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Nancy French On Implications Of Alabama Election For Christian Conservatives


Nancy French is a Southern, conservative, Christian writer who has written about her experience as the victim of childhood sexual abuse. She was 12. The man was her pastor. She has written columns about her break with the Republican Party over Donald Trump's presidential candidacy and about empathizing with Roy Moore's accusers in Alabama. She joins us today from member station WPLN in Nashville to talk about the Alabama Senate race and its implications for Christian conservatives. Welcome to the program.

NANCY FRENCH: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: I guess there's a glass half full, half empty question first. Are you cheered by Doug Jones' victory in Alabama, or does it disturb you that nearly half of Alabama's voters chose to vote for Roy Moore despite some pretty convincing allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls?

FRENCH: Well, I think it's both and - but I really think you cannot overlook the fact that hundreds of thousands of conservatives made a decision and sent this message to the White House and to people like Steve Bannon. You're right. It is profoundly demoralizing to be a part of a party that seemingly overlooks your voice. That's why I quit the Republican Party. But still, there's a glimmer of hope, and it's the first glimmer I've had in a long time, and I'm just going to relish it for a few minutes.

SIEGEL: You mentioned Steve Bannon. Bannon's appeal to voters in Alabama - and before that elsewhere but in this case on behalf of Roy Moore - was a very angry message. The elites aren't listening to people like you. They laugh at people like you. Does that kind of resentment resonate with conservative Christian voters in the South?

FRENCH: You know, I think that it has, and I think that's why Donald Trump was elected in November. However, there's this great passage in the Bible - a book that Republicans used to read - and it says in your anger do not sin. I think for a long time Republicans have been maligned and mischaracterized by people in the media and other politicians by saying things like, for example, Mitt Romney was a racist or Mitt Romney was a bigot when in actuality, you know, he was just a wonderful man trying to do his best, trying to represent his party. And so after years and years of sort of being mischaracterized, Republicans had had enough. However, once you have enough, you still - that does not give you license to, you know, endorse a credibly accused pedophile.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you about public religiosity and conservatism in America. Last night, Roy Moore, in declining to concede, invoked God and recited part of the 40th Psalm. But Roy Moore is hardly unique in his public religiosity on the political right. You wrote a - ghost wrote a book with Sarah Palin, who spoke of the war in Iraq as being part of God's plan. Last year, she spoke of divine providence playing a huge role in Donald Trump's election. Isn't Roy Moore doing what lots of political conservatives, especially Tea Party conservatives, do?

FRENCH: Yes. I think a lot of people do that. I have a wonderful relationship with Sarah Palin. I have my own voice. She has her own voice. And I do believe that God is providential over our elections. We do not have to accept either of the options that the parties hand us. There's a third option, and the third option is integrity and truth. And so for all the Alabama Republicans who chose truth and integrity and realize that there's always a third option of doing the right thing, it's very inspiring.

SIEGEL: What are you hearing from friends and neighbors who feel that they're with you, or are you at the moment an outlier in your community?

FRENCH: You know, at many times, I felt like an outlier. I actually skipped church a couple of weeks ago because I wrote a Washington Post piece sort of annihilating Roy Moore, and I saw some people from my church sort of push back on that on social media. And I just didn't have the intestinal fortitude to go to church and act like that was fine. As a Southern, conservative, Christian person, I have felt like all of my identifiers have been yanked from me and that I've believed years and years and years of lies from the Republican Party. And that much is true. However, the fact that my friends and neighbors came out and actually sent a message that this is not what we're about, it's just very inspiring to me.

SIEGEL: Of course, you share the experience with the women in Alabama who accused Roy Moore of having disclosed this episode in your childhood or your early adolescence, which must have been a great burden for many years, and it must have been - I assume it was a burden to not disclose it for all those years.

FRENCH: Right. And that's why it was so wonderful to see these women with shaky voices speaking out. I feel like the evil of sexual predators is that they identify the weak, and they make them weaker by actually attacking them in various ways. And then later in life, they use that very weakness to mock them. And so it's very difficult to speak out against these men. And the fact that they were able to do it with a shaky voice and to speak out against the people who were in power and to prevail is just very gratifying.

SIEGEL: I assume that you've faced a choice in telling the story of what happened to you when you were 12, which was, do I identify the pastor, do I name the pastor who did this? And I assume from what I've read that you didn't. Why? Why didn't you?

FRENCH: Well, it's funny. I had never spoken about it in my life. I'm currently 43, and I went to a counselor, and I couldn't do it. I just didn't have the fortitude. And so he suggested, why don't you go home and write it down, and then the next week, we can read it together and we can discuss, you know, that trauma. So I went home and wrote it out and actually published my story in The Washington Post. And so it was the first time I'd ever spoken about it publicly. And so I came back the next week and handed him the newspaper article and he said, oh, well, this is unusual, but we can work with this.

And so the reason why I didn't name him is because my statute of limitations has passed, but I did call DHS. I filed a report. I actually sent an email to his employer. And I recently, in fact this week, had an advocate go to the elders at his church to make sure that they were aware of his, you know, possible proclivities - hopefully, he's a different person - but just letting them know that they have such a person in their congregation and to put in the proper protocols to make sure that everyone is protected.

I feel like I've done everything I can, but it's very difficult to know how to do this. And I think people are - all over the country are dealing with this new, you know, cultural awareness that women are not going to take it anymore. And so it's a very important time for people to do the right thing and to put the right protocols into place.

SIEGEL: Now that all of us have heard or read, you know, a couple of dozen stories like this over the past several weeks, I guess there seem to be two kinds of reactions expected. One of them is I can't imagine him doing that, and the other one is we've been hearing rumors of this sort of thing for the past 15 years and this sort of aligns with those. Did you hear an answer like either one of those when you went to the church?

FRENCH: Well, it was interesting. When I wrote in The Washington Post about being abused by a preacher, even though I didn't name his name, I probably got about eight responses from people who identified him correctly, saying, yes, this happened to me. This happened to me. He moved away from our town. He's in a different location. He's in a different state. And so when I had an advocate go to the church and sort of present my case for me, they were shocked. They had no idea. And I really regret that I hadn't come forward previously. But, you know, this is a cultural moment that I think a lot of victims are taking advantage of.

SIEGEL: Nancy French, thanks for talking with us today.

FRENCH: Thanks for including me in this very important conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULIAN LAGE'S "NOCTURNE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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