Southern Evangelicals defend Roy Moore re paedophilia


This week’s allegations of predatory sexual behavior toward children by Alabama Republican Senate nominee, Roy Moore, are suffused with Christmas spirit, and I don’t just mean the detail that one of the 14-year-old girls he propositioned and later “dated” against her mother’s will had been working as a Santa’s Helper at the mall when she first caught his eye.

Incredibly, Moore’s evangelical defenders are turning to the original Christmas story of Jesus’ nativity to explain his behavior in what they claim to be Biblical terms. On Thursday afternoon, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler defended Moore’s actions using Zachariah and Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist, and Mary and Joseph, who he called the “parents of Jesus.” His statement about Moore is worth quoting in full:

He’s clean as a hound’s tooth. . .Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. . Also 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.

The 67-year-old Zeigler has been State Auditor of Alabama since 2014. According to Project Vote Smart, he was endorsed by Conservative Christians of Alabama a group he formerly chaired, and which quizzes candidates on such questions as: “Do you support public prayer and Bible reading in Public Schools?” prior to offering their endorsement.

Zeigler’s Bible-believing bona fides would seem to be impeccable, not to mention his intolerance of sexual impropriety among government officials. He filed an ethics complaint against former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in March 2016 after Bentley was accused of having an extramarital affair with a staffer, claiming at the time that “The governor continues to disgrace the state of Alabama.”

So how exactly does this elder statesman use the original Christmas story to defend pedophilia? 

In Luke 1:6-7 we learn of Elizabeth and Zachariah, parents of John the Baptist, that “They had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren, and they were both now well stricken in years.” As Aaron Blake observed in the Washington Post, Elizabeth and Zachariah were both old. This is the point of the story, not that Zachariah was old and Elizabeth was young. Like Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who was too old to have a child when she conceived Isaac, Elizabeth was too old not too young to become pregnant. The parallel stories are about the power of God.

But it is with the Mary and Joseph defense that Moore jumps from a poor reading of the Bible to reliance on an extra-Scriptural Catholic apocryphal tradition. He claims that Mary was a 14-year-old girl and Joseph an older man. Where does he get the idea that Mary was a young teenager? Not from the Bible.

In the Gospel of Luke Mary is described as a “virgin espoused to a man whose names was Joseph, of the house of David.” No age is given for either Mary or Joseph. In the Book of Matthew, chapter 1, the other scriptural source for information about Jesus’ conception and birth, we learn that “the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:18 Authorized King James Version). The tradition that Mary was a teenager and Joseph a much older man comes from an extra-Biblical text, the apocryphal second-century document, the Protoevangelium of James.

The Protoevangelium is the source of much traditional Catholic knowledge about Mary and includes the only mention of her parents, Anna and Joachim, who are both Catholic saints. The Protoevangelium is concerned, beginning to end, with preserving the perpetual virginity of Mary, not the virgin birth. In fact in the text a midwife who doubts that Mary could remain a virgin even during birth performs a quick pelvic exam on her, only to have her hand burst into flames for her unbelief. Both Matthew and Luke affirm that Mary conceived Jesus while a virgin, but unlike the Protoevangelium they do not imply that she remained a virgin forever. All the gospels mention Jesus’ brothers or adelphoi (who Catholics insist were his cousins or spiritual brothers).

Despite lack of canonical evidence, the preoccupation with preserving Mary’s perpetual virginity is almost as old as the Gospels themselves. In addition to the anecdote about the midwife, in the Protevangelium also reveals details about Mary’s childhood and how Joseph became her spouse. In the story, Mary was taken by her parents to the temple at age three where she lived with handmaidens and was fed by angels until she turned twelve. The onset of her adolescence meant that she would have to leave the temple and that a suitable husband would have to be found for her. So all the widows of the region were assembled and brought with them their rods and staffs. When Joseph’s rod was chosen by lottery, a dove flew out of it and landed on Joseph’s head, a sign that he had been chosen by God.

At first he demurs, claiming “I have children and I am an old man, and she is a young girl, I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel.” But the high priest warns him he will be punished if he does not accept the will of God, so he reluctantly agrees to take young Mary as his wife.

Protestants like Zeigler have traditionally been much less interested in Mary and Joseph than Catholics have, and many believe that Mary was only a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus. After that, she would presumably have had a normal sex life with her husband. Zeigler’s creepy defense of Moore’s predatory behavior does not, as some have implied,threaten the Christian doctrine of the Virgin Birth, but the Catholic doctrine of Perpetual Virginity.

