In light of the recent announcement that the GOP is going to defund Planned Parenthood, many have taken to social media to air their thoughts about abortion. As a result, people on both sides of this issue are entering into debate online. These discussions often generate more heat than light given the nature of the topic and the impersonal format of instant messaging.
Yesterday, I found myself reading a very long back-and-forth exchange on Facebook. Trying to bring the conversation to a close, one person wrote,
[T]he argument is over. Your position and attitude has done nothing but put a greater distaste in my mouth for Christians in general and pro-lifers with no room for any thinking outside of their own bubble. Good luck.
Let this response resonate for a second. God forbid that someone should be turned away from Christ based on an offensive attitude from His followers. Our message is offensive enough; we don’t need to add offense to it. Let me be clear, I’m not saying whether or not this particular reaction was justified. Sometimes the message alone is enough to upset people, and they confuse the offense of the message with the messenger. Nevertheless, this should be a serious warning to all of us—myself included—to take extra care in these discussions.
Not all online conversations about abortion end this way. Many are quite productive. We just need to be extra careful that our readers don’t misinterpret our words and our tone. I’ve read many social media posts that are true—they correspond with reality—but appear to lack compassion for the person they are talking to. This issue requires both: truth and compassion.
I want to offer three tips to help make our online conversations about abortion more effective. Each tip corresponds to an essential attribute of an ambassador for Christ. Before we comment on that next abortion post, let’s remember these three things.
First, confidently communicate and defend the pro-life argument. The case against abortion can be summarized as a simple syllogism.
It’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being.
Therefore, abortion is wrong.
If the first two statements—the premises—are true, then the last statement—the conclusion—follows logically and inescapably. As pro-life ambassadors, we need to be able to defend the pro-life case using science and philosophy. When you’re using an online format, the more succinct the defense, the better.
Pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf is the master at this. He can explain why he is pro-life in less than 40 seconds. Here it is:
I am pro-life because the science of embryology teaches us that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were one. And there’s no ethical difference between that embryo you once were and the adult you are today that justifies killing you back then. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.
Each sentence is important and relies on facts from science and careful philosophical thinking. If you want to be a persuasive pro-life ambassador, then equip yourself with an accurately informed mind.
Second, stay focused on the pro-life argument. When talking about abortion, it’s easy to get sidetracked. Don’t get pulled away on rabbit trails. Instead, stay focused like a laser on bringing the discussion back to the premises of the pro-life argument.
Being an effective pro-life ambassador requires wisdom. Wisdom means not responding to some comments. It means spotting unstated assumptions. It means using carefully selected questions instead of statements. In sum, wisdom entails having a game plan before entering into an online discussion, and then sticking to that game plan.
Third, carefully read your messages before you send them. This isn’t merely to avoid embarrassing spelling and grammar mistakes. We don’t want an aggressive tone to shroud our life-affirming message. We care about all human life, born and unborn. So we read and then re-read our online posts. We are on the lookout for any words that might insult or demean, and any tone that might offend. The latter is harder to detect. This might require a third-party’s critical eye.
We need to remember that our character matters in online discussions. It is very easy to forget that you are talking to an intrinsically valuable human being, made in the image of God, when sitting in front of a computer screen or staring into your smartphone. We are prone to type messages we wouldn’t dare say to a flesh-and-blood person standing in front of us. Here is a general rule: if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t type it.
Remember, if we are going to type messages about respect and dignity for all human life, then we need to do our best to show respect to the person we are engaging. Many abortion supporters feel like we value unborn humans more than born humans. Having an attractive character can help change that. During the time of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Whom you would change, you must first love. And they must know that you love them.” The next time you debate abortion online, ask yourself if the people you’re talking to truly know that you love them.
There it is: knowledge, wisdom, character. Happy posting.