Author’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on being an effective pro-life advocate over the holidays.
I’ve been speaking about relational apologetics more often lately, a phrase that I define as “cultivating relationships with people who have different beliefs, for the sake of genuine friendship and for discovering truth together.” One of the most frequent questions I get asked after discussing this topic is how to handle potentially volatile political discussions with family members, such as in the context of a big family dinner at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Even Saturday Night Live has made light of how politically charged Thanksgiving dinners can become:
As my colleague Rachel Crawford noted during a discussion of relational apologetics that we recorded for the Equipped for Life Course Podcast:
I think that a large part of long-term apologetics is going to be coming from what sort of relationship you have with the other person. . . . Having relational apologetics with a family member, especially if they are your mother or your grandmother and they are not a peer, that is going to be especially difficult. . . . that poses an extra challenge.
Family members present several challenges that may make engaging in discourse with them particularly difficult if you want to be persuasive. I’d like to explain why that is and offer several practical tips for optimizing your chances of changing people’s minds in this context.
Here are six things to keep in mind before you arrive at a big family gathering this holiday season:
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:
This article is an expanded version of a piece I wrote for Life Matters Journal, in which I answered a question from one of LMJ’s readers. This reader asked for help responding to the question of rape:
One of the most common questions I get about being pro-life is “But what if the mother was raped?” I stand for all life, even life that was created through rape or any other difficult situation. How can I explain that to a pro-choicer in such a way that I don’t come across as callous or uncaring about the mother’s situation?
~ Troubled in Tuscaloosa
I love the way this question is worded. You clearly care about showing that you don’t only care about the child, but that you rightly care for the survivor of rape as well. Many pro-life people don’t communicate that very well when they talk about rape. They come across as if they have something we call “Fetus Tunnel Vision.” I think the question of rape is the most common example of this. Immediately we say, “The child’s right to life shouldn’t be dependent on how it was conceived!” I agree with that, but who does this skip? The mother.
My friend Steve Wagner at Justice For All has made a huge impact on the way I think about how pro-life people should respond to rape. He says:
When a pro-choice person brings up the issue of rape, they’re not terribly concerned at that point if the unborn is human. They want to find out whether you’re human.
Can you see how horrible rape is? If not, please don’t tell people you’re pro-life. I’ve trained people before who understood the definition of rape, but they didn’t understand what rape is. There are other pro-lifers who cannot hear the word “rape” and let themselves acknowledge how horrible rape is because they feel like they’re losing debate points or time. There’s too much of that out there and it’s hurting our movement.
So, here’s what we should do instead. We should first acknowledge the horror of rape.
Sometimes when I talk about abortion with strangers, it feels like I’ve already had that conversation before, because they’re making familiar statements. But the truth is, I haven’t had that conversation before, because I haven’t heard that statement from that person before. Even though some statements are very common, different people mean very different things by them. A recent conversation I had with a hotel shuttle driver named “Mark” reminded me that while I may have heard the same words before, I hadn’t heard his story before. I think there’s a lesson you can learn from this situation that will help you have better dialogues with pro-choice people.