Is serious pro-life content dead on arrival in the age of Twitter? Should student ministers sacrifice truth that requires listeners to think?

The correct response to Twitter is not surrender, but equipping. Christian leaders must present students with compelling pro-life content that can compete in the marketplace of ideas. It stretches the mind, but kids can take it. In fact, they want it. My own experience confirms this.

Each year I speak to thousands of students at Catholic and Protestant high schools. My talks run 60 minutes, and other than a short DVD clip depicting abortion, I skip all media gadgetry. Instead, I engage students with a robust defense of the pro-life position. Almost always the schools want me back. Meanwhile, college students are showing a growing interest in pro-life apologetics. Next week, I’ll deliver a keynote address to collegians at the annual Students for Life of America Conference in Washington D.C. Roughly 60 students attended the group’s 2004 conference. The 2011 conference is sold out with more than 1,700 registrants from 150 campuses.

Twitter or not, these students appreciate clear thinking presented in a winsome manner. Here are four ways Christian leaders can help them think clearly about the most pressing moral issue of our day:

1.) Clarify the nature of moral reasoning. As Francis J. Beckwith points out, when pro-life advocates claim that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being, they are not saying they dislike abortion. They are saying it’s objectively wrong, regardless of how one feels about it. Consider the popular bumper sticker: “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!” Notice what’s going on here. The pro-life advocate makes a moral claim that he believes is objectively true—namely, that elective abortion is unjust killing. The abortion-choice advocate responds by changing that objective truth claim into one about likes and dislikes, as if the pro-lifer were talking about a mere preference. But this misses the point entirely. Pro-life advocates don’t oppose abortion because they find it distasteful; they oppose it because it violates rational moral principles. Imagine if I said, “Don’t like spousal abuse? Don’t beat your wife!”

2.) Clarify the one question that really matters. So what is the real issue, if not likes and dislikes? Pro-life advocates contend that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being. This simplifies the abortion controversy by focusing public attention on just one question: Is the unborn one of us? If so, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. Conversely, if the unborn are not human, elective abortion requires no more justification than having a tooth pulled. This is not a debate between those who are pro-choice and those who are anti-choice. Every pro-life advocate that I know is vigorously “pro-choice” when it comes to women choosing a number of moral goods. They support a woman’s right to choose her own doctor, her own school, her own husband, and her own career—to name just a few. But some choices are wrong, like killing innocent human beings simply because they are in the way and cannot defend themselves. We shouldn’t be pro-choice about that.

3.) Clarify the scientific and philosophic case for life. The science of embryology establishes that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. True, they have yet to grow and mature, but they are whole human beings nonetheless. Leading embryology textbooks affirm this. Meanwhile, pro-life advocates use philosophy to show there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today that would justify killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you had no right to life then but you do now. Stephen Schwarz suggests the acronym SLED as a helpful reminder of these non-essential differences:

  • Size: You were smaller as an embryo, but since when does your body size determine value? Large humans are not more valuable than small humans.
  • Level of Development: True, you were less developed as an embryo, but why is that decisive? Six-month olds are less developed than teenagers both physically and mentally, but we don’t think the former have less of a right to life.
  • Environment: Where you are has no bearing on what you are. How does a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from a being we can kill to one we can’t?
  • Degree of Dependency: Sure, you depended on your mother for survival, but since when does dependence on another human mean we can kill you? (Consider conjoined twins, for example.)

In short, humans are equal by nature not function. Although they differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature made in the image of God.

4.) Clarify the path to forgiveness. Post-abortion young people do not need an excuse. They need an exchange: Christ’s righteousness for their sinfulness. Indeed, the starting point for human healing is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out, you can never preach it enough. That gospel tells how God made humans to worship and enjoy him, but they willfully rebelled against their creator. Although the rebels deserved God’s righteous wrath, he poured it out on a substitute—Jesus, the sinless one. Like all sinners, post-abortion men and women need this gospel. With it, they live each day assured God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not their own. Without it, they perish.

True, great presentations always combine rhetorical flare with clear content. However, when I make a return visit to a banquet or school, it’s not my name that people remember. Instead, they point and say, “Hey, aren’t you the SLED guy? I used that with my friend.” That makes my day.