Michael Wear has a good question for “family values evangelicals.”

He points out that in the Alabama State Senate election on December 12 the outcome rests largely with evangelicals. Wear describes the choice confronting voters as a choice between

a civil rights hero and a man accused of sexually abusing teenage girls.

One might assume the choice would be crystal clear and that evangelicals would flock to support the “civil rights hero” Doug Jones. Jones is known for successfully prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Kan who participated in the bombing of the 16 Street Baptist Church that killed four African-American girls. He also secured an indictment against the Olympic Park Bomber that killed 1 and injured 111 others in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 27 during the 1996 Summer Olympics. Jones is a committed family man and a devout member of Canterbury United Methodist Church.

But, in spite of his obvious credibility, it would be a mistake to think that Mr. Jones is the candidate of choice for evangelicals in Alabama.

Instead, according to Wear, “many white evangelicals are sticking by” the Republican candidate Roy Moore in spite of multiple accusations against him of sexual impropriety towards teenage girls when he was in his thirties.

The mystery of evangelical commitment to Roy Moore gives rise to Wear’s troubling question:

How did the voting bloc known for preaching family values become supporters of a candidate who seems a better fit for Sodom and Gomorrah?


Wear answers his question by suggesting that Democratic candidate Jones has a “big problem” with two issues:

Jones’ positions on abortion and religious freedom are out of step with Alabama voters.

But, behind these two issues, Wear points to a much bigger problem. When questioned about abortion and religious freedom, Wear believes that Jones’

answers suggest a disinterest in understanding the legitimate concerns of many Alabamians.

Mr. Jones it seems has a listening problem. Apparently he has discounted the firmly held beliefs of many Alabama voters. A politician has every right to disagree with a particular position held by the electorate; he cannot, however, afford to convey the impression that he does not take seriously their real concerns.

The election of Donald Trump a year ago and the likely outcome of the December Alabama race are manifestations of frustration. People who feel they are not being taken seriously will overlook important flaws in a candidate simply because that candidate gives the impression of paying attention to them and representing their concerns.

When we give people with whom we disagree cause to feel dismissed or diminished, we should not be surprised if they become angry. If the human community is going to move forward on a shared footing, we must learn to listen to those with whom we disagree. We must find ways to communicate effectively with those who view the world differently than we do. While not sharing their beliefs, we must respect their right to hold those beliefs as long as they exist within the bounds of the law.

The problem of course is that, in order to truly convince those with whom I disagree that I support their right to hold their beliefs and respect them as people, I actually need to respect them as people. No one will be fooled for long by talk of respect when that respect is not actually there behind my words. When in my heart, I dismiss “family values evangelicals” as hypocrites and fools, nothing I say will ever convince them I have truly heard their concerns and respect them as people. Until I deal with my own prejudice and bigotry, it will be difficult for me to share in creating an environment in which all people feel equally heard and fully valued. Listening respectfully is the foundation of effective life-giving community.