Talking to our friends and family about thorny issues is hard. As the fallout from Roe v Wade continues to make headlines, Sarah Phillips shares some top tips on how Christians can ensure their conversations are fruitful
The issue of abortion has become so contentious that it is difficult for many pro-life Christians to even imagine having an open and honest discussion with our pro-choice peers (the reverse may also be true).
A law change like the over-turning of Roe v Wade in the States has magnified the deep divide between the two sides of the debate, and I fear that, both here and in the US, we are becoming less and less able to simply discuss it. And that is a very sad place to be.
Part of this difficulty is unavoidable – abortion is an extremely emotive issue. Both sides fervently believe there are human rights at stake. But much of the rhetoric on both sides can also be deeply unhelpful and provocative, preventing any meaningful discussion around the issue and deepening the division between us.
No pro-choice advocate is likely to be won over by a placard screaming: “Abortion is murder!” Likewise, I feel my hackles rise when I read: “Pro-life’s a lie! Women will die!” We need to find a more gracious and productive way to talk about abortion.
1. Don’t be afraid to talk about it
Bring it up! It’s easy to feel that the best way to deal with such a contentious issue is to avoid it for the sake of peace. But the less we participate in discussions about abortion, the less people will feel the need to think it through carefully for themselves. When we disagree lovingly with others, we challenge them to think critically about it and consider what they really value and believe. It’s vital for people to see it as a debate with two tenable sides, and for us to meet others we trust and respect who hold a different position.
2. Don’t be afraid to see the other side
I am passionately pro-life, but I do not believe that a desire to “murder babies” is what drives my pro-choice peer. I am pro-life, but I understand why my friend feels women should be able to choose to have an abortion. I am pro-life, but I see why many women feel that abortion is their only option. We must not be afraid to acknowledge that the issue of abortion is extremely complex. Pro-lifers do not risk compromising their view on the sanctity of life by empathising with the desperate situations in which women contemplating abortion often find themselves.
3. Be slow to speak and quick to listen
One of the most powerful ways to be distinctive as Christians is to listen well. You don’t need much time scrolling through twitter feeds to see that most people are not naturally good listeners. They misinterpret one another because they don’t take the time to really process what’s being said. Their instinct is to respond at the first opportunity with what they think, instead of making sure they really understand the position of their neighbour. But Christians should be different. Allowing others to feel truly heard is a powerful expression of love, and people notice the difference. We want to draw people in to a better way by showing them the beauty of Jesus so, as we talk about abortion, let’s display his gentleness and humility as we do. Our words will have much greater power if our friend feels loved and heard.
4. Ask questions
In his book, Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to family members, close friends, and others who know you well (Crossway Books), Randy Newman says: “Sometimes asking a few questions can open the door for more receptive hearts and minds.” Asking questions not only shows a person that we are interested in their point of view, it also challenges them to think through the complexities of the issue themselves. This is often far more effective than simply saying: “Here’s what I think.” Done in the right way, asking questions is also less confronting and inflammatory than doggedly asserting our point of view. Consider asking a friend questions like: When do you think life begins? What more could be done to support women contemplating abortion? When do you feel a baby begins to have rights? Why then? How could we find a way to protect and honour both lives – baby and mother?
Ask God for opportunities to talk about abortion fruitfully. Ask him to give you wisdom and to fill you with his Spirit so that you speak words that honour and point to him. Ask him to enable you to imitate Christ as you do it, and that you would be distinctive in your gentleness and humility. Ask him to help you be courageous, to empathise, to be slow to speak and quick to listen as you engage your peers in discussion. And pray that, ultimately, these difficult conversations might lead to changes of heart over abortion and towards Christ himself.