The response to a deeply religious Christian man--however flawed--has been anything but Christian....
Just a few days ago Missouri Congressman (and GOP Senate candidate) Todd Akin roiled our collective emotional centers with his misguided medical information and his abhorrent choice of words.
By now everyone is likely aware of what he said. Speaking on a Sunday morning talk show in St. Louis, Akin responded to a question about abortion in the case of rape, an exception with which he strongly disagrees. In defending his position, he sloppily said that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” It was a blunder of epic proportion, especially when considering that the question couldn’t have been a surprise to the Congressman.
The responses, immediate and pointed, blanketed both social and traditional media and by late afternoon of that same day Akin had issued an apology, suggesting that he had simply used the wrong words. “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks,” he wrote, “it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”
Here, of course, is not where the story ends, but where it begins.
Reactions were strong and swift; anyone looking for news on other topics likely found themselves at a loss as broadcast after broadcast and post after post offered facts, quotes and assorted punditry on the subject. For once—a rarity in today’s polarizing political climate—everyone seemed to agree: Akin should have dropped out of the race. His comments, it was agreed, made him unsuitable for the role of candidate for the United States Senate.
On the right, everyone from presumed candidate Mitt Romney to coarse pundit Ann Coulter has strongly suggested that Akin drop out. Romney said that Akin’s comments were “offensive and wrong” and wants the Congressman to “very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country.” Coulter, making the topic personal, wrote that she “won’t hate Todd Akin officially unless he refuses to withdraw from the Missouri Senate race.” Calls for Akin to step aside multiplied, and now include Sean Hannity, Charles Krauthammer and the editorial board of The National Review, among others. (Despite these calls, as we now know, Akin has not dropped out, putting his faith in the people of Missouri.)
On the Democratic side the responses were predictable; politicians and broadcasters rushed to paint the entire GOP with Akin-colored brushstrokes. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, immediately used the incident as a fundraising opportunity, sending out an email in which she wrote that she was “outraged at the Republicans trying to take women back to the Dark Ages." Ed Schultz, on his August 20th broadcast, called the comments “outrageous,” and then rushed to make connections between Akin’s statement, GOP ideology, and the sporadic and inconsistent positions of Mitt Romney on the topic of abortion.
All of these responses are self-serving and politically motivated. The Republican responses rapidly coalesced around the ways in which Akin’s continued candidacy might hurt the party’s opportunities, both in its march to hopefully reclaim the Senate (by winning the Missouri seat from Claire McCaskill and thereby adding a plus-one to the count) and the presidency (by putting Missouri more solidly back into play for Obama). The Democrats, meanwhile, responded with harshness and fervor, using Akin’s words as an opportunity to revitalize the War on Women rhetoric that claims the GOP is looking to reverse decades of gains made by women.
But few, it seems, have taken a deeper look into either Akin’s heart or their own, recognizing that, despite the words he chose, Akin speaks from a deeply religious conviction, a deeply Christian conviction. And by ignoring that reality, we also ignore the possibility of our own Christian responses, our own call to forgiveness.
Neither side has taken a moment to heed James when he says, that “man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires,” nor Paul, who writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1 that “if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
And no one has remembered the words of Jesus, who said in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
All of this is not to absolve Congressman Akin, nor to suggest that forgiveness means that we should accept (or, worse, forget) his words and beliefs, but this lack of Christian sympathy on issues most Christian has become a frightening hallmark of politics. Whether the subject is school prayer, the appearance of the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, or the renaming of a traditional Christmas tree as a “holiday” tree, we continually create a sharp, unforgiving divide. We judge and are judged. We are angry and unrighteous. We are resounding gongs and clanging symbols.
I am reminded of a 2007 essay by Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World, who offers this simple advice: “Be New Testament, not Old Testament.” He writes that the Old Testament model is one of subtraction and isolation around rules, laws and norms (a “zero-tolerance policy”), while the New Testament model is one of addition. “American Conservatism,” he writes, “can have a bright future, with God’s grace, if we are strong and courageous in developing positive alternatives…”
Congressman Akin’s comments provide us the opportunity to have serious discussions, potentially additive discussions, on a topic that has for decades divided our country in mind and soul. But instead we once again choose self-serving opinions, blasting and excoriating the other side, looking to subtract one set of beliefs or another, Old Testament style.
Why do we not wish to be better?