Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Religious Morals of Roy Moore

Is Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, a proper Christian patriarch?   That he sees himself as one should be taken for granted, and his past history certainly has the whiff of American Taliban.

But does it matter that he has now been accused of having pursued teenage girls when he was in his early thirties?

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that, when Moore was a thirty-two-year-old assistant district attorney in Etowah County, he brought Leigh Corfman, who was fourteen years old at the time, to his home and sexually molested her. Three additional women told the Post that Moore had pursued them when they were in their teens and he was in his early thirties. (On Monday, another woman, Beverly Young Nelson, said that Moore assaulted her when she was sixteen years old. At a press conference, she held up a high-school yearbook that she said Moore signed before the alleged assault.)
For some Alabama white evangelicals, the accusations are just not credible.  Moore is a godly man, a man of god, and he is on the right side in the so-called culture wars. 

For others, the evidence is troubling.  Whether it would make enough voters change their minds about Moore remains to be seen, though I am skeptical.  After all, eighty percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, the self-confessed harasser and pussy-grabber.  He promised to give the evangelicals what they want (which is for their culture to "win" the culture wars) and, besides, the opponent was a woman.

This topic has provoked some fascinating takes.  Here's Ross Douthat, another proponent of Christian patriarchy:

One lesson is that any social order that vests particular forms of power in men needs to do more, not less, to hold the male of the species accountable.
Some cultural conservatives, in evangelical Christianity especially, combine a belief in male headship in churches and families with a “boys will be boys and girls shouldn’t tempt them” attitude toward sex. It’s a combination that’s self-contradictory and deeply toxic, handing men not just power but a permission slip to abuse it — which, predictably, they do.
Now that is thoroughly interesting.  First, note that in a proper patriarchy the patriarchs cannot be held accountable to the rest of the community.  They are the leaders, they are the ones who determine what is going to happen, and they are the ones any complaint would have to be submitted to.  As long as the patriarchs have each others' backs the misbehaving ones have nothing to worry about.

There is ample evidence that  such systems deal very poorly with any complaints about sexual abuse in general or child sexual abuse in particular*.  The ones being accused are the ones with the power, and several examples tell us that those who complain are unlikely to receive justice, unless or until the case becomes publicly known outside the specific conservative community.

Second, the combination of male headship most everywhere and the belief that "boys will be boys and girls shouldn't tempt them" is baked into the kind of religious patriarchies we are examining here.   It's not just "some" cultural conservatives in only evangelical Christianity that are guilty of that "contradictory and deeply toxic" combination; it's all religious conservatives in Christianity, Islam, Judaism and so on.

Conservative religious leaders in all religions assign women the duty to dress modestly, to limit their activities, to avoid tempting men, while very few limitations are applied to men's behavior.  The concepts of chastity and virginity are applied to women only, and women are expected to be the goalkeepers in the eternal game of sex while men are the offensive players.  Thus, a man who scores in extramarital sex wins, while a woman who "gets scored" loses.**

Is that sufficient?  My point is that the male headship and the sexual double standards are Siamese twins.  The former automatically produces the latter, for, after all, what is the point of wielding power if one gains no benefit from it?

Third, and linked to that second point, it's possible to argue that access to very young women is one of the perks of being a patriarch.  In Muslim countries it is conservative Islamic clerics who most adamantly fight any attempt to raise the minimum marriage age for girls, and Kathryn Brightbill, who grew up inside the US evangelical home-schooling world, writes:

We need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old-girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage. That segment is evangelicalism. In that world, which Moore travels in and I grew up in, 14-year-old girls courting adult men isn’t uncommon.
I use the phrase “14-year-old girls courting adult men,” rather than “adult men courting 14-year-old girls,” for a reason: Evangelicals routinely frame these relationships in those terms. That’s how I was introduced to these relationships as a home-schooled teenager in the 1990s, and it’s the language that my friends and I would use to discuss girls we knew who were in parent-sanctioned relationships with older men.
Brightbill also notes that

As a teenager, I attended a lecture on courtship by a home-school speaker who was popular at the time. He praised the idea of “early courtship” so the girl could be molded into the best possible helpmeet for her future husband. The girl’s father was expected to direct her education after the courtship began so she could help her future husband in his work.
What if it were the case that women are viewed purely as a resource in such a system?  What if the value of that resource was largely in its sexual appeal, its fertility, the length of time its services will last and its malleability to various uses?  What, then, would we predict about the generic type of conservative religious patriarchy?

That it would assign a disproportionate number of very young women to be the helpmeets of considerably older men, those who are the patriarchs, those who have the power.

Thus, Roy Moore, even after the most recent allegations, would seem to qualify as that type of a Christian patriarch.  How "Christian" such values are is obviously a completely different question.
* The handling of the child abuse charges in the Catholic church is a clear example of this. Kathryn Joyce has written about similar events inside the Protestant churches.  The shared factor in such stories is the protection of the culprits.

** Knowing this makes it easier to understand the many social conservative articles lamenting the campus hookup culture and similar phenomena in the US.  Otherwise they often read as if "sluts" somehow get themselves ruined for any later marriage in some type of a weird vacuum, where they party all alone.