In the Alabama Senate race, both sides went to church — Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones took their appeals to their faithful, which, for the most part, worship the same God but came to wildly different electoral conclusions.
On Tuesday, Jones won. The miracle of a Democrat winning a statewide race in deep-red Alabama actually happened. It was not the divine intervention Moore had prayed for, perhaps pointing out the danger when you so shamelessly use the word of the Lord to divide.
Moore continued the tactic, defiantly refusing to accept the results — no surprise when you consider he has refused to accept court rulings, the recollections of a parade of women, the rights of the LGBTQ community and any societal, political and cultural change after the Civil War.
He offered his election-night supporters a message from the Bible and a vow to press on: “We’ve been put in a hole, if you will. And it reminds me of a passage in Psalms 40. I waited patiently for the Lord. That’s what we’ve got to do. And he inclined it to me, heard my cry, brought us out of a horrible pit out of clay and set my feet on the rock and established my goings and put a new song in our mouth. A hymn praising to our God. Many shall see it and hear it and shall be moved by that, if you will.”
I am the first to admit I am not privy to the thoughts of the Almighty and I don’t want to make the same mistake as Moore in that regard; but I do wonder if, at that moment, Jesus cringed.
Or wept …
So the Republican will miss his chance to move to Washington, D.C., with the word according to Moore as his guide to legislation. President Donald Trump, though he tries mightily to skate away from blame, has lost and so has Steve Bannon, who went all in. The former judge will return to the path he still insists is the Truth, while others who disagree with Moore’s certainty will rejoice, and Washington and the world have been spared that unholy trinity.
Watch: Schumer Calls on McConnell to Delay Tax Vote Until Jones Is Seated
It is telling that in Alabama, white evangelicals, including many church leaders, backed Moore.
Nationally, there was more soul-searching. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted before the election: “Christian, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism,” referencing charges Moore has denied and dismissed.
The Southern Baptist Convention has experienced being on the wrong side of history, in its very founding and past support for white supremacy, segregation and slavery, a time that Moore has remembered with fond nostalgia. It was to the white Alabama clergy who questioned his tactics in pursuit of justice that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed his 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”
Though the large Protestant denomination has apologized for its horrible historical record, tensions remain in its continued reluctance to denounce racism, which surfaced again over a resolution at this year’s meeting that condemned the “alt-right” and proved surprisingly controversial.
In the meantime, the quieter faith style of Doug Jones was not much discussed, except, perhaps, by those who considered their choices in the voting booth and cast a ballot for him.
African-American voters, despite voting and ID restrictions in a 2011 state law that disproportionately affected them, made the difference for Jones with turnout and passion. In doing so, they reclaimed a moral high ground and reminded those who had forgotten of the contentious, often bloody, battles for voting rights that took place on Alabama soil.
The fight for civil rights often came through the church.
Devon Crawford, a 24-year-old black Alabamian, who traveled from his divinity studies at the University of Chicago to vote for Jones, told The New York Times that Moore’s version of Christianity “sanctifies the truth-making power of white men” and was “really just a masquerade for white supremacy.”
Moore has twice been ousted from his chief justice perch at the Alabama Supreme Court, the first time for his refusal to move a granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building in Montgomery.
Now that Moore and his fervent followers will have time on their hands, is it a perfect occasion for some righteous reckoning? Is it time to reflect on those commandments — slightly different in various interpretations of Christianity — but pretty much in agreement on the big stuff?
“I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me,” is one I recalled when I saw the photo of a sign outside an Opelika, Alabama, church: “They falsely accused Jesus!” (After backlash, the part that added “Vote Roy Moore” was removed, though if President Trump keeps his promise to eliminate the Johnson Amendment, that last whisper of the separation between church and state could vanish.)
In our society, where everyone — those of every faith or no faith at all — is equal under the law, what happens when interpretations of the will of God are placed above that law, and earthly leaders are compared to God? Or when new commandments are forged in partisanship and fear?
In Alabama, voters, by a slim margin, put that question off — for now.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.