By Andrew Walker
Embattled Republican Senatorial candidate Todd Akin, whose comments about “legitimate rape” on a Sunday morning talk show last week sparked a weeklong media controversy, is receiving continued support from Missouri Baptists, the state convention of the national Southern Baptist Convention. They were encouraged by fellow Baptist Mike Huckabee in a special conference call.
Meanwhile, national Southern Baptist public policy spokesman Richard Land has called for Akin’s withdrawal.
Akin, a six-term congressman, made his remarks when asked whether his strong pro-life views allows for abortion in the cases of rape and incest. Akin held that in cases of “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body has internal defenses that prevent the likelihood of conception from occurring, an idea widely disputed.
Akin’s remarks have received unparalleled media attention and criticism. Democrats have pounced on the opportunity, trying to attach Akin’s position on abortion to Governor Romney and Congressmen Paul Ryan, the men vying for the White House against President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Republican operatives, conservative journalists and conservative activists have distanced themselves from Akin’s comments, calling for him to bow out of the Missouri U.S. Senate race. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also called for Akin to remove himself from the race, along with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Attempts to force Akin from the race have caused a divide in Republican camps.
Akin has defied party leaders by refusing to exit the race, insisting against the opinion of many, that his race against incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill remains winnable. The Missouri Senate race is considered a pivotal win for Republicans, who desperately need Missouri in order to take control of the Senate.
Akin is a favorite of social conservatives in Missouri, particularly among Missouri Baptists who have long supported him.
Politico reported on Friday night that former Arkansas Governor and talk show host Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist, spoke to Missouri Baptists on a conference call from New York, encouraging them to maintain their support for Akin. Huckabee, a populist conservative with deep ties to the Southern Baptist Convention, is a strong pro-life voice.
“This could be a Mt. Carmel moment,” said Huckabee to Missouri Baptists, making reference to the biblical story of the battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.
Huckabee continued: “You know, you bring your gods. We’ll bring ours. We’ll see whose God answers the prayers and brings fire from heaven. That’s kind of where I’m praying: that there will be fire from heaven, and we’ll see it clearly, and everyone else will to.”
Huckabee, though, didn’t rule out the possibility of Akin needing to exit the race.
“Obviously, Todd’s numbers have dramatically gone down,” Huckabee observed. “Two things: the poll numbers need to come back up. Todd needs to show that he can still raise money. That’s a game changer. If not, then the pressure will continue. It maybe won’t be public, but the pressure will still be there for Todd to exit the race and clear the field for somebody else,” said Huckabee.
He also was critical of those calling for Akin to exit the race.
“I’ve never seen an effort like what I’ve seen this week with party leaders coming together expressly for the purpose of taking one of their own wounded soldiers on the battlefield — and instead of coming to get him off the field and to the hospital — basically opening up rounds and rounds of fire on him, and then running over him with the tanks of the trucks, leaving him to be ravaged by the wolves of the other side,” Huckabee said.
David Baker, pastor of First Baptist of Church in Belton, Mo., said during the conference call that Missouri Baptists still support Akin. “We have a responsibility as prophets to speak out,” Baker said. “One thing I know about Missouri Baptists is that we don’t like to be told what to do.”
David Yeats, Executive Director of the Missouri Baptist Convention said: “One of the things we have to remind ourselves of and remind our people of is that Congressman Akin represents the mainstream of our values.”
Richard Land, the out-going president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has also called for Akin to leave the race, signaling a potential divide between those in Missouri and those outside the state.
Land, a tireless advocate for the pro-life movement, believes Akin’s comments will harm the recent advances the pro-life cause has made.
“I think it splits the social conservative movement,” Land told CNN. “Some people say, ‘Look, he is our guy, we are going to stand with him. We think he can win.’ And some people are saying, ‘The odds are this is a fatal blow at least in this election cycle.’ For the good of the movement, for the good of the pro life cause, for the good of taking control of the senate for pro life forces, he needs to do what’s best for the cause and throw himself on his shield.”
In an article at Ethics Daily, a moderate Baptist media outlet, Bryan Kaylor compiled a history of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s support for Akin, noting a page on Akin’s campaign website detailing particular pastors who support Akin, many of whom are Missouri Baptists.
According to Kaylor, “Among those listed are key MBC leaders with their MBC affiliations noted on the endorsement ad, including six former MBC presidents, the current chairman of the MBC’s Christian Life Commission and a former chairman, one current and one past MBC executive board member, and the current MBC recording secretary.”
Kaylor also observed that when Akin served as a state legislator, he shared an apartment with Kerry Messer, a lobbyist for the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission.
Don Hinkle, the editor of The Pathway, the publication of the Missouri Baptist Convention, tweeted his support for Akin after the controversy. He also published an editorial in May saying, “We want government leaders who are righteous and who will pass righteous laws that serve the common good and bring glory to Jehovah God who established government and is Sovereign.”
Hinkle continued: “This is why I personally support candidates like U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican who wants to challenge Democrat Claire McCaskill for her U.S. Senate seat, and Republican Ed Martin, the St. Louis attorney who is running for state attorney general. I support them because they view many of the critical issues the same way I do and in a way that is consistent with God’s Word.”
Kaylor’s article sparked a formal complaint against the Missouri Baptist Convention by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which strongly opposes religious conservatives. The group alleges that the Missouri Baptist Convention used its non-profit resources, particularly its state paper, The Pathway, to help support Akin by way of “campaign intervention.”
The formal complaint reads, in part: “In a May 2012 edition of The Pathway, the official publication of the Missouri Baptist Convention, MBC Director of Public Policy Don Hinkle endorsed two candidates for public office in the August Republican primary – U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin and state attorney general candidate Ed Martin.”
AU’s complaint further declared: “In a July 2012 edition of The Pathway, an article headlined “More than 100 Missouri Baptist pastors, leaders endorse Akin (plus full list)” reported that a large number of Missouri Baptist Convention leaders and pastors had endorsed Akin.”