Be Open to Letting the Conversation Change Topics

Learning to defend your deeply held beliefs is really important, but it’s easy to get into the wrong mindset. Sometimes we get so focused on supporting the arguments for our view and defeating the arguments for the other view that we get…well, weird. We can get into the kind of focus where we are so oblivious to the person in front of us, we might as well be arguing with a robot.

Apologetics is not an end in itself, it’s a means to an end. The end for which we use apologetics is loving people by seeking their best interest.[Tweet that!] Sometimes that means our dutifully studied arguments become unnecessary.

One of the traps that comes along with the territory of studying apologetics is getting into a “flow-chart mindset.” If she says A, you say X, if she says B, you say Y, and so on.

dialogue-flowchart

But the times I go on autopilot and I’m thinking too much about the argument, I lose track of the person, and often the point. This is why it’s important to respond to people, not merely their statements.

And this is why I’ve learned to let the conversation turn away from abortion.

Sometimes.

Some people strongly disagree with this idea, they think that you should always stay on the topic that “really matters.” At Equal Rights Institute, we encourage our students to be open to the possibility that when someone changes the subject to something else, that other subject might be something that they really need to discuss.

Here are a few examples:

Religion

Some people have told me that if I don’t share the gospel in every conversation I have, then I am making a huge mistake. Other people have told me that if I ever let the conversation shift from abortion to religion, then I am making a huge mistake. (You can’t please everybody.)

Both of these views are wrong. Both views treat people like formulas instead of like people. People are complicated, so they have different needs.

Emily Wilkinson took this 2 cropped

Sometimes people are in desperate need of clear thinking about abortion, and forcing the subject to change to religion is a mistake. But sometimes people need me tell them why I believe in Jesus a lot more than they need to hear about abortion.

Every conversation is a series of difficult judgment calls amidst prayer without ceasing. 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.

Same-sex marriage

Anyone that has tried doing pro-life outreach in the last five years knows that people bring up same-sex marriage very frequently. If I’m talking about abortion and the person suddenly shifts and says, “well what do you think about gay marriage?,” they might just be doing that because they feel like they’re losing on abortion and they want to win. Sometimes my judgment call in the moment is that we were getting somewhere and we need to finish the conversation we were already having first. But  sometimes it’s an openly gay man or woman made in the image of God asking me if I think God hates them. I think that’s a question worth answering. Oftentimes it’s someone that has never heard a reasonable and loving Christian explain why they are opposed to same-sex marriage, and if that’s the case then they have handed me a wonderful opportunity.

Sometimes when they bring up same-sex marriage, it’s all about credibility. Some people will not listen to your argument about abortion until you convince them that you don’t blindly hate gay people. I’m not saying that’s fair; I’m saying when that’s the case, plowing ahead with your pro-life argument is akin to putting your fingers in your ears and humming. It’s worth saying that you don’t hate gay people, and that it’s unconscionable and disgusting when people are bullied or abused because they’re gay. I’m for the equal right to life of all people, born or unborn, regardless of their sexual orientation. I’m not against abortion because I’m just specifically obsessed with fetuses (which is what many pro-choice people think about us). I’m against abortion because it is one particularly egregious example of injustice among many.

When you’re talking to someone about abortion, what is your agenda? If it’s to get them on their knees committing to follow Christ by dinnertime no matter what, you’re going to miss great opportunities. If your agenda is to convince them to be pro-life no matter what, you’re going to miss great opportunities.

When you’re in a conversation with an individual made in God’s image, your agenda should be loving that person. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for that person is to talk to them about abortion. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for that person is to talk about something other than abortion. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone if that’s what the person needs.

Click here to read the followup post with three other examples where we change the conversation topic from abortion to something else, but for a different reason.

 

Question: Do you ever allow a dialogue about abortion to shift to something else? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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The post “Be Open to Letting the Conversation Change Topics” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

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President

Josh Brahm is the President of Equal Rights Institute, an organization that trains pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly and argue persuasively.

Josh uses speaking, writing and campus outreach to emphasize practical dialogue tips, pro-life philosophy, and relational apologetics.

