To those outside of the strict, fundamentalist homeschooling culture, the idea of a grown man, like Alabama’s Roy Moore, “pursuing” a teenage girl is shocking. But to those on the inside, that’s not the shocking part.
The only scandalous thing Moore did was engage in premarital sexual activity. What we call “grooming,” these fundamentalists call “courting,” and it happens all the time.
In an op-ed for the LA Times, Kathryn Brightbill explains:
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.
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.
Tempting though it is to dismiss these groups as fringe, that’s unfortunately not true. Those who advocate for these ideas are not without their followers.
“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson advocated for adult men to marry 15- and 16-year-old girls and deemed age 20 too old because “you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket.” Home-school leader Kevin Swanson, whose 2015 convention was attended by several Republican presidential candidates, defended Robertson on his radio show after the story broke. Advocating for child marriage hasn’t slowed down Robertson’s career. He just got a new show on the conservative digital network CRTV.
It doesn’t seem like any sort of criminal behavior can touch a wealthy Christian man’s career. And when Moore is this|close to sitting in the Senate, where he’ll be a sure vote in favor of Supreme Court justices who pledge to overturn Roe v. Wade, you have to wonder if anything can derail his support among Alabama evangelicals.
These issues haven’t derailed other cultural and spiritual icons. Theologian Doug Wilson, for example, mishandled abuse allegations in his own congregation, but he continues to be published on Desiring God, Christian author John Piper‘s popular website.
If these “courtships” are sanctioned by the girls’ parents, then there is no crime, according to these men. In fact, it’s for the girls’ own protection — if they didn’t get married to responsible, older men twice their age, why, they could end up having consensual premarital sex with boys their own age. It’ll only get more scandalous from there, what with the girls going off to college and joining the work force, possibly accruing more sex partners along the way!
The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning. Women raised in evangelicalism and fundamentalism have for years discussed the normalization of child sexual abuse. We’ve told our stories on social media and on our blogs and various online platforms, but until the Roy Moore story broke, mainstream American society barely paid attention. Everyone assumed this was an isolated, fringe issue. It isn’t.
She’s absolutely, and unfortunately, right.