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Roy Moore's Sexual Misconduct Allegations Testing White Evangelicals Tolerance


The allegations against Ray Moore have rattled evangelical Christians in particular. Moore has always presented himself as a strong supporter of their cause, and many conservative Christians in his home state and beyond have rallied behind him. But sensitivity to sexual harassment is growing, and some evangelicals say it's time to take a stand regardless of the political implications. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Moore's first reaction to the allegations against him was to say they showed he was in a spiritual battle with those who want to silence our message. Some folks apparently agreed with him. One poll in Alabama last week showed that evangelicals who said the accusation made them even more likely to support him outnumbered those who said it made them less likely. Such findings present a challenge for evangelical leaders. Among those who addressed the situation from their pulpit yesterday was Ed Stetzer, a teaching pastor at the Moody Church in Chicago.


ED STETZER: Sometimes the way we respond when somebody comes and says, me too, somebody comes and says, I've been hurt or I've been harassed or I've been abused - sometimes the response is to protect something or someone else. Let me instead...

GJELTEN: Instead, Stetzer said, the Christian response should be to say, I believe you and to show mercy. In an interview today, he acknowledged not mentioning Moore by name. Though in a blog post, he went after Moore's defenders, including one who suggested his behavior wasn't so bad because Mary, the mother of Jesus, was much younger than her husband, Joseph.

STETZER: A lot of people are wondering, what do these crazy Christians believe? And that just fed into a narrative that I just - I mean, gee whiz, somebody's just got to say this is not what we believe.

GJELTEN: The Moore controversy is especially troubling for some evangelical women. Morgan Lee hosts a podcast for Christianity Today, a magazine founded by Billy Graham. She says what's at stake here is whether other evangelical women who've been victims of sexual harassment dare to come forward.

MORGAN LEE: Oftentimes people who have had this type of trauma occur in the past are looking to see what the reaction of the church is and determining whether they feel like that will be something that they can put their trust in or leave feeling more cynical.

GJELTEN: Some evangelical women in the last few days have said their community has some special issues. One woman described a courtship culture in her fundamentalist community with a widespread pattern of older men seeking teenage girls as potential partners. Katelyn Beaty, a former managing editor of Christianity Today, says if evangelical Christians instinctively side with a man against his female accuser, it could be because they tend to defer to male authority.

KATELYN BEATY: With these allegations against Ray Moore, you have a woman telling her story that puts this man with a lot of spiritual and political authority and casts him in a very negative light.

GJELTEN: Finally, Beaty says, many evangelicals feel the broader secular culture is hostile to them. That may cause them to circle the wagons even against someone claiming abuse.

BEATY: This is not something that we can say, this doesn't happen to us because we're good and they're bad. This happens in every institution and every community. And we would be naive to think that it doesn't happen among our - quote, unquote, "our people."

GJELTEN: A reaction, Beaty says, that can be especially problematic where sexual harassment is concerned. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.