What does that even mean? As I kid I thought, "That sounds terrible! I don't want to apologize for my beliefs." While they sound the same, apologetics isn't about apologizing for what we believe in (at least not the way we typically use the word). It's about defending our beliefs in a systematic way. Essentially, instead of making wild assertions, accusing people of not being Christians, or just saying "well because I said so!" we instead thoughtfully and carefully explain why we believe what we believe.
Sound scary? It can be, but it doesn't have to be. Over the next several weeks I'm going to dicuss how to defend your pro-life beliefs against common pro-choice arguments. We'll cover talking points as well as tough questions like rape and incest. But first, let's talk about what I believe is the most important part of any debate.
Sounds mushy, right? "Sure, Sarah, if we could all just hold hands and get along we'd be good to go, right? Let's all sing Kum-Ba-Ya while we're at it!"
I'm not talking about being spineless, or giving in. Babies are dying and people with disabilities and the elderly and being euthanized. These are serious topics that need strong people to stand up and make a difference.
We have to realize, however, that we're not going to get anywhere by being nasty, rude, judgmental, or sanctimonious. So, if your goal is to get your opinion out there no matter what, then you can probably stop reading. But, if your goal is to change hearts and minds - this is for you.
1st Peter 3:13-17 is one of my favorite passages when discussing this, and I think it's important enough to copy the whole thing here:
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. (ESV)"
Let's be clear that very few of us have truly suffered for righteousness' sake. Being unfriended on Facebook, having someone call us a rude word, or getting the stink eye from a coworker doesn't really count as "suffering." However, those things can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Rest assured that if you're receiving negative feedback because you're doing the right thing, you will be blessed. As the Scripture says, "don't be troubled," just figure it's part of being a believer in a world that can be hostile to us.
Don't stop there, though. We are to always be prepared for the hope that is in us, and we are to give that defense with gentleness and respect.
As I said above, with kindness.
Why? Because if our behavior is good and honorable it will protect us when we're slandered. If you're known as a person that treats others with gentleness, kindness, and respect, it will be tougher for them to believe that you've suddenly turned into a hate-spewing monster.
Note: I didn't say it would be impossible, just tougher. People believe crazy things.
So, what does that mean in practicality?
First, and perhaps most importantly, guard your tongue. James 3 talks about the power of our words, and how destructive they can be. As powerful as the spoken word is, we now have at least as many problems with the written word - such as on social media.
When in doubt, ask yourself if you would say such a thing to someone's face. Then, picture someone you love and respect, would you say it to them? If you wouldn't, you probably shouldn't be saying it to anyone else either.
Realize, too, that others can hear your words. You might be directing them at one person, but someone else could be listening. You're not just speaking to the person in front of you - you're speaking to everyone within earshot. Do you want your seventeen-year-old niece who just had an abortion forced on her to hear that you think that all women who have abortions should burn in hell? If not, don't say it. (For the record, you shouldn't want anyone to hear that.)
Second, understand that you don't know their story. Even if you think you do. It might be your spouse, your best friend, or even your sister - but you can never assume that you know everything about them. They may be ardently pro-choice because they have had an abortion or participated in an abortion in the past. When you talk about abortion, avoid condemning mothers who have chosen abortion, or using harsh language to describe it. Talk about abortion as a terrible thing, certainly, but communicate the love and forgiveness of Christ as well. Nobody is beyond Christ's redemptive power, and we're not called to drive people away from Him.
Sometimes people think that in order to truly uncover the horror of abortion they have to be harsh and almost cruel with their words. If you do that, all you're doing is causing people to shut down. Remember, the goal here is to win hearts and minds - not bludgeon people to death with our opinions.
Third, stop it with the graphic pictures. Just, stop. Abortion is a terrible thing, and an ugly thing, but if you find yourself looking up images on your phone to show Aunt Edna, you need to take a deep breath and a step back. You don't know what she's been through, you don't know what choices she's made or she was forced to make, and all you're going to do is shock and distress her. Don't share them on social media either.
I have been working with women considering abortion for over ten years now and I have never used a graphic image of an aborted baby. In fact, I find them extremely upsetting (I have had them shoved in my face numerous times). If you want to talk about the beauty of the unborn and the handiwork of God - go for it. Fetal development photos can be fun for the whole family. Photos of a baby after abortion? Not so much. Not only is it distressing to the viewer it is disrespectful to the child. Do you want your body put up for all to see? I don't think they would either.
Fourth, listen. Adopt a listening posture. As you're adjusting your body and nonverbal cues, open your ears. Don't listen to respond, listen to listen. Why do they feel the way they do? What drives them? Realize that most people who are pro-choice aren't really huge fans of abortion - they see it as a necessary evil. So maybe you can engage them by talking about other ways to help women. Some people see abortion as necessary to keep poverty at bay - you can talk about the value of each life no matter what.
Perhaps others, and I believe this is many others, had an abortion in their past or participated in an abortion by encouraging someone else to have one, accompanying them to the clinic, or even paying for it. These people need our love and gentleness the most, because to admit that abortion is wrong is to admit that they screwed up. And that they screwed up in a big way. That's hard for anyone to swallow.
Fifth, and finally, share the truth but only as much as they're willing to hear. Don't belabor the point, don't continue to debate when they're clearly done, just gently and lovingly share your position and move on. Your words, however few, will have more of an impact than any long and drawn out argument.
A phrase like, "Well, I think women deserve better than abortion." Or, "Women need real choices, not abortion." Maybe even, "Abortion is hurting our nation." can be a standalone sentence. You can even follow up with something truly insightful like, "Would you pass the potatoes?"
Next week, and in the weeks following, we'll dig into good arguments, solid answers, and tips for managing tough questions. For right now, though, practice kindness. It should be the seasoning that flavors all of your discussions.
This Thanksgiving you may have the opportunity to engage others in debate. Instead of an argument, make it a discussion. Instead of listening to answer, listen to understand. I promise, it will work out better in the long run.