Moore Controversy Shines Spotlight on Evangelical Culture

The allegations against Roy Moore for “dating” teenage girls when he was in his 30s has shined a spotlight on a subset of evangelical Christian culture that encourages older men to do exactly that, and encourages young women to be receptive to it. The Washington Post has a story about it.

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In fact, that seems to have been the case with one of the women who accused Moore in that first Post story last week, Debbie Wesson Gibson. When she was 17, she said Moore asked her out and she asked her mother if she should accept the date. Her mother told her, “I’d say you were the luckiest girl in the world.” And remember that part of Moore’s defense on the Hannity show was that he never dated a girl without her mother’s permission. This is all part of that culture of “courting” younger girls by older men in those communities, of which Moore was definitely a part.

“We should probably talk about how there is a segment of evangelicalism and home-school culture where the only thing Roy Moore did wrong was initiating sexual contact outside of marriage. 14 year old girls courting adult men isn’t entirely uncommon,” Kathryn Brightbill, who works for the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, tweeted Friday, prompting a flurry of responses from other people who also had watched teenagers date much older Christian men.

Ashley Easter, who grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church where courting was the norm for teenagers, said, “That was the first thing I thought of with Roy Moore.” In her church community in Lynchburg, Va., Easter said, fathers had complete control over whom their daughters were allowed to date, and she could see how a father might set his teen daughter up with a much older man.

“A woman’s role is to be a wife, a homemaker and someone who births children. The man’s role is generally to be established and someone who provides the full income,” said Easter, who runs the Courage Conference for survivors of church sexual abuse. “It may take longer for a man to reach stability. While a woman of 15 or 16, if she’s been trained for a long time looking after her younger siblings, in their eyes she might be ready for marriage.”

And this is common not only in evangelical Christian communities, but also in Orthodox Jewish, Mormon and other insular religious communities. Remember Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty Douchebag, caused a big controversy a few years ago when he told men, “Look, you wait ‘til they get to be 20 years old the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks.” For people in that community, a man in his 30s “courting” a 14 or 15 year old girl is not just viewed as normal, it’s strongly encouraged and viewed as the only way to have a happy marriage. It’s really about the power imbalance forcing women into very specific roles.

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