Issac Bailey: I want to apologize for the hypocrisy of my region, the South, as many give Roy Moore allegations a pass
He says many conservative Christians pledge allegiance more to the GOP than to the church
Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey is an interim member of The Charlotte Observer editorial board and the James K. Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.
As a native Southerner, I’d like to apologize to the rest of the country. My region repeatedly claims that we place God above all else, but our actions tell a different story, especially when we mix religion, politics and the mistreatment of women and girls. We have politicians who feel no compunction, even, misusing the story of a sacred virgin birth to ignore child molestation.
“Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner Thursday, in an attempt to defend Roy Moore, a candidate for the US Senate from Alabama, after a damning story about Moore’s alleged past was published by the Washington Post. “They became parents of Jesus,” Zeigler added.
Such assertions of support are likely why a man like Moore felt comfortable enough to fund-raise just hours later – while boldly proclaiming the name of God.
That’s right. A man in a high-profile political race representing the supposed “family values” party, after being named in an eye-popping report alleging that when he was a 32-year-old man he tried to have a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl, not only did not drop out of the race or hide in shame, he doubled down. Moore denied the allegations and evoked the term “spiritual warfare,” which is well known in Southern Christian churches, black and white, to elicit as much sympathy from the faithful as possible.
“The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal – even inflict physical harm – if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me,” Moore pronounced in an email to supporters asking for emergency donations. “Their goal is to frustrate and slow down our campaign’s progress to help the Obama-Clinton Machine silence our conservative message. That’s why I must be able to count on the help of God-fearing conservatives like you to stand with me at this critical moment.”
Moore plans to weather this political storm with help from the same God-fearing conservatives who made sure Donald Trump remained on a path to the presidency after being caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women. And there’s no reason Moore won’t survive it, for in our region, in the eyes of many conservative Christians, the only evil greater than Satan himself is a Democrat with political power. Increasingly, little else seems to matter.
The line between right and wrong is no longer determined by Sunday school lessons; it is a matter of which letter a candidate has next to his name, an R or a D.
I wish that were an exaggeration. I wish I could say that what happened last November – the elevation of a morally bankrupt man to the presidency – woke the souls of the faithful in the South.
News, now, of a man who allegedly preyed on kids should move us to anger and disgust; instead, I’ve heard from fellow Southerners trying to change the subject to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. I want badly to blame Alabama for giving our region a bad name, but there’s little reason to believe that had Moore been a candidate from my native South Carolina, things would have been different.
I’d like to apologize, America, because we call ourselves brave Christians, but my region of the South possesses political hypocrisy and moral cowardice that knows no bounds.
Recall Mark Sanford, for example. Before he neglected his wife and sons – and his duties as South Carolina governor – to have an illicit affair, he and I had several discussions about faith and politics. This is why I was convinced that once he was found out, he’d resign, because of the principles he had long told me were important to him. He didn’t, and a few years later was sent back to the US House of Representatives for a second time.
And recall Louisiana politician David Vitter, admitting to a “very serious sin” after being caught up in a DC prostitution scandal, breaking his vows to his family and faith – and voters sent him back to the US Senate anyway. There are more examples.
Political hypocrisy is a bipartisan, nationwide affair. But in our region, it’s different and cuts deeper because Southern conservatives wrap themselves in the cloak of Christianity, which is supposed to be a sign that they operate on a higher plane and know when to stand on principle, irrespective of politics.
But it hasn’t meant that at all. Conservative Christians frequently give their leaders “immorality passes” because their allegiance to the Republican Party has grown as strong as their allegiance to the church. That’s particularly damaging because Southern liberals have yet to find their public religious voice to counter the spiritual rot on the right.
Finally, I’d like to apologize because we are not who we’ve long claimed to be, and it is hurting what we desperately want to believe is still a great nation.