Thursday, January 31, 2008

In Defense of Steve Wagner [SK]

Jill Stanek has made a valuable contribution to the pro-life cause and I enjoy reading her blogposts, which I do weekly. However, she's mistaken about the "common ground" approach advocated by my friend Steve Wagner.

Specifically, she takes issue with this paragraph by Steve:

It appears from their article that Kissling and Michelman are calling for an internal discussion of the effective pro-life challenges they've highlighted, but I would encourage them to go further. Talk to pro-life advocates about them. We're ready to listen, understand and build common ground first in order to really hear your concerns and perspective.
In reply to Steve's post, Jill writes:

I am concerned that some on our side see Michelman and Kissling's piece as some sort of mea culpa, and pro-lifers should stand ready to hold hands with them singing "Kumbaya....I for one will never try to "build common ground" with the abortion industry. There is no common ground. The culture of death is the sworn enemy of the culture of life. This is a war, a clash of civilizations.
I think if Jill reads more of what Steve has to say she'll come to a radically different view of his position. Unlike some pro-lifers, Steve has never suggested that we compromise with abortion-advocates in hopes of finding "common ground." He's not advocating common ground as a final goal, that is, as a means of ducking legitimate debate. He's not interested in getting abortion-advocates to like us at all cost. To the contrary, he recognizes that finding points of agreement is a very effective tool in persuading someone to rethink areas of disagreement.

For example, notice how Steve starts pro-life conversations on college campuses. His strategy is simple and effective: He moves the conversation from debate to dialogue by asking the right questions. Each step of the way, he’s establishing common ground with his listener:

"Look around this campus at all of the born people. Would you agree that each person has the same basic rights, that each should be treated equally?"
Why does Steve begin this way? Because he knows almost everyone he talks to believes in the basic human rights of all born people, regardless of differences or disabilities. He then asks his listener to explain why equal human rights exist for anyone:

"But if all of us should be treated equally, there must be some quality, some characteristic, we all have equally that justifies that equal treatment, right? What is that characteristic? (Pause) Wouldn’t you agree it can’t be that all of us look human, because some have been disfigured. It can’t be that all of us have functional brains, because some are in reversible comas. It can’t be one’s ability to think or feel pain, for some think better than others and some don’t feel any pain. It can’t be something we can gain or lose, or something of which we can have more or less. If something like that grounds rights, equal rights don’t exist. And if we look at the whole population of America, almost 300 million people, there is only one quality we all have equally—we’re all human. We have a human nature and we all have it equally. You either have it or you don’t."
After establishing common ground, Steve gently presses the pro-life argument upon his listener:

"Why are sexism and racism wrong? Isn’t it because they pick out surface differences (gender or skin color) and ignore the underlying similarity all of us share? We should treat women, men, African-Americans, and Whites as equals and protect them from discrimination. Why? It’s because they all have a human nature. But if the unborn has that same human nature, shouldn’t we protect her as well?"
In short, Steve establishes his reasoning before pressing his conclusion. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

Jill is a good thinker and I'm sure that when she reads Steve's new book Finding Common Ground Without Compromise she'll agree that he has no interest in surrendering principle for friendship. I hope she'll review it soon on her excellent blog.

My trust in Steve is strong. I tell pro-life leaders "to the extent you trust my work trust his." Indeed, if I were unable to make a scheduled debate, I would not hesitate for even one minute to ask him to fill-in. Steve would no doubt be gracious to his opponent, but he'd also be tough as nails intellectually.

Tough minds and tender hearts. That's what we need in the pro-life movement. Steve models both better than anyone I know.


  1. I 100% agree with Scott. I was shocked when I saw that article, because I'm generally a fan of Jill's writing, and as a person. But I agree that she must misunderstand what Steve means by finding common ground with the pro-abortion-choice side. Every time I engage the other side, I try to find common ground and to come across as a reasonable clear-thinking person, instead of the most radical caricature of a pro-life activist I can think of. Unfortunately, the latter is what most pro-choicers expect to be met with, because those are the ones they hear about at their rallies, or because they watch their silly youtube videos, etc. When instead they're met up with someone that does NOT hate them, does NOT want to scream or preach at them, they tend to be pleasantly surprised, and an effective dialogue follows. Steve's book is a must-read for every pro-lifer that wants to sharpen his or her tools for effective communication with people that don't agree with them.

  2. SK, Josh, Steve:

    My follow-up paragraph to the one quoted stated:

    "I do stand ready to dialogue with those in the mushy middle who don't understand the abortion cartel's agenda. But we will never have a meeting of the minds on abortion."

    That would include those on college campuses and many I encounter on my blog.

    So I think we all agree. But Steve's comment was in response to Michelman/Kissling: queenpins in the abortion movement who derive power and money from it. Different animals, not possible with whom to meet minds.


    Jill Stanek

  3. Jill,
    Why should it matter that someone is a leader in the abortion industry? Wouldn't finding common ground on a logical starting point (which is what Steve is advocating) apply even if you are debating Francis Kissling? Otherwise, you are just talking past each other.

    Tonight I'm debating Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, at Malone College (Canton, OH). My approach to her will be gracious, yet firm. I will look to affirm what we both agree on--namely, that humans have certain natural rights--then show how her own views undermine human equality in general.

    In short, our tactics shouldn't change just because our opponents are leaders in the abortion-choice camp. Shouldn't we be concerned about giving them something to think about as well? That won't happen if we state up front, and without good reason, that there's no common ground to be had.

  4. Sorry, guys, that last comment was me, Scott Klusendorf. I failed to sign-in correctly, thus the "anonymous" signature.

    One of these days I'll find common ground with my blogger software.

  5. Scott, come to my blog workshop Saturday and I'll help you find common ground with skulbloggery.

    I think our understanding of terminology is different. You will agree on a starting point with the ACLUer but then explain how she's wrong. And I'm sure you'll clean her clock, albeit graciously. That's fine, great.

    My interpretation of what Steve meant by "finding common ground" was to seek to find areas of compromise.

    Further, the leaders of the abortion movement are the equivalent to any of the most evil, ruthless killers in history.

    But perhaps I'm merely a cynic.


  6. Scott,
    Strossen agreed to debate you again?

    Wow - I'm surprised. I wonder if she'll be a little better prepared than at the Grand Valley event.

  7. Jill,
    Compromising with the other side on a matter of principle is precisely what Steve says we should not do--hence, the title of his book, "Common Ground Without Compromise."

    As for your blog workshop, I'll try, but I think I'm speaking at the same conference you are. I hope others attend your talk in droves--your blog is stellar!

  8. Scott, I checked, and we don't have dueling workshops:


    I'm looking forward to seeing you. I honestly didn't catch the title of Stephen's book when I read his post. His words taken out of context meant something to me that were obviously not intended. I'll apologize if so.

    I need a vacation, which I'll be taking beginning Sunday.


  9. Jill, we actually do have areas of common ground even with many abortion-lobby leaders. Ron Fitzsimmons, head of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, for example, agrees with us that the abortion lobby needs to stop lying about late abortions -- how often they're done and the reasons therefor. It's a tiny area, but there it is. From there you might be able to build, "We can work together to see to it that women are given accurate and pertinent information" -- something Charlotte Taft would support. And you move from there.


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