When Bad Theology Leads to Bad Laws - Word&Way

When Bad Theology Leads to Bad Laws

During a recent debate in the Missouri Senate over a proposal to create rape and incest exemptions to Missouri’s abortion ban, one lawmaker argued against such exceptions by defaming God.

Republican Sen. Sandy Crawford, who called herself “a woman of faith,” argued that while rape can be “mentally taxing,” women should be required to give birth to their rapist’s child since it’s part of God’s will.

“God is perfect,” she declared on the Senate floor earlier last month. “God does not make mistakes. And for some reason he allows that to happen. Bad things happen.”

Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, listens during Senate debate of an initiative petition bill Monday, Feb. 12 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

I don’t know if Crawford, who teaches a Sunday School class for elementary-aged girls at her Baptist church, has thought about the theological implications of her remark. But as a Baptist minister, I take exception to Crawford’s grotesque depiction of God as an accomplice to rape.

Bad things do happen, but that doesn’t mean they are God’s will. To ascribe evil deeds to God is to make God evil.

Although Crawford didn’t say whether she believes all rapes are planned by God or just those that result in conception, her suggestion that God desired such violent acts leaves me wondering why she would want to worship such a deity. Who really desires to honor a god acting as a criminal mastermind of a global ring of rapists?

Surely a loving God could find other ways for women to get pregnant than through a violating act. Telling women their rape was God’s plan for them is to add spiritual violence to the wrongs committed against them. Doing it through legislation is to also add state violence.

Policy problems quickly emerge from Crawford’s comment. If such a theology means that abortion should be banned even in cases of rape, then to be consistent Crawford might need to push some other legislation

After all, if God planned the rape and made it happen, then why would we prosecute the rapist who apparently had as little say in God’s plan as the woman did? I sincerely hope Crawford doesn’t think rapists should be set free for following God’s will. But if it doesn’t apply there, then why should such theology apply elsewhere?

Ultimately, the legislative offense isn’t merely the problematic nature of Crawford’s theology. Under our constitutional system for our pluralistic society, she needs to find a better reason for a policy than simply her belief in God’s will. Even if I agreed with her theology, that wouldn’t mean I would support her attempt to codify it. Individuals who do not share her belief in God (or her version of what God wants) shouldn’t be required to live out her beliefs.

Crawford’s free to believe what she wants, though I’d like to help her find a more loving vision of God. And she’s free to share her beliefs with others, though I hope this isn’t the theology she teaches young girls who would be required to deliver a child if impregnated by rape or incest. But she’s not free to demand other citizens follow her religious beliefs.

The faith-based argument against allowing exemptions makes the same mistake as Missouri’s overall abortion ban. When lawmakers passed the policy, they wrote “Almighty God” into the actual law as a justification — which has led to a lawsuit claiming it violates the religious freedom rights of those with different beliefs (with the clergy in the suit represented by organizations that include Americans United for Separation of Church and State, where I serve as a trustee).

The theology dominating Missouri’s Capitol is similar to that of the Alabama chief justice who invoked God while declaring in a ruling that fertilized frozen embryos are people. That decision has upended in vitro fertilization in the state, leaving some families who want to have children through IVF finding their plans canceled. Bad theology enacted as public policy can have devastating consequences.

The Christian Nationalism we’re seeing in Missouri, Alabama, and elsewhere values poor theology over people. It’s bad enough when taught in churches, but it’s worse when practiced in statehouses.


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