Fortress Christianity: Thoughts on the Roy Moore Flap

Fortress Christianity: Thoughts on the Roy Moore Flap

 

Let’s begin here:

I really don’t want to write about the Judge Roy Moore flap, mostly because that would entail my taking a position about whether he is suitable to be a senator given the accusations.  There are already plenty of opinions one way or another on that topic.

What confounds me is the ministers’ letter of support, contained in the above link.  Like Rachel Held Evans, who posted the above tweet, I too am surprised at the number of Christian hands that shoot up in support for Roy Moore.  Clergy, guardians of sexual restraint, are scorning media reports of Moore’s past like moms scolding the playground tattletale.  What are my pastor peers seeing that I am not?  How are they harmonizing the Moore scandal with their own understanding of Christian faith?  And most perplexing, what am I to make of Moore’s wife, Kayla’s, cheer leading for her husband’s senate bid laid out on her Facebook page?

Rummaging Through Roy Moore’s Life

I skimmed through Kayla’s Facebook postings, especially the photos, which she has made available for anyone’s perusal.  The minute I landed on her page, my feelings for Roy Moore began to change.  No longer was he the cartoon villain drawn by the media that I read.  “I know this guy,” was my thought,  “ I know this family.  I know this outlook on life.”

Kayla’s  photographs showed pictures of, I’m guessing, family members.  Posed pictures of a young man in military uniform are sprinkled throughout the collection.  There are photos of Judge Moore in Church,  standing in front of speaking stands with crosses on them.  There are photos which capture the awarding of a plaque or some other public recognition.  Flipping through Kayla’s family pictures colorized and made alive Judge Moore’s world.

I studied the ministers’ endorsement letter and especially their signatures.  The letter crackles with gratefulness for Moore’s militancy in his decade’s long fight against abortion, assaults on family mores, and above all, the sense by the powerless of being overrun by liberal-directed social change.  What makes Judge Moore so appreciated is his willingness to use his judicial office to defend a faith and more broadly a way of life that feels under siege.

Judge Moore and his family feel that allegations dredged from the distant past are the enemy’s barricades thrown up to stop a warrior with the audacity to march into Washington and do battle alone if necessary.  The women accusers’ believability appears to be a secondary concern.

That is one way of viewing this whole episode.  The other way, encapsulated by an exasperated Rachel Held Evans, is another.   It is gnawing on me that there may be no common ground left between people like Evans, an evangelical herself from Tennessee, and the signers of the letter that Kayla Moore so wants the world to see.

Fortress Christianity

How do I explain this?  What is my working hypothesis?

I  propose that two Christianities are at play here.  And for the sake of clarity, I will name them.  The first, I’m going to call, Historic ChristianityHistoric Christianity embraces Catholic, Old Line Protestants, and Evangelicals, like Rachel Held Evans.  For the sake of this discussion I’m using Historic Christianity to name the conventional Christian faith taught in seminaries and practiced by churches, Catholic and Protestant alike.  By Historic Christianity, I mean my best understanding of  the faith that Jesus taught–at least for this article.

I want to label the other Christianity, Fortress Christianity.  My belief is that the enthusiastic clergy who stand by Judge Moore think of themselves as ministers in Historic Christianity.  What comes through in the letter we cited and in Right Wing religion’s general image, however, is preoccupation with defending something.  They’re in a fortress.

For some believers, personal faith can morph into Fortress Christianity.  Please don’t misunderstand.  Many in Fortress Christianity have not forsaken Historic Christianity.  But fortress Christians feel,  given our generation’s dangerous character, that their traditional faith must be switched from peacetime mode to war production.  An analogy would be the peasant farmers under attack by marauders.  The pitchforks used in fields become the weapons of defense.  Defending the barn from being burned isn’t exactly farming.  But without fighting, farming really doesn’t matter.

Faith Under Attack

Some church attenders feel their faith to be under determined attack.  The rural Southern church members must feel beset by a thousand enemy invaders scaling the walls.  To them it feels like, “The attackers hate my faith.  They hate my style of living.  They’ll draw my blood wherever they can.  They forbid me from saying, ‘Merry Christmas.’  My kids can’t organize an after-school Bible Club in an empty public school classroom.  The simple men-women organization of public toilets is needlessly complicated in order to accommodate the remote possibility that a trans-gendered person will come along.  Church and state separation equates to bickering about Nativity Scenes and prayers at football games.”  Values handed down from parent to child for generations are now targets of wave upon wave of denigration.

Christians, feeling beset by marauders on every side, begin to supplement their faith with defense of their faith.  For example, living by the Golden Rule is no longer enough.  Nowadays, it feels as if you must protect the Golden Rule.  The classic example is that of presidential candidate and Presbyterian, William Jennings Bryan, who defended the biblical account of Creation in the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.  Many appreciated William Jennings Bryan in those days as Christianity’s guardian.  Ironically, Bryan, in standing up for the Bible displayed his unfamiliarity of the Bible.  Ignorance notwithstanding, in an America first dealing with the intellectual challenge to the Bible’s truthfulness, William Jennings Bryan’s combativeness must have felt to church-goers like the cavalry riding in to save the day.

Here’s where I’m going with this line of thinking.  When Christians begin devoting more and more energy in holding off the enemy–battling the abortion clinics, politicking against the gay and transgender rights, resisting enforcement of church and state separation issues–the Church’s mission begins to look like the defense of a fortress.

Today’s Christian Heroes

There’s a corollary to this thought.  Using the principle that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Fortress Christianity seems to cheer any warrior who is willing to do battle for the Fortress.

Roy Moore has been doing battle for decades.  In 2001, he commissioned the carving of a large granite monument on which was chiseled the Ten Commandments.   Lifting the stone into the  Alabama Supreme Court Rotunda required a crane.   Moore got someone to videotape the ceremonious placement of the monument and copies of the tape were sold at Florida’s Coral Ridge Ministries.

Moore’s audacious action burnishes his image as a champion of Christian values and a defender of the Christian movement.  But the lines in Ft. Lauderdale of video purchasers and the cheers of approval can’t overwhelm the whispered question:  “Did the Bible’s writers intend for the their words to be chiseled on granite or incorporated into lives?  Has defending the Ten Commandments obscured the meaning of the Ten Commandments?”

Background photo CC by 3.0

Christians have Always Been Attacked

When Jesus was arrested in the garden, so the New Testament teaches, Peter drew his sword started slashing at the arresters.  We understand Peter’s militancy. For him it must have appeared that God’s project to save the world through Jesus was in peril.  Nevertheless, Jesus halts Peter’s heroics.  In doing this, Jesus blocks any turn that the early church may have made into Fortress Christianity.

The words, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword,” (Matthew 26.52) stand as a stout rebuke of any construal of church mission as a counter-attack.   What’s more, the Bible’s warning about Fortress Christianity doesn’t rely entirely upon this incident in Gethsemane.  Being under attack, according to the New Testament, is the normal condition faced by Christians.  Jesus’ most distinct teachings guide disciples who are being persecuted.  Jesus instructs his followers to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5.38-40), take up their crosses (Mark 8.34), pray for their enemy (Matthew 5.44), and forgive seventy times seven times (Matthew 18.21-22).  Anti-violence directives thread through the New Testament and tilt disciples away from a combative presence in the world.  Jesus’ execution and rise from the grave epitomize God’s disarmed vulnerability which is the central characteristic of his love based mission program.

Fortress Christianity is on the ballot as Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy against Democrat, Doug Jones, enters its final phase.  The social manipulators in Washington and even progressive Christians, like Rachal Held Evans, are aghast at Moore’s popularity.   But these liberals have always looked for opportunities to denigrate the Southern church and home.  They are the enemies.   In Alabama, voters cherish something more important than sexual morality or even Roy Moore himself.   They cherish their church and their faith’s interconnection with their way of life.  These are under attack.  Roy Moore is under attack.   Alabama is under attack.  Now there is this election, which sets before Alabamians their clear Christian duty to stand up and fight back.

The Last Crusader: Karl Friedrich Lessing [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons”
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3 Replies to “Fortress Christianity: Thoughts on the Roy Moore Flap”

  1. Doug: Retirees (like me) can devote more time to these endeavors now! Well thought out and I think you are pretty spot on with analysis. A large part of me hurrahs the stick in the eye attitude of Roy Moore, Donald Trump, and others. We wonder why black seems white and up is down now, but buckling under to support these types unconditionally just b/c they are “anti-media” or “anti-establishment” can’t be the answer either. Maybe a really principled person (R or D) is just too naive to ever be a force for good anymore. I do like the example of Peter, though. Principled to a fault. Just ask Paul.

    1. Ed: Great to hear from you. Your comment raises a question that I’ve been turning over in my mind. What is it about the left-wing that makes “sticking it in their eye,” so satisfying? Take Hillary. I relate to Hillary much as I would to a female age-peer. We would have passed through the same experiences and been part of the same age cohort. I “knew” Hillary, in a manner of speaking, when she was in college and then carving out a career in politics. That said, I just can’t dislike her. But for many, they just can’t stand her. Likewise with Obama. In the book I reviewed by Katie Grimes, http://www.douglasdecelle.net/facing-our-war-on-blackness-what-we-must-do-now/ she made reference to the fact that a combination of Black, mixed-race, African, Muslim, Ivy-league, is a perfect storm for White hatred. As to your observation of up-is-down–yeah! Welcome to post-modernity. I don’t believe that this is going to get any easier. I might write about this whole question at some later date. Anyway. I’m honored to have you reading my stuff…and especially commenting.

  2. Hey Doug! Great blog. Forwarded it to Matthew. It was mentioned prominently in SS! 👏🙏. A wonderful second career! 😍

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