It used to be that so-called "values voters", many of whom are evangelical Christians, had enormous credibility even among non-believers. I remember when a close friend of mine brought the Billy Graham Crusade to Cleveland. Although I didn't attend, I admired those who did and I was grateful to all the organizers because I believed that their values and actions trickled down and made all of us better.
That was then; now is now. The staunch support among evangelical leaders in Alabama and nationally for Judge Roy Moore, accused of sexual assault by seven women who were teenagers at the time of their alleged assaults, depletes whatever moral authority these evangelical leaders have retained. I wonder what values those leaders have and which values they are using to evaluate Judge Moore. Let's examine a few that may be operating in their minds and motivating them.
Benefit of the doubt. Many who have been interviewed by the press have said that "You're innocent until proven guilty." In a Tweet, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stated that this standard pertains to the courts and our justice system, not to public opinion or politics. Notwithstanding Mr. Romney's statement, here's where that argument falls apart. Would those same "values voters" give Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey -- even Bill Cosby -- the benefit of the doubt? I think not, because they're not one of them, and they're not pushing their evangelical agenda.
Forgiveness. I'm all for forgiveness. Because we all make mistakes, society needs this value. However, forgiveness without justice often enables immoral or unethical events to continue. Not too long ago, sexual predator priests were forgiven by their superiors and rerouted to other Diocese positions where they continued committing the same acts. Because these priests had other positive qualities, they were still described as "good and God-fearing people." Morality and justice were thrown to the wind in the interest of preserving the status quo and protecting friends.
Truth. As Time Magazine pointed out in an issue earlier this year, America has entered into the twilight zone of alternative facts and fake news. Who do you believe? Those who support Judge Moore believe his vision of David vs. Goliath. Little Roy Moore, protector of the forgotten, defender of the Cross, God-fearing Christian, standing up to the Republican establishment, Democratic heathens and the agnostic media. As Moore's supporters are sifting through "truth" vs. alternative facts, I would ask them to examine their values. Are they really not believing seven women and corroborating statements dating back to the original incidents, or are they selecting their version of the truth in order to advance their specific agenda: electing Roy Moore because he is, after all, one of them. Agenda is the great compromiser of values.
Despite the values to which we aspire, America has consistently compromised, sacrificing values because of agendas. We stole Native American lands in the interest of progress and economics. Until just after the Civil War, we enslaved African-Americans in the interest of preserving and expanding the South's cotton economy and way of life. Even after slavery was abolished, we discriminated against African-Americans because of the color of their skin. And even today, police and prosecutors disproportionately incarcerate black people in the interest of maintaining law and order.
Did I not mention women? Facts have shown that women have been discriminated against in the workplace, and news reports have shown that women have not only been subjected to sexualized workplace cultures but also have been sexually assaulted by superiors or supervisors.
It goes without saying that any assault, any discrimination, and any act of theft is by definition a violation of values. But what flies under the radar -- equally as destructive -- is the violation of values that millions commit each day in standing by, watching, or even enabling. Recent reports and interviews have shown that many stood by and did nothing while movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and movie star Kevin Spacey committed their dastardly, predatory and bullying acts.
Like the bystander of bullies in schools, these bystanders enabled the negative and, in some cases, unlawful behavior to continue. But why? Why did they stand by? Or why didn't the victims come forward?
Agendas. Careers. Prominence. Prestige. Fear.
Certainly those who Roy Moore and Harvey Weinstein may have victimized were afraid that no one would believe them. They also were afraid that they, their families, their careers and their livelihoods would be decimated by powerful men. In other cases, people figured that they needed to go along to get along and, by doing so, advance in their careers. Although I sympathize with their predicaments and moral dilemmas, in some cases their agendas kept them from living by their values.
This brings me back to Alabamans and Roy Moore. If we are to have a country where "prey" is not on the same par as "pray" and where values are not trumped by agendas, we need to get back to a sense of goodness and right and wrong in politics and in life. Presumed sexual predators should not be placed in positions of authority, whether they are appointed or elected. Truth should not be clouded by self-interest. Values should not be compromised by agendas.
History has taught us that, whenever we have made these moral compromises, they have resulted in tribalism that has eroded confidence in the vision and values of America and belief in the veracity of our system.
I hope that during this time of Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season, we all can take stock of the values that hold us up and increase our humanity instead of the self-serving agendas that many times weigh us down and diminish our moral standing. It would be really nice for all of us to become true "values voters."
Muszynski is President and CEO of Values-in-Action Foundation. Purple America is Values-in-Action's national initiative to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. www.PurpleAmerica.us; www.viafdn.org