Lynn Beisner explains the religious—albeit ridiculous—thought process behind Richard Mourdock’s recent rape comments.
Over the last couple of months, we have heard a lot from conservative men about rape. Their words have been shocking and outrageous for most people. But for me, it is nothing more than a bad family reunion. This is what I grew up with, and I understand what these men are saying and why.
I feel like it falls to me to be the interpreter for these men. Don’t get me wrong, I have no wish to explain away the offense that they have created. Rather, I want people to understand that in the communities and churches these men come from, their comments are not out of left field. In fact, they are like a single thread in a tapestry, perfectly harmonious in the context of their beliefs. Their beliefs about rape and abortion are the only logical positions you can take as a believer in their form of Christianity.
One of the most important beliefs to understand is one that conveniently was brought up this week by Richard Mourdock: God’s will. In a debate for the U.S. Senate, Mourdock said, “I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock has tried to defend himself by saying that the pregnancy not the rape is God’s will. But there is no logical way of getting around it: If a woman’s rape-induced pregnancy is God’s will, then her rape must be God’s will as well.
The larger question we should be asking is if conservative Christians believe that rape is God’s will for some women. The short answer is yes. The long answer requires understanding what conservative Christians mean when they talk about God’s will or plan.
There are two forms of God’s will: God’s perfect will (Plan A) which requires near-perfect devotion and obedience but promises God’s protection and the opportunity to do something important in God’s service. Very few people live in Plan A. God’s provisional will, Plan B, is what kicks in when a person sins or strays from the faith. When we fall into Plan B we are no longer eligible for the great mission of Plan A, and therefore, there is no reason for God to grant us His protection. He may not necessarily do bad things to us, but he will allow other people acting in their free will to harm us. God then uses that harm to teach us about the dangers of straying off the path.
So, is it ever God’s will for someone to be raped? Yes, but in Plan A it is very unlikely. The only way that Plan A would include rape would be a situation like martyrdom, where the woman was being raped because of her faith or if her rape was meant to serve some higher purpose. That higher purpose might include giving birth to a child who would serve some important role. If a woman is raped while she is in God’s perfect will, she will not seek an abortion. After all, aborting the fetus would defeat the whole purpose of the rape. So while it is theoretically possible for a woman to be raped in accordance with God’s perfect will, it is very unlikely. What is more likely is that she fell out of Plan A and did not know it.
Conservative Christians like Mourdock believe it is highly unlikely that women still in Plan A will be raped since truly virtuous women do not put themselves in situations where they can be raped. Women are instructed to never be alone in a room with a man and they are encouraged to have a female escort or family member with them every time that they go out in public. What is more, the virtuous woman dresses, sits, walks, and talks in ways that do not encourage men to have sexual thoughts about her and thus she does not “invite” rape. Virtuous women have a castle mentality when it comes to rape: If they build walls high enough and demonstrate how impregnable they are, the enemy will be discouraged and seek another target.
When a Wisconsin lawmaker recently talked about women who are more easily raped, he was saying that there are women who do not use the castle strategy of rape prevention because they are less virtuous. This is also how we get the distinction between forcible and non-forcible rape. They believe that some women just leave their castle doors open, or even take up residence in pubs. If a man does not have to storm the gates of a castle, then it wasn’t forcible rape and probably shouldn’t count as rape at all.
So while it is almost never God’s will for a woman in Plan A to be raped, there are almost no women in Plan A. Women in Plan B, however can be raped in accordance with God’s will. But it is for their own good, to bring them closer to God, and to teach them not to stray. And any baby that results will only reinforce that lesson and bring them that much closer to God.
The metaphor commonly told to illustrate this principle is of Jesus as a shepherd with a chronically wayward lamb. The shepherd cares about the lamb and does not want to see it fall off a cliff or be eaten by coyotes. So for the lamb’s own good, he breaks its legs. Then he splints them and carries the lamb around for the time that it takes for her legs to heal. This not only teaches her that bad things will happen if she wanders off, it forces her to spend time embraced by the shepherd. As he carries her “next to his heart” day after day, she comes to love him and that further ensures she will not run off again. Here is what a commentator at the prestigious Moody Institute says about this tale:
“Does that sound cruel? Perhaps, but the sheep’s broken leg is really the result of the shepherd’s broken heart. The shepherd knows that the sheep must learn to stay close to him for his own good. The hurt is intended to help.”
It is important to remember two things: First, it was never in God’s original plan for her to be raped. His plan was Plan A, and in that plan she is protected. Rape is just one of many horrible things that can befall a person not in Plan A. God simply uses the rape as part of Plan B, one that brings the woman back into compliance and into a relationship with Him.
The second thing to remember is that God allows a woman to be raped only because He loves her and wants her to get back on the right path. The promise is that if she repents of whatever put her out of God’s protection and stays on the right path, God will make the rape work out for her ultimate benefit and happiness.
The idea that rape is God’s will is not an isolated misogynistic idea. It is but one logical outcome of a theology which says that God hurts us to help us—that when we intervene in another person’s suffering, we may be stopping God from doing his loving work in the person’s life.
Think about that idea for a few minutes. Now think about what it would look like if you applied that theology to all public policy. And now you understand the Tea Party.