"God's intentions" creates more political controversy

Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press:

Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said Tuesday when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape, "that's something God intended."


Mourdock, who's been locked in one of the country's most watched Senate races, was asked during the final minutes of a debate with Democratic challenger Rep. Joe Donnelly whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.

"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," Mourdock said.

The video and transcript has quickly spread nationally, with potential influence even on the presidential race:

Romney distanced himself from Mourdock on Tuesday night — a day after a television ad featuring the former Massachusetts governor supporting the GOP Senate candidate began airing in Indiana.

"Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email to The Associated Press.

Mourdock later explained that he did not believe God intended the rape, but that God is the only one who can create life.

"Are you trying to suggest somehow that God preordained rape, no I don’t think that,’’ Mourdock said. ‘‘Anyone who would suggest that is just sick and twisted. No, that’s not even close to what I said.’’

But this is a major problem with using the statement "God creates all life" as the ultimate anti-abortion argument that anything that prevents that life must then be "against God's will". The line of reasoning here is that if the rape victim gets pregnant, it must be because God intentionally decided to create life. It is a terribly flawed concept and leads to incredible guilt and shame for the victim: and an ultimate portrait of God who "does terrible things for a reason".

Human free will seems to be at issue here. Part of what has been given freely to human beings (and other animals, plants, and life as well) is the ability to potentially create in their own image (as we believe God originally did). We know from scientific fact that the relationship status the man has with a woman (life-long partner, casual lover, or violating rapist) or his motivation for sex (to create a child with his partner, expressing passion through consensual physical intimacy, or to dominate, control and abuse a woman) does not factor in to whether conception happens.

Isn't God's role here really relational more than anything? God's relationship with the victim of a rape seems primary. We proclaim a God who comforts, consoles, and even weeps with those who are afflicted. We proclaim a God that promises that life is not over even when we feel like it is, and that there is always a way forward.

That way forward may include choosing to embrace a new life created, but it may also include preventing a child from this act of violence: it is the victim's choice, not anyone else's.

What must be done to transform the conversation of God's role with us: one that explores the ongoing relational one, rather than the shut down argument "God does everything for a reason"?

Comments (7)

Kurt, these are very charged topics, but I think you have a "straw man" of the argument (that is, a version nobody is really advocating). The stronger version that I hear in the argument at stake is not "God does terrible things for a reason," but "God can choose to intervene even in terrible things and bring good things out of them."

I don't know whether/how that theology should be applied to issues of rape. But there are, as a facebook conversation on this topic has reminded me today, children who were born from these circumstances, and mothers who call themselves survivors.

Shauna Prewitt's story, widely circulated over Todd Akin's remarks several months ago, gave me significant pause for thought at that time, and seems relevant again. Proper theology, it seems to me, ever humbles us, and rarely gives us the tools to judge one another.
Shana Prewitt's open letter to Todd Akin

Benedict said: "But there are...children who were born from these circumstances, and mothers who call themselves survivors."

Of course there are. And the mothers are survivors, and the children who were born are blessed. But it misses the point entirely that it is up to the victim to decide if the potential "life" from rape might be seen as God bringing something "good from something terrible."

If you legislate a law that prevents a victim from choosing abortion, a woman who does not see this as God "doing something good with something terrible" is in essence being told "God does terrible things for a reason."

I am also challenging the idea that "conception" is the will of God here. As I said, human beings have already been given the ability to create new life. Insisting that it is God who is "bringing something good" by conception in the case of rape, rather than acknowledging the science that shows what potentially happens whenever sperm and egg meet, is in my opinion wrong EVEN IF some victims come to understand their situation this way.

I stand by my argument.

Kurt Wiesner

Kurt,

I appreciate the way you frame the argument as a fundamental question of dignity and empowerment. Who is best empowered under such unimaginably painful circumstances to discern God's will? Who has the most information, the most God-given agency, and the most responsibility to deal with the consequences of the decision?

The flip side of this question is whether or not politicians are empowered to pronounce judgments of this magnitude from their seats of power -- an operative study in humility.

I am constantly amazed at how some of our politicians start chattering like theocrats when it comes to women's bodies and essential dignity, and yet nowhere else.

It seems a very odd theology that sees God's desire for a particular life to be created as so strong that he will bring it about even without the mother's agency - i.e. via rape - but considers that desire so flimsy that it can be thwarted by the woman's decision to abort. I read that the position of one Muslim school of jurisprudence regarding abortion is that if it is God's will for someone to be born, they'll be born regardless of human action, and therefor abortion cannot be considered interfering with the divine will. I'm not sure if I agree with that, but it certainly seems more coherent than Mourdock's position.

Bill Dilworth

Kurt--

I stand by your argument too. Thank you. Yours are the only coherent remarks I've read about this mess all day.

Patriarchal men have long tried to keep women from having power over their own bodies and from telling the stories of their own lives. But as you point out, it is up to each woman to work out with her God how to understand what she has endured and what to do about it.

--Rebecca Wilson

Whatever the nature of God, we can certainly say that God is with women who are raped. God also gave us self-control, and morals, and language and culture. Because we are also imperfect, we cannot stop rape, but we can definitely reduce its incidence. We can make it unacceptable, and we can make it unacceptable to be silent about it. God demands it, I think.

Patriarchal religion assumes men should control women. There doesn't seem to be much empathy for the victim in the Indiana politician's rhetoric. Why not ask women what they want rather than theorizing about what women want, as Freud at his weakest did?

Maternity is a simpler cultural construct than paternity: witnesses can testify that a woman gave birth to infant X. But fatherhood is a much murkier concept, which is probably why some traditionalists are so intent on "defending" it. There will always be mothers but there needn't always be fathers in the sense of biological fathers playing a role in raising children. Other cultures have got along fine with them.

A candidate for the US Senate who tries to impose his dogma on the country has breached the wall separating church and state.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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