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Alabama fallout: Does character count?

Barbra Nipper wears a cross in support of former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore during Moore's campaign party Aug. 15, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

(RNS) — One day after a surprise Democratic victory, many political onlookers are wondering if evangelicals are reconsidering the importance of character.

That was the question after Tuesday’s (Dec. 12) special election in Alabama, in which the usually reliable and sizable Republican voting bloc underperformed to give Democrat Doug Jones a stunning, come-from-behind victory in his race for U.S. Senate.

To some evangelical watchers, the answer is obvious. Alabama, a deep-red state where white evangelicals can easily elect one of their own, could not stomach a flawed candidate like Roy Moore, who stands accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls and holds a host of controversial views on gays, Muslims, women and race.

“It’s clear many evangelicals stayed home,” said Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “I think it’s a clear message from evangelical Christians that they’re not going to support a candidate like Roy Moore.”

David French, senior writer for National Review, came to much the same conclusion: “Alabama conservatives told Steve Bannon and, yes, Donald Trump that integrity matters,” he wrote. “They told their party that some victories aren’t worth the cost.”

A Christianity Today headline proclaimed: “Roy Moore Was ‘a Bridge Too Far’ for Alabama Evangelicals.”

These and other pundits pointed out that white evangelicals made up 44 percent of voters in Tuesday’s Alabama election, compared with 47 percent of voters in the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections, a slight downturn.

They noted that no major evangelical leader in Alabama — and critically no major Southern Baptist pastor — came out to support Moore, though some lesser-known evangelical pastors did. (Their names were published by Kayla Moore, the Republican candidate’s wife, on her Facebook page.)

But at least one pollster said the idea that evangelicals were unwilling to forgive Moore for alleged sexual misdeeds would be a rash — and wrong — conclusion.

RELATED: Why evangelicals might vote for Roy Moore anyway

The reality is that 80 percent of white born-again Christians voted for Moore — nearly identical to the 81 percent of evangelicals nationally who voted for Trump in 2016. (Only 18 percent of white born-again Christians voted for Jones and 2 percent cast write-in votes.)

“This looks to me like pretty typical enthusiasm for a Republican candidate, even one as unconventional as Moore,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.

Indeed, added Jones, allegations of sexual misconduct did not seem to sway these voters. An overwhelming 94 percent of Republican voters said they did not believe allegations that Moore preyed on teenage girls 40 years ago, according to The Washington Post’s exit poll data.

“We’ve now got two candidates who in no way really fit the mold of values voters, and (evangelicals) brushed aside serious allegations and moved right past them,” said Jones, referring to Trump and Moore.

If anything decisive can be said about the Alabama race, it’s that African-American Christians, who also very often consider themselves evangelical, turned out in force.

RELATED: In Alabama Senate race, African-American Christians may hold the key

Moore lost in large part because African-Americans — and particularly African-American women — voted overwhelmingly for Jones. In all, 96 percent of African-Americans supported Jones; that’s similar to the level of support they extended to then-President Obama in 2012.

“Sometimes people in the outside world assume evangelical is white evangelical and African-American and Latino and Asian-American evangelicals are in some other category when we’re not,” said Russell Moore, the chief ethicist for the Southern Baptist Convention. “We’re in one church. We’re united around the gospel. Corporately speaking, white evangelicals are a distinct minority in the evangelical movement.”

ERLC President Russell Moore. Photo courtesy of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Moore was among a group of influential evangelicals who said they could not recommend voting for Roy Moore (no relation). The group included Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center, at Wheaton College; and several prominent evangelical women such as Kay Warren, Beth Moore and Nancy French.

The Alabama race led many writers, including Amy Julia Becker and Peter Wehner, to pen editorials such as Wehner’s “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican.”

The growing prominence of dissident white evangelicals is an interesting development, said Brantley Gasaway, professor of American religious studies at Bucknell University.

“Trump, and now Moore, have increased the sensitivity of a minority but still significant group of evangelical leaders who really are saying, ‘We will not just support any candidate that the Republicans come out with, even if they are pro-life. That’s not enough.’ That’s a significant shift,” said Gasaway.

RELATED: On election day, an Alabama church stands apart

But in the end, it’s not clear how much if any influence this group had on rank-and-file white evangelicals in Alabama.

