Stephen Keating Undresses Pro-Life Tactics or, Let’s Get Underneath Akin’s Skin

I am late to the bash. Representative Todd Akin’s remarks continue to form the nexus for many an article and blog post. My friend Marty Duren recently posted an open letter to Representative Akin from a woman who got pregnant from rape. John Eligon wrote a New York Times piece pointing out another side of Akin from those who support his overall posture in the Republican Party. He closes with this quote,

Still, he [Jonathan Sternberg] acknowledged that Mr. Akin’s mouth could sometimes get him into trouble. “Todd Akin works so hard and tears himself so ragged,” Mr. Sternberg said, “that he has the propensity to say things without thinking.”

There is little doubt we all have said things without thinking.

Stephen Keating may have written the best piece I have read. I met Stephen last February. He gave me a ride from the airport to my hotel. If he has not already, he will be pursuing a PhD at Chicago Theological Seminary in Theology, Ethics, and the Human Sciences program. He is bright and engaging.

What drew me to Keating’s piece? Stephen does not attempt to disassemble the argument for life. Instead he undresses the tactics that betray the very movement that flies under such a banner. There is an odd false assumption that a person may only argue for life by employing the tactics that have become associated with placard carrying and personal attack.

Over lunch recently, my friend Greg (a.k.a. The Ex-Reverend here on the blog), noted how surprised his students are when he admits to seeing abortion as wrong. To be sure it is not that simple and particularly nuanced. Everyone assumes from his posture that he would be unable to muster an argument sufficient to call attention to the way both sides operate from within their own language game. Or, Greg works with his students helping them get underneath the employed rhetoric, a rhetoric that often betrays choice and life.

Keating looks to invite readers to do the same. He writes,

Ostensibly, he was trying to make a point about the ethics of abortion. However, something deeper is going on here.

After offering his own personal discoveries of what lies beneath he concludes,

At some point I realized that the shame was not a poor tactic, easily discardable, with which to reach the goal of reduced abortions; it is a core aspect of the ethics of “pro-life.”

Shame is a means of maintaining control, which brings us back to the topic at hand. Why would Akin imply that if a woman gets pregnant from a rape that it wasn’t a “legitimate rape?” Because his belief system ordains that the power to define rape should be in the hands of men. In other words, it’s all about power. His latest statement arguing that women lie about being raped, makes this crystal clear. But these are not consciously held beliefs and no matter what people like Jon Stewart say, Akin doesn’t “secretly hate women.” Having grown up in the pro-life movement, I can assure you that telling someone that they hate women only solidifies their previously held beliefs, further insulating them from ever having to confront the consequences of those beliefs.

As Adam Kotsko points out, there is an underlying logic:

“if we view [conservative ideologies] in terms of strategy, they all make perfect sense. Taken together, they serve to blame the victims, assert that the powerful are powerful for moral reasons, and then claim that the role of government is to endorse and reinforce the morally-discovered power structure rather than futilely try to disrupt it. The arguments might clash on a superficial level, but their effects are perfectly coherent and rational once the goal is granted. (Italics mine to set off Keating’s quote of Kostco.)

I hardly need to point to the Jewish prophetic tradition’s scathing critique of this type of thinking (if you need a refresher, read A Theology of Liberation). The powerful do not want to give up their power and certainly don’t want to think about the consequences of their power. And as long as we keep arguing at the level of consciously held beliefs, rape will keep getting legitimated and the oppressed will keep losing.”

Keating helps us undress tactics that often lay at the heart of these important issues. He may even expose an empty core that leaves us celebrating meaningless victories.

Oh, and why is it important to undress these matters? Because faith demands better . . . and so do my daughters.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.