Earlier this week D. C. McAllister ran a piece at The Federalist that is attempting to defend Alabama senate candidate and alleged pedophile Roy Moore without actually saying “hey guys, I’m defending Roy Moore.”
McAllister’s argument is that while character matters in selecting elected officials, it cannot be the only consideration. The person’s policies matter as well:
I did not choose to vote for Trump in the primaries, because his political views were not best for our nation as a free republic. His moral failings in his private life had no bearing. I am too wise to the world to assume that any man who gets to this level is clean and pure. I did vote for him in the general because his political views were best for our nation compared to Hillary’s. I do not regret this decision. When faced with the choice of who was better for our nation, not simply who was the morally better person as reported in the news, my choice was clear.
Of course, one can’t help wondering how far this reductio can go.
I did not choose to vote for Jeffrey Dahmer in the primaries, because his political views were not best for our nation as a free republic. His moral failings in his private life, which included rape, murder, dismemberment, necrophilia, and cannibalism as well as the permanent preservation of his victims’ body parts, had no bearing. I am too wise to the world to assume that any man who gets to this level is clean and pure. I did vote for him in the general because his political views were best for our nation compared to his Democrat opponent. I do not regret this decision. When faced with the choice of who was better for our nation, not simply who was the morally better person as reported in the news, my choice was clear.
McAllister heads off this objection, noting near the end of the piece that criminal charges would render a person unfit for office. So it’s not that a moral failing would never render someone unfit for office. It’s that only criminal moral failings render them unfit for office.
There are two problems here.
First: For Christians—and McAllister is attempting to make a Christian defense for supporting Moore—the test of a person’s character or fitness for leadership is not the criminal code. It is the moral law as given to us by God in nature and in Scripture, codified (ironically, in this case) in the Ten Commandments. If our standard for judging someone’s fitness for office is simply whether they committed a crime, then really what we are doing is subjecting a person’s fitness for office to the test of human law with no concern whatsoever for the moral law as given to us by God and seen through plain reason.
But what happens if the man-made law itself is unjust? This standard is ripe for exploitation by the powerful who will define the law in ways that serve their own interests and protect them from prosecution. So what then? What do we do when the criminal law is actually unjust according to Christianity?
The Christian tradition has an answer here: An unjust law is no law at all. But then that assumes that human laws are subject to the judgment of the moral law, the very point that McAllister seems to reject.
That said, there is a second problem here: McAllister doesn’t even mean what she’s saying. If she did, then the very standard she’s given—as bad and short-sighted and sub-Christian as that standard is!—would make it impossible to support Donald Trump and Roy Moore.
The context of this piece is an argument for defending a vote for Moore and justifying a past vote for Trump on grounds that while both of them may have committed bad moral acts, neither of them have committed a crime because a crime would render them unfit for office.
A person is guilty of sexual abuse in the third degree when he or she subjects another person to sexual contact without the latter’s consent; except that in any prosecution under this section, it is an affirmative defense that (a) such other person’s lack of consent was due solely to incapacity to consent by reason of being less than seventeen years old, and (b) such other person was more than fourteen years old, and (c) the defendant was less than five years older than such other person.
the term “sexual contact” means the intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person
Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Bush: Whatever you want.
Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
The behavior described above is third degree sexual assault in the state of New York.
Donald Trump did commit a crime. He just wasn’t convicted because he is powerful and wealthy and human law often protects people like that—which is exactly why this standard is so stupid.
Similarly, Roy Moore himself has acknowledged that if he did what he is being accused of doing to Leigh Corfman it would be against the law. While his guilt in the case of Ms. Corfman has not been established, there is certainly a great deal of smoke. Moore himself has admitted to “dating” teenage girls while in his mid 30s, though he provided some reassurance that it wasn’t his “customary” behavior.
We also know there was some kind of strange issue with a mall in Gadsden where a number of locals were troubled by his behavior, even if we don’t know if he was banned from the mall as some outlets had earlier reported. It is not enough to convict, but it should be enough to say “we absolutely shouldn’t elect a man facing such serious and credible allegations until we have had time to learn the truth.” Even the College Republicans know that innocent until proven guilty is not the same as electable until proven guilty.
This is the real tragedy of McAllister’s piece. It’s not that her standard for electability—moral failing OK, crime not OK—is dumb and sub-Christian, though it is. It’s that McAllister doesn’t even care about her own standard as proven by the fact that she voted for a man who failed the very test she claims would determine electability.
This gets at the rot in American conservatism as seen repeatedly in the past 18 months: At bottom, most of the movement doesn’t actually believe in anything except power. They’ve shown time after time after time that they don’t actually care about their own moral standards unless those standards can be used to win political victories. It’s not simply that their moral standards are bad, though they are. It’s that they don’t even believe in those standards.
If the American church is headed for a reckoning, we will have only ourselves to blame.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).