“I think that someone else phrased it this way: you know, Akin was the man who said too much.” – Sarah Posner, Senior Editor, Religion Dispatches Magazine
A week ago, six-term Republican Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri sparked a firestorm with comments he made about rape and abortion on a St. Louis television station. Since Akin opened his mouth, pundits are speculating on what his comments mean for his race against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, and fellow Republicans (including VP nominee Paul Ryan) have called for him to drop out of the race. But is that because Akin is so out of step with the GOP majority position on this issue – or because he revealed it to be nakedly anti-reason, anti-science and anti-woman?
Click the “play” button above to hear the extended interview. To download this audio, click here. Scroll down to read transcript. To hear the entire August 25, 2012 State of Belief Radio program, click here. To hear Sarah Posner’s previous appearances on State of Belief Radio, click here.
Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches senior editor, has written insightfully about both the controversy and the origins of Akin’s beliefs – which aren’t that out of step with the GOP’s 2012 platform:
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Sarah Posner
[TAPE REP. TODD AKIN (R), MO: If it’s a legitimate rape, uhh, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.][REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Last Sunday, 6-term Republican Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri sparked a firestorm with those remarks, made on a St. Louis television station. With the Congressman challenging Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in the November elections, the intervening week has seen everyone from television commentators to presidential candidates weigh in on Representative Akin’s comments; and with presumptive GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan reportedly personally calling the Congressman to urge him to withdraw from the Senate race, the subject of a woman’s right to choose has been dominating the national debate.
Religion Dispatches Senior Editor Sarah Posner has written insightfully about both the controversy, and the origins of this totally unscientific but politically convenient belief that when force is involved, conception is unlikely.
Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. Welcome back to State of Belief Radio.[SARAH POSNER, GUEST]: Thanks for having me on to talk about this! [WG]: I’ve been needing to hear what you have to say about this. Now look, just in case anyone has been on vacation on a deserted island or out of our universe this past week, what was it that Todd Akin said that provoked such widespread condemnation? [SP]: Well, he essentially said that if a woman is legitimately raped – the word “legitimately” was his – then her body has defenses that shut down the possibility of her becoming pregnant. [WG]: I mean, when you heard that, what was your first… Maybe not. I was going to say, what was your first thought, probably not. But, I mean, what were your speakable thoughts? [SP]: Well, after I picked my forehead up off my desk, I thought to myself, you know what, I am actually not that surprised. I mean, it’s shocking; but given how radical the Republican party has become, it’s actually not incredibly surprising that one of its representatives in Congress would have such a medieval view – not only of science, but of gender. [WG]: You make the point, Sarah, that this misguided belief is not really new. I’d like you to expand on that, please. [SP]: Well, as other reporters have pointed out, other reporters have looked at the science angle or the medical angle on this and have found that there are other anti-choice activists like the Dr. John Willke, who is very active in the anti-abortion movement, who have put forth this theory from a quack medical point of view, shall we say. And that has been around for quite some time; and in fact, one of my colleagues has a piece up at RD today that traces it back even to the early Church, this use of women and their bodies. But Akin comes out of a particular religious tradition, which I explored at RD, which has a very hostile view towards women and women’s equality, and essentially views women as the weaker sex; doubts that women can actually get pregnant if they are raped; and that if they do get pregnant as the result of rape, that they really shouldn’t seek an abortion because they should choose the life of the child, in their words, over he own well-being. [WG]: Are those comments coming out of a religious perspective or out of a scientific perspective? [SP]: Those are coming out of a religious perspective. [WG]: Ok. [SP]: Akin belongs to a church that’s part of the denomination the Presbyterian Church in America, which shouldn’t be confused with the Presbyterian Church USA, which is the mainline protestant denomination. The PCA was founded in 1973 as sort of a breakaway denomination, ultra-conservative denomination; other people who belong to it include Jim DeMint, the late D. James Kennedy was in the PCA, so that gives you some idea of the arch-conservatism of the denomination. Now the PCA, on its website, has position papers on issues like whether women should serve in combat in the military. One of those documents is entitled, I think, “Man’s Duty to Protect Woman,” and discusses women being “the weaker sex” – and that’s a direct quote; they have lengthy position papers on abortion where they set forth their absolute opposition to abortion under any circumstances including rape. So Akin belongs to a PCA church in Missouri, he at one time was a ruling elder in that church, he went to the PCA’s seminary – Covenant Theological Seminary – and has a Masters’ in Divinity from there. So, it’s not just a sort of situation where maybe he went to church a few times and listened to a pastor give a few sermons. He’s definitely