CHURCH & STATE | Values Void: How the Religious Right Learned to Love Sex Offenders

After the infamous Access Holly­wood audiotape emerged in October 2016 on which Donald Trump boasts about how easy it is to sexually assault women when you’re rich and famous, the leaders and followers of America’s religious right groups just yawned.

When women in Alabama came forth a year later with stories of how they’d been assaulted or hit on by Senate candidate Roy Moore when they were teenagers in the 1980s, the religious right shrugged.

Following recent allegations that Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, had sexually assaulted a fifteen-year-old girl when he was seventeen, the religious right either blamed the victim, Christine Blasey Ford, or wrote it off as “boys will be boys.”

Evangelist Franklin Graham’s response was typical—and appalling. The charges against Kavanaugh, he asserted, were “not relevant.”

Graham went on to say,

We’ve got to look at a person’s life and what they’ve done as an adult and are they qualified for this position so this is just an attempt to smear him. … Well, there wasn’t a crime committed. These are two teenagers and it’s obvious that she said no and he respected it and walked away.

Graham talks as if he’d been in the room at the time, but in fact, he appears to be unaware of even basic information about Ford’s account. She reported that Kavanaugh and his friend Mike Judge, both of whom she says were intoxicated, pushed her into a bedroom, where Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and pawed at her clothes, at one point covering her mouth with his hand when she tried to scream for help. Judge jumped on the two and knocked everyone off the bed, at which point Ford was able to escape. Ford said she feared for her life.

Does that sound like “she said no and he respected it and walked away” to you?

But don’t get the wrong idea. The religious right’s tendency to act as apologists for men who misbehave sexually only goes so far: it’s strictly Republicans who automatically get the benefit of a pass.

Consider what happened after information about President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light. The religious right demanded his impeachment. Yet when word broke about an extramarital affair Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) had undertaken in the 1960s, it was written off as a “youthful indiscretion,” even though Hyde was over forty when it happened.

The religious right also turned a blind eye to the antics of serial adulterer Newt Gingrich and never said a peep about Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) predilection for prostitutes.

Flash forward a few years, and leaders of these groups were among the voices demanding the resignation of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in the wake of allegations that he had behaved inappropriately around women. They’ve done the same in the light of allegations against Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).

Most Americans would agree that allegations of sexual assault or harassment by high officials (or by anyone, really) should be investigated, no matter the political affiliation of the accused. The religious right doesn’t see it that way. They’ve embraced a double standard typified by an acronym that’s popular on social media: 
IOKWRDI—“It’s OK when Republicans do it.”

This is a curious stance for a collection of people so allegedly concerned with morality that over the years they have adopted names like the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and the Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Every fall, the Family Research Council sponsors the Values Voter Summit. The clear implication is that the people who gather for it are hewing to some sort of superior moral standard. They have values; the rest of us (by implication) do not—or the values we hold are defective.

In light of recent events, it’s fair to ask: What exactly are the “values” held by the religious right? For a long time, sexual purity supposedly ranked high among them for this gang. During the long struggle for LGBTQ rights, the nation was told ad nauseam that marriage was between one man and one woman for life. Many people involved in the religious right have the one-man/one-woman thing down, but they seem to be having a little difficulty with the “for life” part. Evangelical divorce rates tend to track with the rest of the population or sometimes even jump a little higher.

More to the point, they continually make excuses for conservative politicians who violate this standard. Donald Trump, despite his long history of treating women like sex objects for his entertainment, despite Stormy Daniels’ claims of an extramarital dalliance, and despite his generally crude behavior, is treated like a new messiah by the religious right. When Trump was caught on tape boasting about grabbing women’s vaginas, religious right leaders dismissed it as “locker room banter”—as if that somehow excused it. (Here’s an interesting theoretical question: Since these “pro-family” groups admire Trump so much, they should have no trouble telling their children to emulate his behavior, right?)

We’ve known for a long time that the leaders and followers of the religious right are hypocrites. We’ve known that they’re willing to embrace a double-standard if doing so helps them achieve certain political goals. And now we know that their operational philosophy in the Trump era is not the Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus, or anything found in the Bible.

Rather, the religious right’s lodestar (to borrow a favorite word from Vice President Mike Pence) comes from another source these days. Their guiding principle is often incorrectly attributed to Niccolò Machiavelli but is apparently much older. No matter who said it first, there’s no denying that the phrase has had quite an impact over the years and has now been fully embraced by the virtue posers of the religious right.

It’s this: The ends justify the means.

We’ve known for a long time that this phrase makes for cutthroat politics. Now, thanks to the religious right, we know it’s a lousy platform for religion, too.