New allegations of sexual misconduct against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore emerged as Southern Baptists offered a range of commentary on the embattled social conservative.
Moore’s wife Kayla posted on Facebook Nov. 12 an endorsement of her husband by more than 50 pastors, some Southern Baptists. But Alabama’s AL.com news website noted the endorsement appeared to be a “recycled” statement from Aug. 15, well before two women accused Moore of sexual contact with them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. Three pastors listed as signatories reportedly told media outlets the Moore campaign did not ask them if they still endorsed Moore before republishing the statement and asked that their names be removed.
Screen capture from ABC News
Meanwhile, Joe Godfrey, leader of the Alabama Baptist Convention’s public policy auxiliary, told Baptist Press (BP) many of his state’s evangelical voters are experiencing a “struggle” because they must choose between Moore, “who may have done something that is repugnant,” and his Democratic opponent, whose support for abortion also “is repugnant.”
Some Baptists – including Russell Moore, Daniel Akin and Bob Terry – criticized specific defenses of Roy Moore while not addressing the allegations against him.
On Nov. 13, a woman accused Roy Moore, 70, of sexually assaulting her in the late 1970s when she was 16. The previous week, another woman alleged Moore had inappropriate sexual contact with her when she was 14 and he was 32. Three additional women said Moore pursued romantic relationships with them as teenagers when he was a young adult, according to The Washington Post.
Moore has denied all the charges and says he is remaining in the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is slated for Dec. 12.
At least a dozen GOP U.S. senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have called for Moore to withdraw from the race in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, according to media reports. Others, like Southern Baptist James Lankford of Oklahoma, have said Moore should withdraw if the allegations are true.
Moore is a Southern Baptist and former Alabama chief justice who long has drawn media attention for controversial stands like refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building and advising probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses even after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage.
The pastors’ endorsement posted by Kayla Moore called Roy Moore “a man who cares for the people, a man who understands our Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Fathers, and a man who deeply loves America.”
The statement, which appeared to include signatures of at least six Southern Baptists, added, “We are ready to join the fight and send a bold message to Washington: dishonesty, fear of man, and immorality are an affront to our convictions and our Savior and we won’t put up with it any longer. We urge you to join us at the polls to cast your vote for Roy Moore.”
Thad Endicott, pastor of an Opelika, Ala., church that is not Southern Baptist, was among the pastors listed in Kayla Moore’s Facebook post. But he told AL.com the endorsement “was evidently copied and pasted from the August endorsements without checking to see if I still endorsed Moore.” At least two other formerly endorsing ministers made similar claims, one to AL.com and another to an Alabama Fox affiliate.
Baptist Press was not able to reach any Southern Baptists on the list of endorsers before its publication deadline.
Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, said many Christian voters in Alabama “find themselves in a dilemma of not knowing exactly what to do [on Election Day]. The hope – and the prayer is – that new information is going to come out before the election that will either lead to Roy Moore stepping aside if the accusations can be proven or to him being exonerated.”
Some of Moore’s defenders have drawn criticism from Southern Baptist leaders.
When an Alabama political reporter appeared to suggest the actions Moore is accused of committing were no more serious than a hypothetical situation involving theft of a lawnmower as an immature young adult, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore tweeted, “I’ve heard lots of morally repugnant things recently. Comparing the sexual exploitation of girls to the theft of a lawnmower tops the list.”
Since allegations against Roy Moore first were reported in the media Nov. 9, Russell Moore has tweeted about sexual assault, hypocrisy and politicians’ personal sins at least 16 times. He did not appear to mention Roy Moore by name but retweeted a Nov. 14 Christian Post article that tied the ERLC leader’s comments to the scandal surrounding Roy Moore.
Among Russell Moore’s tweets, “Christian, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism.”
Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted that the comparison of sexual exploitation to lawn mower theft “is one of the stupidest and dumbest things I have ever heard in my life.”
Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist news journal, took issue with an Alabama politician’s statement to The Washington Examiner Nov. 9 that Roy Moore’s alleged pursuit of teenage women while in his 30s was morally acceptable and akin to the relationship between Mary and Joseph in the Bible.
“That comparison is not only morally inappropriate, it is factually wrong and cannot be left unchallenged,” Terry wrote in a Nov. 12 editorial. “The biblical story of Mary and Joseph tells the story of two people legally married to one another. The story currently in the news asserts abuse of a young teen by an older man who had no relationship other than a casual acquaintance. To equate the two is morally indefensible.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)