After speaking on abortion at a recent event, a Christian man asked me why I didn't say, "Abortion is murder." For the record, I did state that abortion kills an innocent human being, that it's wrong, and that it should be illegal. It's true, though, I never used the word "murder," even though I believe abortion is a type of murder.
When I teach on abortion, I'm not merely conveying facts or giving a motivational speech. I'm trying to train my audience in the art of pro-life persuasion. In other words, I'm teaching pro-lifers how to convince others of the pro-life view. In order to do that effectively, one must understand abortion-choice advocates, their thinking, and how they might respond to what we say.
Simply saying abortion is murder might be personally satisfying and get you high fives from other pro-lifers, but it isn’t likely to help a person move towards the pro-life view. They may not believe the unborn is a human being or that she has the same right to life. Therefore, the claim that abortion is murder skips a few logical steps.
For example, imagine an atheist tells you, “Christianity is a fairy tale.” Obviously that wouldn’t be persuasive, but you definitely wouldn’t think his statement was reasonable because it came out of the blue. There were no logical steps that led to that conclusion. Their statement assumes that Christianity is false, but they haven’t shown that to be the case. In that situation, you might be unwilling to continue the conversation. If they want to claim Christianity is a fairy tale, they have to first give reasons why Christianity is false.
In the same way, pro-lifers must first show that the unborn is a human being and that abortion kills that being before they can claim it’s murder. Jumping to the rhetorically explosive claim (from the perspective of someone who favors abortion) that abortion is murder is more likely to shut down their willingness to dialogue.
The same is true when referring to abortion as a holocaust. Between pro-lifers, we can all agree that the 50+ million innocent human beings killed through abortion is a holocaust. People not persuaded by the pro-life view, though, don’t see it that way. To them, it sounds like an unjustified claim. If we want to say abortion is a holocaust, we should first show that abortion kills an innocent human being and present data that indicates how many abortions have occurred in a particular time period. If they believe your evidence, then taking the next step by claiming abortion is a holocaust will be more believable.
Again, I think abortion is murder and believe its legalization has resulted in a holocaust. When I’m training pro-lifers how to dialogue with people who aren’t pro-life, though, I usually teach them not to use terminology that will alienate our friends who disagree.
Last week some Mormon missionaries showed up at my door. I was unavailable at that moment, so we set up an appointment for them to come back next week. I’m looking forward to the conversation, but I don’t anticipate much impact…in that single conversation. After years of dialoguing with Mormons, I’ve learned to take it slow. Indeed, ex-Mormons will tell you that a patient approach is the best one.
Think about the Mormons you know. Most of them probably grew up in the LDS Church. Their parents are Mormons. Their family members are Mormons. Most of their close friends are Mormon. The LDS church plays a preeminent role in their life, touching every area. With this in mind, is it realistic to expect Mormons to abandon their faith after one or two conversations? Probably not. That’s an unrealistic goal.
Because of our love for LDS friends and family members, our final vision for their lives is that they come to know the true Jesus. But that’s not the goal of every individual conversation.
Recently, a friend shared that some Mormon missionaries had come knocking and she invited them into her home for conversation. After a second follow-up visit, she decided to cut things off. “Look, you guys aren’t going to change your views and I’m not going to change mine. So it’s pointless to continue meeting.” After just two conversations, what did she expect? Is it reasonable to think these young men would abandon not only their Mormon views, but their entire Mormon community as a result of two conversations?
If the goal of every conversation is conversion, you’ll find yourself frustrated and ready to move on. So don’t try to “close the deal” in every conversation. Instead, here’s a more realistic goal: put a stone in their shoe. What’s your reaction when you get a stone in your shoe? It bothers you. You can’t stop thinking about it until you take the shoe off and deal with the annoyance. The ultimate goal is to see our LDS friends come to Christ, but the goal of any individual conversation is to put a stone in their shoe. Give them one good thing to think about. And this approach isn't just for Mormons, rather it's a good general strategy with any unbeliever you talk with.
Understand that this approach takes time. Ask yourself if you’re willing to be patient. It may take years walking with your LDS or skeptical friends before you see them come to Christ. For some ex-Mormons, it takes Christians leaving stone after stone, year after year, before they’re ready to walk away from Mormonism. Hopefully, your perseverance means you’ll still be around, ready to walk them into God’s Kingdom when the time comes.
Oftentimes, when you disagree with someone’s views—particularly their religious and moral views—the person will take offense. When that happens, don’t get bothered or irritated. Just ask a question: “Why are you offended?” When they respond with some version of, “You think I’m wrong,” gently remind them this is precisely what they think of your view(s) as well. And I also quickly add that I am not in the least bit offended when they think my views are wrong. Why not? Because I want the truth. If my views about Christianity or some current social issue are wrong, I want to know.
In fact, a crucial indicator of my closest friends’ love for me is their willingness to speak the truth to me. Do you know who loves me most? My wife. And can you guess who offends me more than anyone else? That’s right, my wife. Sometimes, while driving on California’s frenzied freeways, my wife will lean over and gently correct me. “Honey, you really shouldn’t yell lethal threats at other drivers.” It’s a risky move because my first response is often offense. “That guy was tailgating me!” But as she continues to gently speak truth to me and I slowly remember my goal to pursue truth in all areas of life, I open up to the truth of her words and the error of my ways. It often takes awhile but I (usually) come to see that my wife’s truth-telling is evidence of her deep love for me.
In the same way, sharing the truth with our non-Christian friends is evidence of our love for them. Assure your friends you’re not trying to unnecessarily offend them. Make it clear the pursuit of truth, in love, is your motivation. Defuse their defensiveness by suggesting you could possibly be wrong in your views too.[i] If you can help your friends see that love and truth are not mutually exclusive, you can ensure that a potentially offensive discussion is a productive one.
Once they’re convinced you care, bring truth front and center. Gently ask, “Would you want to know if you were wrong? Would you want to know if your beliefs were false?” If they answer yes, they’re probably ready to hear more of the truth.
[i] Some Christians get nervous at the suggestion we could be wrong. But there is no need for worry. First, to suggest we could possibly be wrong is not the same thing as suggesting we are probably wrong. Logically speaking, it’s possible Christianity is false. However, we have good reason to think it’s true and therefore have nothing to fear. Second, it models for the non-Christian the kind of open-mindedness we desire from them. When people sense you are open and fair-minded, they are more likely to engage in conversation.