The Protoevangelium implies that Joseph the older man is chosen by God to be Mary’s husband precisely because he could be trusted not to violate the young child’s body. Because of his age and maturity (old enough to be Mary’s father) he among all the widows of Judea would protect Mary, the innocent child. It is striking that Zeigler, the Alabama Bible-believing evangelical relies on an extra-biblical-to-Catholic legend to defend Roy Moore—one that arose, ironically, because of the assumption that young girls can be expected to be protected by older men, not preyed upon by them.

While Moore’s campaign may call the Washing Post’s revelations a “last ditch Hail Mary” attempt to discredit him, it is his Christian defenders who are using Roman Catholic beliefs about Mary in the most disturbing of ways.


In a time of ‘Dirty Politics’ both here and in other parts of the world, this latest exposure of a Republican Senator’s former dalliance with an underage girl has led his state defenders, in Alabama (one of them a State Official), to declare his innocence – on the shaky ground of a Biblical reference to the teenage pregnancy of Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) and of Mary (mother of Jesus).

One only has to examine the circumstances of these two Biblical situations to realise the absolute ignorance of the social and theological implications being used to excuse the moral turpitude of an avowedly Christian conservative evangelical politician.

Firstly; both Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were described in the Bible as being ‘in old age’, a miracle being wrought by God to bring forth their son, John the Baptist.

Secondly, Mary was already ‘betrothed’ to her husband-to-be, Joseph, when miraculously impregnated – not by Joseph but by the Holy Spirit.

Such a pity that Roy Moore’s conservative evangelical defenders were obviously not better versed in biblical literature and tradition.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


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Church of England schools revise bullying guidance

Church of England press release

Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying tackled in new guidance for Church schools

13 November 2017

Guidance for the Church of England’s 4,700 schools published today aims to prevent pupils from having their self-worth diminished or their ability to achieve impeded by being bullied because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.

The report makes 12 recommendations for schools including ensuring schools’ Christian ethos statements offer “an inclusive vision for education” where “every child should be revered and respected as members of a community where all are known and loved by God. “

Clear anti-bullying policies should include HBT behaviours and language, policies on how to report incidences should be accessible, staff trained on recognising bullying, curriculum and collective worship should support the vision and the wider church ensure that schools are responding well to the guidance.

Commending the report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide.

“Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God.

“This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”

The advice is an update on Valuing All God’s Children, guidance published in 2014 which tackled homophobic behaviour. This update covers a wider range of negative behaviours, incorporates the relevant legal and inspection frameworks and reflects the Church’s Vision for Education, whose four elements of wisdom, hope, community and dignity form the theological basis of the guidance.

Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely and lead bishop for education said: “Our vision for education speaks of living life in all its fullness. Our vision has a clear commitment to dignity and hope, both of which can be undermined by any form of bullying. This guidance will help to bring our vision into reality by equipping schools to remove these pernicious forms of bullying that strike at the heart of a child’s identity and formation.”

Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, Nigel Genders, said: “Providing an education to our 1 million children that will enable them to live life in all its fullness is a big responsibility.

“This practical and thoughtful advice is packed with templates and a comprehensive selection of resources for schools, teachers, families and young people. I hope that it will make a difference to our school communities and individual pupils too.”

The report acknowledges that it is likely that not all will agree on issues to do with human sexuality, marriage or gender identity. It goes on to say that: “However, there needs to be a faithful and loving commitment to remain in relationship with the other and honour the dignity of their humanity without ‘back turning’, dismissing the other person, or claiming superiority.”

The report can be found here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento of ‘Thinking Anglicans on Monday, 13 November 2017


All Credit is due to the Church of England for leading the way in countering bullying in its 4,700 schools – especially that directly related to a person’s sexual identity. Here is a statement made by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the new policy:

“All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide. Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God. This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”

The document published by the Church of England has this most encouraging foreword:

“The Church of England is
committed to an education that
enables people to live life in all its
fullness and fulfils the words of
Jesus in John 10:10:“I came that
they might have life, and have it

Hurrah for the good old C. of E.

(See also the ABC’s blog article:

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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A New View on “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”.


I never thought I’d have anything favorable to say about a book that presents a defense of “love the sinner, hate the sin” as a viable ethic of love for Christians. But, then, I hadn’t yet read Eric Reitan’s latest book, The Triumph of Love: Same-Sex Marriage and the Christian Love Ethic.

