Missouri Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin, a congressman from the St. Louis area, sparked national headlines and outrage after claiming on Sunday that women rarely become pregnant after “legitimate rape.”
Akin won the Republican Senate primary earlier this month after garnering strong support from Missouri Baptist leaders who used Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) resources to promote his candidacy.
As Akin fought to defeat two other Republican senatorial hopefuls for the opportunity to run against first-term Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, more than 75 Missouri Baptist leaders and pastors publicly endorsed Akin.
MBC leaders used their titles and official resources to assist the campaign in hopes of making Akin the conservative standard-bearer against the vulnerable McCaskill.
Shortly before the three-way primary contest that Akin narrowly won, his campaign released a list of “pastors & Christian leaders” endorsing his campaign. Notable on this list is the dominance of Missouri Baptist figures lining up behind the Presbyterian politician.
More than 75 of the 103 individuals listed are Baptists.
“We the undersigned do hereby extend our personal support and endorsement to Congressman Todd Akin in his bid for the office of United States Senator,” declared the statement the pastors signed. “We greatly appreciate his long standing commitment to our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and his proven record of defending life, traditional marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment, free enterprise, limited government, fiscal responsibility and a strong national defense.”
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.
One of the former MBC presidents is David Tolliver, who later served as the MBC’s executive director before resigning in 2009 “due to immoral behavior with a woman.”
Kerry Messer, lobbyist for the MBC’s Christian Life Commission, also joined the list of endorsers.
When Akin served as a state representative before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he shared an apartment in Jefferson City with Messer.
Listed are two officials of the Pathway, the MBC’s official newspaper: editor Don Hinkle and associate editor Allen Palmeri.
Hinkle announced his support of Akin in a blog post, in which he called “Todd” and two other candidates for other offices “personal friends, brothers in Christ and outstanding public servants.”
The Pathway published the Akin campaign’s list of pastoral endorsers in July. Hinkle previously announced his support of Akin in a Pathway column in May.
“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 wrote. “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.”
The use of the MBC’s official news source to promote the Akin campaign – with Pathway and other MBC leaders using their MBC’s titles in the Akin press release that the Pathway reprinted – could raise questions regarding unlawful political activity on behalf of a partisan candidate.
Four years ago, the IRS investigated former Southern Baptist official Wiley Drake after he publicly endorsed then-Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, using church letterhead and a church-sponsored radio program.
Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor, endorsed Akin in the Republican primary.
EthicsDaily.com contacted several of the pastors to determine who organized the list for the Akin campaign.
One said it was passed along by a personal friend, but he did not know who initiated it.
Another identified Bott Radio personality Harold Hendrick, a Southern Baptist who also appeared on the list, as the one who initiated the contact. Bott is a conservative Christian radio company with close ties to MBC leaders.
Hendrick and most other pastors contacted did not respond.
Shortly before the primary, Hendrick interviewed Akin on his radio program. Calling Akin a “25-year friend” and bragging that he had brought Akin on the program more than 40 times over the years, Hendrick mentioned the ad with the names of pastors and highlighted the fact that the ad included former MBC presidents.
The Akin campaign did not respond to an EthicsDaily.com request for comment.
In the past, Akin has sparked controversy on matters of religion and politics, including inserting health care politics into the nonpartisan Congressional Prayer Caucus and claiming liberals inherently hate God.
“I believe Todd Akin to be a man of faith and conviction and I support his values based on his biblical beliefs,” Dana Burris, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Affton, Mo., told EthicsDaily.com. “I have strong religious convictions that I do not believe can be separated from the political and secular arena. … I am very conservative and I also believe that our candidates should seek the guidance of God in all we do and in the things they deliberate. Our nation was founded on religious principles.”
Akin’s comments on Sunday threaten to derail his campaign and end the hopes of Missouri Baptist leaders in sending him to the U.S. Senate.
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy from rape) is really rare,” Akin claimed. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
After national criticism erupted almost immediately following his inaccurate claim, Akin issued a statement claiming he “misspoke” while offering “off-the-cuff remarks.”
Democrats quickly condemned Akin’s remarks.
Several Republican leaders harshly criticized him, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who on Tuesday urged Akin to “exit the Senate race.” Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also urged Akin to drop out of the race.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) declared as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee that the organization would not spend money to help Akin.
Leaders of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group, defended Akin. Other social conservative groups reiterated their support for Akin, although the pro-life advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List moderated their support of him as the controversy grew.
Several Missouri pastors told EthicsDaily.com of their support for Akin in the aftermath of the rape controversy. They supported Akin’s account that it was a misstatement and not a serious policy error.
“Rep. Akin is not the first politician to misspeak,” said Fred Barker, pastor of New Melle Baptist Church in New Melle, Mo. “While I support his pro-life position, his term ‘legitimate rape’ was not a wise choice of words in today’s politically charged world.”
Hendrick of Bott Radio defended Akin on Facebook against criticism and calls to quit the race.
“He is a man of integrity,” Hendrick wrote on Tuesday morning. “We would not want to be destroyed or thrown overboard re one mistake. Then we must treat Todd in the way we would like to be treated. Todd… stay the course. We need a tried and true statesman like you… warts, mistakes, and all… in public office.”
Hinkle, the editor of the Pathway, tweeted his continued support Monday evening on his @EditorDon account: “I just contributed $100.00 to support @ToddAkin – Todd Akin for Senate. Help at http://Akin.org.”
As Akin struggles to find supporters among the Republican Party, Hinkle, Hendrick and other MBC leaders and pastors seem willing to keep backing his embattled campaign.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.