senate seat left vacant by Jeff Sessions appointment as Attorney General, Roy Moore galloped to his polling place astride a horse.
It was the final flourish in an outrageous campaign that withstood damning allegations of predatory behavior, bizarre antics that courted fundamentalist voters, and brazen dog-whistles that flirted with anti-Semitism, racism, and Islamophobia. The act, in an image cultivated to call to mind a narrow read of the American experience, was also a nail in the coffin of the myth of American Christianity.
The former judge’s career has been strategically built on a very narrow understanding of “traditional values"; one which is inextricably linked to a fictitious idea of a divinely ordained American patriotism. In 1993, shortly after he was elected to a six-year term as circuit court judge, Moore hung a plaque of the Ten Commandments behind his bench. A defendant in the judge’s court objected to the plaque’s presence, and Moore’s proclivity for beginning court sessions with prayer, prompting an investigation from by ACLU. In 1994, the ACLU asked to send a representative to his court to record the prayer. Moore agreed but later publicly called the investigation “an act of intimidation,” laying the building blocks for a career as a contrarian warrior for God. Perhaps buoyed by the national attention the investigation brought, Moore won reelection that year.
In 1999, the judge began working with evangelical fundamentalist organization the American Family Association in a race for the Chief Justice seat on the Alabama Supreme Court. He won that race, as well, and soon thereafter began plans for installing a four-foot tall granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the central rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court build. While many at the time viewed it as a perverse and ill-advised blurring of the separation of church and state, it was, in retrospect, the logical next step in his self-styled creation myth.
Unsurprisingly the ACLU filed suit against Moore, pressing for the monument’s removal. The case received national attention and by the time an appellate court judge ruled against Moore in 2003, the judge had assumed a place at the center of an American holy war. In his 2005 book, So Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny, and the Battle for Religious Freedom, he wrote, “My mind had been opened to the spiritual war occurring in our state and our nation that was slowly removing the knowledge of that relationship between God and law.”
Since that time, Moore has twice been removed from the bench for ethical violations but, vexingly has seen his star rise among evangelicals and the religious right. While his ability to withstand his most recent campaign’s many scandals, including the allegations that he repeatedly preyed on underage girls, rightfully shocks many, it is retrospectively the climax of a long-gestating large-scale crusade to dismantle American Christianity.
Roy Moore claims to be a Christian; no one can tell him what is in his heart, so that claim must be taken at face value. Roy Moore has a law degree and is, as far as one can tell, an American citizen. However, he has systematically used the facts of his biography to lend legitimacy to a fanaticism that is undermining the nation. He is not alone in this pursuit. Politicians up to and including the current president say that they want to align the country with their interpretation of "Judeo-Christian values." Many, like Moore, say that advances like same-sex marriage and legalized abortion are an affront to God. Some toy with the idea that America was better in the time of slavery, as Moore infamously did in a recent rally. “I think it was great at the time when families were united - even though we had slavery,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. They pick and choose a fealty to scripture that has very little to do with Christ. It is not about Christ. It is about men and a craven desire for power.
The Bible-quoting, horse-riding, gun-toting Roy Moore is an avatar into which millions of Americans can comfortably pour their xenophobia, their anger, and their fear. Politicians like Moore claim that we are in a battle for the soul of the country; they claim that the founders’ intentions were divinely ordained. Like tent revival hucksters, they position themselves as uniquely capable of discerning God’s will and reversing the circumstances of the less fortunate. As Donald Trump said at the Republican National Convention, “I am your voice; I alone can fix it.”
When we place power in the hands of men who use God as a weapon, it is very easy for God to be removed as an active part of the equation, leaving us as the mercy of men. And that is where we find ourselves today in America. Roy Moore has said that violence and other social ills are “a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins," paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln out of context. If anything, politicians like Roy Moore are the consequence of America’s sins. When Americans say we are a Christian nation, at this point, and perhaps always, we are simply using shorthand that prizes personal desires over the good of the country.
As a Christian, I find it outrageous that I am somehow under the same tent as someone like Roy Moore.
As a Christian, I find it outrageous that I am somehow under the same tent as someone like Roy Moore. But it is, sadly, not surprising to me. The Christianity that I know and that I follow is rooted in a deep love for humanity all stripes. That is simply my interpretation. I am not right and Roy Moore is not right. And until we can acknowledge that it is actually antithetical to Christianity itself to suggest that one person or one interpretation holds primacy, we will be hobbled as a nation.
We are being held captive by a narrow, intransigent understanding of an ancient text with multiple authors and often conflicting instructions. All Americans are at the mercy of people who blithely disregard inconsistencies in understanding and application in an effort to sure up their own power and wealth. We must give up the idea of American Christianity; it is not one thing and to think it is is fundamentally detrimental to the fabric of the nation.
If we refuse to do so, then all American Christians must held accountable for the actions of other Christians. American Christians must loudly and unequivocally denounce statements of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism when they are aired from the pulpit or the floor of Congress.
To shy away from doing so, for personal gain or for what one perceives is the good of the nation, is to let one individual’s claims about their own religious experiences affect the lives of millions and the public policy of the nation. No other religion gets this pass. If a Muslim person did any of the things Roy Moore has done, Roy Moore would label him a dangerous zealot. If we are truly American, we must reject this.
Roy Moore is a danger to America, that much has been made clear. Roy Moore also poses a specific and clear threat to American Christians. I wonder if they know that.
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