Are We Afraid of the Truth?

 

Timothy Brahm dialogues with students at CSU Bakersfield.

Lately at Equal Rights Institute we have been emphasizing the importance of showing compassion to people, listening to them, and loving them. Several of our followers have responded to this emphasis by asking, “Are you guys wimpy about the truth? Do you just go around giving hugs, making friends, and avoiding the hard stuff?” I think that’s a question worth answering.

Here’s the problem: navigating conversations about abortion is tough, because balancing truth and love is tough. [Tweet that!]

Pro-choice people need to be told, challenged by, and sometimes even confronted with the truth. But we are not telling them the truth just to make ourselves feel like we’ve done our pro-life duty. We want to share the truth with them in the way that is most likely to get through to them, and sometimes that means being patient. Sometimes I spend a great deal of time just listening to someone, partially because I think that will help them to be more receptive to truth later.

I could just lead every conversation by saying, “Abortion is sin, it kills a helpless baby, you’re a sinner, you need Jesus, and you’re going to hell if you don’t have Jesus.” I think those are all true statements, all of which I’d like to get to during the conversation. The reason I don’t lead with that is not that I’m afraid of the truth or that I lack conviction, but because it’s foolish and short-sighted to just blast people with the truth, with no thought to how they are going to respond to it. [Tweet that]

To quote my brother Josh Brahm from his speech at the Students for Life conference this year:

“Can we stop treating people like formulas for a second and remember that they’re people, and that people have different needs? . . . Every conversation is a series of difficult judgment calls amidst prayer without ceasing. And I don’t think I always make the right calls. But I certainly don’t think I should run every conversation from the same script.” [Tweet that]

I’m not saying “just be nice.” I’m also not saying “don’t be offensive.” I’m arguing that we should love the people we talk to by seeking their best interest, and that means different things for different people. For some people, the most loving thing we can do for them is to graciously confront them with the truth about abortion, even if it offends them. For others, the most loving thing we can do for them is to listen to them, at least for a time.

One of the reasons why we train pro-life advocates to love the person they’re talking with is that loving, truthful people are always more persuasive than unloving, truthful people. [Tweet that]

But that isn’t the only reason. Being loving does make us more persuasive, and we should care about that, but if that was the only point, we could just train people to act loving and call it good.

Fair warning, I’m about to get very religious because my religion strongly affects the way I think about this question.

We should love people and tell the truth to people because Jesus loves people and tells the truth to people. When we defend the unborn by sharing the truth, we honor Jesus. And when we sit with a broken child of God and love her, we honor Jesus.

It’s easy to rationalize never challenging people on difficult topics by saying that you’re just being loving, and that does not honor Jesus. It’s also easy to rationalize being rude to people by saying that you’re just sharing the truth with them, and that does not honor Jesus either. I’ve been guilty of both mistakes.

I also used to fake compassion in my conversations about abortion because I was an arrogant, obnoxious logic machine that was just prudent enough to know that I was more likely to win an argument if I came across as gracious. I won some debates that way. I even changed some minds. But we can do better than that.

In every ERI seminar, we clarify to the participants that we are not trying to teach them to fake compassion. We are assuming that they feel genuine compassion with people that are in difficult circumstances and we are trying to help them get better at showing that genuine compassion. We also tell them that if they don’t have genuine compassion for these people, they should talk to their pastor or someone because there is something deeply wrong with them. If all they can muster at one of our outreaches is a good acting performance of compassion, we would rather they not talk to people yet.

Sometimes Jesus told people really hard truths, like in Mark 10:21: “Go, sell all that you have an give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Note that it first says that Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and then said this hard thing to him.) Sometimes Jesus overturned tables (Matthew 21:12). Sometimes he got in people’s faces and called them names (Matthew 23:23-33). Sometimes he showed mercy to sinners, like the sinful woman who anointed his feet and the Samaritan woman at the well (Luke 7:36-50 and John 4:7-26).

Jesus spoke the truth to people in love. He was neither a truth-spewing robot, nor a mere giver of hugs. He didn’t go into every conversation with the same script. May we follow in his holy footsteps.

 

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Director of Training

Timothy Brahm is the Director of Training at Equal Rights Institute. He is interested in helping pro-life and pro-choice people to have better dialogues about abortion through 1) taking care to understand what the other person means, 2) using more carefully-constructed arguments, and 3) treating each other with care and respect. He graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in philosophy and is a perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute.

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