That phrase has been the source of much pain in my life, and the lives of many LGBT people. The phrase is hurled at us, like a grenade, by friends, family members and strangers alike as we are making that journey to come to terms with our sexual orientation and gender identity. For me, the words always stung, because I never could quite figure out how anyone could separate something that was integral to my nature – my sexual orientation – and my physical person.

To me it’s like saying I love left-handers but hate their left-handedness – which also, oddly enough, was once seen as a sin by many Bible believers, but has since been relegated to the theological dust heap. Go figure.

But, Reitan asserts that he is convinced that the “‘love the sinner/hate the sin’ precept is one of the most fundamental guiding principles of the Christian life.” At this point, I was wondering if I had been duped into reading an anti-gay screed, but Reitan is very careful in his argument in support of this old trope and makes a Herculean effort to redefine and reclaim it as aspirational for all Christians, even the LGBT ones. What makes the difference is the lens Reitan uses to examine the phrase, as well as other topics such as same-sex marriage, in his book.


Candace Chellew-Hodge: In this book, your central theme is what you call the “Christian love ethic.” What do you mean by that?

Eric Reitan: There’s more than one way to approach Christian ethics but one important way is to see the love command as a fundamental moral principal, to see allegiance to the love command as the starting point of ethical reflection.

What I mean by the love ethic is an ethic which takes the love command as having a status as a fundamental moral principal for the moral life. The love command has two prongs to it, but I argue that they converge rather than diverge. The two prongs are, “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength,” and the other is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

When Jesus was asked what was the fundamental commandment, that’s the answer he gave. These prongs converge in the sense that loving God is best understood as conforming our will, or giving ourselves over to God and if God’s love is a loving will, it expresses itself in loving our neighbor as ourselves.

We become channels through which God’s love enters the world in the form of neighbor love. And the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves takes the status of the fundamental obligation that shapes moral life.

In addition to Jesus identifying the love command as fundamental, Paul puts all the commandments of relating to one another under the umbrella of loving your neighbor. And then we have that remarkable passage in 1 John where God is identified with love. If love is of the very essence of God, the defining essence of God, even, then living in a way that aligns us with the divine would mean living in a way that is in conformity with that divine essence which is love. That’s how I understand the love ethic in a nutshell.

In the book, you use that ethic to measure everything else, whether it’s same-sex marriage or “love the sinner, hate the sin,” and more. How do you see that playing out? 

For me, I started by studying Martin Luther King’s method of nonviolent direct action. King really emphasized as the heart of his method of nonviolence the separation of the person from the injustice they are committing. We must stand firm against the injustice without hating the person. We must find a way to love the person while saying, no, firmly and strongly to the wrongs that they do.

The “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra has been invoked in ways that are very unhelpful, especially in relation to LGBT issues. I think there has been this easy assumption that what we call a sin creates no difficulties for loving our neighbor as ourselves. I don’t think that works because it seems that what “love the sinner, hate the sin” means is that if something is in fact sinful that means that it is destructive both to the person who is sinning and to our human relations—and potentially to others and our relationship with God.

Then, as such, if something really is a sin then saying no to it, condemning it with feeling is going to be part of loving them. But, if something isn’t actually a sin then condemning it with feeling may not be part of loving them.

As a matter of fact, I think that the “love the sinner, hate the sin” dictum can be employed as a tool for testing whether or not something really is a sin.

If treating something like a sin poses impediments to loving a person then, since you can always love the sinner while hating what really is a sin, that’s evidence that what you’re treating as a sin really isn’t a sin!

For example, if you take the use of insulin to be a sin, can you, in the grip of that conviction and acting as if it’s true, love your diabetic neighbor as you should? It seems to me the answer is no. Even if you might have loving motives during your diabetic neighbor, what you actually do in relation to your diabetic neighbor because of your conviction that taking insulin is a sin, you’ll act in ways that will be detrimental to your diabetic neighbor’s welfare.

That is therefore evidence that you’ve got it wrong about the sinfulness of insulin. Because, it is always possible to love sinners while hating what really is a sin. But, since you can’t effectively and properly love your diabetic neighbor while hating the use of insulin, it follows that insulin can’t be a sin.

I try to turn the tables on this invocation of “love the sinner…” as a way to show critics of same-sex relationships and marriage that they’re being unloving. If you can’t love LGBT neighbors while categorically condemning their most intimate, meaningful relationships it follows that their most intimate, meaningful relationships are not sinful. That’s the move I want to make there.

