Tonight, the world watches Alabama. The outcome of the Senate special election will send a message to all Americans about how we value women and girls. But not only are all eyes on Alabama, they are also on the many so-called “conservative Christians” who have a chance to make history. Our Founding Fathers went to great pains to protect devout Americans like myself from religious discrimination. And for decades, we have honored their work, serving as the moral conscience of this great nation. But today we stand at an important crossroads. What does being an American Christian really mean in the Age of Trump?
I was raised in the church: a pew baby. I am the great grand-daughter of Elder Christopher Daniels, a humble black preacher from Ada, Oklahoma who preached with the great Oral Roberts. I was baptized at age 12 into the conservative Churches of Christ, a church that has its origins in the early Restoration movement. I was taught that instrumental music was bad, and that women were to be silent and should not preach or serve at the communion table. It was a very rigid and very conservative upbringing.
In other words, Christianity has played a huge role in the shaping of my life and of my values, both public and private. But today, while I remain an active Christian, I attend a large evangelical church in Virginia filled with music and where women can preach and teach.
In my view, Christianity is not liberal or conservative, black or white. Christianity is about right and wrong. It is about moral absolutes. And what I see happening right now in both the Christian church and in my former political party of over the past 20 years concerns me deeply.
Except for a few brave voices like Beth Moore, white female evangelicals are silent on Roy Moore. Meanwhile, white evangelicals like Franklin Graham, Kenneth Copeland, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Paula White etc. find themselves on the other side of stark divide from black evangelicals like Rev. Dr. William Barber.
The modern day, heavily white and male evangelical movement is still really a movement about keeping women and others in their place. These people say God is first in their lives, but have really put their fears first. The white evangelical church has confused Christ and conservatism with cynicism.
Today the conservative movement has been taken over by men like Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, Ben Shapiro and others who see “Making America Great Again” as taking America backwards again. Many of these men claim to know God yet excuse sexual harassment accusations, rape allegations, racial prejudice and white supremacy. And lest we forget, the GOP is now headed by President Donald Trump, who today attacked a sitting female U.S. Senator with a tweet suggesting she “begged” him for money and was willing to do “anything” for campaign donations while running for the Senate in 2009.
Moore’s continuing popularity, despite allegations of sexual misconduct, proves something has gone gravely amiss. In the 1990s, the Christian Coalition controlled “values” politics. They helped to elect Republicans to the historic 1994 Congress, giving the GOP majority control for the first time in 40 years.
I have realized that there was no “big tent” in the GOP, and that the party of Lincoln no longer exits.
Republicans knew who they were then: They were the pro-God, pro-life, pro-guns, pro-prayer in school and pro-flag. And these values were what attracted me to join the Republican party as a college sophomore in 1988. New York Republican Congressman Jack Kemp was campaigning for the presidency at the time. And although he would eventually lose to George H.W. Bush, Kemp’s conservative ideology and his keen interest in growing the black middle class made me feel a part of something important. It truly felt like young African-American Christians like me had a political home.
But after two decades years of working in the GOP at both the federal and state levels, I have realized that there was no “big tent” in the GOP, and that the party of Lincoln no longer exits. I watched from the inside as the Republican Party grew more and more white, male, angry and regional (southern, rural and older).
The interesting thing to watch for tonight is whether white female evangelical and working-class voters in Alabama will come out and support Roy Moore. (Black voters mostly support Doug Jones.) The white female factor reminds us of the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, despite the many allegations of sexual harassment. This is proof that the class gap and the racial gap is bigger than the gender gap in America. Perhaps most importantly, however, and whatever the outcome, the Moore election shows how badly the GOP has lost its way.
For Republicans, conservatives and evangelicals of conscience, the time to stand up for our true values is now. Simply put, to vote for Judge Moore is to vote for everything unholy, ungodly and immoral that Jesus stood against. Hopefully, the world will see tonight that despite the public rhetoric of the past months, evangelical Christians do not simply talk about Christ’s principles — we live them.
Sophia A. Nelson is an NBC BLK contributor and author of “E Pluribus One: Reclaiming Our Founder’s Vision for a United America” (January 2017).