Sexual Misconduct, Strange Bedfellows

Jewish Light Editorial

The list of men in the worlds of entertainment and politics who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct grows almost daily. So do the strange alliances that such allegations create. But the odd makeup of the groups of supporters and detractors shouldn’t stand in the way of appropriate consequences.

Another high-profile person to be accused is Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who has acknowledged forcibly kissing and apparently groping a woman in a photograph while they were on a USO tour in 2006. Other photos show that the relationship between the two may have been less sinister than first portrayed. Franken issued an apology,which was accepted by his accuser, Leann Tweeden, but that does not mitigate the nature of his behavior. 

Meanwhile, as Franken has said he welcomes a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of his conduct, the Alabama Republican Party has taken the exact opposite tack in its treatment of Roy Moore, its controversial nominee for the Senate seat left vacant when Jeff Sessions became attorney general.  

Allegations against Moore include charges that he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, a period in his life when he also “dated” teenage girls. Several accusers have stepped forward alleging harassment or worse, but Moore adamantly denies all of their accusations.

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The national GOP has distanced itself from Moore, who has been disowned by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. President Donald Trump, in a reprise of his hazy responses to the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan rioters in Charlottesville, Va., has provided mixed signals, allowing his staff to issue vague statements that if the charges against Moore are true, he should step aside, or simply that the voters of Alabama should decide.

But in the case of the Minnesota senator, Trump was quick to blast forth with a tweet about the man he called “Al Frankenstien [sic],” in which he asks salaciously: “Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” 

The aftermath of Moore’s situation brings to mind the reaction to Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, which came to light a month before last year’s election as Trump prepared to debate Hillary Clinton at Washington University. Despite Trump’s graphic boasts about how he has kissed and assaulted women against their will and how he can act that way because he’s a “star,” evangelical support for his candidacy held steady and played a key role in his surprise victory.

How can the unusual juxtaposition of sexual outrage and evangelical support be explained? Marie Griffith, who is director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and  Politics at Washington U., says in an interview (Read online at in The Atlantic that the answer isn’t so much hypocrisy as it is the extreme politicization of Christianity and religion in general.

She recalls evangelical support for Clarence Thomas when he faced sexual accusations from Anita Hill, but also backing for Paula Jones when she made similar allegations against Bill Clinton. Such divergences, she says, seem to stem not from gender but from the political orientations of the men involved. 

And, Griffith adds, the divisive politicization of religion-related topics isn’t likely to go away soon.

“Even issues we once thought were settled, such as birth-control access, are back in the public conversation,” she says. “In some ways, we seem farther apart in agreeing on sexual rules than we ever have before.

“We are still trying to steer around these issues. Some things are changing: Attitudes around homosexuality have shifted so dramatically in just a generation, which is really quite astonishing. But there is something about sex and gender rules and gender norms that remains right at the center of our political debates, I think, and probably will for some time to come.”

With such intense awareness of sexual impropriety in politics, entertainment and other fields — what Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker has called “the year of the groper” — new accusations and old cases such as Bill Clinton’s are certain to remain in the news and in the public consciousness. And the strange bedfellows in the mix of sex, politics and religion are likely to remain. 

But such odd alliances shouldn’t let people gloss over one basic fact: Men who take sexual advantage of women, no matter what their political leanings, engage in an equal opportunity offense. Once allegations are convincingly corroborated, such incidents must be denounced in no uncertain terms by those on the left and on the right.

A key part of the process must be speaking truth to power. In the Bible, when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then sent her husband into battle to cover up his indiscretion, he was called out by his adviser Nathan, who bravely asserted, “Thou art the man!”

No one should try to score political points or keep a scorecard on alleged sexual misconduct to see who is most to blame. All such behavior, whether it’s an established pattern or a one-time lapse in judgment, should be denounced, investigated and, if proved true, appropriately punished.