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Image: Man choosing from multiple face options.

“Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Socialism”

Don’t Apologize to the Mob”

Do titles like this sound familiar? Sure, the content inside might be entertaining to those who agree, but if you spoke like that in a conversation, would you convince anyone?

It’s really easy to forget the “relational” part of “relational apologetics,” especially when interacting online. It’s hard to remember that there’s a person on the other end of your comment or tweet. In dialogue, it’s critical to treat others with respect, even to give them a more-than-fair hearing. [Tweet that!] It’s the right thing to do, and it also makes you stand out if you treat people charitably in spite of deep disagreement.

Of course, this is hard to do, especially when you’re passionate and you believe your cause is just. You probably know “that guy” who knows all the arguments—he’s got personhood nailed, he has a whole magazine of bullets to bite for sovereign zone objections, and he’s memorized the entire De Facto Guardian paper—and he can’t wait to destroy the weak points of the opposition! It sounds funny to read, but too many people get excited about fighting for truth and justice against the new American way and forget that people normally have to want to talk to you in order for you to help them change their mind.

I don’t want to spend too much time here arguing against the destroy approach—I’ll just say that it’s somewhat fun but not helpful and please don’t do it—because I want to focus on a different question.

Pro-Choice Doesn’t Have to Mean Pro-Roe

American abortion laws are among the most radical in the world. Unfortunately, though almost everyone knows that Roe v. Wade made abortion legal at the federal level, few people understand exactly how the case changed the country’s abortion laws. This gives me the opportunity to educate people when dialoguing about abortion at Arizona State University, and I’ve found that many pro-choice people change their attitude about Roe when they understand it better.

Photo: Supreme Court Building. "Pro-Choice Doesn’t Have to Mean Pro-Roe"

Picture Credit: Duncan Lock, Dflock – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

One Way to Dialogue about Roe

Many people label themselves as “pro-choice,” but this label doesn’t tell us much. People’s views on abortion restrictions can vary greatly, from wanting no restrictions whatsoever, to only having legal abortion available in the first trimester in the case of rape. However, the majority of people I’ve spoken to on college campuses will vaguely agree that they don’t support late-term abortion. After providing them with a few simple facts about late-term abortion, almost everyone will agree such procedures should be illegal. The example dialogue below illustrates how a pro-life advocate can help a pro-choice person realize that they disagree with the extremism of Roe because of their existing beliefs about late-term abortion:

How to Avoid Two Extremes of Pro-Life Advocacy

Mastering the art of pro-life advocacy requires a delicate balance of candor and affability.

We should not be so afraid of making people uncomfortable that we are unwilling to share the truth. I have seen this happen in some Christian churches when leaders want to be welcoming but are so focused on building community that they either willingly or unintentionally sacrifice the richness of the faith for the sake of attracting new people. Their idea of evangelism is to make Jesus “cool” by selling people a shallow, feel-good message that isn’t different in kind from a motivational speaker.

In response to this culture of misplaced compassion, some Christians take the opposite approach and overcorrect. They want to dive into advanced theology immediately, and call out sinful behavior of people seeking Christ without bothering to build relationships first. This cart-before-the-horse method can be just as unhelpful as the feel-good-religion approach.

I have seen the same two extremes arise during abortion dialogues, and I would like to make a case for the balanced approach to pro-life activism: we need to be both winsome and truthful when we talk about abortion.

If you want to see a clear example of an unbalanced abortion conversation, go onto Twitter and search for “pro-life” or “abortion.” You will see two main types of people:

  1. Those who tweet about abortion without any careful consideration of how their words will be perceived by pro-choice people, and
  2. People who are throwing insults at individual pro-choice accounts and organizations like Planned Parenthood or NARAL.

If advocates are both winsome and truthful when they talk about abortion they will see more people come join the efforts of the pro-life movement.

It is an ugly, unproductive place. Often, I will scroll through and wonder why these people even bother. I suspect for many of them it is because they honestly don’t know of a better way.

What to Do When the Utilitarian Bites the Bullet

What to Do When the Utilitarian Bites the Bullet

Helping someone change their mind about something often comes down to presenting them with a choice: change your mind or bite a bullet. In other words, demonstrate that their position requires them to accept a conclusion they really don’t want to accept. This is why a good thought-experiment can be so effective.

People are loathe to change their minds, so the more difficult the bullet is to bite, the better. I like to say that I want someone to have to bite an explosive round, something they can’t just tolerate and act like they don’t mind it.

