Allegations against Roy Moore roil US evangelical ranks
For many evangelicals, fiery Alabama politician and judge Roy Moore has been a long-time hero. Others have sometimes cringed at his heated rhetoric and bellicose style.
Now, as Moore's Republican US Senate campaign is imperiled by allegations of sexual overtures to a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, there's an outpouring of impassioned and soul-searching discussion in evangelical ranks.
"This is one of those excruciating decision moments for evangelicals," Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a telephone interview.
"These allegations, if true, are devastating. If true, this is a very big deal."
Mohler said Alabama voters face a potentially wrenching task of trying to determine if the allegations Moore has emphatically denied them are credible.
According the Pew Research Center, 49 per cent of Alabama adults are evangelical Protestants. For some of them, the Moore allegations echo the quandary they faced last year, wrestling over whether to support Donald Trump in the presidential race despite his crude sexual boasts.
The Reverend Robert Franklin, professor of moral leadership at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, said The Washington Post's report about the Moore allegations represents a test of "moral consistency" for evangelicals.
"Evangelicals are steadily losing their moral authority in the larger public square by intensifying their uncritical loyalty to Donald Trump," Franklin wrote in an email. "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."
As for Moore himself, Franklin suggested there were "classic evangelical remedies", such as confession, prayer and remorse, and isolation.