Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rape and aftermath: Where is God?

For the second time this political season, we have a politician making a horrible statement concerning rape.

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"?

This was the end of my Episcopal Cafe entry from yesterday.  Someone commented that I was focusing on the wrong argument.  He said:

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.

To which I responded:

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.


toni p1 said...

I am torn on exactly how to express my thoughts on this issue. I would like to think that Senator Murdoch did not mean what he said exactly the way he said it. [But that's probably just my eternal optimism :)] I don't believe that God causes bad things to happen for any reason. I do believe that when bad things happen God is there to help us through them and that good can come from it because of God's help and guidance. I also think that we may not always see what that is or will be. Pregnancy resulting from rape can be a particularly difficult issue. Any pregnancy takes a physical and emotional toll on a woman already. For nine months a rape victim would be reminded daily of the crime perpetrated against her and the person who did it. Not only was she raped but it didn't end when the actual act ended. For almost another year, her body is still not her own. Then there is the decision of whether to keep the child or put it up for adoption. Another emotional quagmire forced on the woman by the rapist. How do you separate your feelings about a child from your feelings about it's conception? I absolutely celebrate and applaud the resilience and faith of those women who can do that and decide to bear and keep children conceived in rape. But the state cannot give those women that resilience and faith and because it can't, it should not take away that choice.

Kurt said...


I think you do quite well expressing yourself here.

Thank you for your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking this on. It was necessary, difficult, and I appreciate your words of grace and wisdom.