Accusations that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually abused teenage girls has roiled evangelicals who for years have seen him as a champion.
“This is one of those excruciating decision moments for evangelicals,” Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told The Associated Press. “These allegations, if true, are devastating. If true, this is a very big deal.”
Moore gained prominence with evangelicals after his refusal while chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments in the court, and his refusal to allow judges to administer marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
But a poll of registered Alabama voters conducted by JMC Analytics found that 37 percent of those who considered themselves evangelicals were more likely to support Moore after the allegations and 34 percent said they made no difference; 28 percent said they were less likely to support him.
The poll was conducted after the first round of accusations were reported in the Washington Post and before Beverly Young Nelson on Monday accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16.
“Evangelicals are steadily losing their moral authority in the larger public square by intensifying their uncritical loyalty to Donald Trump,” said Rev. Robert Franklin, professor of moral leadership at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. “Since this is Roy Moore and not Donald Trump, I think there may be significant disaffection with him, and increased demands for his removal from the ballot.”
Some evangelical leaders have been vociferously critical of Moore since the allegations surfaced, regardless of their stance on Trump
Rev. Russell Moore, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, has been a vocal critic of Trump. And the reverend, who is not related to the Senate candidate, tweeted his opinion about the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice after the latest round of allegations.
Disgusted.— Russell Moore (@drmoore) November 13, 2017
There are girls and women in our churches, right now, wondering where they can turn as they are molested by predators.I know Jesus’ answer. What about that of the church? — Russell Moore (@drmoore) November 13, 2017
A church that worships Jesus stands up for vulnerable women and girls. A church that worships power sees them as expendable.— Russell Moore (@drmoore) November 13, 2017
Similarly, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Center who has at times praised the president, called the accusations “beyond disturbing” and said if they were true, should “disqualify him.”
The allegations reported by the media against Roy Moore are beyond disturbing and, if true, would disqualify him or anyone else engaged in such behavior from holding a position of public trust.— Tony Perkins (@tperkins) November 10, 2017
But the pastor of Moore’s home church, the First Baptist Church in Gallant, stood by him and called for prayer for “the entire Moore family.”
“He’s always been a man of character, of integrity, of honor, and there’s nothing in those 25 years that I’ve seen that would challenge that,” said Rev. Tom Brown.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and son of the famous evangelical leader, stood by Moore in an exchange with Religion News Service.
“It comes down to a question of who is more credible in the eyes of the voters — the candidate or the accuser,” he said.