Five dozen progressive Christian ministers — eight of them Baptists — signed an open letter over the weekend saying U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is unfit for office, while nearly 100 Southern Baptists in Alabama added their names to a separate missive denouncing sexual abuse and harassment of women without mentioning anyone by name.
Both letters come on the heels of various news stories over the last week about Alabama clergy in a quandary over what to say in public about scandal surrounding multiple accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls against the former jurist once best known as the “Ten Commandments Judge.” Moore is now under pressure to withdraw from his campaign to win the open U.S. Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Signees including the current president of the Alabama Baptist Convention joined “to denounce and condemn every form of sexual abuse, assault, harassment and exploitation of women” in a letter posted online Nov. 15.
Prompted by “the amount of victims of sexual abuse, assault, harassment and exploitation within the past several weeks coming forward with their accusations against persons (predominantly men) in positions of power and authority,” the letter appeals to “the intrinsic value and worth” of both men and women living before God “in complementary roles.”
One of the signers, Pastor Daniel Atkins of Taylor Road Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., said on Twitter the pastors’ statement is not about politics or Roy Moore but rather intended to send a message to the number of abuse victims sitting in their pews on any given Sunday telling them they are safe.
Meanwhile, 62 ministers from various denominations signed an open letter saying Moore demonstrated he is unfit for office even before the recent allegations.
“His extremist values and actions are not consistent with traditional Christian values or good Christian character,” said the letter organized by Methodist minister Dave Barnhart. “He and politicians like him have cynically used Christianity for their own goals, but Roy Moore does not speak for Christianity, and he acts in ways that are contrary to our faith.”
Baptist signers of An Open Letter From Alabama Pastors About Roy Moore include Laura Stephens-Reed, a clergy coach and congregational consultant affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and a regional peer-learning director for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Daniel Stallings, pastor of CBF-affiliated University Baptist Church in Montevallo, Ala.
One of the signers, Malcom Marler, served as a Baptist minister 35 years before becoming an Episcopal priest.
Moore’s Sept. 26 primary win against the Trump-endorsed candidate, Sen. Luther Strange, was credited in part to “an army of evangelicals — and specifically Southern Baptists” who have viewed him as a hero in the culture wars since he had a Ten Commandments monument crafted and placed in a government building after his election to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2001.
After his removal from office, the 5-ton granite slab known as “Roy’s Rock” toured the country on a flatbed trailer with stops including the exhibit hall at the 2005 Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn.
Eventually the rock found a permanent home at Crosspoint Community Church in Gadsden, Ala., where Moore sometimes attends. He is a member of First Baptist Church in Gallant, Ala., a Southern Baptist congregation.
Some current SBC leaders, such as Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission leader Russell Moore, are critical of clergy who despite mounting evidence continue to support Roy Moore’s candidacy. (Moore made similar comments during the 2016 presidential election, but 81 percent of white evangelicals ended up voting for Donald Trump.)
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said evangelicals in Alabama face an “excruciating decision” in the Dec. 12 special election between voting for an alleged sexual predator or a Democrat.
North Carolina minister Mark Creech, head of a public policy organization that represents conservative Christian groups including the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said if he lived in Alabama and the election were held today, he would still vote for Roy Moore.
“Granted, sexual abuse of any woman, especially one by an older man still in her teens, is totally unacceptable,” Creech wrote for the Christian Post. “But being a people who know first-hand the pain of muckraking and smears, Christians should find it equally unacceptable to throw a brother’s stellar reputation under the bus because of unsubstantiated allegations, no matter how seemingly compelling or how long his line of accusers.”
Creech reminded readers that “character assassination is murder with words.”