Indiana GOP U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock has declared he opposes aborting pregnancies conceived in rape because “it is something that God intended to happen.”
No, God does not “cause” either rape or conception following rape, nor is this “God’s intention.”
Rape is a crime.
Rape is an offense to God, and violates God’s intention for human life. I believe the goal of human life, in the case of my Christian faith, is what Jesus taught: “Love God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Not only is the physical violence part of the sinfulness of rape, so also is one person forcing his will on another. This diminishes the image of God in the one forced against her will, as God created human beings to be able to act and be creative, not to be passive and acted upon (Genesis 2-3).
Rape is sin by the perpetrator and God does not cause sin. Conception following rape is a tragedy, not part of “God’s will.” The capacity for tragedy to occur in human life, and indeed in what we call “natural evil” like earthquakes, is a result of what Christians call “the fall” from perfection as described in Genesis.
When you make God the author of conception following rape, you make God the author of sin. This is a huge theological error, and one that Christian theologians have rejected since the first centuries of the faith.
“Unde malum?” “Where does evil come from?” is one of the most profound questions we wrestle with as Christians and has been from earliest Christian history (see Tertullian, Apology, 39).
It is cheap, easy and wrong to attribute all that happens in the world to God, as this makes God the author of sin and evil, and thus less than all good.
But frankly, Mr. Mourdock, the theological errors pale in comparison to the failure of compassion your comment exhibits. Your comments are contributing to the hurt and the self-blaming of women and girls who have already been violated.
I counsel women all the time who have been raped. They are already blaming themselves for something that is not their fault, but that society and religion teaches them is their fault.
I tell them over and over again, “It’s not your fault. Rape is violence. It is the sin of the perpetrator. It is a crime.”
That does not mean that God is absent when rape occurs. God is present as the one revealed in Jesus Christ as always on the side of the victim, the violated, the vulnerable and the outcast. God is with you, even when you are faced with violent crime and the threat of death, even, in truth, in death.
Rape is an existential crisis, an ultimate kind of threat, because most girls and women who survive a rape nevertheless believe they could have died. Mary Pellauer and I discuss this in our chapter “A Conversation on Healing and Grace,” in “Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside.” Often the perpetrator tells them they will be killed during the assault, or they will be killed if they tell anyone. And we know that many girls and women do not survive violent sexual assaults.
Knowing that God judges rape as a profound wrong is part of the healing and grace for women and girls that can follow. Taking back your moral agency as a person who can make an ethical choice, as Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison helps us understand in regard to the ethics of choice regarding any pregnancy that results from rape.
When you take away the capacity for ethical agency following violent rape, you are contributing to the diminishment of these human beings and impeding their recovery.
Our current political polarization is a failure on many levels, but none so profound as the failure of compassion, of empathy.
There is, however, no failure of compassion so glaring as the way rape survivors are being made into political and religious scapegoats today.
Stop that. In God’s name, stop it.
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress .