Using both your head AND your heart
PLM: Today our topic is how pro-life supporters should engage in conversation with pro-choice supporters.
I’m honored to have with me an expert on that topic. His name is Josh Brahm and he is the Education Director for Right to Life of Central California. He hosts the globally heard podcast turned radio/tv show called “Life Report: ProLife Talk. Real World Answers.”
He’s also a regular blogger for Lifenews.com and Live Action News and his passion is helping pro-life people to be more persuasive when they communicate with pro-choice people so he is absolutely perfect for our topic today.
Josh, please give some background about how you got involved in the pro-life work that you are doing.
Josh Brahm: It really started with my awesome parents. I have pictures of me with my parents doing pro-life protests when I was about 4 yrs old. When I was 11 my dad took me to a pro-life meeting outside of an abortion clinic.
It was an interesting situation where I didn’t know what abortion was.
I was home schooled so I was a little bit sheltered and no one really explained to me before we got there what we were doing. So not being the most theologically minded 11 year old I was really bored by the whole thing, and I just didn’t understand what we were praying about or anything we were doing outside that building.
And then a separate group of people across the street had brought some graphic abortion signs. The pictures seemed weird to me. I wasn’t traumatized but they just seemed odd.
So I asked my parents what those were so they told me what abortion was and I
remember just being shocked, not just that it would be legal but that anyone would even want to do that. That was just a foreign notion to me.
I remember wanting to stop it. I wanted to try to fix this problem, this injustice. And so I started reading books about it. We had Dr. Beckwith’s book, “Politically Correct Death” which is a wonderful piece on pro-life apologetics. So I read that.
This already makes me a weird 11 year old. I started listening to tapes from a pro-life speaker named Scott Klusendorf who has now founded his own organization called Life Training Institute. I listened to the tapes over and over trying to master that material, and I knew that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be like Scott when I grew up.
I had a choice between being a full time pro-life advocate or doing full time music. I chose pro-life advocacy.
So that’s how it all got started, and I created a podcast and started blogging because I’m passionate about training pro-lifers how to be more persuasive because frankly there’s something a little bit weird about how we communicate about this issue sometimes, particularly to people who didn’t grow up in church and who don’t have the same presuppositions as we do.
Most of my work, whether it’s speaking, blogging, or podcasting, is trying to help the pro-life community to think better and use really good arguments and fewer bad arguments.
PLM: So it sounds like you’re trying to help people be more effective not just with what they say but how they say it.
Josh Brahm: That’s exactly right because it really matters.
Everyone talks about being more effective, and with pro-life people, being effective matters. It can have life or death consequences. The person you’re talking to, and you’re either being persuasive or not being persuasive, this person might be pregnant or his girlfriend might be pregnant right now, or might be in the near future.
Or it might be their friends. It doesn’t take long in their circle of influence before someone is going to experience it in a much more personal way than maybe we are when we’re talking about it philosophically on a college campus.
I know that in the end it’s the Holy Spirit that changes hearts and minds, but I think He wants to use us in that process.
I think it’s interesting that 1 Peter 3:15 says to be ready to give a defense for the hope
that is within you using gentleness and reverence.
You notice what 1 Peter 3:15 doesn’t say. It doesn’t say just go and spout out some Jesus talk whenever someone asks you about the hope that is within you. It says to be ready to give a defense.
So we want to be effective. But part of that doesn’t mean just using good arguments.
I’m learning more and more, especially the last couple of years, that there’s so much more that has to do with how we treat people.
Are we actually loving people? Because I will tell you right now that the pro-life community, as a whole, is not known by the other side for our love. I think that’s tragic. We should be known as some of the most loving and kind and intelligent people around. I want to play a small part in helping to make it happen.
PLM: Josh, you just mentioned that you don’t believe that the pro-choice side sees us as loving. Do they see us as combative? How do they view us?
Josh Brahm: Yes, I think that’s a really good word for it.
And there’s a part of this where there’s an unfair media bias aspect to this. I’m not suggesting the media does this every single time, but generally speaking if the media brings a pro-life person on TV, for example, the TV stations would much rather bring on certain pro-life people who tend to make us look kind of crazy.
I definitely think that’s part of it, but that is absolutely not all of it.
I see people debating this issue every day. I see it on Facebook. I see it on Youtube. I see it in face-to-face encounters when I bring people on to college campuses or other places where they can talk to pro-choice people. A lot of times, especially when the pro-life advocate hasn’t really been trained to think in this way, to think about love, we can be really combative.
And it makes sense. Pro-life people know this thing that we want everyone to know. We know that the unborn entity is a full human being, just as valuable as you or me, even though they are younger, smaller, less developed, and aren’t conscious.
