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« Christian Public Service | Main | Common Ground: Don't Use Violence to Make Your Point »

January 31, 2008


I'd be interested to know how you think this dovetails with using graphic visual images of aborted babies on signs (and no, I'm not asking that as a rhetorical question - I think its something we who are pro-life should consider). It would seem to me that signs with extremely graphic images would have the same discussion-ending power - i.e. people would simply try not to look and avoid the people. I understand and agree that these graphic images play a role in the debate, but to lead with them seems to me the equivalent of shouting "abortion is murder!" without building the common ground first.

I ask you, specifically, because I think you advocated in the past for the use of such images and I'd like to see how you'd advocate for their use.

Brant wrote,

"I understand and agree that these graphic images play a role in the debate, but to lead with them seems to me the equivalent of shouting "abortion is murder!" without building the common ground first."
My response would be that "abortion is murder!" is simply stating our point of view, which they already know, and therefore is useless.

Graphic images are different. Many people have the wrong idea on what an aborted baby actually looks like. That is, something that is easily dehumanized. Therefore graphic aids contain actual information.

As Gregg Cunningham has said, a picture is a data-compression device. I agree with Markku that graphic pictures in public give information and can lead people to want to talk. That's been our experience on college campuses. I think the people who show pictures in public places (street corners, etc) aren't doing so to create dialogue between them and the viewer. They are hoping to create cognitive dissonance in the viewer so he will rethink his view on abortion, taking this new bit of data in mind when he does so.

There is evidence that even this no-dialogue approach has helped some change their minds (see

One thing to keep in mind here, too, is that people are different. Some people respond better to a large exhibit on a college campus that gets their attention and motivates them to discuss their views (e.g. the Justice For All Exhibit). In this context, they are usually discussing their views with a stranger. This makes it easier for some people to have the freedom to change their mind, because they walk away from the conversation and rethink their views, and they can do that outside of their social context and friends who they know.

For others, they are much more comfortable rethinking their views with friends who know them. There is a safety in sharing and rethinking thoughts with friends. I wrote my book, Common Ground Without Compromise, largely to facilitate this sort of friendly dialogue. It's a book that's meant to be given away and discussed. Some people who would never stop to talk to someone at a graphic picture exibit might be willing to look at a book and talk over coffee.

In other words, as we are seeking to change hearts and minds on abortion, we need to be sensitive to different sorts of people and use the means that are effective at helping them.

There seems to be a certain social dynamic that can be countered with these images. And it is this:

Some people, who DO know what an aborted baby looks like, take the "it's just a blob of tissue" -approach. But they mean it in the same way that an adult human would be a blob of tissue. Not having intrinsic value, but only the value we choose to give them.

So, if we choose not to assign value to a fetus, then it is only a blob of tissue. And if we assign it to an adult, then its a blob of tissue with value.

But then there are others who misunderstand what these people mean, and think that the baby actually does look like just a blob, and not a human being.

Nice post Steve. I've been thinking about this sort of thing. The problem as I see it is that when people get very passionate about a topic, they tend to move away from a rational discussion investigating the issue. Indeed, the objective rational approach in many ways stifles passion.

I guess the real challenge is to have passionate people who can also dialog rationally....

Well, I don't think I'm as terrible as Bush. Americans have been lied to a lot. We were lied to to get us into the Vietnam War (Google "Gulf of Tonkin" if you are unaware of this) lied to to get into Gulf War I (Google "Incubator Babies"). We're fighting the Taliban because...well...why are we fighting the Taliban anyway? We're fighting Iraq ostensibly because Saddam was pursuing WMD, though we now know that is false. I guess I'm starting to think this might be based on lies as well. It's all too common. That's a lot of dead people for a lie. I don't think I'm that terrible.