Yes, there’s real value to this “love the sinner” notion, but we need to use it carefully if we’re going to avoid turning it into a slogan we use to protect ourselves from criticism that we have fallen short with respect to love.

That reminds me of Walter Wink, who said that our fight is against powers and principalities. Same with King, who didn’t see the people acting in what he considered evil ways as bad people, but people caught up in the corrupt and racist structures. Perhaps there’s a way to see those against homosexuality as caught up in a homophobic system. Am I on the right track?

Those who are opposed to same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships who then try to hide behind “love the sinner, hate the sin” to protect themselves from the claim that they’re being unloving, if we throw out the mantra, rather than saying they’re misusing it, then we’re losing out on an important tool for responding in a Christian way to them.

Instead we take the perspective of King. There’s a difference between the persons who are caught up in an unjust system and unjust ideologies and who are doing what strikes them from within that framework as the right thing.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” enables us to say, I love you as a child of God, a fellow human being, even as I reject, with feeling, this practice of marginalizing LGBT persons and invoking the Bible as weapon to put them down. Even if I hate all of that, I can still love you, the person who is the agent of these forces of evil. It’s essential in trying to make real progress in these polarizing conflicts that we separate the people from the problem. We must find ways to express and show love for the enemy even as they espouse and perpetuate things that we think are not only wrong or evil but deeply damaging to ourselves and people that we love.

If anti-LGBT people took the same attitude, couldn’t they see LGBT supporters as caught up in an evil system of libertinism or modernity?

Yes, and they do! They say, “Of course, we love these LGBT people and their allies, but they’re caught up in this system of evil.” We need to wrestle with the question of how do you decide what is evil, what is unjust? There my answer is: the starting point is compassionate attention to the people affected by the choices we make.

That seems to be the starting point of love.

The first thing that the good Samaritan does on that Jericho road is to pay attention to the robbery victim. He acknowledges their humanity and walks over to their side of the road to see the extent of their injuries and is open to responding to that from a place of compassion and empathy. That is the starting point of living out the love ethic. If we’re going to decide which ideologies and social structures are unjust and damaging, I think we need to do so through the eyes of that sort of compassionate attention.

But there are certain ways of using scripture that interfere with that. There are ways of using scripture where it becomes a way of silencing, of putting on blinders, or plugging up our ears with Bible verses. It’s not just the Bible that is invoked in this way as an impediment to that first act of love. I think natural law theory is used in a similar way, and I address this in the book.

My ultimate point is that if we start with compassionate attention to our LGBT neighbors rather than theorizing about what the natural order looks like we’re going to reach very different conclusions.

If we start with this theory that we impose upon our neighbors but we’re not paying compassionate attention to the neighbors to really discern how the imposition of that theory affects them then we are prioritizing allegiance to that theory over neighbor love. The theory then becomes something we’re using to blind ourselves.

The recent Nashville Statement seems to fit that definition of starting with a theory and not worrying about how it effects the targets of those words. What’s your opinion of this statement?

If you’re going to make authoritative pronouncements on matters that tangibly impact the lives of human beings, you have the credibility and authority to do that only if you are paying deep and sustained attention to those whose lives are being impacted.

They don’t have the authority to make these pronouncements because they clearly have not paid deep, sustained compassionate attention to the ways in which their words tangibly impact the lives of LGBT persons. They are just applying a human theory about what the Bible teaches and they don’t distinguish their theory and the real will and word of God—so if you disagree with them, in essence you’re disagreeing with God. Which is a way to protect yourself from challenge and criticism but it’s not very honest.

They might benefit from meditating on the concept of humility and the danger of hubris.

It’s hard for LGBT people to trust anti-LGBT people. You say that it’s not about winning the argument. Instead you’re trying to get to the point of dialogue, not just debate. I’ve been in many face-to-face (and internet) battles with anti-LGBT people and we often feel that the other side isn’t there for the dialogue, but to “win” the argument. 

What I’m talking about is a path forward if the circumstances are right. But there needs to be a measure of self-protection and self-love and a recognition, especially online. I’m trying, with my book, to help to lay the groundwork so this kind of positive dialogue becomes a real possibility.

I find it fascinating that, in the book, you view Kim Davis through this Christian ethic lens and come to her defense in some ways in an effort to help readers understand where she was coming from according to her particular strain of Christianity.

I don’t support the position that she took. I can’t know Kim Davis’ heart, but one way of understanding her is as a woman who had a very volatile life and found a certain stability and sense of meaning and purpose in this brand of Christianity that came into her life.

