Few books have been subject to wider interpretation than the Bible, but still I was illuminated by a moral that Jim Zeigler, the state auditor of Alabama, drew from the story of those two weary travelers who found no room at the inn. It’s apparently a plug for child molestation.
When Zeigler was asked by The Washington Examiner about an allegation that Senate candidate Roy Moore initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32, Zeigler cited the biblical couple to say, essentially: No biggie! This is as old as Christianity.
“Take Joseph and Mary,” he explained. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” He made it sound as if Moore were some religiously inclined analogue to those military-history enthusiasts who dress in the uniforms of yesteryear to travel back to the Revolutionary War. Moore was merely re-enacting the New Testament in the name of lust.
It’s worth pointing out that there issomething illegal here: A 14-year-old girl is below the age of consent in Alabama, and that was true as well four decades ago, when the incident is alleged to have occurred. It’s also worth pointing out that Jesus supposedly arrived via virgin birth, so Joseph’s interactions with Mary up until that point may have been considerably more G-rated and gallant than in Zeigler’s version.
It’s further worth pointing out that millenniums ago, girls were treated as chattel and sold off as child brides, a practice that no one in his or her right mind would regard as inspirational and cite as an exonerating precedent.
But such fine points tend to elude people insisting on the most convenient, self-serving narrative available, and Zeigler was rationalizing his sustained support for Moore. Besides, logic and moral consistency aren’t prevalent among Bible-thumping scolds.
Moore has vehemently denied the allegation, which was detailed in a Washington Post article Thursday that was reported and written meticulously. Part of what made it so persuasive was that the girl – now woman – spoke on the record and has repeatedly voted for Republicans, including Donald Trump. She’s putting her name to her accusation and risking the harassment that could come with that, and she’s not easily cast as a pawn of Democrats trying to buoy Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones.
Also persuasive: She’s not alone. Three other women – all of them also named – told The Post that when Moore was in his 30s and they were between the ages of 16 and 18, he dated or tried to date them. One claimed that he plied her with alcohol before she was old enough to drink legally. None of these three accused him of unwanted sexual contact, but their accounts support the idea that Moore was untroubled by age gaps that would trouble a better man considerably.
Are you really surprised? If so, you might want to see a doctor about your amnesia, because my memory is pretty spotty and still I can recall Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and Larry Craig and David Vitter, and with just a few minutes of Googling, I could fill the rest of this column with more names of more pastors and politicians who presented themselves as steadfast moral conservatives and were revealed to be agents of precisely the kind of behavior they so exuberantly condemned. These frauds and hypocrites are as legion now as lepers were in the days of Jesus.
If I sound bitter, I am, because they have long been among the principal purveyors of hatred for gay people like me. They’re a big reason that so many of us grew up terrified that we’d be ostracized, wondering if there was something twisted in us and confronted with laws that treated us as second-class citizens. We were supposedly in moral error and thus deserved a lesser lot.
Second class is actually a much higher category than the one into which Moore would corral us. In 2002, he called sexual relations between people of the same gender “an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.” Trust me on this: It’s not so terribly difficult to describe. I'll walk him through it over a chicken salad sandwich in The Times cafeteria. My treat.
In 2005, he said that having sex with somebody of the same gender was akin to having sex with a cow, a horse or a dog, and that not having sex with a cow, a horse, a dog or a person of the same gender was “a moral precept upon which this country was founded.” I do notrecall the bestiality clause of the Constitution, but, as mentioned, my memory is spotty.
In 2016, Moore was expelled as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because he instructed the state’s judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. This was the second time Moore was yanked from that job; he’d previously ignored a federal court’s ruling that a Ten Commandments monument should be removed from the Alabama Judicial Building. Some patriot he is. His particular take on his chosen religion overrides the law of the land and permits him to act as he sees fit. Imagine if all Americans adopted that attitude.
And it is most decidedly a personal take, in which he picks and chooses what to be outraged by. Although Christianity as I understand it doesn’t smile on the florid lying, womanizing, hypersexual vocabulary and assorted cruelties that have been prominent threads in Donald Trump’s life, Moore and many other evangelical Christians spared Trump their censure. I understand their motivation to vote for him: abortion. But that didn’t compel them to remain so mum about his misdeeds or summon the adoration that some of them did. (I’m looking at you, Jerry Falwell Jr.)
On Thursday, Moore tweeted that “the forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal – even inflict physical harm – if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me.” So this is a war waged on him and his kind? What about the war that his breed of conservatives has been waging on the rest of us? It is arrogant and without empathy, and some of its generals use their cause as camouflage.
They also read the Bible selectively, as Zeigler demonstrated to the point of parody. Joseph and Mary as evangelists of transgenerational love? If you buy that, then allow me an invention of my own about the three wise men.