Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, when asked his view on abortion exceptions during his debate with Democrat Joe Donnelly on Tuesday night:
I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
Donnelly responded by saying it wasn’t possible that “my God, or any God, would intend that to happen.”
Of course, Mourdock was not saying that God intended rape to happen, even though Mr. Mourdock’s theological beliefs clearly include that as dogma — that rape, the death of son or daughter, a horrific accident were predestined from the beginning of time and are the result of a providential God guiding our lives. He was stating the widely held belief that God is in the driver’s seat and anything and everything that happens — the good and the bad — happens as part of God’s plan for us.
For some evangelical Christians, Mourdock’s awkwardness in stating his belief proved a little too much:
What Mourdock said “is offensive,” says Richard Lints, a theologian of the Reformed tradition, which has Calvinist roots, and dean at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. “The clumsiness is [to] so align God with evil that God becomes a horrific figure. It’s contrary to anything you read in scripture, and it removes the human responsibility.”
By broadly hinting that God “condoned” rape by default rather than trying to understand His plan for all of us, sometimes without our glimpsing the whys and wherefores, Mourdock finds himself in a firestorm of controversy. He apologized the next day, saying he “regrets and apologizes” if there are those who took what he said to imply God condoned rape. He can be assured that those who took his statement the wrong way did so deliberately in order to score political points.
Mourdock was referring to the notion that God intended the pregnancy to result from the attack, and therefore, a rape victim getting an abortion would be acting against the will of God. The candidate may have gotten himself tangled up in the idea of an omniscient, providential God controlling events “intending” pregnancy from rape, but the idea that this, in some way, minimizes what rape victims go through is a stretch. Mourdock didn’t say that rape isn’t a heinous crime. He didn’t say that pregnancy from rape is what these women deserve. He didn’t say anything that a conservative Christian preacher wouldn’t tell a rape victim who discovered she was pregnant from the attack.
One can question whether such sentiments would be appropriate, or welcome. That would obviously depend on the victim and her own personal religious beliefs. But to posit the notion that believing in a Calvinist doctrine of a providential God should disqualify someone from holding office is absurd. And that seems to be the dishonest line of attack being used from Obama on down. This was not a Todd Akin moment. Mourdock did not seek to define rape, but rather the sacredness of life — all life, regardless of how it originated. One would think even someone drunk with partisanship would understand that.
The essence of religious monotheism is that everything comes from one God, which naturally leaves humans befuddled when “Bad things happen to good people.” The faithful nevertheless persevere in their faith, believing that God is unknowable to human minds. This is the essence, for example, of the Book of Job, which I felt compelled to reread this afternoon. (It is a deeply disturbing story precisely because it raises these fundamental issues about the nature of God, good and evil, etc.)
It is fundamental to Christian thought that God only intends the best for us, regardless of what evil is perpetrated against us. One is reminded of the aftermath of 9/11 when liberals and conservatives alike were saying that something good must come out of this evil. One might even claim that this secular attitude, based on Protestant beliefs, is a distinctly American one. Our ability to rise above tragedy to create something new and wonderful has defined our country since colonial times. Surely there can be nothing controversial in this idea, regardless of whether you’re a believer or non-believer.
I happen to be a non-believer but found no trouble in recalling teachings from my youth that buttress Mr. Mourdock’s argument. The rank dishonesty of the attacks against him should be countered by anyone who values free and open debate about abortion or any other issue. Mourdock and many pro-life Christians who deny exceptions to abortion are not in the mainstream — even of the Republican Party. That may be more problematic for him than his comments on rape. But disallowing Mourdock’s point of view by twisting his words into a disgraceful political attack that puts words in his mouth and sentiments in his heart that aren’t there is despicable — and it should stop.