Out of allegiance to that she couldn’t do what this saving force in her life told her was wrong. I can appreciate that perspective even if I disagree with it, and can empathize with it even if I think the view is that she is acting on is ultimately harmful. This is more of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing that I was trying to bring to bear.

Whom do you hope to reach with this book?

I do hope that there will be some conservative Christian readers who will not be convinced that they were wrong, but perhaps be convinced that to love their LGBT neighbor they need to really seek them out, ask them questions, and be present as a listener with no intent to preach to them.

I think it’s more likely that persons who are on the fence, who don’t know what to think, who have grown up in a conservative community but they have gay friends but are not sure what to say to those gay friends, they feel bad about saying what they should say according to their community but they think that what their community is teaching them is the will of God.

So, they will come out saying that “I clearly cannot decide this question that impacts the lives of these people I know in such tangible ways without listening to their stories, breaking bread with them and talking about what these teachings have meant for their lives.” I really hope that I will reach some people like that.

I hope also that there are allies who will find the book valuable in other ways or will give it to their conservative friends and relatives. Maybe the book can serve to open up the conversation that was frozen before.

As an ally, I think those who belong to marginalized communities, when an ally says, “I hear you, I’m standing with you,” that can be important and valuable and can be uplifting. An almost 300-page long book is a rather long way of saying that, but I do hope that it does communicate that for some people as well.


As the Commentator says, in the first paragraphs of this article published by ‘Religious Dispatches’, There is another view of the phrase; “Love the sinner, Hate the Sin” often mentioned by Evangelical Christian purists – especially those opposed to any openness to the membership and ministry of LGBTI people in the Church.

In the conversation noted here, between Candace Chellew-Hodge and author, Eric Reitan, this question is asked: ‘ In this book, your central theme is what you call the “Christian love ethic.” What do you mean by that?’

Following from this question, when reading through the subsequent dialogue, it can be seen that Eric Reitan is able to bring a newer and more eirenic understanding of what this generally-accepted statement of judgement upon LGBTI people really means – in terms of its implication of the need for listening to the people one is inclined to judge, before rushing into a condemnation that may not be appropriate in the circumstances.

I am reminded, in this particular situation – where a conservative Evangelical author is minded to actually listen to the experience of Gay people, without instantly judging them more severely than he would judge any other sinners (like himself);  – for are we not ALL Sinners? – of the wonderful poem by country priest George Herbert, where he dialogues with Jesus on the matter of our common sinful humanity:

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back – Guilty of dust and sin

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack – From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning – If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here – Love said, You shall be he.

I, the unkind, ungrateful?  Ah, my dear – I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply – Who made the eyes but I?

Truth, Lord, but I have marred them, let my shame – Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame? – My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat. – So I did sit and eat.


I note, particularly, that last verse, wherein Our Lord invites us to the Eucharist

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand



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US Religious Right now mired in ‘Trumpism’


There’s a certain satisfaction for those of us who came of age at the time of the Christian Right’s ascendency to see such widespread acknowledgement of what many of us knew all along—that the so-called Christian Right was always a scam, a caustic combination of patriarchy and big money interests scamming the country behind an edifice of “family values” and “morals.”

It was, after all, Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the Christian Right coalition, who admitted that it was much easier to get folks ginned up about tax cuts for the rich if you conflated them with moral issues like abortion and “scare” issues like crime and gun control.

The ultimate denouement came with publication of a poll that found that nearly three-quarters of evangelicals are now OK with a politician with personally compromised morality, up from just 30 percent five years ago, a convenient twisting of moral perspectives to fit the exigencies of Trump. It seems that one can be sinner in their personal life as long as they promise to appoint anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court.

But now, even conservatives have to admit the Christian Right is everything its worst critics claimed it was. Here’s Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:

For years, Democrats accused Christian conservatives of being closet theocrats, seeking to impose Christianity on the country and refusing to accept, let alone embrace, American diversity. That was a generalization, but it turned out to be more true than not.

She quotes Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute as noting:

One of the most astounding shifts in modern politics has been the utter transformation of white evangelical Protestants from being confident self-described ‘values voters,’ who measured candidates for office against a high bar of moral character, to anxious and unwavering Trump supporters who have largely dropped these standards for a candidate they believe will deliver policies that benefit them.

