This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for two men who mentored my early development as a pro-life apologist. Each has made a huge contribution to the defense of the unborn.
Gregg Cunningham, Executive Director of The Center for Bioethical Reform, made the first investment, though I doubt he knew it the first time we met.
The setting was a Saturday breakfast for pastors in November of 1990. At the time I was an associate pastor in Southern California and organizers from the local crisis pregnancy center and right-to-life affiliate invited me and 100 others to hear a pro-life message aimed at equipping church leaders to think strategically about abortion.
Five of us showed up.
Undeterred by the dismal attendance, Gregg, with his background in law and politics (he served two terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives where he wrote the bill ending tax-financed abortions in that state) launched into the most articulate case for the lives of the unborn I’d ever heard. That was impressive enough.
But then he showed the pictures. Horrible pictures that made you cry.
In the course of one seven-minute video depicting abortion, my career aspirations were forever altered, though it took a few months to realize it. Greg asked us to think of the two religious leaders in the parable of the Good Samaritan who, although they most likely felt pity for the beating victim, did not act like they felt pity. Only the Good Samaritan took pity, thus proving he, and he alone, truly loved his neighbor.
For the next several months, I followed Gregg to many of his Southern California speaking events. I memorized huge portions of his talks and devoured his writings. Six months later, I left my job as an associate pastor (with the blessing of the church) and hounded Gregg even more until he put me on staff as his understudy—a position I was privileged to hold for six years. Watching him dismantle abortion-choice arguments in front of hostile audiences, I lost my fear of opposition. Watching him sacrifice the comforts of this life so he could save unborn humans, I lost my desire for an easy job. Both losses have served me well.
Gregg’s signature quote haunts me to this day: Most people who say they oppose abortion do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing. That’s a staggering truth. Every time I tempted to quit, I remember it.
While Gregg Cunningham taught me courage, Greg Koukl taught me to be a gracious ambassador for the Christian worldview. Koukl is not only a top-notch apologist, he’s also one of the most winsome guys you’ll ever meet. His mission is to equip Christians to graciously and incisively defend truth. That’s refreshing, as too many Christians lack the diplomacy skills needed to effectively engage listeners.
I first heard Greg on the radio back in 1989. I thought, “Wow, this guy is really smart!” By 1993, his Sunday afternoon show was my personal clinic in clear thinking. In 1996, we met for the first time at a pro-life conference in Pasadena, where we were both presenters. In 1997, we met again, this time for lunch. Later that same year, I joined his staff at Stand to Reason.
Shortly thereafter, Greg taught me a valuable lesson that continues to payoff each time I write or speak. The setting was the University of Illinois (Champaign), where I was scheduled to debate author and political science professor, Eileen McDonagh. Campus abortion-choice advocates did not want the debate to transpire and tried numerous ploys to stop it. First, they claimed that debates only serve to legitimize the “anti-choice” position. If you won’t debate slavery-advocates, why on earth debate pro-lifers? When that didn’t fly, they went after me personally with a series of editorials in the school newspaper. Everyone of those stories falsely claimed I was associated with groups advocating violence against abortion doctors, while some even claimed that I hated gays.
In response, I typed out a heated reply that shot down each of those lies and sent it off to Greg for a quick review before faxing it to the school paper.
That was a smart move. Greg graciously suggested that I tone things down a bit, or, a lot. Instead of anger, I should communicate sadness that a fine university committed to the free exchange of ideas would even think of censoring a debate over a legitimate public policy question. His advice saved the day. I revised the letter and instead of looking like angry victims, the pro-lifers on campus now appeared reasonable and willing to debate while the abortion-choicers looked like cowards out to suppress academic freedom. The school paper even hinted as much in a subsequent write-up after the debate was canceled. (I showed up anyway and after making a defense for the pro-life view, took questions from critics—which made abortion-choicers look even more unreasonable.) The comic drawing along side the story suggested those censoring the event were “pansies.”
From that day forward, I had a Koukl filter. Even if I’m hundreds of miles away, I hear Greg asking if the piece I’ve just written or the talk I’ve just given communicates in a winsome and attractive manner. When the answer is no, guess where I go?
Back to his radio show. Back to the commentaries on the Stand to Reason website. It’s there I recover my ambassador skills.
I thank God for both of these men. They are responsible for saving countless lives and equipping many others for effective Christian service. I am but one they’ve impacted for eternity.