The moral morass of Roy Moore, and the political wars
foaming out of it, are a striking reminder why politics and
religion are a terrible mix. Moore is the embattled Republican
and U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama. Nine women so far
have stated that, long ago, he stalked them when they were
young or under-age and, in some cases, assaulted them. At
that time, beginning in the late ‘70s, Moore was in his early
30s, an assistant prosecutor and later district attorney.
A special election in Alabama on Dec. 12 will decide
whether he or his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, will
finish the 6-year U.S. Senate term of former Sen. Jeff
Sessions, who left the Senate last February to serve as U.S.
Attorney General. The term ends in 2020.
Moore’s campaign and career has been lit with controversy.
He has been twice removed from the Alabama Supreme
Court while chief justice – in November 2003 for refusing
a federal order to remove a Ten Commandment monument
from the Alabama Supreme Court Building, and last April,
for issuing an administrative order in 2016 forbidding the
issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Religion
is layered throughout the controversy over Moore’s unusual
(some say predatory) history with much younger women,
and his inflammatory career as a judge.
Moore is a small part in the larger scene of American politics,
where religion is often worn on the politician’s sleeve,
or lapel, like that little American flag, a kind of proof or
validation that he or she is – is what? Are those who wear
religion on the sleeve or flag on lapel slightly better or purer,
more fervent or faithful, than those who don’t? Who can
Through history, the church has been summoned against
whatever it is that politics have deemed un-Christian, even
un-American. For decades it remained in some regions a bulwark
against racial integration, the secular threat of what the
descendants of slaves might do to middle-class Christianity.
It has been a bulwark, ultimately, against whatever one’s
The tradition of summoning the church against the civil
authority is as old as Christianity, as old as the church as a
source of countervailing power and protection against all the
alien, evil exercises in the secular. Thus it is, institutionally,
the bulwark against abortion or same-sex marriage, in spite
of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Religion in state and federal politics can come in disguise,
a “Community Defense Act,” or a “Swat the Barfly” resolution,
or Kansas’ Religious Freedom Protection Act, which
since 2013 has permitted the use of religion to skirt state law.
Some of our newest laws, starting with voter registration,
repave the old roads to intolerance.
In Washington, the Supreme Court put its blessing on
private businesses that deny women employees access to
certain types of health care, namely contraceptive benefits in
their health insurance. Religion was the reason.
Internationally, religion as governing resurfaced in Iran
in the late 1970s with the regime of Ayatollah Ruholla
Khomeini. This was a dramatic reminder of why we wanted
God out of politics in the first place. Religious bigotry is
nearly as old as man. The evidence is endless but in recent
years, for example, it has demanded the slaughter of Bosnian
Muslims in Slovenia and Croatia and war over the former
Yugoslavia; this year we note the Myanmar persecution and
murder of Rohingya because of their faith and last week, the
slaughter of hundreds at a Mosque in Bir al-Abed northeast
When a religious zealot gains political power, loyalties and
commitments clash and bloody violence is usually the result.
God is perfect, but the state is imperfect; when someone tries
to put politics on the level of divine perfection, thousands of
people are bound to be clobbered, literally or otherwise.
God’s laws are eternal and unchanging, but we live by
change and so do our political structures. If we try to stop
change, as Khomeini and others have tried, or want only one
brand of change, as Slobodan Milosevic demanded, we bring
repression of men and women, and a stagnation of society.
God gives absolute truth, but in politics there is no absolute
truth – not in democratic politics, at least, where we
have been taught to respect the faith and opinions of others.
Our individual faith may be absolute but our political faith
The most promising move toward peace in the Middle
East came nearly 40 years ago: the historic Camp David
Accords, achieved by a Baptist, a Jew, and a Muslim. The
men involved – Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar
Sadat – all said they felt a spiritual surge in their efforts. Seen
another way, the teachings of Christ, Moses and Muhammad
bent to the universal good.
Here the differences in religious faith were weaker than
the need for a common ground.
It’s a long stretch from Geneva or the Golan Heights
to Washington or Topeka. But religion’s steamrolling of
politics frequently begins with a local intrusion, with little
steps, a patronizing sigh of benevolence, always “for our
Accord in governing can’t be done with heavenly edicts.
Divine peace can’t be ordered by brandishing a sword, and
public good can’t be ordered through unyielding, religiously-based
statutes. We can’t write into law the faith by which
everyone in the world, or the state, must live.