But it’s easy to argue that that concern about “high moral character” was always a veneer over political expediency because “moral character” was so thoroughly fused with two issues: opposition to abortion and, later, same-sex marriage.

The result is a shape-shifting political animal described brilliantly by Jane Mayer in her New Yorker profile of Mike Pence, a man animated equally by political ambition and a quest to restore his particular vision of morality, which looks more like patriarchy—women who know their place (not out alone with men), reproductive control by the state in the form of illegal abortion, and the re-marginalization of gay people—fused with the big-money interests of the Koch brothers.

Pence, Mayer reports, was on the board of a far-right policy organization called the Indiana Family Institute that “supported the criminalization of abortion and campaigned against equal rights for homosexuals,” and argued that “unmarried women should be denied access to birth control.”

In fact, Mayer quotes one of Pence’s political opponents in the Indiana state legislature as saying, “What these people are really after is contraceptives.” She asserted that Pence’s real goal was to “reverse women’s economic and political advances.”

But Pence faltered in his political ambitions, stumbling over the signing and then the reversal of Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law. Nearly broke, with a dim political future, his career, and his mission, was salvaged by the most unlikely of saviors: the thrice-married self-admitted groper Donald Trump, a man depraved in both personal and political morality. It’s hard to imagine any self-professed serious Christian such as Pence even considering a place on the Trump ticket, but when it was offered, he didn’t think twice, yoking the Christian Right to Trump in exchange for a promise to appoint conservative judges and let the right have it’s way with anti-abortion legislation.

While publicly Trump presented himself as an ally of the religious right, in private Mayer reports he gleefully mocked their most dearly held goal—banning abortion:

During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.”

And now the Christian Right has made clear what it gave away in this devil’s bargain—any last shred of a legitimate claim to moral leadership with, as Michael Gerson wrote in the Post, its embrace of “angry ethnonationalism and racial demagoguery”:

At the Family Research Council’s recent Values Voter Summit, the religious right effectively declared its conversion to Trumpism. … There is no group in the United States less attached to its own ideals or more eager for its own exploitation than religious conservatives. Forget Augustine and Aquinas, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury. For many years, leaders of the religious right exactly conformed Christian social teaching to the contours of Fox News evening programming. Now, according to Bannon, “economic nationalism” is the “centerpiece of value voters.” I had thought the centerpiece was a vision of human dignity rooted in faith. But never mind. Evidently the Christian approach to social justice is miraculously identical to 1930s Republican protectionism, isolationism and nativism.

The once-proud Religious Right, which bullied the country—and the often-cowed Democratic Party—with its claims of moral superiority and family values is now “a pitiful appendage” to the “squalid” Bannon–Trump agenda, “seeking preference and advancement from a strongman.”

In a last, desperate gamble for power, to ban abortion and put gays back in the closet, the “Christian” Right has shed any pretense of Christianity. Whatever moral authority it had is now gone. The Christian Right is dead; long live the Trump-Bannon-ethno-nationalist right.


Whatever anyone may think about the leadership of the U.S. President Donald Trump, it must by now be evident that those of America’s ‘Religious Right’, whose support put him into power in the U.S. Government, are having to count the moral cost of their support.

Despite the tradition of moral crusading that has been the backbone of Republican Politics in North America, their ‘Knight in Shining Armour’ – President Donald Trump – seems more prone to the promotion of monetary one-upmanship for the rich, than the common good of the American people.

The Religious Right may now be wondering about the wisdom of choosing a thrice-married self-confessed philanderer as their representative in government. However, quite apart from his moral suitability, Donald Trump’s unattractive attempts at statesmanship have not drawn international approval either. His clumsy attempts at ‘America-First’ diplomacy – and, more recently, his pugilistic standoff in the situation with North Korea – have made the rest of the world fearful of what might ensue in the way of a hot-headed response from that country’s leadership.

Trump’s continuing opposition to the combatting of Climate-Change on a global level seems to be based on an absolute ignorance of the dangers presented. His refusal to accept the advice of internationally-accredited scientists on the effects of pollution seems to be driven more by a fear of offending the polluters than any understanding of the real possibility of an evolving degradation of the quality of life on this planet.

There may be some indication of a way forward from this impasse; if only from the fact that some of those among the Religious Right appear to be having second thoughts about Trump’s Leadership. The recent Democratic gains in the States of Virginia and New Jersey must have been fuelled, in part, by former Republican supporters changing their minds on whom they will now elect to office in State Government.

