During a ministry symposium in 1984, I heard a Christian historian say he thought the Berlin Wall would come down in 10 years.
I nearly laughed out loud. As it turns out, he was wrong. It came down in five years.
Despite the bleak picture we see all around us, I’m convinced the pro-life cause isn’t nearly so bleak when our message is clearly communicated. Though I don’t think we’re in for a quick fix, it’s apparent pro-lifers are making an impact.
I don’t pretend to have a sufficient strategy for winning the abortion battle. Strategies come and go, and most are discarded before the ink is dry. But I do believe there are some necessary steps we must take if we’re going to win. Here are three we can begin implementing right now.
1. Recruit more full-time pro-life apologists.
“There are more people working full-time to kill babies than there are working full-time to save them,” observes Gregg Cunningham, director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform. “That’s because killing babies is very profitable while saving them is very costly. So costly that large numbers of Americans who say they oppose abortion are not lifting a finger to stop it. And those who do lift a finger to stop it do just enough to salve the conscience, but not enough to stop the killing.”
That’s a stunning indictment of our movement, and it’s easy to think, That’s not me. But like it or not, I can’t dispute Cunningham’s point. We simply don’t have enough full-time pro-life workers, and unless we get serious about finding them, our movement will remain a part-time volunteer movement incapable of taking on the heavily funded professionals from Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other groups who are paid handsomely to defend killing babies. Churches have no problem recruiting missionaries for overseas adventures, and that’s a good thing. Why not also recruit young people from our churches to study law and seek political office while encouraging others to seek careers in pro-life apologetics? (Biola University and Trinity International University provide graduate-level training in Christian apologetics and bioethics.)
2. Systematically train youth.
A few years ago, I paid my two oldest sons—ages 16 and 15 at the time—to study apologetics with me instead of getting summer jobs. I had them read lay-level books on Christian doctrine, apologetics, and pro-life advocacy. Some thought I was nuts, but it made perfect sense to me. Parents have no problem shelling out up to $25,000 per year to send their kids to universities where Christianity is openly attacked, so why trouble myself over a fraction of that so my kids can solidify their beliefs?
I speak in Protestant and Catholic high schools all over the United States. Over and over again, students tell me they’ve never heard a pro-life talk like mine. At each place, students see pictures depicting abortion and hear a compelling case for the pro-life view. Gatekeepers such as teachers and administrators worry the kids can’t handle abortion-related content, but the gatekeepers are wrong. I’m often told by students, “I finally know how to defend what I believe. Thank you!”
Too many in Christian leadership fear man more than they fear God. I once asked a school principal who wanted me to speak without pictures, “Are any of the reasons you’re giving me for not showing this film worth the price of children’s lives that could’ve been saved if we’d graciously shown it?” He acknowledged the question was a good one but gave the standard reply: “Our students just aren’t ready for this.”
So what are we to conclude, that a student seeing an abortion is worse than a student actually having one?
Admittedly, some pro-life advocates misuse graphic visual aids and demonstrate a general lack of sensitivity. But the solution isn’t to categorically reject the images; the solution is to use them wisely and compassionately.
If we want to equip our kids to withstand challenges from an abortion-loving culture, we’ll have to start taking some reasonable risks—one of which is letting them see the truth. Which leads to the third point.
3. Go visual.
Any student old enough by law to get an abortion without parental consent is old enough to view the consequences of that choice. Educators universally acknowledge the value of graphic visuals when properly used.
High school students, for example, are routinely shown grisly pictures of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. Images of mutilated bodies stacked like cordwood communicate the horror of the death camps in a way no lecture can. In fact, the producers of Schindler’s List donated a copy of the film to every high school in America, despite its graphic content. Faculty members acknowledged the disturbing images, but argued students wouldn’t understand the Holocaust unless they saw it. As noted television critic Howard Rosenberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Although almost too horrid to watch, these segments are absolutely essential.”
Teaching the abortion holocaust with any less rigor is intellectually dishonest. If students are mature enough for Schindler’s List, they can view a two-minute film like This Is Abortion.
Some pro-lifers worry that showing graphic abortion images places a guilt trip on post-abortion women. True, we should always be gentle, but people wounded by abortion desperately need to be brought out of denial and into confession so they can find healing and forgiveness. The fact that repentance is painful doesn’t relieve us of our duty to teach it. Besides, we patronize women when we assume they’re too inherently weak to look at abortion objectively.
Nevertheless, the images must be used properly, meaning we shouldn’t spring them on unsuspecting audiences. When I use the two-minute film This Is Abortion, I tell people exactly what’s in the clip and invite them to avert their gaze if they so desire. Nearly everyone watches, and no one complains. I’ve found this to be true in diverse settings such as debates, banquets, schools, and churches. With Christian audiences, I introduce my remarks by stating that Christ is eager to forgive the sin of abortion and that my purpose isn’t to condemn, but to clarify and equip.
People not heartbroken over abortion will almost never make the lifestyle concessions necessary to support crisis pregnancy centers or other pro-life efforts at a sacrificial level. Images change the way people feel about abortion, while facts change they way they think. Both are vital in changing behavior.
True, many people dislike abortion images and find them offensive. That’s to be expected, given the discomfort of admitting moral culpability in the face of injustice. The more pressing question is whether the number of people put off by the graphic images exceeds those compelled into modifying their beliefs. If the debate over partial-birth abortion is any indication, we should bet on the images.
Open the Casket on AbortIon
Cunningham often says abortion represents an evil so inexplicable, there are no words to describe it. Although the pictures are difficult to look at, they convey truth in a way words never can.
Consider this historical parallel example. In 1955, a 14-year-old African American named Emmett Till traveled from Chicago to visit his cousin in the town of Money, Mississippi. Upon arrival, he bragged about his white girlfriends back in Chicago. This was surprising to his cousin and the cousin’s friends since blacks in Mississippi during the 1950s didn’t make eye contact with whites, let alone date them! Both actions were considered disrespectful. Later that day, Emmett, his cousin, and a small group of black males entered Bryant’s Grocery Store where, egged on by the other males, Emmett flirted with a 21-year-old white married woman behind the counter. After purchasing candy, he either whistled or said something mildly flirtatious. (Reports vary.) His cousin and the others warned him he was in for trouble. A few days later, at 2 a.m., Emmett was taken at gunpoint from his uncle’s home by the clerk’s husband and another man. After savagely beating him, they killed him with a single bullet to the head.
Emmett’s bloated corpse was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. A cotton gin fan had been shoved over his head and tied with barbed wire. His face was partially crushed and beaten almost beyond recognition. The local sheriff placed Emmett’s body in a sealed coffin and shipped it to his mother back in Chicago. When Mamie Till got the body, she made a stunning announcement—there would be an open-casket funeral for her son Emmett. People protested and reminded her how much this would upset everyone. Mamie agreed but countered, “I want the whole world to see what they did to my boy.” The photo of Emmett’s mangled body in that open casket was published in Jet magazine, and that helped launch the civil-rights movement in America. Three months later in Montgomery, Rosa Parks refused to change seats when ordered to do so. She said the image of Emmett Till gave her the courage to stand her ground.
It’s time for pro-life Christians to open the casket on abortion.
We should do it lovingly but truthfully. We should do it in our churches during the primary worship services, comforting those who grieve with the gospel of forgiveness. We should do it in our Christian high schools and colleges, combining visuals with a persuasive defense of the pro-life view that’s translatable to unbelievers.
But open the casket we must.
Until we do, Americans will continue tolerating an injustice they never have to see.
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Crossway, 2009) and it was originally published on the Crossway blog.
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