Charles T. Brown, a retired school teacher from Etowah County, Moore’s home district, said many fellow evangelicals were quite willing to overlook any character flaw others saw in Moore to advance objectives such as confirming conservative Supreme Court justices.

“People think we’re dumb,” said Brown, 70. “But we’re wise enough to understand cause and effect. We’re wise enough to understand how the Senate can affect nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court. Even if I knew everything Roy Moore is accused of were true, the Supreme Court and abortion are far more important. What’s the alternative? Helping the liberals ruin our country?”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

37 Comments

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  • The stats Show that they did indeed vote for moore and that character only counts if it includes get the gays.

  • You’re right, sister Yonat Shimron. Born-again Christians were split 50:50 going into the election about Roy Moore, and yet he still lost. Why he lost is because your previous write-up on Black Christians captured the “tendenz” moving behind the scenes all this time. You sensed something about them and it paid off. They saved America from my born-again Christian brother Roy Moore. Right on, sister Yonat Shimron. Spot on.

    Still, though, it would be bad of me not to credit my God & Jesus for saving America from one of Their own. Upon receiving breaking news of his glorious defeat came to me via Zerohedge (sorry), I simply raised my hands up in the air, thanking God & Jesus tearfully. Believing They were able to save America from the Bad Guy.

  • Does Character Count?

    Sure it counts, but it don’t sell. There is a difference between features and benefits in a product. Benefits add to the performance of a product features dress it up. Benefits add value, features add appeal. The engine under the hood is a benefit, it determines how the car will perform. Pinstripes are a feature, they dress the car up, they don’t make it run any better.

    We evangelicals don’t seem to know the difference between features and benefits. We call ourselves “value voters”, but there is no moral value when there is no character. No character means no benefit, we willing trade “moral features” for “moral values”. Case in point, 80% of us will vote for a guy who wears pinstripes to church…and rides his mustang to vote.

    Nice race. Hot Rod.

  • The stats also show that out of Alabama’s 3.2 million eligible voters, 2 million stayed home. Moore underperformed Trump statewide by almost 50 percent, showing that tens of thousands of registered Republicans sat this one out. Another 2 percent chose to write-in a candidate. Jones on the other hand tracked about as well as Hillary did in the presidential election. He neither picked up many new voters or lost any…All things being equal, had the Republicans fielded a better candidate, Jones most likely would not have won.

  • In the 2016 presidential election, 95.2 million voters did not vote — 42 percent of eligible voters. 95.2 million eligible voters did not vote. 60.1 million of those who cast votes chose Hillary Clinton.

    59.8 million who cast votes chose the man who won the electoral college majority.

    Oh, and by the way, over and beyond the number-crunching, here’s what happened in the Alabama election, which the number-crunching won’t erase:

    Doug Jones won.

  • I don’t see character as being about a perfect past. Character is more about acknowledging a imperfect past and making a correction. I don’t see Roy Moore doing that. I don’t see his supporters encouraging him to acknowledge his past. To me that is the bigger problem, Roy’s character is the mirror of a large part of this country. Yes there are character flaws on both sides but the other side is doing a much better job of acknowledging them, and, a guy like Roy is a closer reflection of me politically and religiously than the guy on the other side. Even when I would not support a guy like that he still becomes a reflection on me.

  • Where are you getting that 50:50 split number from? 80% of white evangelical Christians voted for Moore. Your born-again Christians clearly overwhelmingly supported the accused child-molester. Are you assuming that all members of the black community, who made up 29% of the electorate and voted for Jones 96% to 4%, are all evangelical Christian? Because I see no other way to support your claim that born-again Christians did anything but overwhelmingly support Moore.

  • Agreed, but these kind of “character issues” are no longer tolerated among Democrats. We just expelled two sitting Senators, and neither was accused of anything as heinous as child molestation. But I guess Republicans don’t care as much about the moral character of their elected officials.

  • Article misses a major difference between Moore and Trump — it’s a lot easier to believe Moore is innocent of the charges leveled by his two accusers than Trump. In Moore’s case we have a man faithful to the woman he’s been happily married to for over thirty years, he simply doesn’t fit the pattern. In Trump, we very much don’t. So yes, Moore is most likely innocent of those charges, and yes, the GOPe threw him under the bus anyway rather than expend the political capital necessary to keep his vote in the Senate (if the Democrats can put up with Maxine Waters for election after election, Republicans could have put up with Moore for a few years). That vote is going to be badly missed, and I am not going to forget who threw it away.