Patricia Miller’s article here is a timely reminder of the fact that politicians have to have the backing of the people in a democratic government. Maybe this is where the lower case (d) will come to have a greater influence, even, than the big ‘D’ in the word Democratic Government. Trump may feature as a Republican, but he has shown himself to be an Autocrat, which normally doesn’t go down well with Thinking Americans. 

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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N.Z. Bishop Translated to Ripon in the Church of England

Bishop of Ripon: Helen-Ann Hartley

10 Downing Street announcement

Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley with Bishop Nick Baines

The Queen has approved the nomination of the Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Macleod Hartley, MTheol, ThM, MPhil, DPhil, Bishop of Waikato in the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, in New Zealand, to the Suffragan See of Ripon, in the Diocese of Leeds in succession to the Right Reverend James Harold Bell, MA, on his resignation 30 April 2017.

Bishop Helen-Ann (44) was born in Edinburgh, and grew up in Sunderland. She was educated at the University of St Andrews, Princeton Theological Seminary in the USA, and Worcester College, University of Oxford, where she is an Honorary Fellow. She trained for ordination on the St Alban’s and Oxford Ministry Course, and was ordained deacon in 2005, and priested in 2006. She was Curate in the Benefice of Wheatley, and then in the parish of Littlemore, both in Oxford Diocese. In 2008 she was appointed Lecturer in New Testament at Ripon College Cuddesdon, and later Director of Biblical Studies. In 2012 she became Dean for the New Zealand Dioceses at the College of St John the Evangelist in Auckland. She was elected Bishop of Waikato in August 2013, and was consecrated on 22 February 2014.

Bishop Helen-Ann has published with SPCK, and is a regular contributor to the Daily Reflections series for Church House Publishing. She has also contributed to the Pilgrim course.

She is married to Myles, an organist and church musician. Her interests include the night sky, contemporary fiction and visual arts, going to the gym, and watching netball.

From the Leeds diocesan website: New Bishop of Ripon announced as Rt Revd Dr Helen-Ann Hartley

…Announcing the appointment and welcoming Bishop Helen-Ann at Church House in Leeds on November 9, Bishop Nick Baines said,
“I am delighted to welcome Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley as the new Bishop of Ripon. She brings expertise as a theologian, and episcopal experience from the wider Anglican Communion. She will add great strengths to the leadership and ministry of this diocese.”

The bishop designate will officially begin her ministry on February 4, 2018 when she will be welcomed and installed at a service in Ripon Cathedral…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 9:59am GMT |


Well, well! Our New Zealand (ACANZP) Bishop of Waikato, + Dr.Helen-Ann Hartley, who came to New Zealand to take up a teaching post at St.John’s College, Auckland, and was then made Bishop of Waikato (in episcopal partnership with Archbishop Philip Richardson, Primate and Bishop in Taranaki); has now been announced as the next Bishop of Ripon in the Church of England.

I came across this news first via a Tweet from Simon Sarmiento, of ‘Thinking Anglicans’, whose website always provides the most up-to-date news from activities in the worldwide Anglican Communion. On logging in to TA, I found this article, and am amazed at the speed with which Bishop Hartley has been repatriated to her ‘mother’ Church of England.

As Helen-Ann herself explains:

“As I reflected on the call to this incredibly exciting role, some words of GK Chesterton came to mind: ‘There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there.  The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.’  I can’t wait to get to know the people and communities of the Ripon Area.  I hope that you will pray for me in this time of transition, as I will continue to hold the Diocese and particularly the Ripon area in my prayers as we begin this new season together.”

One might, en passant, ask why it takes the departure of female English clergy to places like Aotearoa/New Zealand (or the U.S.A.) for them to be recognised as capable of serious ministry in the Church of England? In the case of Helen-Ann, there is no doubt that her speedy preferment here has interested the Church of England enough to consider what they had lost with her departure. 

A sad loss for us and the Hamilton (Waikato) Diocese. But no doubt  a welcome gain for the Church of England

See also: From Waikato to Leeds: Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley moves diagonally

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Virginia USA Rejects Trumpism

For John Kelly, Fallen Soldiers Shaped a Worldview

In Pointed Speech, Jeff Flake Says He Won’t Seek Re-election


Ralph Northam: ‘We Will Not Condone Hatred and Bigotry’

Ralph S. Northam, a Democrat, delivered a victory speech after winning the Virginia governor’s race by beating Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate.

