The battle over a proposed sale of American evangelism’s ‘Missions Pentagon’ raises questions of missionary strategy and nonprofit accountability. What responsibility do ministries have to their founder’s vision—and to those who sacrificed to fund it?
UPDATE (November 15, 2017): Thank you for the emails and comments. The new information since Monday morning, when I wrote the article below, is a half-hour video of testimony from Judge Moore’s fifth accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, and her lawyer, Gloria Allred. It’s worth watching on YouTube or other online spots.
Right now we have three stories of Assistant District Attorney Moore in his early 30s dating older teens and two stories of Moore sexually accosting younger ones, 14 and 16. As I wrote Monday, we should differentiate the dating and the accosting, and pay attention to the latter.
Some Christians know the words of the 1847 hymn “Abide With Me,” by Henry Lyte: “Thou on my head, in early youth didst smile; / And though rebellious, and perverse meanwhile, / Thou hast not left me, though I oft left Thee, / On to the close, Lord, abide with me.” If Moore were to acknowledge youthful perversity I would empathize with him, but he has not, so trusting his words we can foreclose one option—that Moore did to the 14- and 16-year-old what they said he did, but is repentant.
That leaves two possibilities: Moore did what they said or Moore did not and they are unfairly maligning him. It’s hard to know absolutely which of those two is accurate. Additional stories and details may come out. From the emails and comments I’ve read, I can see that evangelicals are assessing those two options in two different ways.
Some are carefully going through the evidence, without prejudging Moore or his accusers, and are not assuming the women are lying because they are only bringing this up now. Some evangelicals will go through this thoughtful process and decide not to support Moore. Others will do the same and find Moore credible. So be it.
My concern is with evangelicals who automatically back Moore because his opponent is a liberal Democrat. Is a short-term political victory worth long-run cultural damage and, particularly, damage to the cause of Christ? I believe the chief goal of a Christian should be to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, not to glorify a politician and enjoy a temporary win. —M.O.
While we wait for new evidence to come forward, let’s talk not so much about what Roy Moore did or did not do, but what those who attack or defend the 70-year-old candidate from Alabama are saying.
In doing that, we need to separate what many commentators and pollsters are not differentiating: Accusations that Moore at age 32 had immoral and illegal sexual activity with a 14-year-old, and reports that he dated 17- and 18-year olds. The first, if true, should disqualify him from becoming a senator. The importance of the second to Moore’s current election prospects depends on whether he has a self-righteous understanding or a Christ-righteous belief.
Let’s mull over the JMC Analytics poll—taken before news of lawyer Gloria Allred bringing forward a new Moore accuser—that shows nearly two-fifths of Alabama evangelicals saying the accusations (undifferentiated) make them more likely to vote for Moore. Almost another two-fifths said the accusations make no difference in their voting plans.
That’s troubling but unsurprising, for three reasons. First, a poll from Winthrop University shows nearly half of white Southerners feeling they are under attack—and thus more likely to welcome a defender like Moore.
Second, the old saying “In for a dime, in for a dollar” can now be reversed to “In for a dollar, in for a dime.” Evangelicals who voted for presidential candidate Donald Trump despite his sexually degrading statements and apparent actions are also more likely to support a marred candidate for a lower post.
A third reason is also significant: Four decades ago women, especially in the South, often married earlier than is now the custom. Moore was a West Point graduate in a hardscrabble part of Alabama, so it’s not surprising that one mother thought Moore was "good husband material," and another thought her daughter would be "lucky" to date him.
This doesn’t mean it was right—I’ve seen professors taking advantage of college students, and I believe it’s similarly wrong for an assistant district attorney in Gadsden, Ala., to use that aura to kiss high school girls—but we should pay more attention to the testimony of Leigh Corfman, who was 14 in 1979, and not mix up the immoral with the inappropriate.
If Corfman’s testimony holds up, we should not give Moore a pass because his vote in the Senate could be politically important in the battle against abortion. Making decisions on that basis increases our cultural debasement—and that means more ruined lives and more dead babies. Basically, we need to be concerned more about the gospel than about any particular election. The Good News is not a favorable political poll but the Bible’s announcement that God saves sinners.
Evangelical discussions about Roy Moore will be fruitful if the Bible rather than an election becomes foremost in our thoughts.
Overall, evangelical discussions about Roy Moore will be fruitful if the Bible rather than an election becomes foremost in our thoughts. If we pretend that we or our favorite candidates have not sinned, we are self-righteously proclaiming that we don’t need Christ—because only His sacrifice on the cross makes it possible for God to be perfectly just and perfectly grace-giving.
Liberal discussions about Moore can also be fruitful if they include a review of worldviews on the left. Yesterday evening I watched a film that came out in 1979, when Moore was 32. That year Woody Allen’s Manhattan centered on the romantic and sexual relationship of a 42-year-old character played by Allen and a 17-year-old character played by Mariel Hemingway (who was 17).
Manhattan received “universal acclaim” from movie reviewers, according to the Metacritic website. None of the reviews I saw criticized the basic premise. Roger Ebert wrote, “It wouldn't do, you see, for the love scenes between Woody and Mariel to feel awkward or to hint at cradle-snatching or an unhealthy interest on Woody's part in innocent young girls. But they don't feel that way: Hemingway's character has a certain grave intelligence.”
Hemingway makes comments such as, “I like it when you get an uncontrollable urge.” The Gershwin music in the background as the 42-year-old and the 17-year-old kiss in a Central Park carriage makes the scene seem romantic, not yucky. When Allen’s character temporarily decides to dump Hemingway’s and says, “This was supposed to be a temporary fling,” she responds, “We have great sex”—and he asks, “Why should I feel guilty about this?” (Not the sex, but the breakup.)
Woody Allen lost some supporters 25 years ago when he was in “a relationship” with actress Mia Farrow and entered into “a relationship” with (and later married) Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Manhattan’s reputation, though, survives: It is now #46 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American comedies—comedies, not tragedies. Hmm: Manhattan sophisticates can do as they please but Alabamans should not?
Overall, I hope we can all learn from this Moore discussion that it’s important to be concerned about the personal morality of those we elect to high positions—and ignoring character for political reasons has enormous cultural repercussions. In 1998 Bill Clinton normalized oral sex for many teens. This year Louis CK is normalizing a perverse exhibitionism. Should we also this year normalize predatory action among evangelicals?
Bottom line: We do a disservice to God’s holiness when we minimize sin. We do a disservice to God’s mercy when we maximize it. We do a disservice to evangelism when we say or believe winning an election is more important than telling the truth about God’s glory and our sinfulness. When our candidates are under pressure, we should convey this message: Nothing in my hand I bring / Simply to Thy cross I cling; / Naked, come to Thee for dress; / Helpless, look to Thee for grace; / Foul, I to the fountain fly; / Wash me, Savior, or I die.