Relational apologetics is the art of cultivating friendships with people who are different from you, where you can have many conversations about a controversial topic about abortion. This can often be more effective than single conversations on a college campus because you can build rapport and trust with the person, and have more time to discuss the hurdles that are blocking someone from changing their mind about an issue like abortion.
I received an email from a follower I’ll call “Mike” who wanted some advice on how to initiate a dialogue about abortion with his pen pal. I thought some of my tips might help you if you’re trying to figure out how to use relational apologetics.
I’ve removed some of the details from Mike’s email to help protect his identity.
Since you spend a lot of time writing about how pro-lifers ought to communicate their views when conversing with others, I thought I’d email you with a question I had. I’ve been emailing a pen pal of mine for a few months now, and we mostly talk about our own lives and mutual interests. We’ve never discussed the abortion issue before, and it’s not something I really want to bring up, but I also want to be able to discuss other topics without worrying about whether or not it will eventually lead to a full-blown abortion debate.
Funnily enough, we’re both interested in bioethics, and she’s asked me what bioethical issues interest me the most. I’m not really sure if I should use this as an opportunity to mention my views as a pro-lifer and consistent life ethicist.
Thank you for your help. I really appreciate it.
I’d use the bioethics common ground to tread a little into abortion waters. Say that the bioethical issue you’re most interested in is the ethics of abortion, and that you’ve actually been a little worried that mentioning that might make things awkward. Say that you’d be really interested in her take on that if she’d be willing to share it. Say that you’re not one of those obnoxious pro-lifers that shouts opinions at people. You’re interested in both sides learning from each other and having respectful dialogue. You would especially like to do that with a friend since it gives more opportunity for learning from each other, since you can both research each other’s statements and then go back again for clarification.
And then let her take that where she wants to. If she doesn’t want to get into it, respect that. She may love debating that stuff though, and now you have a great launchpad into that topic.
Question: Do you have any advice for Mike? Post it below in the comments!
Something is rotten in the state of the pro-life movement. We are fighting so hard to save unborn babies from abortion that we become tunnel-visioned. It isn’t that we should stop being mindful of the plight of the unborn. But we shouldn’t focus on the unborn to the neglect of everyone else. What are we missing?
“But Tim, we love babies; we aren’t missing love.”
I’m glad you love babies; I do, too. Over a million of them are dying each year, so we had better do something about that. But do you love their moms? Do you love their dads? Do you love your pro-choice friends? Sometimes I don’t.
While I was reflecting on this problem a few months ago, it reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13. I wrote my struggles into the text, not to elevate my thoughts to the level of Scripture, but to remind myself of the power of a passage quoted so often that I hear the words without thinking about what they mean. Below, I’ve placed the original text in bold type with my added thoughts in normal type.
If I speak with the conviction of a great apologist, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have great powers of perception, and understand all science and philosophy, and if I have all faith, so as to inspire a congregation, but have not love, I am nothing.
Equal Rights Institute is focused on teaching pro-life advocates practical dialogue tips, rigorous philosophy, and relational apologetics. When we use the phrase “relational apologetics,” we mean trying to change a person’s mind about a core belief in the context of genuine friendship.
Most people will not change their minds about a serious subject after one conversation, so an ongoing dialogue with a friend can be really helpful.
When I speak about relational apologetics, I usually illustrate with the story of my friend Deanna Unyk, who began dialoguing with me about abortion two years ago, and began self-identifying as pro-life one year ago.
Click here to read what changed Deanna’s mind about abortion. If you want to learn more about why I think guy-girl friendships can be virtuous, God-honoring friendships, and what boundaries I think should be in place, click here.
When the pro-life club at the University of Portland heard Deanna’s story, they asked Deanna and me if we would be willing to do a public discussion about relational apologetics (in addition to being a great opportunity, this was also a personal blessing because it gave us the chance to finally meet in person). We sat on stage, told our story, and encouraged the audience to cultivate friendships among people with whom they had serious disagreements. The event was a great success, with around 80 in attendance from both sides of the abortion debate. Many people came up afterwards, saying that they had never been to an event like this, and that it helped them to think about abortion and relational apologetics in a new way.
Photo Credit: Andie Jael
During the event, Deanna and I offered practical tips for cultivating friendships with people who disagree with you about important issues. Here are a couple of my favorites: