Four Practical Dialogue Tips from My Conversation with Brent

I noticed John Paul, one of our volunteers, looked nervous in his conversation with a student in front of our poll table. I walked up and started listening so he could get help if he needed it. John Paul quickly asked me for my take, and I started asking questions to try to figure out what the other student’s view was. “Brent” had signed “Yes” to the question “Should 20-Week Abortions Remain Legal?” I asked:

Tim: Why do you think 20-week abortions should be legal?

Brent: It’s a woman’s right to live her life the way she wants to.

Tim: Do you think there should be any restrictions on abortion at all? What do you think of, say, a 35-week abortion?

Brent: Oh I’m definitely opposed to 35-week abortions.

Tim: You are? Aren’t you restricting women’s rights to live their lives the way they want to?

Practical Dialogue Tip #1: Turn the Tables on Pro-Choice Rhetoric


A great deal of pro-choice rhetoric uses the kind of language that does not very naturally allow room for any restrictions on abortion. For example, any bodily rights rhetoric is going to suffer from this problem. For instance, you can’t say “my body, my choice” to only justify early abortions, because late-term fetuses are still located in her body. In order to justify early abortion without justifying late abortion, you need to argue that the late-term fetus is more valuable than the early-term fetus.

When I notice these kinds of rhetorical mistakes, I will frequently “turn the tables” on them in a gracious way. This is often an extremely weird experience for the pro-choice person because they’re used to the rhetorical power of “my body, my choice” working in their favor, and all of a sudden they find themselves having to argue against it. This tactic would work very well in debates, but that isn’t how I use it. Rather than merely trying to score rhetorical points, I’m hoping to accomplish two things:

  1. I want to help the pro-choice person learn to think more clearly about their rhetoric. It often is not nearly as powerful as they feel like it is, and making them answer the same rhetoric can help them to understand this.
  2. I want to force them to clarify their position. Dialogues only improve when arguments become more clear, and encountering this kind of inconsistency in their position forces people to either shift to an argument with more substance or clarify why they think their rhetoric doesn’t work against their own view.

Brent: No, because before 20 weeks, the fetus isn’t viable.

Tim: You’re right about that. I’m trying to understand your view so help me out here. Why do you think viability is important?

“How Should I Initiate an Abortion Dialogue with My Pen Pal?”

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. 

Mike wrote:

Hi, Josh.

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!

Why Some of My Closest Friends Are Girls

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.

9 Things I Would Ask an Abortion Practitioner Over Coffee

Photo credit: Jenny Downing

Photo credit: Jenny Downing

Daniel from Canada recently asked me this question: “What should pro-lifers say to someone who performs abortions?” He commented that this would be a good follow-up to my recent posts on what pro-lifers should say to someone who wishes they had been aborted, is happy about her abortion, or someone who has post-abortive friends.

There were recently good discussions on this question at the Secular Pro-Life and Jill Stanek blogs, and I also asked the question to my followers on my Facebook page. This post is a combination of my own thoughts and my favorite comments from other pro-life advocates on this topic.

unplannedThese opportunities can actually happen. Sidewalk counselors are in an especially good position to develop friendships with abortion practitioners. Abby Johnson’s book “Unplanned” recounts the impact that the kind members of Coalition for Life had on Abby. I had the great privilege of coaching my friend Don Blythe, a sidewalk counselor in Modesto and Stockton, who was having a congenial email exchange with the abortion practitioner at his local abortion facility. He’s also had multiple conversations with other abortion practitioners since.

Before I get to the list, I think that the best environment for conversations like this would be at a neutral place like a coffee shop, as opposed to the sidewalk in front of the abortion facility. This may not always be possible, but if the abortion practitioner was willing to meet once a month for coffee, I would take that opportunity in a heartbeat. (No pun intended.)

To my non-Christian readers, religion is about to happen, but it’s important to explain where I’m coming from on this topic.