Earlier this year I wrote about how I respond when people attempt to defend the pro-choice position by appealing to utilitarianism. I start by responding with a straightforward thought-experiment:

Suppose a given person has a healthy heart, lung, kidneys, bone marrow, and blood. By kidnapping him, we could save five people or even more by distributing those body parts to other people that need them. Should we do it? Or what if it’s just one person that we can save, but it’s a more important person? Should we kill a homeless person if it means we can save, say, an important scientist?

This is a tough bullet to bite, but sadly, for some, it isn’t tough enough. Some people struggle to think clearly about murder. I suspect this is because when it comes to killing people, there are exceptions. You can kill in self-defense, most people believe you can kill in war, and while it’s more controversial, many believe you can kill in capital punishment. My colleague Rachel Crawford has also pointed out to me how deeply confused people are about revenge. Revenge stories are popular in books and film because we’re sympathetic to the avenger. It feels just for the wrongdoer to be punished in an act of vengeance. All of these problems make any thought-experiment about murder a little less effective.

But there are other actions that virtually everyone think have no exceptions, such as rape. Most people think rape is wrong, not just generally, but every single time. Utilitarians find it much harder to bite the bullet on rape. Here’s the thought-experiment I use after they bite the organ-theft bullet:

It’s Her Body

Editor’s Note: With his permission, today we’re sharing the first in Steve Wagner’s recent series of posts on how to dialogue about bodily rights. Steve Wagner is the Executive Director of Justice For All and serves on ERI’s Advisory Board. It is extremely easy for pro-life advocates in a conversation about abortion to imply, intentionally or not, that they don’t care about bodily rights. This is a huge mistake. Read Steve’s post to learn how to find common ground and empathize with pro-choice people.

Some of JFA’s recent outreach exhibit panel designs feature images like this one in order to communicate concern for women and sympathy for their experiences of pregnancy. See the Stop and Think Exhibit page for exhibit designs and commentary. (Warning: There is one graphic abortion image visible in a few different outreach photos on this page.)

I was in the middle of a conversation with a few young women who had stopped to sign our “Should Abortion Remain Legal?” poll at Colorado State University in April.  They were putting their mark on the “Yes” side.  I asked a few questions, and each began to explain the limitations she would put on abortion at different times and in different circumstances of pregnancy.  Another young woman stopped and interjected, “It should be legal up until birth.”  Without much prompting, she gave her reason: “I have a right to do what I want with my body.”

At this moment, I wanted to launch into a precision set of questions and counter-arguments to show this woman and those standing nearby that her right to her body doesn’t entail a right to kill another human by abortion.  I have been thinking, writing, and teaching about appeals to bodily rights for more than 15 years.  I was ready.

But as I looked at this woman, I hesitated.  I stuttered and said something not too tidy, struck afresh by the fact that this topic affects this person very personally.  Reflecting on it later, I was a little embarrassed that I hadn’t had more to say, but then I realized there was something quite right about the approach into which I had fallen.  Rather than saying something intellectual, I think I said something more along the lines of sympathy and concern, a little like this:

I don’t know if I can fully understand what it’s like for matters so personal as your body and your right to do what you want with your body to be brought up on your campus.  I don’t know what it feels like to consider the possibility of being pregnant or to think about the government placing restrictions on your ability to control everything about your body.  These things are very heavy to think about.  Your right to your body is important.

I don’t want the conversation about a woman’s right to her body to end there, but I think it needs to start there.  Indeed, my conversation with two of the women who heard this exchange was very productive, I think due in part to the moment in which I chose sympathy over argument.  But the conversation can’t end with sympathy for the woman only, because this woman’s view that abortion should be legal until birth also affects an unborn person very personally (and not just one unborn child, but thousands each day).  If we focus on the unborn, though, without first seeking to understand the woman’s concern for her body, we not only will make practical success in the conversation much more unlikely, failing to build a bridge when we could, but we’ll also fail to accurately describe what’s true.  For what we’re discussing is a person with equal value to the unborn person, and yes, she has a right to her body that we should be the first to champion.  I mean “right to her body” not in the controversial sense of abortion but in the uncontroversial sense that she should be protected from harm, terror, assault, and oppression.  She should be valued as an equal.  In general, individuals and the government should leave her to be free, unless she is causing harm to someone else.