When my daughter Emily was in 2nd grade, I spoke to her class about pro-life. Emily attends our local public elementary school and her teacher thought the students would benefit hearing from a real life author. How could I resist?
As mentioned in a previous blogpost, I began by holding up a parchment copy of “The Declaration of Independence” (which the class had been studying) and read the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men.”
I then asked, “What makes us equal? It can't be our body size, because some are larger than others. It can’t be how smart we are, because some have good report cards while others have bad ones. It can't be our bellybuttons because some point out rather than in. So what makes us equal?”
From all over the room, tiny voices shot back “We’re all human!” Exactly. The only thing we all share equally is our humaness.
I then held up my book The Case for Life. The cover shows a picture of two tiny feet in-utero. “What’s this?” Without a moment’s delay, kids all over that room shouted, “a baby in the mommy’s tummy.”
“Right.” And what kind of baby is this?” Again, there was no delay. “It’s a human baby.”
“Right again. But how is this human in the picture different than us?”
Hands shot up everywhere. “It’s smaller.” “It looks different than mommy.” “It can’t talk yet.” “You can’t see his eyes yet.” “He doesn’t go to school yet.”
“True. Do you think that those differences mean the baby in the picture is less human than any of us?”
A resounding chorus of voices shot back, “No!”
Notice the kids didn’t need a doctorate degree to grasp the obvious truth about our common human nature. I made a case for human equality (and thus, a case for the pro-life view) without mentioning the word abortion. More importantly, they understood perfectly what I was driving at.
But they won't for long.
By the time these same kids graduate high school, many will have talked themselves out of the obvious truths they once espoused as second graders. As Frank Beckwith and Greg Koukl point out, religion and morality will be mere preferences, like choosing your favorite flavor of ice cream. Intrinsic human value will be subject to a technological ethic that says that if we can do it, we should do it—meaning, for example, that human embryos are fair game if killing them helps us cure disease. The very definition of humanness will be up for grabs.
Sad, but many of my wide-eyed second graders will morph into full-blown moral relativists and religious pluralists! They’ll accept truth in the hard sciences, but not in religion and ethics.
Just like their secular friends, church school kids absorb relativism. True, they’re not absorbing it in the classroom (hopefully), but they are absorbing it from the surrounding culture. If you doubt this, try going into a large Catholic or Protestant high school and writing the following two statements on the board:
1. “Jesus is the only way to salvation and all other world religions are false.”
2. “Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being and laws permitting it are scandalous.”
Think the kids will agree? My own experience says you will immediately take heat from a sizable minority even in those schools! “You’re intolerant to judge person’s sincerely held beliefs. So you’re saying Gandhi is in Hell?” “Who’s to say what’s best for a woman facing a crisis pregnancy. Shouldn’t we trust her reasons?” “Why are you an absolutist on human life when there could be serious consequences for a woman who’s forced to have a child?”
As for the rest who don’t publicly espouse relativism, they generally fall into one of four categories on the specific topic of abortion: 1) Those who agree with the relativists, but are quiet about it, 2) those who aren’t relativists, but support abortion because they fear bad things will happen if it’s outlawed, 3) those who agree with me, but have no idea how to refute the relativists, and 4) those who agree with me and persuasively answer the relativists. Only number four can help the pro-life cause, and number four is usually a very small group!
A short time later, these same students land at college where the assault on religion and morality goes nuclear. Are the pro-life kids in group #3 and group #4 ready for that?
So, when pro-life guest speakers visit the classroom in Catholic and Protestant high schools, what’s their primary answer to this worldview crisis?
Admittedly, I've not conducted an empirical study to prove this and I could be mistaken, but my own experience as a pro-life speaker suggests that in many towns across America, abstinence is the only pro-life message given to students. Each year, I speak at dozens of pregnancy center banquets and most centers can’t wait to tell donors about the work they are doing in schools. When I privately ask what, exactly, they are doing in the classroom, the answer is usually some variation on the abstinence theme. That is, they are telling students why waiting for sex until marriage is a good idea. Almost never are they systematically reaching students with persuasive pro-life content on abortion.
I don’t think pro-lifers grasp the enormity of the challenge facing us. Many of these kids have fractured worldviews where right and wrong are mere preferences and human life is a mere commodity. Against that backdrop, our primary response in schools is to slip in a little behavior modification? “Hey kids, keep your pants zipped or you’ll get an STD!” Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight!
Catholic and Protestant students need pro-life talks aimed squarely at the reasons our culture supports abortion in the first place. If pro-life advocates don’t deliver those talks, who will?
I'm not saying abstinence talks aren't important. But it's hugely problematic if that's our primary message to students who will soon be dropped into a university environment where they are out-gunned and in way over their heads, where pro-life views will be under constant attack.
Again, my own experience may be mistaken, so feel free to comment away. But I fear that I'm right. With that in mind, I've begun work on a new book aimed at equipping pregnancy center staff and right-to-life affiliates to deliver persuasive pro-life talks in Catholic and Protestant high schools. Publication date is sometime before summer.
This 39 minute talk explains the problems pro-life students face in more detail.