Columns » Autumn Tolbert

The line

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Well, it looks like we found the line. We found the line drawn by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other GOP members of Congress to separate acceptable and unacceptable behavior from an elected official. It seems splitting up families with deportation, overt racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, bragging about sexually assaulting women, sending treasonous letters to Iran and lying about middle-class tax cuts are all acceptable. Grown men cruising the mall for teenage girls and allegedly groping them, thankfully, is a bit too much for the party of family values. Whew.

It always comes back to religion, especially in the South. Literature, history, politics, science. Nothing in the South exists outside of the lens of religion. Frederick Douglass called religion in the South "a dark shelter" and a "mere covering for the most horrid crimes" when describing the cruelty of slaveholders in the Southern states. While not much outside death can begin to compare to the horrors that Douglass endured, the same religion-cloaked justifications for misdeeds lives on. Indeed, to many of us who are on the outside of Southern right-wing evangelicalism, either because we have fled from it or we were never a part of it in the first place, it seems as if no deed is too foul to bring the powerful down as long as the perpetrator claims to be a Christian.

Earlier this week, a letter in support of Roy Moore, Alabama Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, who is the subject of the allegations of sexual assault against teenage girls, resurfaced with the signatures of more than 50 Alabama pastors. A couple have now distanced themselves from the letter and claim it was written before these allegations surfaced, when Moore was known outside Alabama only for ignoring the Constitution, promoting prejudice against Muslims and fighting against equality. The others seem to still be proud of their support of Moore.

I'm glad we've discovered that there is at least some behavior too cruel, too depraved for McConnell and friends. It seemed as if he and the majority of the GOP had decided kicking people off health care and giving tax cuts to their wealthy buddies and donors were more important than basic humanity. Now to see whether the prominent preachers in the South follow suit. Earlier this year, there was so much outrage among this group over imagined bathroom dangers and marriage equality they came together and prayed and issued the despicable "Nashville Statement" in which they criticized Western culture for allowing such "sins." Let's see how they react to the abuse of teenage girls by one of their heroes. I'm not holding my breath that this group, mainly comprised of men, will turn on a conservative white male from Alabama.

Their congregants may be another story. Since this news hit, I've seen a lot of conservatives remain silent on social media. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, even though the ideal situation would be public and swift condemnation. But silence may indicate a shift. While the loudest voices continue to defend Moore, what we thought might happen with Trump might actually happen now. Much of the religious right may be so disgusted they quietly stay home on Election Day.

It also may signal a shift that progressive Christians have been pushing for the past few years: a shift to seeing politics through a religious lens that is not focused on the hateful and inconsistent rules of Leviticus, but more on the actual teachings of Jesus. A politics of inclusion and compassion instead of exclusion and retribution.

When I was a child, I attended a church where women had limited roles and were not allowed to preach to men. I remember watching some of the women in class or at women's gatherings and thinking that, although I did not always buy into their message, they were so much more inspiring and knowledgeable than the men I heard on Sunday mornings. Why should they be limited in sharing their gifts? I see more and more women questioning these sexist rules and moving to churches where they are seen in an equal light to men. I dare say this exodus may be sped up by the male evangelical support of Donald Trump and now Moore.

I may be allowing my optimism to run a bit rampant here. Maybe Moore stays in the race and wins. Maybe evangelicals in Alabama flock to the polls in support of their former district attorney who worked to either impress or intimidate young girls by constantly reminding them of his power and position. Maybe we are fighting a losing battle against those who choose party over people. I hope not. I hope the line McConnell has drawn holds. If not, I'm afraid all is lost and there literally is nothing shocking.

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