Monday, October 29, 2012

Why Richard Mourdock Was Not Wrong

On October 23rd Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock made a huge gaffe. He made an extreme and indefensible comment.
Or did he?
By some of the responses, you would think so. In response to his comments, President Obama said, "I don't get these guys (referring to Mourdock and Todd Akin, who is now famous for his 'legitimate rape' comments). Rape is rape." Actress Tina Fey said, "If I have to listen to one more grey-faced man with a two-dollar haircut explain to me what rape is, I'm gonna lose my mind." Carly Fiorina, the National Senatorial Committee vice-chairwoman, said, "Richard Mourdock said a really stupid thing, and he apologized." This was in response to Meet the Press moderator David Gregory summing up Mourdock's comments by saying that Mourdock was talking about "rape, and that it could be God's will, and that pregnancy because of rape should be taken to term." His opponent in the race, Joe Donnelly, said, "I was shocked by what was said, and I think it was insulting and wrong to women, to survivors of rape and to their families. It has no place -- comments like that -- in public discussion."
Clearly Mourdock must have made an extreme and divisive statement about rape.
But he didn't.
In a debate, Mourdock was asked about his position on abortion in cases of rape and incest. Here is his response: "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock really made no statement at all about rape. In fact, the subject only came up because he was asked about it. The only comment he made about rape itself is that is is a "horrible situation." This hardly seems controversial, divisive, or extreme. He made no statement to which someone should respond, "Rape is rape." He made no statement that somehow tells women "what rape is."
The extreme reaction has been the way people has made him out to say that he is pro-rape or that he believes that rape is "something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock's comments were not about rape. They were about abortion and his view on when life begins. he said that life is a gift from God, and he said that life, even when it begins in horrible situations, is still something that God intended." Certainly people disagree that God is the source of life, but that a person has this belief is hardly groundbreaking.
But didn't Mourdock admit that he was wrong when he apologized?
Here is his apology: "I said that life is precious. I believe life is precious. I believe rape is a brutal act. It is something that I abhor. That anyone could come away with any meaning other than what I just said is regrettable, and for that I apologize. If they came away with any impression other than that I truly regret it, I apologize. I've certainly been humbled by the fact that so many people think that somehow was an interpretation."
As some opponents have pointed out, Mourdock didn't really apologize. He regrets that his words were misunderstood.
His words were not about rape, but about when life begins and what we should do when life is present. No matter how many people try to make his comments about rape, they simply aren't.
More to the point, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List supported Mourdock, saying, "Richard Mourdock said that life is always a gift from God, and we couldn't agree more. To report his statement as an endorsement of rape is either willfully ignorant or malicious."
Ultimately, if anyone genuinely misunderstands Mourdock's statement, it is probably because they misunderstand the reason why many people (in fact, the majority of Americans) are pro-life. The reason is that we believe that life begins at conception, that life is precious, and that innocent life should be protected. This fact is not dependent on whether that life was conceived as a result of a devoted man and woman, a drunken one-night stand, or a horrific act of violence. My previous post walks through this reality.

In my last post I mentioned Rebecca Kiessling. She was conceived in rape and her mother gave her up for adoption. When she later reconnected with her biological mother, she said that she would have chosen abortion if it had been legal at the time. Rebecca Kiessling is alive today because she was conceived before Roe v. Wade.
Today Rebecca Kiessling is grateful for those who stood in the gap and protected her life, a life conceived in the horror of rape. I bet she is even grateful to any grey-faced men with two-dollar haircuts who fought to protect her life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Abortion Exceptions: What about Rape?

I had the privilege of speaking on the issue of abortion at Life Bible Fellowship Church this past Sunday. Speaking about abortion is daunting for several reasons, and one of those reasons is that it seems impossible to address all the different questions and concerns people have.
You can click here to watch the message in its entirety:
After the message I had several people ask me about whether or not there should be an exception in cases of rape. I got to talk to them individually, but I thought it would be good to write a post in order to cover the question more thoroughly. I am going to address the matter by responding three statements that I believe often reflect arguments in favor of such an "exception clause."

