Politicians Make Dangerous Theologians by Katey Zeh


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Accounts and allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse perpetrated by mostly straight white men in power have flooded the U.S. news cycle for months. Each new revelation confirms that sexual violence is an epidemic fueled by systems of unchecked power and authority, including patriarchy, white supremacy, and Christian supremacy.

After The Washington Post published the story of Leigh Corfman who recounted the sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager at the hands of Roy Moore, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler came to his defense and argued that this would have no political impact since Moore “never had sexual intercourse with any of these girls.”

We all ought know by now that such allegations of sexual abuse, even when the perpetrator admits to them, bear little weight on the electability of white male politicians (see: November 8, 2016). Even so, I was stunned by a poll that revealed that 29% of Alabama voters answered that they are now more likely to vote for Roy Moore since allegations were made against him.  

Roy Moore has centered his political career on advocating for far-right policies applauded by evangelical Christians: he’s anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-Muslim. In 2001 Moore took it upon himself to install a monument with the Ten Commandments inside the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court. Eventually Moore, who absurdly refused to remove the monument even after being ordered to do so by his fellow justices, was voted out of the Alabama Supreme Court.

However, in 2013, Moore was re-elected to the Supreme Court. After taking his oath of office he said, “We’ve got to remember that most of what we do in court comes from some scripture or is backed by scripture.” Moore was suspended from office a second time after refusing to comply with federal law regarding same-sex marriage.

Clearly Moore believes that his conservative “Christian” beliefs exempt him from following the law. He believes his actions, no matter how harmful they are to others, are justified since he believes he is following “God’s law.”  He’s not alone.

With regard to the allegations of Moore sexually abusing teenage girls, Zeigler went so far as to distort the Christian nativity story to excuse, and even to justify them:

Take Joseph and Mary. 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.

Yes, you read that correctly. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here.” Rather than outright denying the allegations against Moore, Zeigler used his public platform to defend child molestation as something sanctioned by our biblical stories.

Is there anything more despicable than the perversion and distortion of sacred texts to justify the abusive behavior of a sexual predator?

Are we then to turn to the book of Genesis for guidance for our relationships? Do we revisit to the story of Sarai and Abram and permit a husband to sell his wife into prostitution for his own personal wealth and gain? Do we point to the story of Hagar to justify forced marriage, sexual slavery, and compulsory surrogacy?

We cannot allow this public discourse to continue. Religious scholars, advocates, and leaders must call out–strongly, consistently, and publicly–the dangers of such coercive, manipulative biblical rhetoric that silences victims and shelters perpetrators under the guise of Christian values. Not only do they pose a constant threat to the women and girls around them, but they are also a danger to our entire political process and to our collective future.

Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer,  and speaker who inspires communities to create aRA82more just, compassionate world.  She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazinethe Good Mother Project, and the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion. She is the co-host of Kindreds, a podcast for soul sisters. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press in March of 2018.  Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com

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Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, authority, Christianity, Evangelicalism, Politics

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11 replies

  1. Great post.

    I would however question this: “Is there anything more despicable than the perversion and distortion of sacred texts to justify the abusive behavior of a sexual predator?”

    There are some things that were legitimated or considered normal in Biblical times that we would question today. Theological traditions have considered Joseph to be an older man and Mary a young girl, in part to make the argument that it must be a virgin birth because Joseph was too old to have sex. So it may not be a distortion or perversion of text (or in this case tradition) to cite Joseph and Mary as an example of an older man with a young girl. What we should be saying is that even if this was accepted in the past, it is not acceptable today. But this as I keep saying, puts us in the realm of interpretation of texts for today, not in the realm of correct and incorrect understanding of the meaning of texts. In other words you are not talking about who is interpreting a text correctly and who isn’t but rather about what kind of Christianity you want to advocate for today and what kind of world you want to create.

    If you asked me, I would say that it is “perverted” to cite this tradition to justify what Moore did, and that from our perspective at least, the patriarchal tradition in which older men regularly marry young girls which is found in the Bible and in traditions, may itself be “perverted.”

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    • Yes, I also stumbled over the sentence, “Is there anything more despicable than the perversion and distortion of sacred texts to justify the abusive behavior of a sexual predator?” I believe texts say what we want them to say. We read meaning into texts. The author and speaker, Reza Aslan, addresses this within his tradition–Islam. He’s often asked if Islam is inherently a violent religion. His response: If you are a violent person, your religion will manifest itself as violent. If you are a peaceful person, your religion will manifest itself as peaceful. Farid Esack, an excellent Muslim theologian puts it this way: “The Qur’an is fluid. The text is frozen. Interpretation is always chosen.” Regarding the (in)famous “wife-beating verse”–Qur’an 4:34: Ayesha Chaudry says, “Religious texts mean what their communities say they mean. Texts do not have a voice of their own. They speak only through their community of readers. So, with a community so large (1.3 billion) and so old (1,400 years), Islamic religious texts necessarily speak with many voices to reflect the varied histories and experiences of the many communities that call themselves Muslim. The fact is that 4:34 can legitimately be read both ways – violently and non-violently, either as sanctioning violence against wives or as offering a non-violent, non-hierarchical means for resolving marital conflict. Muslims may follow whichever interpretation they choose, and the inescapable truth is that the interpretation chosen says more about the Muslim in question than it does about the verse. This marvellous agency comes with a heavy responsibility: Rather than holding 4:34 responsible for what it means, Muslims can and must hold themselves responsible for their interpretations.”

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      • I’m not sure you are saying this Esther, but I don’t think texts — scriptures or others — are blank canvases. In some cases there is ambiguity about meaning and therefore room for varying interpretations. In other cases, I would argue, texts — including scriptures — advocate something that you and I would consider wrong. In this case, I would not say “you can find whatever you want in this text.” Rather I would say, I consider this text harmful and do not choose to make it part of my understanding of the Word of God. But this means that I/we as communities have the right not only to interpret but also to make positive and negative judgments about texts others have considered revealed.

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    • No, I don’t think texts are “blank canvases.” I do think how we (humans) understand a text has much to do with our experience (both individually and communally) which involves a particular geography, history, etc. Ultimately, I think how we understand comes through a human prism and with that humanity comes wide variety. It’s up to us to make judgments about the texts–as you noted.

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  2. Thanks for this post, Katey! As far as Biblical scripture goes, it seems men have been passing the buck since Eden: Genesis 3:12: “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” King James Version. In The New International Version: “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Rough translation: “Your fault, her fault. So, yeah, I ate it……”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It keeps getting more and more challenging to follow patriarchal religions.

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  4. And theologians–or those who pretend to be theologians–make dangerous politicians. Is there some goddess (or god) who can rid us of all these pests?

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  5. If only those in power were as diligent in observing those other parts of biblical law…”thou shalt not kill” for example. All those “rules” about welcoming refugees and caring for the sick, poor, and homeless. Sharing wealth and being compassionate.

    As Esther wrote …. What we “pick and choose” and how we interpret says a lot about us.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post

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