Thursday, December 07, 2017

Moore's the pity, pt. 1
Can an evangelical or conservative Christian in good faith and with good reason vote for Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the Alabama Senate, and thus against Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate?
Many answer with the strongest denial possible, accusing those who support Moore’s candidacy with betraying the values of the faith. Joe Carter, a respected editor and writer for The Gospel Coalition, a thoughtful Christian whom I personally appreciate even in cases of disagreement, attempts to make this case. My guess is that he speaks for all, or virtually all, of the members of TGC. How convincing is his case?
Joe’s case boils down to this: For him nothing “justifies voting for a sexual predator simply because the molester opposes abortion.” The problem with this way of thinking is that it presupposes that 70-year-old Roy Moore is, and has been for the past 35 years, a sexual predator. Whatever happened 38 and 40 years ago (the serious allegations of Leigh Corfman and Beverly Young Nelson, respectively), that way of formulating a vote for Moore today bears false testimony. It is slander. Does Joe really believe, contrary to all the evidence, that Moore is, and has been for decades, a danger to teenagers? A man whom, so far as we know, has never had sexual intercourse with anyone other than his one and only wife?
Because Joe presupposes that voting for Moore is inherently evil, Joe claims that any evangelical Christian who does vote for him is a “consequentialist,” allegedly thinking to make an intrinsically evil action (voting for Moore) good solely through achieving a good result (defeating Democrat Doug Jones who is pro-abortion, pro-LGBT-agenda, and anti-religious-liberty). Yet in presupposing that a vote for Moore is an inherently evil action, Joe presumes what must be proven.
In the first instance, the position of never voting for a person who is morally tainted in some way or who holds one or more positions that compromises at some level with an immorality cannot be maintained absolutely in all circumstances and cases. For example, on a runoff between Adolph Hitler redivivus and any other candidate with some immoral behavior and/or positions (including Bill or Hillary Clinton), it would be immoral to sit out the election and vote for neither candidate. You vote against a Hitler-like candidate at any cost. In other words, everyone can imagine an alternative so bad as to warrant a vote for a candidate with a significant moral downside.
Even as great a person as Abraham Lincoln held some views about African Americans that today would be considered so racist as to disqualify him for public office, certainly in his senatorial campaign against Stephen Douglas in 1858 and even in his presidential campaign against Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell in 1860. Indeed, some abolitionists (including William Lloyd Garrison, stalwart editor of The Liberator) sat out the election of 1860 rather than vote for a candidate (even Lincoln) who had made major compromises with the grotesque evil of slavery. I would submit, however, that not to have voted for Lincoln, however residually racist he was as a candidate, was an immoral act, simply on the basis that he was by far the best of the available options.
One could easily retort, “Well, Jones is not a Hitler and Moore is not a Lincoln.” Granted. I am not arguing equivalence here. I am merely making the point that the absolute, one-size-fits-all approach taken by Joe Carter and others isn’t morally reasonable. This doesn’t mean that there are no cases where the choices are so equally bad that one should sit out the election. Nor does it mean that a politician’s moral life could never be so abysmal as to mandate voter abstinence even when espousing congenial policies. It just means that facile charges of Christians hypocritically abandoning their moral values have to be assessed on a case by case basis.
If voting for anyone but Hitler, or voting for a somewhat racist Lincoln to prevent far greater racists from gaining office, turns someone into a “consequentialist,” then we should all be consequentialists at some level. Yet that is not really what is going on in the electoral process. This brings me to my second point.
In voting it sometimes comes down to the lowest common denominator of choosing the candidate who will do the least harm. Choosing someone who has a questionable moral past four decades ago and who will beat you with a rod once per month over someone else who will beat you and your family with metal-spiked whips daily doesn’t make you a “consequentialist.” To abstain from choosing altogether may make you foolish. Choosing the former is not a validation of everything that the former does or is, so there is no claiming to turn an evil into a good by its supposed good consequences. There is no ends-justifying-the-means approach here. You are simply asserting that you are not a masochist and prefer the one who will do the least harm for the greatest number.
Yes, personal moral life counts in politics. Nevertheless, it can’t always be the only factor that is considered because personal moral failings vary in severity, timing, and level of proof, just as policy platforms range in number and severity. How one compares one element to another is not always easy. Elections are often complex because they bring into play many different variables. That is true of this week's election for Alabama Senator.
Joe Carter thinks the Alabama Senate election between Moore and Jones is simple: Moore is a sexual predator and Jones is pro-abortion so the moral Christian cannot vote for either. He calls this approach “convictional inaction.” He claims that to do otherwise would violate 1 Thessalonians 5:22: “Abstain from every form of evil.” Yet again Joe presumes what must be demonstrated: namely, that choosing between two candidates, each with significant (but not necessarily equivalent) moral deficiencies (one allegedly as regards personal life, the other certainly as regards policy), involves one in evil. In the immediate context of 1 Thess 5:22 Paul has in mind testing revelatory prophetic utterances in the church, not elections. While a more general application is also appropriate, there is no way that Joe or anyone else can conclude from this verse that voting for Roy Moore as an alternative to Doug Jones is a “form of evil.” That application is foisted on the text by Joe Carter as though it were supporting evidence for his position.
Joe claims that voting for Moore is no different from supporting for the Ohio state legislature a family-values Republican (Wesley Goodman) who a year or two before had attempted to unzip the pants of an unwilling 18-year-old male college student and who this year was caught having adulterous, homosexual sex with man in his office, as well as “sexting” college-age male conservatives (homosexual or not) and self-identified “gay” men. He also advertised for male companions on Craigslist and allegedly had sex with one or more other men. However, this case differs from Moore’s at several points: It involves recent events, indisputable events, and actual sexual intercourse (not to mention the compounding high biblical offenses of homosexual practice and adultery).
[To be continued]


  1. Even though I see Gagnon's point about Moore's actions being in the past, what I find most problematic is that, on the assumption that he did those things, he's behaving like a demagogue in lying about them and rallying his base on the basis of those lies. Assume for the sake of the argument (as Gagnon seems willing to do) that those two sets of serious allegations against Moore are true. Then Moore is *right now* slandering the women involved by calling *them* slanderers. By saying falsely, knowingly, that they are bearing false witness against him as part of a left-wing plot, he's bearing false witness against them. And he's whipping up his base of supporters by garnering their sympathy for him as a victim of false allegations. That's certainly not repenting for the past actions, and that's also not the kind of behavior I want from a politician towards his supporters. That makes him a cynical, untrustworthy, deceptive, manipulative person running for public office *right now*, not many years ago. It amounts to a creepy relationship with his base of supporters--as though it's fine to lie to them and keep them all indignant on his behalf (poor, slandered fellow) and whip up their anger against his (truthful) accusers, all for the sake of the greater good of getting himself a Senate seat. That isn't old news. That's today's news. It would be totally different if he admitted what he had done and were truly sorry.

    1. Good point. Some (many?) voters identify with candidates they vote for. They feel that reflects on them, which make them defensive. They feel the need, not merely to defend their vote, but to defend their candidate. The vouch for the candidate's character. That's very precarious in this case.

      It would be wiser to reframe the issue and defend the vote for policy reasons. And it would be wiser to view him as a temporary placeholder, to be replaced as soon as possible. But for many voters, that approach seems to be too abstract or cynical.

      Of course, someone might accept that framework but will oppose his candidacy. But I think that's how the issue should be cast. Support or oppose his candidacy on this terms (i.e. comparative policies, balance of power).