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.
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:
People that don’t agree with you aren’t gospel fodder. I’ve noticed this trend in Christian circles to treat non-Christians as projects to be converted or left behind. If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that those with different views might be the very people that save you. If all you’re looking for in friendships is how you can help other people, you’re going to miss out on how they can help you, and you might need that help more than you realize.
It is good to have close friendships with members of the opposite sex.
Relational apologetics is a topic I’ve been speaking about a lot this year. Often I tell the story of my friendship with Deanna Unyk as an illustration of what I’m encouraging, and then argue for why we should pursue friends, even if the person is the opposite gender.
I recently learned that some people who have heard me speak about Deanna have concerns about our friendship. First is that some people will think I’m a wimpy pro-lifer. After all, how could I be good friends with a pro-choice, lesbian atheist without compromising my beliefs when discussing topics like abortion or same-sex marriage? I’ll address that concern in a future post. Today I want to address the concern that I am “too close” to Deanna, that I’m even putting my marriage at risk.
I don’t usually take the time in my speeches to give a strong defense of guy-girl friendship. Frankly, I’m still learning the best ways to communicate with people about my friendship with Deanna. I don’t want my audience distracted by wondering, “Is his marriage unhealthy? Why does he care so much about a woman he’s not married to?” I’m making a few minor adjustments to the way I talk about Deanna in my speeches to minimize the possibility of being misunderstood.
There’s also a part of me that feels sad that a blog post defending guy-girl friendship is even necessary. While we’ve all seen the painful consequences of men and women falling into sexual sin, some people unfortunately assume that members of the opposite sex are more dangerous than they are worth in a friendship. Many of us have bought into an idea that is preached at us time and time again in movies and popular TV shows, that men and women CAN’T be friends without eventually sleeping with each other, or at least lusting for each other. According to this theory, whether it’s Ted and Robin or Harry and Sally, it is impossible for a man and a woman to have a lifelong, platonic friendship.
I don’t buy that.
While it is possible for people to fall into sin, guy-girl friendship can also be virtuous, God-honoring brother-sister friendship.