Roy Moore Lost Because Christians are Better than the Bible

Thoughtful Alabama Christians stepped across divide.  How about us?  

I’ve said before that the alleged behavior of Alabama Senate Candidate Roy “10 Commandments” Moore toward teenage girls was perfectly biblical. I’ll stand by that, citing chapter and verse.  (Other Christians or former Christians have made similar observations.) The Bible is a mishmash of texts that were written and assembled over the course of several hundred years by men with varied objectives. All manner of behavior and misbehavior can be and has been justified from the contradictory stories and commandments between its covers. Men like Roy Moore who think they speak for God, who think their end justifies any means, play this to their own advantage.

Fortunately, most Christians are better than that. Where the Bible contradicts itself or endorses archaic cruelties or tribal thinking, their own conscience guides them toward something higher. Since the Iron Age, when most of the Bible texts were written, humanity has gotten clearer about kindness and justice and how people in power should behave toward those who are less powerful. We have evolved a more expansive view of who deserves to be treated according to the Golden Rule.

That includes many Bible believers. (In fact, when the Bible is understood not as a literally perfect and complete word of God but as a record of our ancestors struggling to understand what is real and what is good and how to live in moral community with each other—and when the texts of the Bible are rearranged in chronological order—these trend lines can be seen in the Bible itself.)

This is why in the lead up to the American Civil War, Christian abolitionists drew on the dictates of conscience and then elevated Bible verses that teach compassion and equality above those that endorse slavery. It is why some denominations, like the Plymouth Brethren, have taken a stance of pacifism despite tale after tale of divinely sanctioned violence in the book they consider most sacred. It is why others, like the United Church of Christ, are struggling toward a norm of gender equality despite the fact that the Old Testament reflects an Iron Age understanding of females as chattel—economic property of men.

And it is why many Christians, including Evangelical literalists, recognize Moore’s behavior as exploitative or predatory even though Bible stories and commandments endorse similar behaviors.

From the outside, the 2017 Alabama Senate race has been an orchestra of ugliness: a chorus of well-vetted allegations that the staunchly theocratic Moore both pursued and pawed young teens  while an assistant district attorney;  Moore’s shrill denials and claims that the women were lying; his defenders’ counterpoint that nothing is wrong with a thirty-something lawyer hitting on middle school girls; the dulcet tones of Moore’s (much younger) wife defending his character and listing pastoral endorsements, and, of course, the Moral-Paragon-in-Chief chirping that Moore will “always vote with us”—because isn’t that what Red State faithful most want to hear?

Moore’s fans see him as an icon and defender of Evangelical Christianity. So, it is not without reason that many outsiders have concluded that Evangelicalism is morally bankrupt. It may be satisfying to think so—Christians aren’t the only ones who like feeling righteous—but the truth is rather more complicated than that.

Anyone who knows me as a former Evangelical knows that I’m not going to defend Evangelical ideology or the peculiar status that many Evangelicals accord to the Bible, which I think a form of idolatry. But ordinary Christians aren’t cartoon characters; human beings are always more complex and often a great deal better than the ideologies they get sucked into, and that includes Evangelicals.

Sure, the Church includes men like Moore and the pedophilia apologists who have taken to the airwaves on his behalf. It includes con artists like Creflo Dollar. It includes atavistic patriarchs like Mark Driscoll who parrot the woman-demeaning mantras from the Bible and Church leaders past. It includes people with such tunnel vision that they think being anti-abortion makes one pro-life. It includes tone-deaf youtube hipsters who proclaim that their oh-so-dope religion isn’t actually a religion. And like any institution, the Church is rife with more mundane manifestations of selfishness, exceptionalism, greed, dishonesty, and pettiness. But that is not the whole picture.

My own church included a youth minister whose idea of leadership was getting to be first in line when the teens went waterskiing. Meanwhile, though, unpaid volunteer members with an ideal of “servant leadership” patiently coached beginning skiers even if it meant that they themselves never got wet.

My church included a self-certain associate pastor who advised my 90-lb. sister to “pray and stay” when her husband became abusive. But after that husband crossed someone bigger and better armed than my sister–and got himself shot—members of the same congregation brought food for weeks and, then in the years that followed, helped her fix her plumbing, keep her house repaired, and raise her kids.

My church included people who thought my gay brother was evil and slated for hell, and others whose love for him forced them to confront the atrocious theology of eternal torture. It included paid “friendship missionaries” who exploited the loneliness of foreign students to win converts; and volunteers who simply helped in the soup kitchen no matter what.

In other words, it included cold-heartedness and compassion, self-righteousness and humility, dogma and discernment, greed and generosity, exploitation and altruism. And it often included all of these inside the same individuals, because each of us is big enough to contain a legion of contradictions—just like the folks who wrote Bible.

A lot of progressives are appalled by the recent choices and priorities of people who claim to be followers of Jesus. A lot of us—especially former Christians—think that Bible-belief makes people worse, not better, that instead of being a light on a hill, Christianity has become the surrounding darkness. Count me among the appalled. Count me among the folks who think that Moore’s behavior may—at least in part—derive from his bibliolatry. Worship Iron Age texts and you get Iron Age behavior.

That said, we need to give credit where it is due. Heroic Black and young voters turned out in force and defeated Roy Moore, but they couldn’t have done it without the breathing room given them by Alabama Christians who chose not to sacrifice all else in exchange for biblical theocracy.

With 2017 coming to a close, Alabama Christians who didn’t vote as expected have given our country a chance to take a pause from the dawn-to-dusk outrage and reciprocal jeering that passes these days for political discourse. In this dark winter of the American soul, that is a gift. They have given us a small reminder that few of us are as unidimensional as we appear on social media. And that seems like a good message to carry into the holidays.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

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About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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16 Responses to Roy Moore Lost Because Christians are Better than the Bible

  1. nugentt says:

    Great piece of writing, Valerie!

