10 guidelines for sharing the pro-life message
When most people think of the abortion issue, they think of confrontation. We have to change that. Instead of confrontation, we must seek conversation — and ultimately conversion. It is not enough to have the right information. We must also have the right attitude.
If the pro-life message is a message of hope, then we who are called to share that message must present it with a spirit of peace. The following ten guidelines will help you adopt a peaceful way of sharing the pro-life message, and enable you to be much more successful in winning hearts and minds to our cause.
1. Listen — and pay attention.
Sharing the pro-life message starts with listening.Listen to what the person you’re talking to is saying. You may think you’ve heard it all before, and maybe you have, but if you don’t really listen, you’ll only turn off those you’re trying to reach.
The pro-choice person you’re talking to deserves to know that you are really paying attention to what they have to say. And if the conversation begins with hostility — for example, an angry student stopping to complain about the pro-life display you’re hosting on campus — there’s no better way to calm things down than to patiently listen.
This also means using body language that shows you are paying attention. Look the person in the eye, nod to show understanding and assume a relaxed posture with your arms close to your body.
2. Take time for reflection.
Having listened closely to the pro-choice person you’re speaking with, take a moment for reflection. What might be the best place to start with this particular person? Have they brought up something personal that you could build on?
If you’re a religious person, as many pro-life people are, use this moment to offer up your conversation in prayer and seek inspiration.
3. Always be respectful.
Unfortunately, there are some in the pro-life movement who undermine their sincere efforts to explain why abortion is so wrong by failing to treat their pro-choice opponents with respect. There’s never a good reason for treating someone with disrespect, least of all when you’re dealing with a matter of life and death like abortion.
To help establish a respectful spirit, share your first name, and ask the pro-choice person theirs.
4. Seek common ground.
Try to find something that you and your pro-choice opponent can agree on. Perhaps you can agree that more needs to be done to help women facing untimely pregnancy. Or that abortion is a painful decision that nobody makes casually. Or that partial birth abortion should not be legal.
This agreement becomes the first step in building a relationship. You can build on that common ground as you continue to discuss the abortion issue. Even agreeing about something trivial like a favorite TV show can help make your conversation more fruitful.
5. Make it personal.
Speak from the heart, from your own experience — even when talking about facts and figures. Instead of simply stating, for example, that a human embryo’s heartbeat can be detected 18-24 days after conception, share your experience of learning this fact: “I remember how amazed I was when I learned …”
6. Give the benefit of the doubt, and never take offense.
Discussions about abortion can become very heated. In fact, they almost always will, unless you work hard to keep that from happening. No matter how angry, rude or upset your opponent may become, you must absolutely refuse to take offense or nurse an insult.
Always give the benefit of the doubt, starting with considering all the questions and comments you hear to be sincere, even if you can detect a cynical or sneering tone. Never tell a pro-choice person that they “don’t really care about women” or “don’t want to know the truth”, and never tell someone who opposes abortion but doesn’t share your commitment that they’re “not really pro-life”.
7. Don’t interrupt others’ conversations.
Never interrupt a fellow pro-lifer’s conversation with an opponent, no matter how tempting it may be. You may think you have better information, but butting into the conversation will do more harm than good, especially if the pro-choice person feels ganged up on.
Instead of interrupting, silently offer a prayer that the conversation will be fruitful. And if you can do so without being disruptive, you may want to pass on a copy of this handbook to your pro-life friend.
8. Pick your battles and keep it simple.
When talking to people on the other side of the abortion issue, you will often find yourself pummeled with objection after objection — What about a woman who’s raped? What about a child who would face a life of abuse and misery? What about the death penalty? You may only get out a few words in response to one question before another one is raised.
It is important at a time like this to stay focused on one or two key issues. You can even say something like, “I’d love to address all your questions, and I’ll do my best, but for the moment maybe we could focus on . . .” Pick a central topic — like the humanity of the unborn child or the harm that abortion does to women — and try to stick to it.
9. Admit when you lack information.
This handbook will give you all the critical information you need to answer pro-choice questions and share the pro-life message, but if you ever find yourself lacking a piece of information or confronted with a question you can’t answer, admit it. Not only does this show how fair and reasonable you are, but it leaves open the possibility of revisiting the topic on another occasion.
10. Always leave the door open.
Your goal must never be to convince the pro-choice person that you’re right and they’re wrong. If you walk away, thinking, “I really put him in his place!” you’ve probably failed to open any doors for the pro-life movement.
If you can’t change this person’s mind — and you rarely will do so on the spot — you can at least begin to build a relationship that you or another pro-lifer can build upon in the future. You can open doors for future conversion.
To help make this possible, always conclude your discussion by thanking the pro-choice individual for taking the time to talk to you.