Those of you who have spent any amount of time on social media lately know that political discourse has been particularly ugly in recent weeks. Ever since the controversy began over separating children from parents caught crossing the border illegally, there have been comments about what it means to be “pro-life.” My favorite tweet from the time of that controversy came from my colleague Rachel Crawford:
Anyone thought of policing the terminology of #prolife today? I think it would really help start a productive dialogue
There are many worthwhile discussions to be had about immigration policy, but policing the term “pro-life” is not a prudent way to start one. [Tweet that!] There are good, compassionate, reasonable pro-life people of every political stripe. This is possible because being pro-life in regards to abortion is entirely consistent with all kinds of other positions all over the political spectrum.
There is a long list of steps pro-life advocates would like to see their pastor take to stop abortion, and, unfortunately, pastors find that list intimidating. They can’t do everything, and they often don’t feel like anything that they can do would actually make a difference. I’d like to suggest one minimal (and not even controversial) leadership decision that pastors can make that is likely to save lives within their congregations.
My view of what church leaders should do about abortion has evolved over 13 years of full-time pro-life work. I used to get very angry when I thought about pastors who are silent on this subject, because I earnestly believed that most of them were either cowards or shamefully apathetic to a serious evil in our country. I had a bad experience nine years ago with a pro-abortion-choice usher at one of the largest Protestant churches in Fresno, California who debated me about abortion in the foyer while her pastor preached. When I later told the story on the pro-life podcast I hosted, I needed to physically stand up because I was so frustrated by the experience.
I’ve since calmed down a bit, thanks partially to Scott Klusendorf. I remember that, when Scott was writing his book The Case for Life, he told me that he wanted to take a different approach with silent pastors. Instead of lecturing them, he wanted to come beside them, realizing that many of them aren’t doing anything because they don’t know what they should do.
I’ve since tried to emulate Scott’s attitude toward pastors. That’s become easier as I’ve talked to more pastors and parish priests who struggle with what to say about abortion. For many of them, their silence is not due to cowardice or apathy, but due to a very understandable concern of emotionally damaging their congregants whom they know are post-abortive. I’m not saying that the best response to that fear is silence on abortion. I’m merely acknowledging that when a pastor is shepherding hundreds of people, and he knows that some of them are post-abortive, it’s at least understandable for him to be very concerned for their well-being if someone says something in church that equates abortion to killing babies.
All pro-life organizations ought to have some presence on social media, but there are some common mistakes that can drastically reduce the effectiveness of a Facebook page. Speaking as someone with experience as a Students for Life leader, running an effective Facebook page is not as difficult as it looks. This post will help you see actual results rather than just having your Facebook page sit there as another task on your long to-do list. It just takes some intentionality.
If you do not already have a public Facebook page for your group, then you need to create one right away. A Facebook group for your club members to privately chat in is not the same as a page because it does not allow you to develop either a public following or interest in your group. The Facebook page is a public platform that allows people to find you, follow what is happening with your group, and share your posts with their friends.
These 16 tips will help you to get measurable results from your Facebook page:
Whether you are participating in legislative efforts, sidewalk advocacy, volunteering at a Pregnancy Resource Center, or leading a Students for Life group, you should be talking about your pro-life work. Pro-lifers need to talk more about what we are doing for the movement because building awareness is half the battle of grassroots mobilization efforts. Successful social change comes from recruiting those who agree and reaching out to those who disagree.
Let’s take a look at how pro-choice people discuss their activism. I am going to use the Women’s March of January 2017 as a case study for how we as pro-life advocates can improve our own messaging by examining the March’s approach and identifying what we can learn from it. The second Women’s March took place this year on January 20th, but, for the sake of simplicity, I am only going to reference the first march in this post. The march this year was less clear and consistent in its messaging, so it isn’t as useful a case study.
Women’s March in Washington in January, 2017. Photo credit: Roya Ann Miller
When the Women’s March took place last year, it was discussed all over social media, news sites, and in our communities: the kind of buzz that every social protest hopes to create. People talked about why they were going, how they planned on getting there, and what their experience was like after they came back from either the national or local march. If activism sparks discussion, it is a sign that the activism achieved some level of success. These marches were not just public demonstrations which took place on one day and were over the next. The people participating talked about it openly before, during, and after with anyone that they could reach.
Here are my takeaways after closely studying the success and shortcomings of the pro-choice movement’s participation in the Women’s March:
I regularly hear people complain about Virtue-Signaling, but I haven’t yet found a balanced attempt to clarify what it is and what it isn’t. Mostly I’ve noticed that people are quick to accuse people outside of their own political tribes of doing it. Without any definitions, how is a fair-minded person to distinguish between appropriate critiques and partisan smears?
Another problem is that I’ve long felt that some virtue-signaling is not actually morally objectionable, but I never see people make distinctions to allow for that. It’s just an accusation, and an inherently irrefutable one at that. I’d like to offer some distinctions between types of Virtue-Signaling with the hope that people will be able to distinguish the objectionable types from the acceptable types. I’ll close with suggestions about how and when to accuse someone of Virtue-Signaling, all with the desired end of helping dialogue to be more productive between parties that disagree.
What is Virtue-Signaling?
Virtue-Signaling is always referred to in a negative way, but given that the term itself is etymologically neutral, my recommended definition is intentionally neutral in order to minimize confusion:
virtue signal noun
to give an indication that you have a particular virtue (usually, though not necessarily, through a statement).