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180: The Good and the Not-So-Good

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Produced by Living Waters, 180 is a documentary showing Ray Comfort talking to people about the issue of abortion. By comparing the destruction of the unborn to the Holocaust, Comfort shows the inconsistency of supporting abortion while opposing the the Nazi’s extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II.

In a post at the Life Training Institute Blog, Pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf offers his thoughts on the film:

What the documentary gets right:

1. The film casts the abortion issue as a human rights issue.
2. The film correctly states that moral conclusions (i.e., abortion is wrong) should impact how we vote.
3. The film correctly states that discussions about abortion often lead to larger (theological) questions about human sinfulness and the gospel as the remedy.
4. The film challenges the fear of engaging unbelievers.

What the documentary neglects:

1. The distinction between people in the film (Venice Beach?) and the public at large.
2. The distinction between shouting a conclusion and establishing one.
3. The distinction between killing a “baby” and unjustly killing human beings.
4. The distinction between voting for pro-life candidates and voting pro-life.
5. The distinction between intentional killing and killing that is merely foreseen.

Read the post for his explanation of each point.

Update: Justin Taylor also offers a careful analysis of the documentary that is worth reading.

Are there good reasons for abortion?

If you haven’t heard it already, this week’s episode of the UK radio show Unbelievable features a good debate between Madeleine Flannagan and Wendy Savage on the topic of abortion. Listen to the exchange here.

Is Exodus 21:22 pro-life or pro-abortion?

Exodus is a book in the Bible that describes the laws God issued to the nation of Israel as a part of his covenant with them. It was intended to regulate the lives of a people living in a distinctive geographical and redemptive-historical context and does not apply in the same sense to those who follow Christ and are bound by his law (1 Cor 9:20-21; Heb 8:18; etc). Yet it does reveal many important things about God and His moral vision for humanity and has a place in contemporary ethical discussions.

Frequently in abortion debates, Exodus 21:22-25 is used against the pro-life position and the traditional Christian understanding of the equal moral status of the unborn.

The passage:

“And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” [Exodus 21:22-25 NASB]

The passage seems to imply that if the mother dies in the clash, the penalty is “life for life” but if a miscarriage takes place and the child is lost, then the only penalty that is imposed is a fine. Therefore, the Bible does not consider the unborn to be fully human.

This months issue of Solid Ground, from the ministry of Stand to Reason, tackles this question:

At issue is the phrase translated “she has a miscarriage.” There is an assumption made about this word that is crucial. In English, the word “miscarriage” implies the death of the child. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines miscarriage as, “The expulsion of the fetus from the womb before it is sufficiently developed to survive.” In the struggle, the child is aborted, and so a fine is levied.

Here’s the crux of the issue: Does the Hebrew word carry the same meaning? Is it correct to presume that the miscarriage of Exodus 21:22 produces a dead child, just like an abortion? This is the single most important question that needs to be answered here. If it does, the English word “miscarriage” is the right choice. If it does not, then the picture changes dramatically.

Are we justified in assuming that the child is dead?

Read the whole thing.

Apologetics and effective dialogue

This last semester, a group of Auckland university friends and myself attended a rally on campus to help launch a student pro-life group. Whenever students seek to form a club under the umbrella of the University’s Student Association, advocates must do so at an annual forum where votes are petitioned from those who are present. It is an interesting and cumbersome way to establish clubs, but it does guarantee a colourful event. And with an issue as controversial as abortion, you can imagine the intensity of debate.

In the end, however, opponents were able to gather more support against the club through successfully derailing the discussion. Instead of a debate about whether students should be able to establish a pro-life club, the merits of abortion were instead trumpeted. While it was heartening that pro-life advocates did not resort to the kind of personal attacks or irrelevant arguments that the other side did (the common complaints: “The morality of abortion should only be discussed among woman”, “Denying women the right to abortion is a form of religious oppression”, etc) I was reminded of how important it is that Christians are effective communicators.

Recently, I came across the excellent Life Training Institute Blog, and a post by Josh Brahm about effective dialogue and different tactics in conversation. To illustrate, Brahm recounts a conversation he overheard between a pro-choicer and a pro-lifer (‘Charlie’):

The pro-choicer made a comment along the lines of, “I don’t like abortion, but if it’s made illegal, women will be hurt in back-alley abortions.”

Charlie’s response? “So you think we should legalize murder?” (Add a hint of combative attitude to the tone, and you’ve got the picture.)

Now, I know where Charlie was going with this – he wanted to explain that we shouldn’t make or keep immoral things legal to make the crime safer for the felon. For example, we wouldn’t make murder legal to make things easier and safer for murderers, because murder is wrong. Unfortunately, our pro-choice friend who had probably never explored that logic, misunderstood where Charlie was going with this.

Instead, he responded, “Now, that’s called a strawman argument. That has nothing to do with what I just said.”

So to be clear, Charlie hadn’t made a strawman argument; he just wasn’t very clear in his argumentation.

I wasn’t able to hear all of Charlie’s response, but it was basically a second try at responding to the original pro-choice objection, and it still had that same combative tone. Then the pro-choicer starts talking about red herrings. He obviously wasn’t getting it, and he stormed off before I could catch him to continue the discussion.

Several hours later I was eating lunch with Charlie and another young volunteer, when the subject of effective dialogue came up.

I started by explaining how sometimes we hear an argument that we’ve heard over and over, like the back-alley thing, and we want to zero in for that “gotcha” moment. I added, “But in one-on-one conversations, we need to remember to take people slowly through our argument, making sure we make a clear case, and avoid asking pointed questions that will make the person feel defensive.”

Brahm then goes on to suggest a helpful distinction that Steve Wagner, another experienced pro-life communicator, has defined between “I get you” responses and “gotcha” replies. “Gotcha” answers are concise one-liners that are designed to stump the opposition. In formal debates, media interviews and hit and run conversations, quick answers and sound bite-shaped responses are the best weapons. If you’re unable to summarize why your point is true and your opponent’s is false, you lose.

However, in different contexts “gotcha” answers can be counter-productive. People will not want to dialogue if they feel humiliated or that they’re being led into a trap. Wagner explains:

I take time with each person. I try to let them have multiple opportunities to explain themselves. I don’t “move in for the kill.” While I ask tough questions, I’m also content to let some false statements or arguments go unanswered. I don’t always have to have the last word. Why? Because I think communicating to each person the phrase, “I get you,” is more important than making sure everyone else knows “I gotcha.” It’s one of the essential skills we teach every pro-life advocate: Listen to understand rather than to refute.

It’s good advice. And not just relevant for conversations about abortion. In apologetic practice, we can find ourselves  over-emphasizing the importance of finding initial entry points and common ground but it is often just as crucial to think about where we are going in the conversation.