The Roy Moore scandal grows everyday; there are more accusers, more accounts of disturbing behavior. But even as the evidence mounts, Moore’s defenders remain steadfast. What is most striking is the language used by his supporters to say that Moore’s predation upon minors was not only unremarkable, but somehow ordained by God.
As has been widely reported, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler excused Moore’s behavior by saying, “Take the Bible: …Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here.” Just as striking is a state poll conducted after the revelations of sexual abuse which showed that the revelations made Alabama evangelicals more likely to support him, seemingly signaling a change in the way “values voters” vote on their professed values.
Aside from the apparent Biblical inaccuracies (the Bible states that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not the sexual congress of two mortals), Zeigler’s statement is troubling because it follows a trend of using cherry-picked religious texts or concepts to justify the exploitation or subjugation of a disadvantaged group to the benefit of the group in power. In this case, it was a powerful, professional white man and a 14 year-old girl, but it could have just easily been a Southern Baptist preacher in 1860 justifying slavery, or the council of clerics in Pakistan who dismissed a reform effort to raise the marriage age for women from 16 to 18 and curb child marriage as “blasphemous.”
These statements are not about an authentic expression of faith but instead are using the language of religion as a vehicle for oppression.
There has been some voices within religious communities — even conservative ones — who have spoken out. Despite the support Moore has received from Alabama’s evangelical Christian community, some leaders in the community have condemned his actions. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted out “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.” And, in Indonesia, female clerics have issued a fatwa against child marriage, calling it “harmful;” they have urged the government to raise the minimum marriage age from 16 to 18.
Power and religion can be used to subjugate any disadvantaged group, but they are often used against women in particular.
While it is important to condemn these abuses of faith, condemnation is not enough. As laity, we must demand more from our political and religious leaders. Faith belongs to each individual, not to morality police or appointed councils, and abusive behavior and bigotry cannot hide behind the words of any religion.
We cannot continue to allow faith to be continually twisted to justify acts of destruction, whether sexual abuse or violent extremism. The God we know — be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other faith — doesn’t use his words to oppress, but to uplift. Our leaders must follow the same example.
Rabiah Ahmed is the director of media and public affairs for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Prior to joining MPAC, she founded Mirza PR, a public relations and event management firm specializing in strategic communication for the American Muslim community. Rabiah has represented her clients in media interviews conducted by BBC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, GEO, Al-Arabiya, NPR, WTOP, the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times among many others.