They are intrinsically valuable because of the kind of thing they are. They are made in God’s image. We know this really important fact, and if everybody knew that, there would be fewer babies dying.
So we have this really important information, and there are 3,000 people dying every day, and so we have to get that information out there as fast as possible.
The problem is that the way we go about doing that, in our passion, can sometimes be very ineffective.
I saw a video of a skeptic Phil Plait speaking at an atheist conference where he started his speech by saying “Have you ever changed your mind about anything because someone called you an idiot? Well, no!! So we should stop calling Christians idiots. If we want to change their minds we have to change our tactics.” I think what he said absolutely applies to pro-life people as well.
PLM: I know there are many people, me included, who when we have the opportunity to talk with someone that we know to be pro-choice, could be a friend of ours, could even be a stranger who we heard say something, that we can kind of shy away from that. Since you’ve been doing this for so long, I’m wondering in your experience why is it that we have that feeling, and what can you recommend as something that we can do so that we would be more willing to engage folks that are pro-choice?
Josh Brahm: I think generally a person’s silence usually comes down to one of three things: ignorance, fear, or apathy.
On ignorance, I think there are a lot of Christians who just really don’t know how bad abortion is. Maybe they don’t know that the unborn are just as human as the newborn, not just biologically but also philosophically.
I think there are a lot of people who, even if they think that, they don’t truly believe it.
Even a lot of pro-life people don’t act like the unborn are as human as they say they are. This would explain why a lot of people don’t talk about this more. Then there’s just the sheer numbers. I think it’s 3,300 kids aborted every day, just in America. That’s basically 9/11 every single day.
PLM: Like you said that’s just the United States. Who knows what the number is worldwide. I don’t know the number, but it must be huge.
Josh Brahm: The most reliable number I’ve seen on global abortions is that there have been about 1.5 billon since 1973. To put that in perspective, that’s six times the earth’s population in Jesus’ day.
So abortion is not just an American problem. It’s an issue in many countries. So I think if people knew some of these things, knew more evidence about the biology of fetal development and when life begins, if people knew as much as we really know about those things they might have more confidence.
Fear. This is a big one and I actually completely understand it. I’m actually a little bit of an introvert, believe it or not. I really like being around my close friends but I get a little bit timid or awkward sometimes talking to strangers.
So I can understand. I’m not a guy who loves confrontation, so I can understand why people don’t want to get into this. I think there’s a fear for our reputation sometimes.
So people will say things like “What will other people think of me?”, or “I better not say anything right now or else I’ll get a reputation of being a Jesus freak.”
He said to do anything great we have to face our fears. And I think people don’t want to talk about an issue that they aren’t equipped to discuss intelligently.
I’ll give you an example of that: global warming. I have no idea what is going on with global warming. I know that there are really smart scientists on both sides of this issue who have spilled a bunch of ink writing long articles and books on both sides of this. I have no idea about this so I’m not going to debate about it with people. I’d be willing to listen to other people tell me their opinion about it , but I’m not going to dogmatically defend one side over the other at this point.
But if I knew more, I’d be willing to have discussions about it.
So I think a big part of this in the pro-life movement is how to equip pro-life people to engage. If they’re equipped they will be more likely to get over that fear that some people have and actually engage.
And talking with your friends, using relational apologetics, is really valuable. If you do it right it doesn’t have to be this thing where everybody gets mad at each other and you lose your friends.
I think that there’s a different way to have an abortion conversation and that gets to a lot of what I’m training people to do.
Lastly, apathy. There are some people, practically speaking, who act as if they don’t care. And maybe they actually don’t care or maybe they care and they act like they don’t care.
So I think we need to be willing to ask
ourselves an uncomfortable question. Do we really believe that the unborn are as valuable as our own children? I remember a couple of years ago this guy came to our office and he was shooting a documentary.
I don’t know if he ever finished it but he asked me a lot about that day when I was 11 that I told you about.
And one of the things he asked me, and I had never thought about this before, he asked me “Are you still as sad about abortion now as you were when you first found out about it?”
And I had to think about that. So I paused and my response was “No, but I should be.” I’ve been desensitized. I’ve been doing this full time for 10 years or so. So I need to try to find ways every so often to remind myself on a regular basis just how horrific this thing is.
PLM: Josh, you talked earlier about one of the mistakes that you see pro-life supporters make when they’re talking with pro-choice supporters of this idea that we’re so excited to talk about the truth that we forget about love for the other person that we’re talking to. I’m sure you see other common mistakes being made as well. Are there other mistakes that you see pro-lifers make and what are they? How can we avoid those mistakes?
Josh Brahm: I think the two main mistakes are ignoring what “Stand To Reason” calls the three essential skills of being a good ambassador for Christ, and the second common mistake is making bad arguments.
