Amidst shocking allegations that Roy Moore pursued relationships with girls ranging in age from 14-18 years old when he was in his 30s, a new poll shows that 37% of evangelicals are “more likely” to vote for Moore, while another 34% say that these allegations make “no difference.” Some of his supporters have upped the ante by saying that even if the allegations are proven true, they won’t think Moore did anything wrong because they didn’t actually have sex and “he was single” at the time.
Moore is the Alabama Republican Senate candidate and former State Supreme Court Chief Justice, familiar to RD readers from the too-many-to-cite articles documenting his ties to white supremacists and Christian Reconstructionists.
Incredulous observers won’t be able to make sense of Moore’s supporters while seeing the allegations only in terms of inappropriate behavior, or even alleged statutory rape. They will miss the point that the problem is actually far more insidious; a feature, not a bug of this subculture.
The allegations are being read by Moore supporters through a lens shaped by the courtship-purity movement promoted by the Biblical Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements widely influential in Christian homeschooling circles. And about which I write in my book Building God’s Kingdom.
As Kathryn Brightbill tweeted: “It’s not a southern problem, it’s a fundamentalist problem. Girls who are 14 are seen as potential relationship material.”
(And she’s written in more depth about that here.)
Many who embrace Biblical Patriarchy and Quiverfull came to the conclusion that contemporary dating practices are harmful to young people and sought to replace them with a system of “courtship” that occurs under the direction of a girl’s father. Courtship is intended to be specifically focused on finding a marriage partner—almost a pre-betrothal, if you will. Courtship happens in the context of a homeschooling family and community where boys are raised to be adventurous and economically self-sufficient with skills that might prove useful in a societal collapse, while girls are raised to be “pure,” meek, dependent and submissive with the goal of becoming appropriate “help-meets” in their future husbands’ exercise of dominion. Independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency on the part of girls is seen as a (sinful) violation of feminine nature.
While most courtship seems to happen between young people of similar age, it’s easy to see how this particular set of gendered norms leads to significant age differences in marriageability. Men need to be self-sufficient, women should not be. In fact, once a girl can bear children she is old enough to be married and the longer she remains single the more likely she is to lose both her “purity” and her God-given femininity, and instead develop a sinful sense of herself as an independent person. The result is that 14-year-old girls are seen as appropriately “courted” by older men.
In fact, a series of scandals rocked the Christian homeschool world in recent years in which older men admitted to inappropriate contact in pursuing young (sometimes very young) girls. See the story of Doug Phillips and Vision Forum here and the stories of Bill Gothard and his Institute in Biblical Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute and Josh Duggar, here. Josh Duggar was accused of molesting young girls (including his sisters) when he himself was rather young but his targets were even younger. In each scandal a core group of supporters defended the accused.
In other words, older men perusing girls as young as 14 is a natural outcome of the gender values inextricably related to notions of male headship & female submission, promoted in this, the most extreme corner of conservative Protestantism that Moore inhabits. This is a corner of the conservative Christian subculture whose influence far exceeds its numbers and that’s why this scandal won’t lead evangelicals to abandon him as a candidate.