'Mary was a teenager': Alabama official uses Bible's Mary and Joseph to defend Roy Moore from paedophilia claims

An Alabama state official yesterday dismissed abuse allegations against GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who stands accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl. The official – Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler – pointed to the age gap between Jesus' parents Mary and Joseph, saying there's 'nothing immoral or illegal here'.

Judge Roy Moore, 70, has denied the claims that he made sexual advances on a 14-year old girl while he was in his 30's, as well as allegations about sexual encounters with three other teenagers near the same time. Supporting Moore, Ziegler said there was 'nothing to see here', according to the Washington Examiner.

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He said Moore's relationship with the girl had not involved 'sexual intercourse', and that the encounter 'happened almost 40 years ago'. Ziegler also pointed to Scripture as an apparent precedent for the age gap.

'Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.

'There's just nothing immoral or illegal here,' Ziegler said. 'Maybe just a little bit unusual.'

The Alabama official faced heavy criticism from leading evangelicals for his defence of Moore. Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center, told the Washington Post: 'Bringing Joseph and Mary into a modern-day molestation accusation, where a 32-year-old prosecutor is accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, is simultaneously ridiculous and blasphemous...Even those who followed ancient marriage customs, which we would not follow today, knew the difference between molesting and marriage.'

Leading Southern Baptist Russell Moore tweeted yesterday: 'Whether in the hills of Hollywood or the halls of power, it doesn't matter. This is true: sexual assault and child molestation are evil, unjust, satanic.'

Roy Moore has a strong evangelical Christian base, but it's unclear whether he'll maintain their support in the Senate election. Republicans who had previously supported Moore called for him to step down from the race when allegations surfaced.