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  • Marauder

    I like your points about not going from a script. A lot of online abortion debates tend to end up sounding super-scripted, to the point where it sounds more like a firing-off of talking points and less like a debate or discussion.

    I’ve got to pick the nit over “I’m for the equal right to life of all people, born or unborn, straight or gay”, though, in that all people aren’t either straight or gay.

    • That’s a fair point. This wording was more poetic, given the context is regarding gay marriage. We’re aware there are other sexual orientations.

      • Marauder

        I figured you were aware there are other sexual orientations, but it really, really sucks when language is supposed to be about “all people” and then goes on to describe all people as excluding you personally. (I’m bisexual.)

        • I hear you. Thanks for the pushback. I’ve edited the line to say this:

          “It’s worth saying that you don’t hate gay people, and that it’s unconscionable and disgusting when people are bullied or abused because they’re gay. I’m for the equal right to life of all people, born or unborn, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

          • Marauder

            Wow, that was more than I expected. Thanks, Josh! :)

            • Glad to do it. It’s a more clear representation of what we meant when we wrote it. Thanks again for helping us achieve clarity!

  • Crystal

    I’m a novice at this, but yes, I will definitely change the topic sometimes if I can. Being a liberal, I like to build common ground with the person I am speaking to by discussing liberal causes with them, something they probably weren’t expecting, because I want them to feel they are a person, that I am taking time to get to know them as people rather than see them as an enemy, and to let them see I am a person with interests too. Prolifers are normal people, but how to communicate that to some advocates of legal abortion is a real challenge.

    • Well said. I’ll often talk about being open-minded by describing the process by which I became opposed to the death penalty and waterboarding. That tends to both give me credibility – I’m not just saying I’m open to changing my views about serious, moral issues. Secondly, it builds common ground as most pro-choice people I talk to are also opposed to capital punishment and waterboarding.

      • Crystal

        I do hear you. I do notice people tend to be more drawn to me when I discuss,
        say, animal rights (sometimes I’ll even talk about favourite books) with them than if I just say “abortion is murder” which is true but unhelpful in many cases.

        How did you become opposed to the death penalty and waterboarding and why?

        • I don’t have time to do either of these issues real justice here, but here’s the short versions. :)

          Capital Punishment:
          This one was the bigger struggle to me, because I am a Christian. If I take the Bible seriously, it’s clear that God is not opposed to capital punishment at a moral level. Obviously He would be opposed to innocent people being executed, but some people argue that the state never has moral justification for capital punishment. I don’t see a way for someone to both take the Bible seriously and believe that statement to be true.

          So I’m opposed to capital punishment more on pragmatic grounds. I think our justice system is flawed. I think innocent people are still executed, and I think that’s worse than not executing guilty people and putting them in jail for the rest of their lives instead.

          Waterboarding:
          I think I was okay with waterboarding before I learned what it actually is like. It’s not merely being made uncomfortable. It’s pretty clearly torture when you read the way it’s described from people who have tried it, and in those cases they knew it wasn’t being forced on them and that they could opt out at anytime. One account I read said that there are mild versions of it but then when he tried the more intense version that our military has done, it was the worst thing he had ever experienced. He then described other tortures he would prefer to go through.

          I don’t know how to defend the use of torture without using utilitarian reasoning, and I’m not a utilitarian. I’m okay with making prisoners uncomfortable or intensely interrogating them, but there are some things that the US called “enhanced interrogation” that I think belong in the torture category.

          • Crystal

            Your positions are perfectly fair, and I tend to share them myself.

            In regards to the death penalty, what about child molesters? Should they receive the death penalty? I mean, I struggle a little with that one because I know victims totally deserve justice, but what if you’ve got the wrong guy??

            Also, concerning waterboarding, do you think it is ethically acceptable to use it on nazi thugs and IS thugs? I think they deserve something painful but I don’t want to stoop down to their ugly level, I’m better than that!

            What do you think of the assertion (regarding original sin) that we’re all as bad as Hitler???? I found that one SHOCKING!

            Thank you for the good job you do, persuading people to reconsider their position on abortion. I don’t want to take you from that work or from your family, even if you miss some of my replies. What matters is your human rights advocacy!

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