Salvationists would agree that life and children are gifts from God. They would also concur that rape is a criminally vicious act. So how would we respond to someone who asked us to weigh in on Mourdock's original statement?
First, let's clear up one thing. This issue is not about the sanctity of life for Christians. It is political. Abortion is one of the primary wedge issues, especially in the United States, that divides conservatives from liberals. That wedge can drive the two sides so far apart that they end up having to stretch the truth or make outlandish statements to galvanize their positions. In this case, someone who felt they had to oppose abortion at any cost consequently felt the need to legitimize any form of impregnation—even the most horrible manner imaginable.
Christians do not need to get sucked into this type of political faceoff. Salvationists may oppose abortion under all circumstances or they may allow consideration for termination of an unwanted pregnancy under certain circumstances, such as rape (see the Army's international Position Statement on Abortion at bit.ly/XBuybQ). But they do not need to fall into the trap of taking a point of view so far that it leads them to make some ludicrous assertion like Mourdock did.
Second, I think the key to articulating a clear message in response to this issue is to look at semantics. There are words and phrases that we use as believers that carry certain meanings. But I am not sure that we have always done a good job at explaining the theology behind those words. This leaves people to infer what those words mean. This is especially true when we talk about “God's will.” Do most Salvationists have a clear understanding of what it means to say, “God's will is …”? Ultimately it all comes down to a fundamental understanding of how the world works and how much of what happens is what God imposes and how much is what humankind chooses for itself. When some Christians think of the will of God, they simply think of that which is preferable to God, “his good, pleasing and perfect will” (see Romans 12:2). Others, however, believe that God's will is irresistible. They believe that God is behind everything that happens in the world and that anything that happens must have been in God's will.
The Salvation Army's theology is Wesleyan-Arminian; therefore, we would tend to identify corporately with the God who has a perfect plan for the world but does not force his will on anyone. We do not deny God's sovereignty, but we acknowledge that God has granted us free will and has made us co-creators in the ongoing progression of this world. God does not use us solely to carry out his own will. He allows us our own will. He desires that our will align with his, but he does not make it so.
To Mourdock and those who heard him, we would say that rape is never in God's will. We would also say that while each life is precious, and the ability to reproduce life is a gift from God, we would never state that a child was predestined to be born, especially through such a violent manner. Perhaps we need to be aware of our language and the meaning that our words carry. We all like to refer to children as a “gift from God,” but what do we mean by that? Do we believe that God wanted a particular child to be born so he made sure it happened, even if it meant by rape? Or are we simply acknowledging that the source of life is God and that without him nothing is created? As a free-will theist, I am much more comfortable with the second answer. What do you think?
Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Victoria's Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre. You can read his other columns here.