If a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape, then it is not her fault that she is pregnant. She should not be punished for what someone else did.
It is certainly true that a woman who gets pregnant as a result of rape does not bear any guilt for anything. She has suffered a horrific wrong, an act of violence. I know of no pro-life person who would in any way minimize the horror of rape. But this argument makes a false assumption.
The false assumption in this statement is that the pro-life argument is, "If you are pregnant, then you got yourself into this situation. Therefore you need to take responsibility instead of taking the easy way out." If that was the pro-life argument, then it would make sense to say, "But if you are pregnant through no willful action of your own, then you shouldn't need to suffer the consequences of pregnancy."
But this is not the pro-life argument. The pro-life argument is that the unborn is a person. A person conceived in rape is not any less of a person than a person conceived in a loving sexual act between a husband and a wife.
This past Saturday night I got to attend the banquet for Assure Pregnancy Clinic. The speaker was a woman named Rebecca Kiessling. She shared her powerful story that night. She was adopted, and when she tracked down her birth mother, she discovered that she was conceived by rape. Rebecca powerfully talked about the emotional difficulty of dealing with this information. But when it comes to the abortion issue, and the exception clause, she commented, "The supreme court has ruled that the man who did this to my birth mother does not deserve the death penalty. Did I then deserve the death penalty because of what he did?"
Just as is true with abortion in general, we have an easier time talking about it when we don't put a face to the subject. Could we really stand in front of Rebecca, or others conceived in rape, and say to them, "Because of how your mother conceived you, I would support her right to abort you"? I know that I can't do this.
A life is a life no matter how that life comes about.

If a woman gives birth as a result of rape, the child would be painful reminder of a horrific thing that happened to her.
Once again, I believe that this statement could be true. If the mother keeps the child, the child may be a reminder of that painful and horrible act of violence against her. But I don't believe that it follows that the right or best choice is abortion.
First of all, there is the wonderful choice of adoption. Rebecca Kiessling's mother chose to put her up for adoption. If the real problem here is that the child's presence will bring a painful reminder of the violence of rape, then there are many, many couples who would love to take the child into their family. If the real issue is that the mother would not be able to bring herself to look into the eyes of the child of not be pained, the child could be placed in a family who would love him or her.
Second of all, there are many people who remind us of painful things that have happened to us. A friend who informs a woman that her husband has died in a car accident may forever remind that woman of her grief over her husband. A doctor who delivers the news that a child has died may forever remind the parents of the horror of that child dying. In 2001 one of my best friends was killed by a reckless driver. I am facebook friends who his college roommate. When I interact with him, or see his updates, I think of my friend Matt, and I am pained at his death.
But the friend, the doctor, and the college roommate bear no guilt. Their proximity to the tragedy simply makes them a person who reminds us of pain that we suffered (perhaps at the hands of someone else). In the same way, the child bears no guilt for the "father" in this case. The fact that the child may bring a painful reminder of violence and violation is not a reason to abort the child. This is an act of injustice, punishing the child for the sins of the "father."
Third of all, I believe that in many cases the child would be a source of joy rather than of grief. There are many situation in which tragedy takes place, but we celebrate something beautiful that comes from that tragedy. We severely underestimate the redemptive power of God when we conclude that nothing good could come from bearing and loving a child who was conceived in rape. God, who brings good out of evil, salvation out of desperation, and life out of death, can always bring good out of bad circumstances. This doesn't mean that I think the mother MUST keep the child instead of choosing the route of adoption, but I think we make a lot of faulty assumptions when we conclude that the mother's relationship with the child would necessarily be irrevocably tarnished.

If pro-life people would flex, and allow for some exceptions, the movement could make some headway.
Right now Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are running on a pro-life platform with the exceptions of rape and incest and the life of the mother. Is this platform the way to go, simply in order to build consensus and move closer to the overturn of Roe v. Wade?
Scott Klusendorf writes and speaks about abortion, advocating for the protection of unborn children. In his book The Case for Life he writes about how he handles questions about cases of rape. He concludes that it does very little good to allow for the exception in moving toward middle ground. He says,
"Here's why. The abortion-choice position he defends is not that abortions should be legal only when a woman is raped but that abortion is a fundamental right she can exercise for any reason she wants during all nine months of the pregnancy. Instead of defending this position with facts and arguments, he disguises it with an emotional appeal to rape. But this will not make his case. The argument from rape, if successful at all, would only justify abortion in cases of sexual assault, not for any reason the woman deems fit. In fact, arguing for abortion-on-demand from the hard case of rape is like trying to argue for the elimination of all traffic laws because a person might have to break one rushing a loved one to the hospital. Proving an exception does not prove a rule.
"To expose his smoke screen, I ask a question, 'Okay, I'm going to grant for the sake of discussion that we keep abortion legal in cases of rape. Will you join me in supporting legal restrictions on abortions done for socioeconomic reasons that, as studies on your side of the issue show, make up the overwhelming percentage of abortions?'
"The answer is almost always no, to which I reply, 'Then why did you bring up rape except to mislead us into thinking that you support abortion only in hard cases?'"
As Klusendorf points out, talk about the rape exception is often (but not always) a smoke screen. 1% of abortions are in situations of rape or incest. This does not downplay the horror of rape in these cases, but it does show that pregnancy by rape is by no stretch of the imagination the main reason for abortion, or even one of the main reasons.
All of this said, is the Romney/Ryan position better than the Obama/Biden position? I can't imagine how I could say anything but Yes. Less abortions are better because that means less unborn children dying. At the same time, I think we would feel conflicted if, in an effort to free slaves in the 1800s, someone argued, "We can't get the pro-slavery people to come around on this one. So let's make a slavery exception for those whose skin is especially dark." Would this be better than the previous situation? It would in the sense that more oppressed people would be set free. But it is a hard position to justify. It certainly is not a position that anyone would want to defend today.
But would I vote for such a law if it was on the ballot? I think that I would. I would not vote for it if we were starting from a position of abortion being illegal. But if we moved from abortion on demand to abortion only in special cases, this would save lives. And I would have a hard time not voting for something that would save lives.