  • My question for evangelicals is whether they believe Jesus died to enable Roy Moore? Was Jesus tortured so that a Bible-thumping idiot could trawl malls for underage girls? Is Moore worth it? If the answer is positive, they have made their faith a dirty joke.

  • Umm, how did NBC News put it? Oh yeah…one of the most concise & correct headlines I’ve ever seen a secular media giant come up with.

    “Democrats turn on Franken to get at Moore.” (Dec. 7)

    This wasn’t an opinion piece by the way, this was a straight news headline.
    NBC News is a major Trump opponent, and yet they openly admitted (this time), that the Democrats were NOT expelling Franken out of any shining moral character, but simply as a raw political chess move in a political battle.

    (PS…. After all the different violations Franken and Conyers pulled on non-consenting women, don’t bother trying to spin the “Heinous Factor” in favor of your guys.)

  • No. It was a grassroots movement prompted by the party base who no longer is willing to tolerate sexual abuse of any kind among our politicians. The leadership resisted doing anything for quite some time before they caved to the demands of Democratic voters.

  • Some people do have real character in this story…96% of African American voters in Alabama (and 98% of African American women) made the difference and picked Jones over Moore. And these voters came out in force!

    White evangelicals would be wise to look to black voters for an example of character.

  • So 80% of the evangelical vote went for Moore. This shows their hypocrisy, the vacuity of their “value voting,” and their disdain for the truth about the scofflaw they preferred. Liberals and moderates are also value voters — their values include concern for social justice, minority rights, women’s rights of conscience, and disdain for evangelical phoniness.

  • Whatever makes it easier to accept your prior support of a professional disgrace, slanderer, embezzler, bigot and apparent pederast with no regard for the law.

    The GOP could have picked a name from a phone book and gotten a better candidate than Roy Moore

  • Character is as much about what you are doing today, as what you’ve done in the past. And honestly, I have to say that “Today’s Doug Jones” poses far greater threat to Alabaman/American women & families, than “Today’s Roy Moore.”

    Because of Moore’s scandal, Doug Jones won. But Jones’ unmitigated, 100% all-out support for Planned Parenthood (whose abortion facilities are mostly located in or near minority neighborhoods), constitutes a grim & ongoing butchery on Black babies (and all babies). A macabre Cash Cow, a major character issue.

    Then you have Jones’ unmitigated, all-out, 100% rah-rah support for gay marriage. A clear and present threat today to the struggling black family, wrote black educator Jawanza Kunjufu. (He wasn’t even thinking about God, Bible, or Religion. He was just going off of history & sociology.) Major character issue.

    So this election doesn’t really end the “character issue” issue. It will continue.

  • Normally I’d agree with your last sentence in a heartbeat. But this time, black Alabama voters essentially trashed their own kids and grand-kids in order to protest mis-treatment of women.

    This is what happens when black clergy collectively fail to help black Christians sort carefully (and biblically) through all the controversies, politics, and media games.

  • The author has confused percent of TURNOUT with percent of TOTAL VOTERS.

    In 2016, Trump got 1,328,000 votes in Alabama.
    In 2017, Moore got 574,000.
    That’s only 43% of the Trump potential.

    Hillary got 729,000 votes.
    Jones got 586,000.
    That’s 80%.

    In other words, over half a million Trump votes disappeared. Guess who they were?

  • How terrible that they were allowed to make their own decisions without their pastors telling them who to vote for.

  • Clergy are pressed for time, and sometimes they hand out fish sandwiches to hungry Christians (and often that’s how we Christians prefer things!) …

    … instead of teaching hungry Christians how to catch the fish, figure out the species, and correctly fry it themselves. But we need much more of the latter. Otherwise, we wind up swallowing what Doug Jones got cooking. Eww!

