Is Roy Moore a sexual predator or the victim of a smear campaign? NC faith leaders divided.

Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a news conference in Birmingham, Ala., with his wife, Kayla Moore, last week. A sex scandal has relegated Moore’s hard-line positions on LGBT issues to the background in Alabama’s turbulent Senate race.
Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a news conference in Birmingham, Ala., with his wife, Kayla Moore, last week. A sex scandal has relegated Moore’s hard-line positions on LGBT issues to the background in Alabama’s turbulent Senate race. AP

More than 300 faith leaders from across the nation, including retired and active pastors from North Carolina, have signed a letter saying they stand with the women who have accused Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct and say that Moore is unfit to be elected.

“As a person of faith, I wholeheartedly believe the courageous women who have shared their stories of being sexually preyed upon and assaulted by Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore as teenage girls,” the letter says. “These profound moral failings and crimes render Judge Moore unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate.”

The letter was posted Nov. 17 on the Facebook page of Washington-based Faith in Public Life, a left-leaning, interfaith nonprofit that pushes for social justice. At the top, the letter has a bright red banner with reverse-printed type that proclaims, in all capital letters, “I believe the women. Misogyny is sin.”

Readers can add their names and identifying information.

On the other side of the political aisle, Jerry Schill, chairman of the God and Country Christian Alliance, issued a statement Tuesday saying the New Bern group had discussed the allegations against Moore at its Nov. 20 meeting and voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of him. Moore was the keynote speaker at the group’s banquet in 1999, Schill said.

“Since then, we’ve been following his staunch support of values that we hold dear, including his defense of the unborn, the Ten Commandments and the Constitution. It is unconscionable that his character be assassinated by allegations after a period of 40 years,” Schill said.

Schill said the resolution states that the group is opposed to any candidate for public office who has admitted to or been proven guilty of sexually assaulting or harassing children.

At least eight people from North Carolina have signed the Faith in Public Life letter opposing Moore, including the Rev. Wanda Hunt of Pinehurst; the Rev. Josho Pat Phelan of Chapel Hill; Elizabeth Manley of Aberdeen; the Rev. Steve Knight of Gastonia; Scottie Thomas of Raleigh; Nancy Cope of Garner; James Cogswell of Black Mountain; and Thomas Lane of Summerfield.

Patricia Riley Jones attends a “Women For Moore” rally in support of Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore, in front of the Alabama State Capitol last week. Drew Angerer Getty Images

Moore, 70, is a Southern Baptist and a former Alabama chief justice known for refusing to remove a plaque of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building and for advising judges to defy a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

This month, in stories in the Washington Post, one woman has said Moore sexually assaulted her in the late 1970s, when she was 16. Another said he had made inappropriate contact with her when she was 14 and he was 32. Three more have said he pursued relationships with them when they were teenagers.

Moore has denied all the charges and has refused calls to withdraw from the race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. attorney general.

Among people of faith, Moore has supporters and defenders in North Carolina. Franklin Graham, head of Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse, used Twitter last week to say he had asked Moore if the allegations were true and that Moore had said, “absolutely not.”

Graham said, “My prayer is that the truth will ultimately be revealed and lies will be seen for what they are.”

The same day, fellow Baptist Daniel Akin, president of the conservative Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, said on Twitter that he was “thankful for the brave & courageous women coming forward & calling out their sexual abusers. Shame on anyone who would defend these predators & minimize their actions.”

The Faith in Public Life letter took a wide view of the sexual abuse and harassment claims that have cascaded into the news over the past several weeks.

“I believe the women who are speaking up and sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault, from Hollywood to Capitol Hill, from workplaces to houses of worship,” signers affirmed. “As a culture, we have nurtured a sick, sinful misogyny that punishes women for speaking up and enables abusers to thrive. The twin sins of misogyny and sexual abuse that pervade every corner of our society threaten the safety, dignity and well-being of the faith community.

“Religious leaders cannot condone crime against women as a minor mistake or a relic of the past,” the letter said. “These excuses do further harm to those who have been abused. I thank these women for their courageous and prophetic voices. I vow that they will not stand alone. As a leader in a faith community, I pledge to stand against the dark currents in our culture that dehumanize women and build a society in which everyone is safe and free to flourish.”

Martha Quillin: 919-829-8989, @MarthaQuillin