I want to give public testimony to counter all of you who believe that all Republican politicians in Alabama are sexual predators. True, ex-Governor Bentley was recently hounded from office because of his sexual misconduct and misappropriation of state funds to finance his illicit affair. Now comes Roy Moore. I always heard rumors that Moore was a scoundrel. His blatant disregard for the Constitution got him removed as a judge not once, but twice. Now we discover that Moore is even worse than we thought.
I remember, when Moore was garnering publicity in his campaign to put the Ten Commandments in all courtrooms in Alabama, a Methodist layman said, “Roy needs to check out the Seventh Commandment before he gets ‘em posted everywhere. He could be vulnerable on that one.”
Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler defends Moore by dismissing his sexual conduct as typical of any single, thirty-year-old male in Alabama. If that’s not bad enough, Ziegler blasphemously compares Roy to Saint Joseph—Mary was probably a young woman at the time that Joseph married her. And look, says Ziegler, “They became parents of Jesus!” Ziegler also cites Zechariah as a possible predator comparable in sanctity to Moore. That’s sure to go down in the annals of our faith as the worst biblical interpretation ever, worse even than Roy’s or Robert’s self-justification through scripture.
Robert Bentley got kicked out of the Tuscaloosa First Baptist Church for good reason, despite Bentley’s attempts to cover his sin with references to the Christian faith. Not sure where Roy goes to church, but surely the deacons are meeting. Jefferson Beauregard, beware!
Surely, few people expect Trump to display Christian values or morality—his exposure to and commitment to the Christian faith have been minimal at best. But the sight of Moore and Bentley, wrapping themselves in the cross of Christ, invoking the Bible to sanction their behavior, is disgusting.
Alabama is partly in an economic, social, and political fix due to its propensity to choose leaders who exemplify the worst in us. You would be justified in thinking that all Alabama Republicans are morally bankrupt. And yet, you would be wrong to do so. One of the greatest Christian politicians I’ve had the privilege to meet is Alabama’s former governor, Bob Riley. Now there’s an Alabama Republican, Baptist Christian who sets a fine example for us all.
In his years as governor, Bob Riley labored (often against his own party) to offer wonderfully responsive, merciful leadership inspired by Christ rather than by mean-spirited, self-interested racial resentment. A highlight of my ministry were my prayer sessions with the governor and his staff in his office in Montgomery in which Riley led us in prayer after thoughtful, intense study of the scriptures. Bob Riley said, in one of those sessions, “Maybe there are members of my party who can drive by the trailer of some single parent who is working two jobs and trying to keep her family together and say, ‘It’s not my business,’ but I just can’t do it.”
He asked every congregation in Alabama to help the state’s terrible back-to-prison problem by taking one recently released prisoner and helping that person get back on his feet. I’m sad to say, the governor’s faith in our churches was misplaced. We were unable to rise to the governor’s challenge.
Governor Riley fought for change of Alabama’s racist constitution, attempted to change the unfair state tax code (failing at both because of resentful people in his own party), and thereby gave me a glimpse into the huge challenges faced by a consecrated Christian leader, and almost converted me into voting Republican. Almost.
Before I moved to Alabama I remember hearing Governor Riley being interviewed by NPR on his fight to change the tax structure in Alabama. The interviewer said something like, “Governor, why are you doing this after your own Republican party has gone against you, when you have so little chance of changing their minds?”
“I just think this is right,” said Governor Riley. The reporter continued to express confusion about why Riley had taken on this fight.
“Er, I guess because I’m a Christian,” he finally responded. “This is what our Lord would expect of us.”
I nearly lost control of my car on the interstate.
Bless you, Bob Riley, for your Christian witness in a sad time in our nation’s life.
IWill Willimon was United Methodist bishop of the North Alabama Conference from 2004 until 2012.