Stand To Reason is a Christian apologetics ministry in Los Angeles lead by Greg Koukl, who has been a big influence on my life as well as Stephen Wagner who works for Justice For All, and he mentors me.
They talk about the three essential skills for being a good ambassador for Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 it says you are an ambassador for Christ as if God were speaking through you, therefore be reconciled to God.
What does that mean? They talk about knowledge, wisdom and character being
these qualities. And under wisdom, and this is what I was talking about when I said the three essential skills, we talk about asking good questions with an open heart, listening to understand, finding genuine common ground when possible.
I used to think those things were just helpful for making a dialogue go well, but in the last couple of years I’ve now begun to think that those things are even more important than using good arguments and knowing answers to all the questions.
Because if you ask questions, and you listen to people and you show you care about them and you find some common ground, you can get stumped and it’s OK. You could just say “Wow, that’s a really interesting argument. I never thought of that before. Let me chew on that for awhile and email you in a week with some thoughts about that.”
That’s awesome because it shows that you’re taking them seriously. No one is used to being taken seriously anymore and I think pro-lifers ought to be changing that paradigm. What if we were known as the people who really take other people seriously? That would be awesome!
Josh Brahm: Think about the alternative. What if you’re this amazing debater, you’ve got all the arguments but you’re a jerk? You might win the battle but lose the person.
You don’t want to be like that. This person may come to Christ one day because of something you said or they might come to Christ in spite of something you said, and you don’t want to be that guy.
I think ignoring those skills of asking questions, listening to understand, really listening to enter their world and finding common ground and actually coaxing that out is a very common mistake.
We’re going to just get into debate mode, and trade arguments back and forth and it gets combative really fast especially when you’re talking about an issue as emotional as abortion is for people.
And concerning bad arguments, I just think there are some arguments, not a lot, but there are some arguments that pro-life people use that just are not persuasive. They are not even good arguments.
I’ll give you a few examples of that. I have a whole speech I actually made about this and if you go and subscribe to my free email updates at joshbrahm.com you can get the entire speech for free.
Here are a couple of common arguments. Some pro-life people make the argument that abortion is wrong because it hurts women, because abortion a lot of times has physical effects on women that are very negative and even more often emotional effects that are negative, not always right away but at some point down the line, a lot of times, after the person starts having kids.
So we want to make this easy, more emotional, almost palatable argument that abortion is wrong not just because of what it does to babies but it’s also wrong because of what it does to women.
But there are some problems with that argument. You wouldn’t make something illegal necessarily just because it hurt the people that made the decision. For example, we don’t make smoking cigarettes illegal just because they harm the people who smoke them. That’s not the society that we live in.
I think it’s fine sometimes to talk about that, and qualify it to be accurate as possible, but I don’t know that every single woman feels guilt after an abortion even to the end of her life, even though some researchers say that a lot of women do.
So I think it’s OK to talk about that but that’s not my primary argument because I’m trying to accomplish not just getting people to think that abortion is unwise, but I’m trying to get them to believe that abortion is not only morally wrong, but that it should actually be illegal.
And not all morally wrong things should be illegal. For example, I don’t think gossip or extra-marital sex should be illegal, even though I think both of those things are strongly immoral.
So I’m “swinging for the fences” here in a sense. I want to make a strong argument that will support my view that abortion should be illegal, not just that it’s unwise.
Another really common one goes something like this: Abortion is wrong because it could’ve killed the cure for cancer, or maybe the next Beethoven, or some wonderful person who would have benefited society.
That’s a really bad argument. There are a lot of reasons why and I can’t get into all of them, but in the end it works both ways. Abortion has probably also killed potential rapists and murderers. So that works on both sides of that coin. That actually plays into the the worldview of many pro-choice people.
That world view says that a human life is not intrinsically valuable. It’s only instrumentally valuable that your value comes from how you benefit society or what you can do functionally. That is not at all our view. I agree that some people are more valuable to society than others, but I think they all have an equal right to live, and that comes down to our intrinsic value. There’s something about humans that makes us all equally valuable on an intrinsic level. I think in the end that has to do with the Being who made us.
We should run away from the Beethoven argument and never use it again because it’s bad on multiple levels.
PLM: Josh, I’m sure you’ve heard probably about every pro-choice argument out there and I’m sure you’ve seen over time the tactics of pro-choice argumentation change, so I’m wondering at this point in time here in 2013, what are the most common pro-choice arguments you hear from the pro-choice side today, and how do you answer them?
Josh Brahm: There are so many pro-choice arguments. I think there are three main categories of pro-choice arguments. So instead of just giving soundbites I want to give a road map of what you would want to do in these three categories.