  • According to Rebecca Savransky, “Poll: 37 percent of Alabama evangelicals more likely to vote for Moore after allegations”, The Hill, December 12, 2017:

    “Nearly 40 percent of Alabama evangelicals said in a new poll that they are more likely to vote for GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore following allegations of sexual misconduct against him. A JMC analytics poll found that 37 percent of evangelicals surveyed said the allegations make them more likely to vote for the GOP Senate candidate in the upcoming election. Just 28 percent said the allegations made them less likely to vote for Moore and 34 percent said the allegations made no difference in their decision. In all, 29 percent of respondents in the poll said the allegations against Moore would make them more likely to vote for him, compared to 38 percent overall who said the allegations would make them less likely to vote for the candidate. The poll was conducted on Nov. 9 and Nov. 11 and was based on 575 responses. It has a margin of error of 4.1 percent.”

  • I wanted to comment on what my brother floydlee, I think, is getting at, if you guys would just simmer down a bit – that this Evangelicals-bashing proves to go on whether or not Roy Moore loses or wins – i.e. curse on my fellow born-again Christian brothers and sisters for letting Molester4Christ win, and curse on them for doing whatever and still Molester4Christ loses. BUT NO, I’m not going there. This way instead, just to share with y’all.

    After work Tuesday I shared everybody’s dread that Molester4Christ was going to win. The following that I found that evening sealed it for me, with the shame that my fellow born-again Christian brothers and sisters in Alabama wouldn’t make the necessary difference to get Molester4Christ defeated in the senatorial seat race. To my worse dread than any of yours, they proved to be NEITHER HOT NOR COLD. They weren’t convinced as I am, a fellow born-again Christian, that Roy Moore as a Molester4Christ – oh yeah allegedly – whatever – like he cared less to clear his name from the sex crime accusation – was about to get away with it all the way to Capitol Hill, the Hearth of Babylon. (Just me talking, never mind.)

    It’s this poll analysis that did it for me. Roy Moore was going to win. (Imagine, then, what it was like for me when before going to bed, I checked Zerohedge and their breaking news was Doug Jones won! Two reactions: I praised God & Jesus, then posted my sigh of relief at RNS right after the 1st commenter, that Kangaroo guy, what’s his number.)

    According to Rebecca Savransky, “Poll: 37 percent of Alabama evangelicals more likely to vote for Moore after allegations”, The Hill, December 12, 2017:

    “Nearly 40 percent of Alabama evangelicals said in a new poll that they are more likely to vote for GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore following allegations of sexual misconduct against him. A JMC analytics poll found that 37 percent of evangelicals surveyed said the allegations make them more likely to vote for the GOP Senate candidate in the upcoming election. Just 28 percent said the allegations made them less likely to vote for Moore and 34 percent said the allegations made no difference in their decision. In all, 29 percent of respondents in the poll said the allegations against Moore would make them more likely to vote for him, compared to 38 percent overall who said the allegations would make them less likely to vote for the candidate. The poll was conducted on Nov. 9 and Nov. 11 and was based on 575 responses. It has a margin of error of 4.1 percent.”

  • Yeah, that’s pretty disturbing that almost 40% of white evangelicals said they were more likely to vote for him because of the allegations. It’s also interesting that while 28% of the evangelical respondents said it made them less likely to vote for Moore, Moore still won 80% of the evangelical vote. Doesn’t really seem like there was an even split on whether or not to support him.

  • 37% to 40% of Evangelicals voted for Roy Moore

    28% didn’t vote for Moore

    34% wouldn’t say 1 way or another – WHY EVER NOT?! HOW STIFFNECKED IS THAT?!

    That’s Alabama’s Evangelicals being split 50:50, dude! They wouldn’t make a difference as to the OUTCOME AGAINST ROY MOORE – and that’s too painful for me as a fellow born-again Christian, donchagettityet?!

  • No. You need a lesson in data interpretation.
    The numbers you cited are the numbers for evangelical Christians asked whether they were more or less likely to vote for Moore based on the allegations, days before the election. They are not numbers of how they actually voted.
    If you want to know how they actually voted, you look at exit polls. According to the exit polls, 80% of white evangelicals voted for Moore. Therefore, a clear majority voted for Moore.

  • Character should count but only partially. Perhaps more in an executive positions. . In our legislative design one must consider which politician comes with which party and hope the party can reign in some of the her character flaws i.e. sexual, lack of vision, corruption, etc.. The majority party in the Senate and House of Representatives sets the agenda. Therefore party does count for a lot especially for a Legislator, Senate or Congress Members

  • Doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Evangelical Christians will let a politician get away with murder as long as they oppose abortion. They literally let this one get away with child molestation.

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