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.

Well, Donald Trump has committed crimes. Trump has by his own admission sexually assaulted women. Here is the state of New York’s legal definition of third degree sexual assault:

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.

Here is the legal definition of “sexual contact,” provided by the Legal Information Institute:

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

And here is how Donald Trump himself described the way he has treated women:

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.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador 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 and Austin. Jake’s writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

  • I don’t buy McAllisters rationalization. But to be fair, neither Moore nor Trump have been “charged” with crimes. Which is what, according to the above, McAllister says would disqualify them.

    • texascy

      which is still a dumb standard. committing crimes is ok as long as you avoid getting caught for a day longer than the statue of limitations?

  • hoosier_bob

    It’s also worth reading the transcript of Harry Reeder’s mealy-mouthed discussion of Moore, where he focuses more on the Washington Post than on Moore’s pedophilia. The original audio has been removed, but transcripts of it are available. Again, I see no reason why Tim Keller and others in the Redeemer movement persist in maintaining an affiliation with a denomination led by alt-right types like Reeder. What hath Manhattan to do with Vestavia Hills? Nothing, in my opinion.

    • BryanB

      Mind providing said transcript? The only thing I can find with a quick search on the matter is from Nov 16th with Reeder saying that if the allegations are true (and he hasn’t found Moore’s denials convincing), he ought to step down and that it is something that would preclude his ability to run for office. His working through of the other possibilities strikes me as far more pastoral and encouraging a parishioner who is dealing with difficult conscious issues. I’m a little confused by the claim that the PCA is lead by a bunch of alt-right types… being a PCA member who actually resides in Vestavia Hills, that hasn’t been my experience in the slightest – but I’m open to correction if you have particular evidences supporting such a claim.

      • hoosier_bob

        We’re probably referring to the same piece. That said, there’s no reason why it should take more than 1-2 sentences to condemn a crackpot like Moore. The man was twice removed from judicial office for ethical violations. And, even if the allegations of criminal conduct against him are untrue, there’s a mountain of evidence to suggest that the man is a creepy pedophile.

        I do think a silent majority of PCA TEs are not of Reeder’s ilk. But they seem to lack the courage to move past the denomination’s ugly past that Reeder and Briarwood represent. So, as long as the PCA’s weak-willed majority continues to tolerate guys like Reeder, they become complicit in his words and deeds.

        I actually have no idea what Vestavia Hills is like. I’ve never set foot in the state of Alabama, and have no immediate plans to change that.

  • KoeniginLuisevonPreussen

    This comment is off-topic, sorry, but I would be interested to see someone at your site comment on the back and forth between Douthat and McCarthy here:

    https://twitter.com/DouthatNYT/status/936050501849927682
    https://twitter.com/ToryAnarchist/status/936061317139529733
    https://twitter.com/DouthatNYT/status/936238517197443072

  • Cal P

    Until Conservatives face up to the fact that their candidates ,like Rubio, Cruz, and J. Bush, let alone their actual Presidents (Reagan, Bush I, Bush II) have helped to build an imperial matrix, breaking whole people groups economically, or just bombing them into a state of total terror, then complaints about characteristics and sexual purity is inane as it is a smokescreen. Before complaining about conservatives seeking power, disown the legacy of so-called Conservatism since the Cold War (at the very least), before clownish rebuttals.

  • Thela Ginjeet

    Why is anyone surprised? In 1998 we we’re told that someone’s character was of no consequence to the performance of their public duties. In other words, Clinton won the argument and the lesson was that no matter how vile and duplicitous a politician is, so long as they wear our jersey and favor our agenda, they deserve our support.

    In the face of the perfunctory tsk…tsk Democrats have offered defending the likes of Clinton, Al Franken and John Conyers, they seem genuinely surprised that their last minute hit…right or wrong…on Roy Moore cannot shame Alabamians into abandoning him and just staying home.

    Why? We’re all Democrats now. It is the long dark of Moria from here on out.

    • BWF

      That bit you mention about “character was of no consequence” wasn’t actually said by anyone of note on the Democratic side. It was what we were caricatured as saying by the religious right, but in fact there was a near universal consensus on the left that Clinton had done wrong and maligned his character, and also that this did not justify impeachment.

      The GOP, sure enough, believed their own lie that “character was of no consequence” and ended up supporting Trump (even the same religious right figures that hated Clinton).

      • Thela Ginjeet

        Excuse me BWF, with all due respect…and I’m not trying to ugly here, but I have to ask…what color is the sun on your planet?

        https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/545729/

        Not exactly a conservative rag…

        • BWF

          As for your main point, that’s a cute line, but I’m well in touch with reality. The modern GOP is the party that is perfectly ok with both Trump and Moore.

