Early signals seem to indicate that Judge Roy Moore will run for governor of Alabama. It is the political nightmare both parties in the state have been having since Judge Moore was forced to step down as Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court for failing to obey a federal court order.
If he runs, Judge Moore will bring to the race for governor his peculiar brand of religio-politics that will likely split the Republican Party. Democrats are still smarting from President Bush’s victory and the alleged evangelical tidal wave that swept him there. If Judge Moore runs, Dems may be facing the political equivalent of a tsunami.
A victory for Judge Moore will not be a win for Alabama in particular or for our political process in general. Assuming the Judge campaigns on the same single issue that landed him the Chief Justice’s office in 2001, the governor’s race will be all about displaying the Ten Commandments.
As important as the Ten Commandments are, they hardly qualify as a burning issue for our state. According to one study over 90 percent of the people of Alabama subscribe to some form of Christianity or Judaism. Seriously, if you are a Christian or a Jew, you believe in the Ten Commandments.
Beyond that, merely displaying them has no appreciable positive effect. In fact, I would venture to say that we could display the Ten Commandments in every public building, in every public school, in every court house in Alabama and it would not change one single thing. That’s because public display is not how the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Scriptures work. Scripture changes us when we commit ourselves to its truth in the context of worship.
I am particularly disappointed that clergy in Alabama have not been more forceful in making this point to their parishioners. Why do we leave to politicians and courts the task of arguing the proper use of the Bible? It’s time for the church to act responsibly with what is clearly one of our most important resources. Let’s stop allowing our sacred texts to be used as billboard ads and hallway art.
Judge Moore’s entry into the race will also raise the visibility of the religious faith of our candidates. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. We all benefit from elected officials who govern from a deep sense of right and wrong. After all, if we had state leaders that acted out of conscience informed by authentic faith our state constitution and our regressive tax code would be completely re-written.
Unfortunately what we are likely to get from our candidates will be some pseudo-effort to out-Jesus one another. I guess we should be glad that our political contests seem to bring about a sort of religious revival. But simply throwing the name of Jesus around and lacing Scripture into stump speeches is not a good way to demonstrate authentic faith. Remember what Jesus said about saying “Lord, Lord?”
At any rate, focusing our attention on displaying the Ten Commandments will only serve to distract us from the pressing needs we have in Alabama—and that may be the point. Of course, what we really need is a governor who is interested in being governor for the good of the state, not for the advancement of some personal agenda.
One thing for certain, if Judge Moore does enter the race for governor the campaign will certainly be entertaining. It might even qualify for one of those new reality shows. We could call it “Survival Alabama.”
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.