embedded in this denomination. [WG]: Well Sarah, I call those words “politically convenient.” Would you agree? [SP]: Well, he essentially wants to deny that women are raped. He wants to basically say, well, you know, this is not something that happens very often, or it’s something that women lie about. And so if those things are true, if it doesn’t really happen very often and women lie about being raped, than why should we have rape exceptions to abortion bans? So it’s like a setup for their theological view that women shouldn’t be permitted to have abortions under any circumstances. They do this politically convenient thing of saying, well, rape isn’t really real. [WG]: Ok Sarah, let’s imagine that sitting right across from you is Rep. Akin. What would you say to him? [SP]: I think… You know what, that’s a good question! I don’t know. I would ask him how he sees his job, that his constituents have elected him to, as actually serving both the men and the women of his district. [WG]: Well that would be a mild question, as I know you. How would you – I’m serious: how would you instruct him? Because let me tell you, there are people all across the United States right now that are having to cope with that; and there’re some people, men and women, who don’t know what ought to be said to counteract that kind of foolishness. And so that’s why I’m asking you that. Give them some response that they could use in it. [SP]: Well, there’re so many layers of this. One is: why does Akin think that his religion is so superior to everybody else’s; that his is the religion that should dictate what our laws say. Because that’s essentially what he has said. Why does Akin think that liberals hate God, another thing that he has said; why does he think that gay people are destroying western civilization, which is essentially a paraphrase of something that he has said. And so, what’s his justification for saying that his version of religion over everybody else’s should dictate what the laws are, and then taking into account that other people’s religions don’t have the same view of women, abortion, women’s relationship with men, women’s role in the family, women’s role in society – what makes him think that his is the only version of the truth? Because that’s clearly what he thinks. [WG]: Well of course Sarah, you know and I know that the long-reaching implications of this have to do with the fact that Todd Akin’s statement is not materially inconsistent either with Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney’s past positions on the topic – nor for that matter from this year’s Republican platform. Do you see that as being true? [SP]: Well, yes. But I think the reason why you saw a Republican backlash against Akin – notwithstanding the fact that his policy views, his view that there should be no exception in abortion bans for women who are raped – is exactly the same as most of his Republican colleagues. The reason you saw the backlash is because he exposed the really ugly theology and junk science that lies underneath all of that. I think that they were happily going along, thinking that nobody really is paying close attention to what lay behind their opposition not only to abortion, but to more specifically, rape exceptions to abortion bans. And he just laid it bare in such an embarrassing way that they all felt compelled to distance themselves from him, or most of them felt compelled to distance themselves from him. But you know, in the same week they, the platform committee passed the draft platform that did not include any rape exceptions to their proposed constitutional amendment to ban abortion, and recognizing the political precariousness of all of this, Paul Ryan felt compelled to come out in his campaign plane and tell reporters that: “Oh, now I favor Mitt Romney’s position of having an exception for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.” Well, you know, who’s going to believe that they really believe that and they’re not just saying that for the sake of expediency? Because his entire political career, Paul Ryan has been opposed to rape exceptions. So I think that this puts them in a place that made them feel very exposed and under the microscope – which is a good thing, ultimately, for American to understand exactly where the Republicans are on these issues. And I think that someone else phrased it this way, you know, Akin was the man who said too much. [WG]: What comes to mind is that we’re seeing what he did with changing his moral conviction, changing that for the sake of being on the ticket with Mitt Romney, is like the evangelicals changing their mind about the negative implications of Mormonism for a candidate for the presidency of the United States. [SP]: Sure. We’re at the stage of the election cycle where everybody is going to be doing what they can to close ranks around the person that they’re stuck with, Mitt Romney. [WG]: And what is going to drive that – my point is, what’s going to drive that, ultimately, is not religion but politics. [SP]: Yes, absolutely. And I think that Paul Ryan I don’t think really cares one way or the other. Yeah, I mean I think Paul Ryan’s main interest in being in the race is the implementation of his economic policies. So he’s going to work his way around this abortion issue in a way that best suits the political moment. I don’t think he’s – you know, he’ll say to conservative audiences that he’s opposed to a rape exception, but I doubt that he would go to the mat on it when the election possibly hangs in the balance, and they’re under the microscope for being so hostile to women’s rights. [WG]: Sarah Posner, Senior Editor at Religion Dispatches Magazine, she also writes frequently for The Nation, Salon.com and The Guardian UK. Sarah is the author of the book God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters.
Sarah, thank you so much for being with us again on State of Belief Radio.[SP]: Thanks Welton.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.