Monday, February 26, 2007

More on Priorities [SK]

Peter writes:

I think that perhaps your communication with Jeremy and Jim has been going at cross-purposes for the reason that you are mainly speaking to the kinds of arguments that you use in the apologetic context of a public forum at universities, etc., whereas Jeremy and Jim both seem to be more concerned with the kinds of conversations that occur in the more intense, emotionally and spiritually pressurized situation of the counseling session with the young woman contemplating abortion. Even if we grant that there will be some hearers in your audiences who are on the verge of making just such a choice, surely the differences in forum require different speaking strategies.

What I am getting at is that the fire-fighting analogy breaks down most obviously here. Crisis pregnancy counseling may be fairly compared to rescuing people from burning buildings, but only to a point. As insurance companies so often tell us, catastrophes like fire, flood, and tornado are impersonal "forces majeueres", (or as they still say in many policies, "acts of God"). In contrast, the baby in danger of abortion is at immediate risk because of the conscious deliberate and willful exercise of choice on the part of a knowing human actor, i.e., the mother--a person by the way, whose understanding is often darkened under the influence of powerful and seductive lies. So the rescue process proceeds by argument and explanation in order, hopefully, to avert the immediate catastrophe by changing the will of the mother. But unless there is a deeper structural change, a change of heart on the part of the mother, there is good reason to fear that she may wind up in the same predicament again in 9 months or 2 years or 5 years--sin being what it is. The most effective method of counseling--one that addresses these heart issues-- is best accomplished through a strategy of compassionate witness that exposes the mother to the reality and power of her own sin, of which the abortion question before her is only the most obvious manifestation. The crisis pregnancy counseling conversation is rightly seen to be the most critical "front-line" component of an overall strategy that seeks to reverse the momentum of the "culture of death." Pragmatic strategies that only focus on the immediate task of saving this baby in this situation now, it seems to me, fail to make these larger connections, and so, ultimately, prove to be less successful, for the reasons I suggest. This seems to be the point of Pat as well--who speaks from quite a bit of experience. By the way, all of this is not to say I accuse you being a short-sighted pragmatist, but rather, that I agree with the "both/and" approach you suggest.
My reply:

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I hope you’ll pardon my tardy response—the kids were out of school last week and I’m just now getting back to the office!

Just to review, the debate here got started over this general question: “Must the gospel be at the center of the pro-life movement in order for that movement to be faithful?” Jeremy seemed to say yes (at least that’s how I interpreted his post). I said no.

That’s where my fire department (FD) analogy came in: The primary activity objective of the pro-life movement, like the FD, is not to save souls eternally, but rescue lives at risk here and now.

Your point that CPCs must employ differing counseling techniques is a good one. I also agree that the apologist and the CPC counselor sometimes draw from different toolboxes. Every client is different and each, at least to a point, requires a tailored response.

However, I contend that my FD analogy still holds, even in CPC settings, and that your distinction between so-called “acts of God” and deliberate “willful exercise,” while interesting, doesn’t damage my case at all. For example, suppose a woman is preparing to jump from a high-rise building and take her two-year old with her. Suppose also the FD is first to arrive on the scene. (Don’t we hear stories all the time about firemen talking people off of ledges?) True, the causation changes (the act of God is random; the woman’s act in this case, if successful, will be agent-caused), nevertheless, the fire department’s primary activity remains the same: Rescue human lives. That activity trumps all other considerations, including preaching the gospel. Indeed, we have years to present God’s truth to that woman, but only moments to save her and her child from a devastating choice. Put differently, the FD deals with the immediate danger and lets the mental health professionals and clergy sort out the underlying causes after we get her down from the ledge.

Applied to CPCs, I’m okay if a center makes evangelism an overarching goal provided 1) its primary activity is saving babies here and now, and 2) its governing body judges success primarily in terms of how the center used its available resources to save those lives most at risk. That’s not to stop a center from working with the client later on underlying issues, but the primary activity should be aimed at saving her child right now! After that objective is met, we can certainly go to work securing, as you put it, those "deeper structural changes” that bring about a transformed life.

Finally, I agree CPCs must expose women to the reality of their own sin. But in crisis situations, we should first make the sin of abortion real to her before talking about sin in the abstract, theological sense. As my colleague Gregg Cunningham puts it, “if a woman is not more horrified of abortion than she is terrified of a crisis pregnancy, her baby will die.”

Beyond that, there’s no reason to suppose that making the sin of abortion real (indeed, that is the specific sin she contemplates, right?) will stop us from presenting the full gospel when the time is right.

For example, my friend David Lee reaches thousands of college students each year with his pro-life exhibit and I’m a proud partner of his work. This is not your daddy's cardboard poster show. It's a professionally designed (and hugely expensive) display that tastefully depicts the graphic horror of abortion and teaches students the moral logic of the pro-life view. The exhibit is huge (20 feet tall on four sides) and can be seen from a quarter of a mile away. (See the exhibit here.)

David's staff is first class all the way—no shouters screaming unkind remarks, just well-informed Christians graciously making a case for life against the backdrop of horrific images. No wonder Focus on the Family featured his work in Citizen Magazine. He's gone everywhere it seems--UCLA, University of Kansas, University of Texas, Baylor, Wichita State, University of Colorado, to name a few. Each place, abortion becomes THE talk of the campus. No more sweeping injustice under the rug!

While not strictly evangelistic, David points out that much of his work is, indeed, "road-block removal"--that is, clearing up stuff that keeps people from considering Christ in the first place. He describes the evangelistic nature of his abortion display this way: "When people come to understand sin in concrete (rather than abstract) terms, they begin to understand their need for the gospel." They also learn that moral truth is both real and knowable. For example, at one display in Texas, a young woman approached with anger. She asked, ‘Why weren’t you here two years ago?’” She continued: ‘If you’d been here two years ago, I wouldn’t have had an abortion.’ Eight weeks later, she knelt in the counseling room at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center and put her trust in Christ. Once convicted of the realness of her sin, the gospel of grace was irresistible.

Best Regards,

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