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Photo by Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times.Watch in Times Video »

FAIRFAX, Va. — Voters delivered their first forceful rebuke of President Trump and his party on Tuesday night, with Democrats exploiting Mr. Trump’s deep unpopularity to capture the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey and make significant inroads into suburban communities that once favored the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party’s crowning success of the night came in Virginia, where Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, an understated physician and Army veteran, won a commanding victory for governor, overcoming a racially charged campaign by his Republican opponent and cementing Virginia’s transformation into a reliably Democratic state largely immune to Trump-style appeals.

Mr. Northam was propelled to victory over Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee, by liberal and moderate voters who were eager to send a message to Mr. Trump in a state that rejected him in 2016. Mr. Northam led Mr. Gillespie by nearly nine percentage points with 99 percent of precincts reporting, the widest victory in decades for a Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia.

His dominating performance offered a momentary catharsis for Democrats beyond the state’s borders who have been hungry to find political success this year and represented a stern warning to Republicans on the ballot next year about the peril of embracing Mr. Trump’s approach.

The campaign between a couple of low-key, establishment politicians was brought to life when Mr. Gillespie injected a handful of wedge issues, from immigration to Confederate iconography, into the race. But voters in Virginia’s affluent and highly educated urban centers rejected those tactics, handing Mr Northam enormous margins in the state’s most vote-rich localities.


With a pledge to do away with hatred and bigotry, the newly elected Governor of Virginia, Democratic candidate Ralph S. Northam – Army Veteran and Physician – demonstrates the determination of the Democratic Party in the USA to recover its political leadership from the devastation and dvisiveness of a President Donald Trump-led rule.

The extent of Northam’s victory over his rival Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie, is shown most clearly in this paragraph of the report:

“Mr. Northam was propelled to victory over Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee, by liberal and moderate voters who were eager to send a message to Mr. Trump in a state that rejected him in 2016. Mr. Northam led Mr. Gillespie by nearly nine percentage points with 99 percent of precincts reporting, the widest victory in decades for a Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia.”

The question now is; how long will Donald Trump last as President of the United States of America, when the public backlash against his presidency is as notable as this in the State of Virginia?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Abbott supports conservative backlash against Equal Marriage

Australia: As marriage ballot comes to close, conservatives gear up for legislative fight

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke to the US-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian right legal group with a global reach, where he slammed members of the Australian government cabinet for not campaigning against marriage equality in the survey-by-mail currently taking place. The deadline for voting is Tuesday.

From the Guardian:

Abbott suggested that despite the weight of public opinion polling suggesting the yes campaign is on track for victory, the result could “swing either way” because people have been reluctant to identify as no voters in polls.

“Win, lose, or draw, though, starting from scratch two months ago, the campaign for marriage in my country has mobilised thousands of new activists; and created a network that could be deployed to defend western civilisation more broadly and the Judeo-Christian ethic against all that’s been undermining it,’’ he said.

“So far, the campaign to defend marriage in Australia has raised over $6m from more than 20,000 separate donors, and fielded more than 5,000 volunteers to doorknock and phone canvass.”

Abbott warned the lack of conservative representation in the Liberal party would mean in the short term that “the embryonic Australian Conservatives, the only national political party whose leader backed marriage as it’s ­always been” would be the beneficiary of the new conservative movement.

Meanwhile, Penny Wong, Labor leader in the Senate, criticized the “hate and misinformation” spread by marriage equality opponents, and called it “mystifying” that the Anglican church in Sydney donated $1 million to the “no” campaign.

Conservatives in the parliament are preparing to propose as many as 100 amendmentsto a draft marriage bill if the public votes “yes” and a draft bill is taken up in the legislature. “It is seriously inadequate, as parents, freedom of speech and religious freedom, along with conscientious objection, all need full protection,” said Senator Eric Abetz.

Late-night comic John Oliver mocked the anti-marriage-equality campaign as a “dispiriting” and “pointless” process.

(Report from ‘Religion Dispatches’)


Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is waxing lyrical in his support for those who have invested significant sums of money in mounting a serious opposition to people in Australia who want to support the proposed Equal Marriage opportunities for the faithful,  committed, mongamously-partnered Same Sex couples among our trans-Tasman neighbours.

The outcome of the recent Referendum on Equal Marriage is due to be revealed on Tuesday next, and it remains to be seen whether the huge amount of financial support for those opposing the proposed measure (among them, the conservative Anglican Diocese of Sydney, which gave One  Million Dollars to their cause) will have been enough to persuade the more liberally-inclined Australia public to vote against any change to the Marriage Laws.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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