Brant I completely agree with your comments on graphic pictures. That goes for any issue, not just abortion. There is no credible data that suggests these images change anyone's opinion on issues. In fact, in my experience such displays only serve to entrench views of those who favor abortion. I think they are a bad, repugnant, and un-Biblical means of communicating. I regret that some fellow believers are so fond of them.

"and that specific question (which assumed agreement on most of the discussion even before the discussion started) did anything but alienate the audience at the supermarket today."

Just a thought here. You don't say where the market was but the Pelosi sign may be the key. It is likely that those folks weren't attempting to convert you. If one assumes that any given person is unhappy with Bush, one will likely be correct as his approval ratings are in the tank. Anyone who still supports the president is likely unreachable. More likely they were trying to stir up Dems to call Congress and tell them to develop a spine. Likely telecom immunity was part of the conerns.

Concerning Brant and Alan P.'s comments, I believe that Scott Klusendorf maintains that the use of "graphic" pictures of abortion is most appropriate and useful with some preparation and with the approval of the viewers.

Go here:

Check out this site for some good stuff:

I recall reading that Francis Schaeffer's approach would be if he had an hour to communicate with someone he would spend the first 55 minutes listening and the last five responding.

A link to a Schaeffer site:

Alan writes:

There is no credible data that suggests these images change anyone's opinion on issues.

Alan, what counts as credible data?

And I'm curious: Have you ever been to a graphic picture exhibit on a college campus (Justice For All, Genocide Awareness Project) and engaged people in discussion? Have you ever talked to someone who used those exhibits as a springboard to discuss abortion and other topics that matter?

I think asking questions is a great approach. Before I became a Christian I held all kinds of assumptions about who God was that I just assumed were true. If someone would have simply said, "well what do you mean by that?" I would have stopped dead in my tracks, because I wouldn't have had a good response.

Asking questions won't always get people to change their behaviors, but I’m not sure aggressively attacking people is a better way to go. Sure it may create some cognitive dissonance, but does it reflect God’s character?

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments - especially William's link to Klusendorf's letter. I think I'm in agreement with Scoot, and thats basically what I'm arguing here - Visuals are very powerful and, precisely for that reason, they should be used in a winsome way.

Hi Steve -

No, I have not done any of the things you mention.

A question for you - how many souls have been won to Christ through these graphic displays ?

The focus of a large slice of Christianity is anti-abortion. I believe that abortion is a horrible sin and an abomination to God.

IMO (I could be wrong - just as those who disagree with me could be wrong) if those who oppose abortion spent as much time presenting the gospel as they do protesting abortion, the net result would be fewer abortions.

I answered your question directly, please do the same for me.

I do not understand the obsession some Christians have with anti-abortion as a higher priority than preaching the gospel. Please tell me what the Biblical basis is for this.

Kind Regards

"Asking questions won't always get people to change their behaviors, but I’m not sure aggressively attacking people is a better way to go."

Barrett -
Displaying a poster board with medical pictures is a passive approach. There is nothing aggressive about this tactic in and of itself. If people don't want to discuss the images, or even to look, there is no pressure to do so. Approaching passersby would be a more forward approach; shouting accusations would be verbal assault. Simply displaying graphic images is neither aggressive nor attacking.

Alan P-

I don't think any of us would say that stopping abortion is more important than winning souls. That said, working to prevent the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people every year is a very godly, Biblical cause. Not only that, but we cannot separate the pro-life movement from evangelism, as though they were unrelated. The Christian pro-life movement is a powerful testimony of the justice and compassion of Christ toward the weak and powerless. It affirms many of the tenets of the gospel, such as the transcendent value of the human person and God's activity in saving the helpless.

Alan Powers,

What do you mean when you say something is un-Biblical like an "un-Biblical means of communicating?"

Does this mean that your Bible does not contain pictures of any kind?

Or, is it that your Bible contains no description of anything gory?

Or, is it something else?

Alvin, my choice of words was not the best. I should have used the phrase "extra-Biblical" rather than un-Biblical. Thank you for taking me to task.

Kind regards

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