A Self-Styled Christian Soldier

When Todd Akin won his Senate primary in Missouri earlier this month, I noted with great personal interest that he held a divinity degree from Covenant Theological Seminary, home of the Francis Schaeffer Institute (named for the highly influential controversialist who had a lot to do with convincing conservative evangelicals to make abortion a top-priority issue) and a training center for the old-school Calvinist Presbyterian Church in America.

Religion Dispatch‘s Sarah Posner has an extensive article up on Akin’s religious background, and particularly the views of his denomination on abortion. Here’s some key sections:

Akin is proud of how his religion, and in particular, the Presbyterian Church in America, the deeply conservative Calvinist denomination founded in 1973, influences his political views. Akin has a Masters in Divinity from the denomination’s flagship Covenant Theological Seminary. His campaign website notes, “Although most of his classmates went on to become pastors or missionaries, Todd took a different path. For several years he studied the founding of America and the principles which made this country great. His love of country and conviction that leaders must stand on principle led him to run for State Representative in 1988.” On abortion, the PCA is absolutist: opposing abortion in all cases, with no exceptions….

A 2001 PCA report on the prospect of women serving in combat positions in the military, titled “Man’s Duty to Protect Woman,” states, “woman is the weaker sex and part of her weakness is the vulnerability attendant to her greatest privilege—that God has made her the ‘Mother of all the living.’ Men are to guard and protect her as she carries in her womb, gives birth to, and nurses her children.”

Yes, that was written in 2001, not 1001.

[T]he PCA view is that its own view of the Bible should dictate laws on abortion (and other matters). On abortion, the PCA rejects what it calls “situation ethics” for exceptions to prohibitions on abortion, including “population control, economic hardships, unwanted children, psychological or physical health of the mother, rape or incest, deformed children, and protection for the mother’s life.” As early as 1978, the PCA was discussing the “personhood” of a fertilized egg, arguing, “conception, then, is not a mere human happening. Apart from the sovereign intervention of God, conception (which Scripture designates a divine blessing) does not take place.” It has concluded that “God in His Word speaks of the unborn child as a person and treats him as such, and so must we. The Bible teaches the sanctity of life, and so must we.”

And yes, the PCA has promoted the very idea that has gotten Akin into such hot water:

On rape exceptions, the PCA report cites a report on abortion by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which addresses rape exceptions by arguing that “Actually there are extremely few cases of this kind: less than one in 5,000 abortions is performed on such grounds, and that figure includes pregnancies arising from statutory rape as well as, we assume, some cases where rape has been falsely alleged.” (emphasis mine). Actually there are more like 30,000 pregnancies by rape a year, but the OPC report goes on, inexplicably, and without documentation: “In Washington, no documented rape cases resulted in pregnancy over a 20-year period.”

There’s a reason Todd Akin has only apologized for using the term “legitimate rapes,” and not for the underlying contempt for women his general attitude reflects: the man is doing what he believes God has ordered him to do:

This is not a situation where Akin sat in the pews of the church of a controversial pastor, or once attended a conference or seminar where controversial views were discussed. Akin has a Masters in Divinity from the PCA’s seminary, and proudly claims he took a political rather than a pastoral path after seminary. His denomination has not only opposed abortion in all cases, including rape, but has suggested that the number of pregnancies by rape is overstated, and even questioned the veracity of rape claims. And Akin, who in a few months could be a United States Senator, wants his religion to dictate our laws.

And that hasn’t changed at all.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.