The three different types of arguments are those that assume that the unborn isn’t human, and then there are ones that actually make an argument that the unborn isn’t human, and there’s a third category which is by far the toughest where there are arguments where they will actually admit that the unborn is human.
For people who assume that the unborn isn’t human these arguments usually take the form of arguments something like that there’s so much poverty, or there’s overpopulation, or there are women who are in college and this could mess up their careers, or there’s some other really sad circumstance.
In the end all these arguments are assuming that the unborn isn’t a human being because you would never make those arguments to justify killing a toddler, for example.
I was at the airport in Denver where a woman made the overpopulation argument. She said we need abortion to prevent the world from becoming even more overpopulated than it is.
And I said “Why stop at birth? Assuming for the sake of argument only that overpopulation is a real global problem, let’s just kill all the 3 year olds and under globally.” And she said, “We can’t do that.” So I said to her, “I know but why shouldn’t we be able to do that?” And she said, “Well that’s different.” So I asked her “How is it different?” And she said, “Well you can’t kill humans.”
And I think that’s the issue. You can’t kill humans to solve overpopulation, but I believe that the unborn are just as human as the 3 yr olds. So it seems like the issue comes down to the central question of this entire debate, the one that ought to be answered before anything else is whether the unborn is human or not.
If they are human, then a lot of the arguments that have to do with poverty and overpopulation are suddenly not going to work.
Then you have this other category where the argument is that the unborn is not human.
There are people who argue that the unborn are not human biologically, usually because they think it’s not a separate organism, that there’s not really any moral difference between an embryo and a skin cell or a sperm cell. And we can make biological arguments in response to that.
Many others argue that the unborn is not human philosophically, meaning it’s not a “person” or valuable human being. The problem is, many of the reasons people disqualify the unborn from personhood, like that they aren’t self-aware of conscious would also disqualify infants. I’m going to go back to that equal rights argument here. It seems that the best explanation of the intuition that most of our society has, that adult human beings have an equal right to live, is because we all share the something in common: humanness. And if that’s true, and IF the unborn are human, then they should have an equal right to life too.
Then there’s this other category where they will actually admit that the unborn is human. This is where pro-life people struggle the most because I think sometimes we don’t fully understand the power in this argument, especially if it’s made a certain way.
This is basically a bodily rights argument. They are arguing that the unborn is a completely valuable human being, just like a toddler.
Then the argument is that the woman’s body is this kind of “sovereign zone” where the woman can do whatever she wants with anything that is inside her body.
An even better version of this argument is the famous violinist story that Judith Jarvis Thomson wrote in 1971 where she basically said that the unborn is human but that you can’t force people to be connected to other people against their will. You can’t force people to have these bodily connections.
There have been a lot of responses to this argument in the past and I think most of the common responses have small weaknesses
in them, usually just pragmatic weaknesses, but problems where they’re not going to end up convincing the person that abortion is wrong, at least not in all cases.
They are good arguments on a principled level but there are problems on a pragmatic level. So my colleague Steve Wagner and my brother Tim and I, and a few other people, actually spent a couple of years trying to work on coming up with a better argument that would be good not only on the principled level but also be more persuasive.
I think we finally have something. We published a paper that explains the concept to people, and you can get it for free at prolifepodcast.net. There’s actually a big obvious button on the left side of that website that says “New Bodily Rights Paper” and you can download it. It explains everything I just said but in more detail and also offers our solution to that problem.
PLM: Josh thank you very much today but before I let you go, I know you’re out there on the web in a lot of different places. Let the folks know where they can find you and the materials and everything you have on the internet.
Josh Brahm: I’m blogging now at joshbrahm. com. So everything I’m writing that will end
up at Life News and Live Action you can just find it all at my website joshbrahm.com.
And then our podcast which has hundreds of hours of free pro-life media that we’ve been putting together for about 5 and a half years now is at prolifepodcast.net.
And if you happen to be in the central California area where I work for a great organization called Right To Life of Central California and you can learn more about our local events and activities and activism if you go to righttolifeca.org.
PLM: That’s great Josh. Thank you again for taking the time to share your knowledge today. I know I learned a lot and I know our readers will learn a lot too. I really appreciate you doing this and I’m certainly very grateful for everything you do for the pro-life movement.
About Josh Brahm
Josh Brahm is the Education Director for Right to Life of Central California and host of the globally heard podcast turned radio/TV show, Life Report: Pro-Life Talk. Real World Answers. He’s a regular blogger for LifeNews.com and Live Action News.
Josh’s primary passion is helping pro-life people to be more persuasive when they communicate with pro-choice people. That means ditching faulty rhetoric and tactics and embracing arguments that hold up under philosophical scrutiny.