"When it comes to Roy Moore, the reality on 'evangelical' opinion is just as complex as ever."
That was the highly appropriate title of a post that GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly wrote just last week.
Here's my question: How soon is too soon to cover much the same ground once again? Is six days enough? (I'm not even counting tmatt's later post on "Sex crimes and sins in the past.")
Based on weekend headlines, it's obvious that journalists are still grappling with where Alabama's conservative Christians stand on Moore. And rightly so -- that is an extremely important angle on this major national political story. In fact, cheering for a massive white evangelical turnout at the polls seems to be the only real strategy that Moore has, right now.
As tmatt noted, the best coverage notes that when it comes to Moore, there is indeed a wide diversity of opinion among evangelicals (if that's even the right term ... more on that label in a moment).
I'm also impressed with coverage that attempts to explain why some people of faith would keep backing Moore even amid mounting sexual misconduct claims against him.
The Associated Press has an analytical piece that hits at many of the key reasons:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn't fit the evangelical mold.
The Republican Senate candidate has long stood with them, and now, as he faces accusations of sexual impropriety including the molestation of a 14-year-old girl, they are standing with him.
That steadfastness is shocking to many outside Alabama who wonder how any voter who claims to be Christian can stand with a man accused of such acts. The answer is both complicated and deeply rooted in the DNA of a state that prides itself on bucking norms.
The state's motto -- "We dare defend our rights" -- is an upfront acknowledgement of a fighting spirit that has put Alabamians at odds with the rest of the nation for generations.
Perhaps more importantly, there is a deep-seated trust that leaves many willing to accept Moore's denials and discount the word of women speaking out weeks before the Dec. 12 election after decades of public silence. For some, Moore is more like a biblical prophet speaking out for God than a politician.
Elsewhere, Wall Street Journal religion writer Ian Lovett has produced a balanced account. As always, the key seems to be admitting that not all evangelicals think alike.
The situation has reopened a rift among evangelicals nationwide, which was first exposed last year when conservative Christians split over whether to defend Donald Trump following allegations of sexual assault.
In Mr. Moore, many conservative Christians see a man who has defended values—including opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and an expanded role for religion in the public sphere -- that they believe are under siege, and they are reluctant to abandon him.
Other evangelicals -- who entered politics in the 1980s advocating for morality in public life, and became a powerful force within the Republican Party -- say they believe Mr. Moore’s accusers, and worry that those who support him are sacrificing their moral authority for political gain.
In the previously referenced post, tmatt noted:
However, as always, there are interesting issues to discuss linked to a much abused and increasingly worthless religious label now used many times every day in American politics – "evangelical." ...
Suffice it to say, "Alabama evangelicals" probably means white churchgoers on the doctrinally conservative side of the evangelical spectrum.
Given that assumption, I found it interesting that the New York Times used the word "evangelical" extremely sparingly in its report on how Alabama pastors approached the Moore subject — or did not -- on Sunday.
The Times' lede:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- It was a trying week for the people of Alabama, a week of dueling pastoral statements, sinful allegations and claims of religious persecution. And so, on the seventh day, their preachers gave it a rest.
A bit of a quibble with that lede: Sunday is the first day of the week, not the last (the Sabbath), right? Thus, I'm not sure that opening works as much as it could.
But back to the point: This is the only paragraph, I believe, where the Times uses the word "evangelical":
Yet they did not want to stay silent, because they did not want their congregants -- or people watching Alabama from around the country -- to think that evangelicals believe it is normal or acceptable for a man in his 30s to molest and sexually harass teenagers.
Compare that with the Boston Globe's piece on "Why evangelicals are again backing a Republican despite allegations of sexual misconduct."
Not counting the headline, the Globe has 22 mentions of "evangelicals," by my quick count.
The Globe's lede:
WASHINGTON -- Allegations that Roy Moore sexually assaulted teenage girls decades ago have turned many Republicans against their party’s Senate candidate in Alabama, but one bloc of conservative leaders is standing by their man: evangelicals.
It is the latest example of a shift in attitude among Christian conservatives, who polls show are increasingly willing to overlook sexual misbehavior if a political leader is firmly committed to opposing abortion, gay marriage, and transgender rights.
In today’s hyperpartisan environment, ideology trumps personal transgressions for these religious leaders, who years ago called on President Clinton to resign over his liaisons with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Now, conservative evangelicals have rallied to the defense of Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who once defied court orders and kept a memorial of the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building. To his evangelical supporters, Moore is a victim of a media witch hunt.
Some of the quotes in the Globe piece will make impartial readers' jaws drop (mine did):
Wise said he would support Moore even if the allegations were true and the candidate was proved to have sexually molested teenage girls and women.
“There ought to be a statute of limitations on this stuff,” Wise said. “How these gals came up with this, I don’t know. They must have had some sweet dreams somewhere down the line.
“Plus,” he added, “there are some 14-year-olds, who, the way they look, could pass for 20.”
Such sources are crucial to telling the full story.
My question -- in the case of the Globe and a few others -- is if the Boston paper fully reflects the wide diversity of opinion among the, um, evangelicals in Alabama and beyond.
Another critical point is that the Democratic candidate's strong support for abortion makes many conservative Christian voters believe they have no choice but Moore (background here, here and here). That's a point reflected, to varying degrees, in the stories I read. The Times, however, offers a twist on it:
“All things being equal between two candidates, I probably vote for the pro-life candidate,” said Cody Bruce Wood, 27, a staff writer for a nondenominational church with campuses across the state. That might seem to rule out choosing Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, who has affirmed his support for women’s access to abortion. But Mr. Wood added: “Considering the allegations against Moore, and his subsequent response to them, all things are not equal.”
I'll refer back to last week's post title again: "When it comes to Roy Moore, the reality on 'evangelical' opinion is just as complex as ever."
FIRST IMAGE: From Facebook page of Roy Moore.