Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, produces a daily podcast called “The Briefing,” which he describes as an analysis of current event from a Christian world view. It’s my morning newscast; at 15 minutes, it’ll pretty much get me to work. This past Friday, he hit an absolute game-winning, out-of-the-park, grand-slam home run. (Hey, I’ve got to get my baseball metaphors out of the way, since the season’s over as of about an hour ago.)
The transcript below is mine (names spelled phonetically if I didn’t know them already), of the final 10 minutes. He analyzes Richard Mourdock’s controversial comments, then turns his attention to the issue that both he and Todd Akin have both bumblingly defended. (If you’re in a hurry, skip to the last 4 paragraphs.)
It was a statewide debate that would’ve been unlikely to gain national attention. But all that changed on Tuesday night when, in a debate between United States Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, the Republican, and US Representative Joe Donelly, the Democrat, the issue of abortion arose, and it ended up arising explosively. In this case, Richard Mourdock, asked about his position on abortion, said this: “The only exception I have to have an abortion is that in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, and I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And I think that, even that life that begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
The fury and firestorm that erupted after Mourdock’s comments has now reached a fever pitch. And, what you have across the political spectrum is somewhat feigned, and perhaps somewhat genuine outrage at the candidate’s statements on abortion. All this, of course, is more intensive in terms of our national discussion, because of the aftermath of the controversy over another Senate candidate’s comments - that was Todd Akin, running for the United States Senate seat in Missouri - and in a similar way, Mr. Akin found himself as the topic of focus and controversy over the statements that he intended to be reflective of a consistent pro-life position.
In both cases, the issue was rape, and the connection to abortion. In Mr. Mourdock’s case, the comments are actually far less complicated than the comments that were made by Todd Akin. His statement - let me repeat again - was about his position on the sanctity of human life, and thus, exemptions for abortion. Mr. Mourdock is known as a pro-life candidate who has said he will try to achieve increased limitations on abortion if elected to the Senate. Let me read to you his words again. He said, “The only exception I have to have an abortion is that in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, and I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And I think that, even that life that begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Many in the media, and even some in very high office, have attempted to characterize Mr. Mourdock’s statement as suggesting that rape is a part of God’s will. For instance, you have the President of the United States responding with outrage, suggesting that what Mr. Mourdock said is nothing less than politically atrocious. The Obama campaign, according to Jonathan Weissman of the New York Times, sought to exploit the opening from Mr. Mourdock’s comments, as did virtually every Democratic campaign for the US Senate; pressing, they say, a unified message that the Republican party’s out of step with female voters. President Obama “felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women,” so said Jane Saki, the president’s campaign spokeswoman. Ms. Saki also said it was perplexing that Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate, had not demanded that his ad for Mr. Mourdock be taken off of television.
Let’s look at the comment, and let’s consider the controversy. There is something here that is very important for those of us who are pro-life to note, and to note with requisite care. What we’re talking about here is a man who, very sincerely and very self-evidently, sought to define the sanctity of human life to cover every single human being from the moment of conception until natural death. He has found himself in very hot political water, in a very close Senate race that was probably already too close to call, and may now put himself in a significant electoral disadvantage. What went on here, and what should we learn from it?
The first issue to consider here is the matter of communication. I think any fair-minded person would understand that Mr. Mourdock is right when he complains that his comments have been taken out of context, so that it appeared that he was referring to rape as God’s will rather than the gift of life. Hats off to at least some in the media who have noted this; Amy Sullivan writing in the New Republic wrote this: “Despite the assertion of many liberal writers I read and otherwise admire, I don’t think that politicians like Mourdock oppose rape exceptions because they hate women, or want to control women. I think they’re totally oblivious,” she writes, “and insensitive, and can’t for a moment place themselves in the shoes of a woman who becomes pregnant from a rape. I don’t think most care that their policy decisions can impact what control a woman does or doesn’t have over her own body.” She then writes this: “But if Mourdock believes that God creates all life, and that to end a life created by God is murder, then all abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances under which the pregnancy came about.” She is exactly right; that was Richard Mourdock’s point.