    Tony

    ________________________________

    Like

  2. As usual a pleasure to read you Valerie for the content, the form, the heart, the courage and the vision. I think, one of the driver for tolerating these abuses is somehow the need for a simple dogmatic asnwer to world complexity, but maybe when confronted to the absurd sometimes we are willing to dare beyond the dogma. Greetings from Germany and Happy Holidays to you and your family. Jacques

    Like

    • Thank you, Jacques. I agree about the drive for simplicity. This world is increasingly overwhelming–even to those of us who have a fairly high tolerance for complexities, contradictions, and shades of gray. I think we all are increasingly prone to falling into half-truths that make us feel like we have a handle on what’s going on.

      Like

  3. Angela Schweig says:

    Trump, Moore, and the apparent exponentially expanding number of major and minor celebrities ensnared as sexual predators has birthed a cynical and dark rage in me that I failed to recognize until hours after I ruminated on this essay. Of this poisonous group, thus far Trump and Moore have tried to hide their ignominy behind a gross caricature of servant leadership called Evangelical Dominionism. The collapse of Roy Moore and his Enabler in Chief in Alabama gives me hope that other jurisdictions can make these choices and lead us out of the current darkness.

    Valerie, you worded this beautiful, succinct work exposing the Iron Age underpinnings of Roy Moore’s religious derangement syndrome so gently that you had me by the heart way before my clinical social work brain engaged. Thank you for this healing experience.

    Like

  4. Paul Hamel says:

    My gut response to this, throughout the reading, was “g&%@@d..n, this is good s*!t”.
    Instead of saying that, I say thank you for this. Reality is more complicated as well as more simple, than my attempts to categorize it into a soapbox and then stand and pontificate from that soapbox of my own righteousness.

    Like

  5. Perry Bulwer says:

    “….Plymouth Brethren, have taken a stance of pacifism despite tale after tale of divinely sanctioned violence in the book they consider most sacred.”

    Unfortunately, the Plymouth Brethren don’t apply that same stance of anti-violence to their own families. Although the PB apparently split into two sects, the other being Exclusive Brethren, many news articles on the following page suggest the split is not so clear, and the names Plymouth Brethren and Exclusive Brethren seems to be interchangeable. When both groups excommunicate a married member with a family, they rip that person’s family apart and forbid contact with any families remembers remaining the group, which is a kind of violence.

    https://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2011/04/totalitarian-control-of-exclusive.html?showComment=1432420104588#c5863732153995709821

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  6. David Crowther says:

    Scary to think that these pedophilic crotch grabbers have control of the launch codes.

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  7. Damon Hicks says:

    Your premise axiomatically false. Did you study the voting results before making your thesis? The reason Moore lost is apathy from his core supporters and a monumental turnout from non-white democratic voters.
    You say that good Christians are “better than the Bible“ but according to the voting results, religious based voters overwhelmingly chose Moore but their turnout wasn’t enough to beat the non-white democratic voters that had the highest turnout including the 2012 Obama’s election.
    Quit spreading lies under the guise of saying the biblical voters voted with their heart because if it were up to them a serial pedophile would be representing them today.

    Like

    • This was an article about religion, and my intended premise was that Christians are not mono-dimensional, nor are any of us. That said, I understand your frustration, and I have revised the ending to reflect the context:

      “That said, we need to give credit where it is due. Heroic Black and young voters turned out in force and defeated Roy Moore, but they couldn’t have done it without the breathing room given them by Alabama Christians who chose not to sacrifice all else in exchange for biblical theocracy.”

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      • Angela Schweig says:

        Valerie, I think you gave a calm, reasoned response to a comment that could be taken as acrimonious. Instead of rising to the bait of partisan political argument, you accepted Mr. Hicks’s words, answered skillfully, and drew the conversation back to your thesis. Bravo and good on you! I wish I had that temperament.

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    • Thank you, Angela. I don’t always maintain a fair-minded even temperament either. Sometimes I just react. But I do try. :)

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  8. janis aimee says:

    I’m always happy when your name pops up in my in-box. You help me ‘calm’ down and do more thinking. I do wonder though… the use of the word “evangelical”. I don’t find this a helpful word (even acknowledging its historical advent), except as a relatively new political identity, instead of a type of religious communication, ie. ‘spread the word’. I think the more clear term for Roy Moore, Jerry Falwell, jr., etal, is “fundamentalist”. They are old testament christians. They are all we learned from Moses in the old movie “10 Commandments” – scary fire and brimstone. The are waiting for “Amageddon” and know they are on the ‘right’ side. They are the old testament stories of ‘god’ saying “kill them all – even the goats”. The self-less people you admire (as do I, even as an atheist), are new testament followers of Jesus. (I wish there never was the Trinity finding, as that was, to me just a power grab.) So…I want to use the word “evangelical” in a more general way – that includes religious people NOT waiting for ‘god’ to smite and “evil-doers”, but genuinely wanting to share the words that hold deep meaning to them as kind people. And I want to use the word “fundamentalist” more to bring Moore, etal, into line with all fundamentalists in the world, still – as you say – living in the Iron Age. Thanks again for your discussion pieces – I always learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • allanmerry@allanmerry.net says:

      A little late, as usual. My first thought was “Your unique combination of talent and commitment is Blinding!” But then “Wait, it’s the polar opposite!!!” You SEE Reality so deeply and wonderfully, and you help us all to! (And it Turns Out that waiting awhile to spot you gives me more yet. :-)

      Allan Avery

      Like

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