Roy Moore and the moral mirror of hatred
Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions' ascension to attorney general, has long been a purveyor of pietistic hate speech. The self-proclaimed Christian has used racial slurs in public speeches, blamed 9/11 on godlessness, and said that homosexual behavior should be illegal.
But last week, The Washington Post uncovered multiple allegations that Moore had made sexual advances on teenage girls when he was in his 30s. The most egregious accusation involved a girl who claims that Moore groped and kissed her when she was only 14 years old. The Post's bombshell was painstakingly reported, and several friends and family members testify that this accuser disclosed the incident to them years ago. Court records confirm the timeline of her account. (For his part, Moore denies ever engaging in any sexual misconduct.)
Many Americans have expressed shock and dismay at the news that a public figure who presented himself as a model and guardian of Christian morality could have violated those morals in such a profound way. But it must be said: These allegations should sadden everyone but surprise no one.
We've been here before. In the 1980s, televangelist Jim Bakker achieved celebrity status preaching conservative Christian values through his nationally broadcast religious television show. It was later revealed that he had swindled his fans by misappropriating millions of dollars in donations and had paid hush money to his former secretary so she would remain silent about their affair.
After Bakker resigned and was headed for the big house, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart lambasted Bakker as "a cancer on the body of Christ." A year later, Swaggart resigned from his own ministry and admitted that he too had had an affair.
In the early 2000s, evangelical leader Ted Haggard gained notoriety for fighting against LGBT rights and marriage equality. He then admitted a drug-fueled sexual encounter with a male prostitute near his Colorado Springs church. (Interestingly, some studies indicate that homophobia is correlated with the suppression of same-sex attraction.)
After Haggard's fall from grace, mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll insinuated Haggard's wife might be to blame for the downfall because she let herself go and was not "sexually available." Driscoll had risen to prominence as a hipster version of a hellfire-and-damnation preacher with a love for puritan morality. His long list of controversial comments includes a sermon where he shouted to his congregation that "God hates you" because of their sinfulness. In 2014, Driscoll was forced to resign from his church due to a litany of sins including plagiarism, misappropriation of ministry funds, and emotional abuse of church staff.
While these examples serve as cautionary tales for Christian leaders like Moore, they also provide hope for the Senate candidate. All four ministers listed above are now back running churches and ministries just as they once were. So even if allegations against Moore do prove true, it doesn't mean that the heavily Christian voters in Alabama will abandon him. Indeed, a new poll finds that 37 percent of Alabama evangelicals say they are now more likely to vote for Moore given the allegations.
Of course, hypocrisy is neither localized to well-known figures nor unique to the Christian community. No one lives in total consistency with their values, beliefs, and convictions. We are all, in some way and at some point, guilty of hypocrisy.
But the issue at hand is not ultimately hypocrisy; it is the nature of hatred. Certain sectors of America now seem animated by anger and hatred not witnessed in some time. This hatred often emanates from the mouths of religious leaders who use moral language and the authority of the Almighty to afflict others — often marginalized people who are largely powerless to defend themselves.
But if recent history is any indication, we should distrust those who most vehemently peddle hate. Check their closet and you just might find a skeleton.
Research conducted by Jeff Schimel, a psychology professor at the University of Alberta, adds quantitative support for such skepticism. In one study, subjects who showed high levels of anger were more likely to rate others as angry. When participants were told they were dishonest, they were more likely to see others as dishonest. Whenever people come to believe they possess an unacceptable trait, they are more likely to see these traits in others.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung famously said that "everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." For Jungians, every human possesses a "shadow side" that contains all the behaviors they feel are bad or inappropriate. When our moral frameworks lead us to hide these behaviors, rather than deal with them honestly, they can lead to a sense of self-hatred. We try to repress these emotions, but they often escape in the form of anger toward others who we believe are immoral like we are.
These human tendencies can especially afflict pietistic people with constricting ethical frameworks. In his iconic theological treatise, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis noted that Christian morals can unconsciously instill in its adherents a sense of pride, which often turns into hypocrisy: "There is a vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else. ... And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others."
In the days ahead, we will likely learn whether Roy Moore is the paragon of Christian virtue he has led us to believe (unlikely!), or if his years of hatred were born out of guilt. We should not be surprised if the latter proves true. For when one uses hatred as a window through which to view others, it often turns out to have been a mirror all along.