There’s a way in which I always enjoy seeing Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore in the news. He is certainly a man of conviction, almost an Atticus Finch character (if somewhat to the far right of Finch), and now he has given an interview on ABC News saying that same-sex marriages may lead to “marriages between men and their daughters or between women and their sons.” This sort of thing would be rip-roaring funny, in fact, if this man were not actually the head of the supreme court in his state, in a position to influence people and do real damage in the world.
I didn’t actually mind it when, a decade ago or more, he refused to remove a huge block weighing two and a half tons on which the Ten Commandments were written from the lobby of his courthouse. He was himself removed from office for his refusal to obey federal law on this matter. We do, indeed, insist as a nation that church and state remain in separate boxes.
But Judge Moore showed a kind of integrity in standing up for Moses and the Law. In this, he was like Robert Frost, who once called himself an Old Testament Christian. By that, I think Frost referred to the kind of person who, while being a Christian, has a deep yearning for the kind of rough justice meted out in the Hebrew scriptures. This impulse goes back to Exodus 21:24, where we read about an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Indeed, in Exodus we all get a hand for a hand and a foot for a foot as well. It’s almost Sharia Law.
Jesus took a very different view of the matter. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:38-39, he said with amazing clarity, “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” In Matthew 7:1, he also said with great force, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
Now Judge Moore has been, somewhat miraculously, returned to the court, as its Chief Justice. It’s a democracy, after all. And he is an interesting man, as a recent article in The Washington Post suggests. A Vietnam veteran and a grandfather, he is also a devout Baptist (the church I grew up in). He has portraits of George Washington as well as Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, on his office wall at the courthouse. He says explicitly, however, that despite his veneration of Davis, he has never been a segregationist. What he stands for, he says, is states’ rights. If a state wishes to behave in ways that the rest of the country regards as discriminatory, I assume he might well choose to side with the state in question.
Now with his latest statement about gay marriage leading potentially to marriages between fathers and daughters or mothers and sons, he seems to have tipped over the edge into madness. Does anyone in his or her right mind really imagine that marriages between parents and children have any correlation with gay marriages? Will gay marriage also lead to people marrying horses? Or turtles? I believe Judge Moore is letting his wildest fantasies get the better of him on this matter, and it disappoints me. I didn’t mind seeing the Ten Commandments in the lobby of a courthouse. But I’m really a New Testament Christian myself, and I would want to see emblazoned on the same stone: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Now that would be the beginning of a Christian revolution, and (for me, at least) a welcome turn.
Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. His most recent book is Jesus: The Human Face of God.