Good Lord

Alabama Evangelicals Find It Easy to Forgive Roy Moore

The string of child-molestation allegations against the Republican Senate candidate has only affirmed for evangelical conservatives that Moore is the right man for the seat.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama—It’s 7:30 on a Sunday morning, and just outside the main entrance of the massive Briarwood Presbyterian Church campus, a man and a woman were jumping up and down waving “Judge Roy Moore for U.S. Senate” signs at passing cars.

With just two days remaining in the most important national race left in this calendar year, that’s to be expected.

But the sign holders—who stayed at the same street corner all morning—were simply preaching to the choir.

This subset of social conservatives in Alabama’s largest metropolitan area, like those across the state, hasn’t ditched Moore in light of the multiple women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, including child molestation. In fact, the string of allegations, which Moore denies, has only affirmed in their minds that Moore is the right person to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions on a permanent basis in the Senate, and that Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, would vote against their interests on key issues including abortion. For some, it was difficult to get to the point where an accused child molester is preferable to a Democrat. But for others, it wasn’t so hard at all.

“Doug Jones is a pro-abortionist. And Roy Moore is standing up for Christian rights and proper American values based on the Constitution,” Joshua Tessin, 26, a pharmacy student who lives in Homewood, told The Daily Beast as he was heading into a morning service at Briarwood. “It’s going to be an easy win for Roy.”

Alabama has long been an epicenter for evangelical conservatives who vote largely based on social issues centered on religion. The unwavering support for Moore among parishioners at Briarwood and at congregations across the state underscores the very reason why Moore finds himself on the cusp of victory in Tuesday’s special election despite have gone through a scandal-plagued few weeks that likely would have derailed any other candidate. His loyal supporters simply don’t believe the accusers.

“These things happened 40 years ago. He can do no harm—any more from what he did back then—to where he’s going now, and he can help support the president,” Carl, who asked only to be identified by his first name, told The Daily Beast as he exited the church on Sunday.

Much like during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Republicans who were on the fence about President Donald Trump rationalized their vote for him for a single reason: the Supreme Court. With a vacancy and Barack Obama’s successor slated to nominate a replacement, it was better to have Trump make that decision than Hillary Clinton. Republicans only have a slim 52 to 48 majority in the Senate, and keeping Alabama’s other Senate seat in GOP control is paramount for ensuring that Trump’s legislative agenda isn’t further jeopardized. Evangelical voters here trust that Moore will vote for the president’s nominees to vacant Supreme Court or federal judiciary positions—while Jones would likely vote with his party to buck the commander in chief.

“There are a lot of evangelical or conservative voters who don’t know whether or not to believe the accusations against Roy Moore, but they do understand that the balance of the Supreme Court is at stake and that Doug Jones would not be a vote for pro-life or conservative judges,” Scott Stone, an Alabama-based Republican strategist, told The Daily Beast.

Back in Washington, though, the GOP establishment can’t get away from Moore fast enough. When the allegations first surfaced in The Washington Post, the campaign arm for Senate Republicans pulled out of the race entirely, while Moore’s would-be colleagues in the Senate urged him to step aside from the race to make way for a new Republican candidate, possibly a write-in. But that was never going to happen. And to understand that phenomenon, one only needs to talk to Alabamians like those who attend services at churches like Briarwood every Sunday.

“They’re going back 40 years,” Carl, who is in his eighties, said of the allegations against Moore. “I’m not surprised if he isn’t guilty of all of it—he scared a few young ladies is what it boils down to. I don’t know of anything other than that. It doesn’t make one bit of a difference whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican—you’re going to be a sinner one way or another.”

Others aren’t simply skeptical of the allegations lobbed Moore’s way; they’re convinced that the women are part of a contrived plot to take him down at all costs and flip the seat to the Democrats’ hands.

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“Moore is solid and I don’t believe the lies about the women. There’s too many holes in the stories. 40 years ago? You would’ve come out by now,” Birmingham resident Connie Evans, 59, told The Daily Beast. “He’s been in politics for years. They would’ve come out by now. It’s just a tactic to steal the race. And, of course, Doug Jones is liberal. This is a very conservative state. We’re not for abortion.”

While some have self-rationalized their votes for Moore, Jones isn’t making the sexual misconduct allegations a major campaign issue. The Democratic candidate was asked about it twice over the weekend and refused to directly address it. Many of his supporters who gathered in Selma and Montgomery on Saturday similarly did not cite the allegations against Moore as a reason to vote for Jones. Few seem motivated to vote for Jones because of the allegations alone, and the Jones campaign is keenly aware of that.

Trump, who has also been accused of sexual misdeeds, famously said on the campaign trail in 2016 that he wouldn’t lose any of his core supporters even if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The same appears to be true for Moore in Alabama.

“Whether I vote or not Tuesday won’t make a difference because I know darn well how this state is—and they won’t go against Moore,” Carl said.