          Also, I can’t vouch for the publication the Atlantic, but the author of that article you linked, Caitlin Flanigan, is at the very least a concern troll against the left, if not an outright right-winger.

          • Thela Ginjeet

            ”The modern GOP is the party that is perfectly ok with Trump and Moore.”

            Yes. That’s part of the point of Meador’s article.

            My original point was why is this surprising when it is no different from how Democrats circled the wagons around Bill Clinton in the nineties and set the political precedent for defending politicians with debauched character in high offices. Even now, House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi is soft-peddling Clinton’s serial sexual harassment abuses while in the White House and in the process defending Al Franken and John Conyers too. No…Really? Pelosi? Shocking!

            Damn the Republicans all you want, it does not change the incontrovertible fact that in doing so, to be morally consistent, you must damn the democrats too, but no, too many liberals such as yourself cannot break themselves free from the psychosis of arguing a contradiction. Republicans in Alabama defending Moore don’t seem to care. They merely point to Clinton. What a sad, sorry state of affairs this all is.

            Both parties have completely lost all moral authority to point their fingers at each other. So what’s a partisan like you to do? Well, when confronted with proof like the Atlantic article that the Democrats started this with Bill Clinton…you resort to fallacy by launching an ad hominem attack on the author instead of showing me how the article’s claims are wrong, which is understandable…because you can’t.

          • BWF

            I’ve said my piece. If you can’t understand the nuance of being against adultery while at the same time maintaining that it doesn’t merit impeachment, there’s nothing more to say.

  • The trouble with the article above is that it shows that for too many religiously conservative Christians, sex is the only canary in the mine of society. Exploitive economic systems and immoral foreign policies seem to spur no measurable concern by too many religiously conservative Christians. And it wasn’t until the last couple of decades that racism became a concern of the many religiously conservative Christians. It certainly wasn’t a canary in the mine during the 1960s and 1970s when the conservative Church could have actively challenged the status quo regarding its systemic racism.

    Exploitive economic systems are more clearly seen in neoliberal capitalism than in the Bretton-Woods system that preceded it. But the exploitation was still there. And the immorality of the Vietnam war where the US, against the advice of some of its allies, ignored the Geneva Convention and the call to democratically decide on the reunification fate of the two Vietnams gained so much support from religiously conservative Christians that even Billy Graham suggested to the President the kind of attacks on Vietnam that would result in large massacres of civiians. Likewise most religiously conservative Christian leaders, having never fully investigated the murderous sanctions on Iraq that the US and Great Britain pushed through the UN and implemented, gave almost unanimous support to the 2003 invasion of iraq even though the false character of the reasons for the invasion were quite obvious to almost all knowledgeable people. In addition, the invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Libyan government saw the US teaming up with Middle East terrorists. But where were the objections of religiously conservative Christians?

    And we might ask how the vast majority of religiously conservative Christians still do not take climate change seriously because doing so would impose vast changes in our way of life and economic system.

    Why is it that we only see rot on the right when it comes to sex?

  • Darrell

    Great post, thank you. Evangelicals and others who continue to support Trump, Moore, or people like them will find themselves soon (already?) to being completely irrelevant to any serious discussions in this country. You can’t continually back clowns and travel with the circus if you still want to be taken seriously in the academy or public square (or the church).

    • Cal P

      So why do Evangelicals support posturing morons like Ben Sasse?

      • Darrell

        Why do they support any of these morons?

        • Cal P

          2 Thessalonians 2:9-12

        • hoosier_bob

          I suspect that the evangelical movement itself will find itself largely excluded from the culture of white-collar professionals.

          Consider that President Trump is about to make the ill-considered decision to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, so that he can help shore up evangelical support. As someone who flies over 250,000 miles a year, I really appreciate the fact that evangelicals have now increased the likelihood that I become a victim of a terrorist attack. And for what?

          • Darrell

            Exactly.

  • OrthoAnabaptist

    You are so correct Mr Meador, especially the end where you talk about a reckoning. So many people I personally know (Trump voters, supporters, religious-right supporters in general) have no idea what they are doing with all of this right now and have no idea that a reckoning will surely come. They are oblivious and I fear for them when it hits. My hope and prayer is that the blinders will come off, but I’m not sure… In a sense, this current delusion is a misguided reaction to something; what stops them from another misguided and even worse reaction?

  • tom skill

    temp

  • tom skill

    The women who accuse Roy Moore of sexual assault are not believable, and the women who are believable do not accuse Roy Moore of sexual assault, just of courting them with the consent of their parents. See the 20-page analysis with source links at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/18rX3BkSwGZZ-EITJhWxgJpE-WitTcQqZ/view?usp=sharing

    • BWF

      A Google Docs document? I’m totally convinced!