No pro-life person is excusing or minimizing the horror of rape. But the horror of rape should not lead us to excuse ending the life of an innocent unborn child. If those of us who are pro-life are going to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, this should include unborn children who are conceived in rape. They are no less human and no less valuable than any child, grandchild, niece, or nephew in our lives today.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Caught Between Two Kingdoms

One of the most frequent phrases used in Christian circles is "kingdom of God." And yet it is not always clear what is meant by this idea. The concept of the kingdom of God can seems slippery.
In basic terms, the Christian church has historically taught that the kingdom of God has come in one sense, and that it is still to come in another sense. We are living in the in-between, caught between two kingdoms. The kingdom of this world, ruled by the enemy, is still here, but his power is fading. The kingdom of God is growing in power and when Jesus returns it will come in its fullness.
There is an obscure story at the beginning of 2 Samuel that powerfully illustrates how we are faced with powerful decisions as we live between these two kingdoms. It is the story of a man named Abner.
Abner was the commander of Saul's army. As 2 Samuel begins, Saul has died. David's power is growing, but he has not yet fully come into his kingdom. It has been promised, but it has not been realized. The power of Saul's kingdom is fading and it has a certain expiration date.
After Saul's death, Abner responds by desperately holding onto Saul's kingdom. Second Samuel 2:8-9 says, "But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul's army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel." Clutching to the fading kingdom of Saul, Abner scrambles, grabs Saul's son, and declares him to be the king. He does what he can to keep Saul's kingdom going.
Abner's allegiance to Saul's kingdom, though, wanes in the next chapter. Ish-bosheth makes a spurious accusation against Abner, and this sets Abner off on an angry tirade. In 3:8-10 Abner says, "To this day I keep showing steadfast love to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David. And yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman. God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the LORD has sworn to him, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba."
Now, there are several astonishing things about what Abner says in this passage. But two stand out.
1. He makes clear that he has done all that he could do for the house of Saul.
2. He makes clear that he knew all along that God had promised the kingdom to David.
It is important to pause in order to take in this reality. Abner reveals that he knew that God himself had promised the kingdom to David, and yet Abner did everything he could to fight David's ascendancy. In reality, Abner knowingly opposed what he knew that God had ordained.
What would possess a person to do this? What would cause someone to knowingly choose a side opposite God?
The answer is simple. Abner was an important person in Saul's fading kingdom. He had influence and prominence. This might not be true in David's approaching kingdom. He might have to settle for obscurity in that kingdom.
In Milton's Paradise Lost Satan says, "Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven." While Abner's actions may not have been quite as dramatic as Satan's reasoning, the two are in the same vein.
Here is the point. Abner was caught between a fading kingdom and a coming one. He chose the fading kingdom not out of ignorance, but because he had more prominence in the fading kingdom.
Like Abner, we are all caught between two kingdoms. The kingdom of the enemy is passing away. There is an expiration date on his reign. Still, there is the potential to be important in his kingdom. We can grab hold of his way of power or pleasure or fame. We can do things his way and we can scrape all that we can from his fading kingdom. But all the while, we will be fighting against the inevitable. We will be fighting against God.
Embracing Jesus' coming kingdom can put us on the outs right now. The fading kingdom still holds some sway. But when we choose self-serving power over self-giving power, when we choose self-indulgence over delayed gratification, when we choose petty revenge over forgiveness, we choose to stand opposed to God and his coming kingdom. And not only this, but we choose to align ourselves with what is certain to fade, rather than showing loyalty to what is certain to win out.
Abner chose prominence in a small and temporary kingdom over a place in the kingdom of God. Everyday we are faced with the same decision that Abner faced. What will we choose?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Abortion and the Death Penalty

