One of the ironies of this election season is that while President Obama and the Democrats hold a most extreme position on abortion (why doesn’t Romney ask about partial birth abortion?), the Republicans seem bent on proving that they are the ones who can’t be trusted on this issue.
The latest gaffe occurred last night in Indiana, when Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest. Mourdock replied: “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.”
As you might guess, that last phrase is what made news this morning. My view is that Mourdock is either right or wrong, depending on what he meant by “God intended.” If he meant God’s sovereign, decretive will, then this is obviously true, for nothing could happen that is not intended by God in this sense. Even Arminians concede that God must have signed off on whatever comes to pass. But if Mourdock meant God’s moral will then he is tragically mistaken, for rape is about as evil as it gets in this life.
Mourdock clearly hit on this sovereign/moral distinction after the debate, but it was too late. He told the Indianapolis Star that it was “sick” and “bizarre” to interpret his comments to mean that God intended rape. He explained: “What I said is God creates life. As I person of faith, I believe that. Does God want people raped? Of course not.”
Mourdock’s self-inflicted wound illustrates the importance of precision in theology. We can’t use such ambiguous phrases as “God intended” without immediately clarifying what we mean. If we give people the freedom to take it in the broad (sovereign decree) or restrictive sense (moral will), then we can be sure that our political opponents will interpret it in the way that best suits their aims. Worse, we might confuse and hurt many women who desperately need to hear a Word from God on this painfully important issue.