But, he’s paying the price for miscommunicating here, and for bringing up the issue of rape in a context in which he didn’t have to answer the question that way. He brought up the issue of rape without a way of adequately explaining what he was going to say thereafter, and he spoke in a way that was simply too brief to carry the weight or the moral meaning of the argument he was trying to express. He needed to say that he believes that God has given the gift of life to every single human being, and that the circumstances that brought that gift of life about are not what establishes the dignity or sanctity of any human individual’s life. Rather, he was trying to say that there is an objective value - sanctity, dignity - to every human life, and that includes one born out of wedlock, that includes one born out of expectation or hope, and that includes one born, also, out of something so absolutely horrible, sinful, and almost unspeakable as forcible rape.
There are others who similarly got it right, in the midst of those who clearly got it wrong. Kevin Drum, writing at Mother Jones, which is one of the most leftist periodicals in America, also decided to do a bit of truth-telling here. He writes this: “Mourdock is getting beat up pretty bad for this, so I think that’s just fine.” He means that politically. “At the same time, can’t we all acknowledge that this is just conventional Christian theology?” Very interesting. He goes on to write: “What I find occasionally odd is that so many conventional bits of theology like this are so controversial if someone actually mentions them in public.”
Going back to Amy Sullivan, again at the New Republic, she writes this: “Take a look again at Mourdock’s words. ‘I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.’” She then writes, “The key word here is ‘it’; I think it’s pretty clear that Mourdock is referring to a life that is conceived by rape, he’s not arguing that rape is the ‘something’ that God intended to happen.” She then writes this, very important: “This is a very common theological belief, the understanding of God as an active interventionist. It’s also,” she writes, “not limited to conservative Christians. There are liberal Christians,” she writes, “who also argue that things work out the way they’re supposed to. Some of them are in my own family, and I think they are wrong.” So, in other words, Amy Sullivan clearly believes that Richard Mourdock is wrong; but she’s very clear also that her liberal media peers, far to many of them, and those who are politically opportunistic on the other side, are using this statement out of context, and knowingly so.
But there are severe lessons to us. The lesson first is communication. We must not let ourselves fall into the position of appearing to say anything that comes close to what Richard Mourdock is accused, albeit falsely, of having said. But the most important issue here is not politics - it’s not political; and, it’s not about communication either. It’s about the dignity and sanctity of every human life, and the attack upon human life by the culture of death in the form of abortion. Here is something that conservative Christians - those running for office, and those voting for someone running for office; those who are activity in the political sphere, and those who are just trying to understand it - in terms of how abortion should be considered in the frame of public policy.
Right now, the public is very clear that the vast majority would accept legislation or some political action to constrict and restrict the number of abortions in America. Americans, across the board, are increasingly outraged at the scale of abortion, with 1.2 to 1.4 million babies being aborted every year. Only a tiny percentage of them are covered by the most frequently-asserted exceptions, whether it’s rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. The last of the three, an intervention to save the life of the mother, is often misconstrued by virtually everyone, because the main issue there should be cases in which action to save the life of the mother tragically, but unavoidably, causes the death of the unborn child. But in looking at the three exceptions - just taking them at face value, understanding that we cannot be morally satisfied that the circumstances of those conceptions should lead to the allowance of the abortion of those babies - we should, as a matter of public policy, right now, work for legislation that would restrict the number of abortions, and would eliminate the vast majority of abortions. Approximately out of the 1.2 to 1.4 million, we’re talking about all but a handful of about 20 to 50,000 abortions, at the most extreme estimate, in terms of a year.
Now let me be clear: we could not accept those exceptions as a permanent condition. We could understand that on the way to this society embracing the full dignity and humanity of every single human life, this is a way of at least saving the vast majority of unborn babies. That’s why, when a politician right now is running for office, we should not expect them to say that they would not accept any exceptions in terms of public policy. But I do expect them to say that they cannot accept them morally as a permanent condition. In other words, if I were asked this question, I would say that right now, I’d be willing to sign on the dotted line to legislation that would eliminate over 95% of all abortions in America. I would not then remain satisfied. Even as the pro-abortion movement would be trying to convince Americans to liberalize abortion, I will from that point onward be doing my dead-level best to try to convince Americans to move to an even more consistent pro-life position.
There’s a statement that applies in politics perhaps more appropriately than anywhere else. “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” We cannot sell out our principles - most importantly, the principle of the dignity and the sanctity of every single human life - but, we cannot sacrifice millions of unborn children to our principle on our way to trying to get this nation’s conscience in alignment with human dignity.
If you aren’t listening to “The Briefing,” you’re missing out. Check it out on iTunes, or at Dr. Mohler’s site.