Why White Evangelical Women Voted for Roy Moore
By Susan Ridgely | December 15, 2017
With exit polls fresh from the recent Alabama U.S. Senate election, many observers are scratching their heads and wondering why 63% of white women voters in Alabama voted for Republican Roy Moore, in spite of the fact that he faced numerous allegations of sexual predation against young girls. While surely not all of these white women voters were evangelical Christians, given that the race was in Alabama, which is 89% Christian (of which nearly half are evangelical), we can safely assume that many were.
A stronger understanding of the doctrine of evangelical Christianity can get us closer to comprehending why many white evangelical women supported Moore, in spite of the allegations.
Evangelical voters in Alabama were long familiar with Moore as a judge who was not afraid to stand up for America as a Christian nation. Moore became a hero of the evangelical movement in 1997 for his defiance of a court order to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the central rotunda in the Alabama state judicial building. By election day in 2017, however, Moore’s hero status had crumbled under the weight of multiple allegations that he attempted to sexually assault teenage girls. Despite the fact that reports in the Washington Post had substantial evidence to support these claims, a majority of evangelicals, who have long fought to preserve the purity of young girls, still voted for Moore. Exit polling shows that among Alabama evangelicals that voted, 80% voted for Roy Moore, composing his most steadfast supporters in this election. This seemingly counter intuitive choice (especially for women), however, makes more sense when we understand evangelical’s beliefs in the fallibility of men on the one hand, and their longer-term objective of bringing America, God’s chosen nation, in line with what they understand to be God’s desires.
From the evangelical perspective, humanity is tainted with original sin and, therefore, all humans are susceptible to temptation.
For even those conservative evangelicals who may have thought the allegations had an air of truth, Moore’s transgressions might have been seen as more of a comment on the culture and less specific to the man. For example, evangelicals view Friday night television as light pornography with its steamy scenes and scantily clad female stars of all ages. They also are concerned by the increasing sexualization of young girls by mainstream media. Combine these views with their belief in men’s natural inclinations to sin, Moore’s sins are the sins of a society run amok, or so evangelicals have been told by influential Christian conservative organizations like Focus on the Family for more than three decades.
According to this logic, Moore’s votes in Congress would be the ones that put the country back on the right track to a Godly government.
Focus on the Family teaches that there are three organizing structures in society – the church, the family, and the government – and each was in charge of its own divinely ordained sphere of influence. Within this framework, the government exists to maintain cultural equilibrium and to provide a social order. It should not interfere in the realm of the family or the church by providing services, such as welfare, which would produce a dependency on the government while decreasing an individual’s reliance on themselves, their families and their church. A true government, from this position, would act and legislate in accordance with Focus’s conservative Christian biblical interpretations, interpretations that support heterosexual patriarchy, embedded white supremacy, a pro-life and anti-feminist agenda, and a Christian-centered view of the country.
When America remembers its place as God’s chosen nation, this logic goes, it acts in accordance with God’s vision (and vice versa). From this perspective, then, conservative Christians, who are committed to this vision of the government, are best suited to transform American society into one that cares for the needy (particularly the unborn) and those who have been made dependent on the state through the welfare system. Thus, conservative Christians, like Moore, have to become involved in politics not because they are blameless, but because they can ensure that the country works with God’s plan and not against it. In fact, evangelicals point to the recent choices to embrace a secular America as having clear and lasting negative social consequences: since the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 70s, Christianity has been displaced from the public square, divorce rates skyrocketed, addiction is commonplace, and abortions – according to this view – occur with alarming frequency.
Unlike the pro-choice Democrat candidate Doug Jones, Moore would vote to protect what evangelicals identify as the most vulnerable Americans –fetuses– and would work to criminalize abortion – what evangelicals believe to be murder.
Since the 1980s, testimonies about abortion crafted for evangelical audiences have asked their listeners to identify with the fetus as a child, rather than with the torturous decision a mother may face about whether to have an abortion to preserve her ability to maintain her current family or to avoid future hardships. These stories frame women who have had abortions as selfish people whose total disregard for life can be seen in their viewing their unborn children as inconveniences or, perhaps, worse yet, as beings not perfect-enough to be loved. They frequently remind readers of what Jesus said in Matthew: “Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me also.” For these Christians then, pro-life politics serve to remind mothers, fathers, politicians, and others to love unborn children just because they existed, because they were weak, and in spite of their problems. In doing so, these stories mirror the ways that many Christians describe God’s loving them, even when they feel worthless. In this way, voting pro-choice or pro-life becomes emblematic of whether one is oriented toward a proper understanding of God’s love for his children, a love that manifests itself in both comfort and consequences. It’s true that for many voters, this single issue may have been enough for them to cast their ballots for the pro-life Moore. It is also true that his pro-life vote demonstrates to conservative Christian voters that he will help to bring America back to God’s path of caring and Christianity: as he had tried to do in 1997, he will stand up against the strong influence of liberalism in politics.
Moreover, Moore’s pro-life position signals to evangelicals that he is Christ-like in his unconditional love of the most vulnerable, even though he is fallen and broken like the rest of us.
Many evangelicals reason, “God will judge Moore and his accusers in their time.” These voters believe that while Moore’s sin is individual, society’s sins are collective. Therefore, they must vote for politicians who will return America to its rightful place as “one nation under God” or all of society will face God’s wrath.
The choice of many evangelicals in Alabama’s recent Senate election, including women, was not to focus on the individual sin, but rather the greater communal good of ensuring that government works towards the larger plan of securing heterosexual, nuclear families who can live freely in a Godly America. Faith, not gender, helps to explain the votes of white evangelical women.
Susan B. Ridgely is associate professor of American religion at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Practicing what the Doctor Preached: At Home with Focus on the Family (Oxford, 2016).
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