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with my friend Phil about abortion and the death penalty. One of the interesting facts that came up is that attitudes about the two issues tend to have a converse relationship. Typically, people on the right oppose abortion and support the death penalty. People on the left typically oppose the death penalty and support abortion.
Many people point out an inconsistency with the right. It is asked, "How can you be in favor of life when it comes to abortion, but not when it comes to the death penalty?" Now, I personally believe that there is no real conflict between these two. To say that you must oppose the death penalty if you oppose abortion is like saying that you have to oppose prison if you oppose wrongful convictions.
But I want to bring the inconsistency question to the left. Is it consistent to oppose the death penalty and yet support abortion?
This year there is a measure on the California ballot. Measure 34 proposes that the state of California repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison. While there are many reasons to oppose the death penalty, I was amazed at how many of the arguments appealed to the potential of executing an innocent person. It was the dominant argument against the death penalty, at least in this case. Earlier this year I read John Grisham's book The Confession, a book which proved that books can be preachy whether they lean right or left. Grisham's book basically became an anti-death penalty book, telling the tale of an innocent person being executed while authorities ignored obvious evidence with amazing disregard and indifference. Once again, the whole argument from Grisham was that the danger of executing an innocent person should be enough to make us rid ourselves of the death penalty.
To sum up, a huge anti-death penalty argument boils down to better-safe-than-sorry. Because there is the potential of killing an innocent person, we should not take the risk.
This brings me to the abortion issue. Now, I personally believe that there is overwhelming medical support supporting the fact that the unborn are people. But let's set that aside and simply say that we are unsure. Let's even say that we are pretty sure that the unborn are not people, but we can't be certain. By the logic of better-safe-than-sorry, shouldn't we avoid abortion. After all, there is a chance that we will kill an innocent person. And while the death penalty always takes a life, I think few would argue that it takes an innocent life every time. On the other hand, if the unborn are people, then abortion takes an innocent life every time.
Now, I personally strongly oppose abortion and support (not as strongly) the death penalty. But if both sides agreed to adopt a consistent better-safe-than-sorry grid, I would be more than happy to jump on board.

Monday, October 1, 2012

When No One Is Listening

One of the biggest topics in the news lately has been Governor Romney's secretly recorded comments about the 47%. The context is that a potential donor has asked him, on a practical level, how he will win the election. His response began with the idea that 47 percent of people "will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to good, to housing, to you-name it. That that's an entitlement and government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what." If you want the full context of the comments and the event at which he made them, here is an article you can read.
Since the secret recording was released, there have been varying reactions. Romney himself called the comments "inelegant" while some others have called them horribly offensive. I personally think the comment are worse than Romney is making them out to be, but I am not worked up over them. I guess my lack of indignation was for the same reason that I do not become indignant when a major college football program gets caught for recruiting violations. I have simply come to a place where I believe that the one who gets caught is not the only one who does it.
Case in point, a few months ago the president himself was caught on tape. During a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev concerning missile defense negotiations, the President Obama was recorded by a hot microphone. He said to the Russian president, "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility." The idea was that the president had to hold back on what he really wanted to do until he wouldn't have to worry about his quest for reelection. It ended up being an embarrassing gaffe.
What both of these situations have in common is that someone was caught on tape saying something that they had not intended for public consumption.
Now, before any of us throw stones at these men, we should consider what people would think of us if you private comments, jokes, and snide remarks were broadcast on television.
At the same time, these events underscore the fact that we often say what we really think when we don't beleive that our comments will have consequence. We speak most honestly when we don't think our comments will go public.
In Luke 12:2-3, Jesus said, "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."
In a similar sense, the author of Hebrews says in 4:13: "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
Our youtube culture reminds us daily that what we say in private may end up being heard by the public. This is bad because comments are often taking out of context and friends betray confidences. At the same time, this is a sober reminder that we really don't have any private moments. We are always before God. He always hears us. And we are always accountable for what we say. When our "private" words are made public, we can blame those who betrayed the confidence, but we also must take a look at ourselves. If I am embarrassed that my words are repeated, then I need to ask why I said something embarrassing.
Living in freedom before God involves living with a clean conscience. Great freedom comes when you aren't afraid of getting caught or exposed. If we are content that our words, were they shouted from the rooftops, would reflect well on us, then there is nothing to fear.
Many years ago, a friend and fellow pastor, Alan, was wearing a microphone during the church service. The music was going on and the congregation was singing. He didn't realize that his microphone was on, and so people in the foyer could hear what he was saying. Standing in the back of the sanctuary he said to a friend, "You see that hot blonde in the front row?" You can imagine how the people in the foyer gasped when they heard this. Was their pastor checking out some woman and commenting about her. Then he said, "That's my lady." Great relief swept across the foyer when they realized that the "hot blonde" was his wife.
The story is only funny because, instead of being caught saying something embarrassing, Alan was caught saying something nice. His most honest words were revealed, and he was talking flatteringly about his wife. His private moment went public, and it revealed only a clean conscience.

We will all be caught on tape. We will all have private moments go public. May we live soberly before God so that those comments will reveal private people who are consistent with our public personas.