Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The JFA training seminar was great.

Last Saturday, fellow SPL rep Ellen and I attended a Justice For All (JFA) training seminar; the seminar was sponsored by the Right To Life of Central California and lead by pro-life advocate Josh Brahm

(If you aren’t familiar with Josh’s work I suggest you check him out. He has a very thoughtful, relational approach to the abortion debate, and from what I’ve seen his approach is quite effective. Josh is a Christian, but much of his work is secular in nature, and I’ve been repeatedly impressed with his efforts to be religiously inclusive. More on that in tomorrow’s blog post.)

My one grainy pic of Josh presenting.

As JFA states in some of their training materials, their goal is to “train thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, ONE person at a time.” The idea is to equip pro-lifers to have meaningful conversations about abortion by giving them more effective dialoguing tools. For example, in any given abortion conversation, JFA strongly emphasizes asking the other person questions and listening attentively to his or her response. Try to understand the perspectives of the people you’re talking to. It seems like this advice should go without saying, but how many abortion arguments have you witnessed that were more about trying to “win” the conversation? How often do you see the two sides talk right past each other?

JFA also encourages trainees to find common ground with the people they’re talking to (“What do you think of late-term abortion? What do you think of sex-selective abortion? Do you think abortion should be used as birth control?”).  Build a rapport and help create an open, useful conversation.

I am all for these approaches. Understanding and relating to other people makes it easier for us to have a dialogue instead of a debate. Dialogues are more effective for changing hearts and minds. Plus, I think—as a baseline behavior—we should treat people kindly.

Some people think it’s inappropriate to even be friends with those who disagree with us on abortion. I don’t see how that’s helpful, either in the abortion debate or in our personal lives. Being friends with those who disagree gives both sides an opportunity to understand one another better, to learn about other perspectives, and to influence each other. We want abortion to be unthinkable for everyone…not just for the people who already agree with us. Beyond that, I already have close friends and family who are pro-choice. They know I’m pro-life. We care about each other, and we have good relationships. I’m not going to sacrifice those relationships because we don’t agree on what I consider a complex and highly emotional issue.

And if abortion is an emotional topic in general, abortion in cases of rape is all the more so. That’s why I was glad to find JFA had an entire training section dedicated specifically to how we talk to people concerned about abortion in cases of rape. The section focused on how to relate to people, not how to win arguments. 

That emphasis is so refreshing. I’ve been extremely frustrated at times with the way I’ve seen some pro-lifers handle the abortion-in-cases-of-rape issue. In my experience, it seems like most people—within and outside the abortion debate—don’t internalize how horrible rape is or how difficult the social, psychological, and emotional circumstances can be for a rape survivor. Not so with JFA. JFA’s message, as I understand it, is essentially, “Now more than ever, listen to this person. Seek to understand where they’re coming from and how they feel. Have compassion for what others have gone through.” Compassion is an admirable quality in general, but, given my way, it would be a required quality for someone to discuss abortion in cases of rape. And I’ve heard JFA mentors go so far as to say (paraphrasing), “If you don’t feel genuine concern and compassion for survivors of rape, we don’t want you representing us on campus.” Good. Exactly. Thank you.

Similarly, the seminar had a training section to address talking with post-abortive people. During that part, a post-abortive woman told us her story: the circumstances of her unplanned pregnancy, the factors leading to her abortion, her emotional turmoil afterward, and her eventual healing process. I wrote recently about my emotional detachment from certain aspects of the abortion debate, but sitting in-person listening to this woman tell of her own heartbreak, what she went through leading up to the abortion and went through after, and what her preborn child meant and means to her—there was no way to be emotionally detached. It was very sad and very touching. After her story, the seminar again encouraged gentility and empathy over a more argumentative style. We still have points to make, thought experiments to explore, and reasons to give for being pro-life, but the manner of our approach is nearly as important as the substance of our perspective.

But the JFA seminar focused on substance as well. During the training, Josh and other JFA speakers talked about the biological humanity of the unborn, the Equal Rights Argument, and different types of bodily rights arguments.  Even though I’ve heard of or talked about a lot of this before, I was glad to see JFA focus on these ideas during the training. These are high-quality arguments. They’re simple without being simplistic, and they take the pro-choice perspective seriously (as opposed to strawmanning what pro-choicers are saying, or addressing the simpler pro-choice arguments and ignoring the complicated ones).

One of the slides from the Equal Rights Argument presentation.
Click here to read more about it.

I especially appreciate how JFA takes the time to explain and address different bodily rights issues. In my experience, most pro-lifers don’t seem to take bodily rights arguments seriously. But I see pro-choicers use bodily rights arguments more and more frequently, and some of these arguments can be very compelling. We pro-lifers need to take the bodily rights issue seriously, both for the sake of the abortion debate and because bodily rights are important rights independent of the abortion debate. So it’s satisfying to see JFA emphasize bodily rights arguments. During the training, JFA speakers provided several great analogies to help trainees understand and express the pro-life perspective on bodily rights and abortion.

Overall I got a lot out of the seminar. I so admire JFA’s relational approach and the substance of their arguments. I expect the more pro-lifers we have making better arguments in kinder ways, the more hearts and minds we’ll sway.

Tomorrow I’ll post about what the seminar was like more specifically from the perspective of a non-Christian.


Clinton said...

Great article. Glad you enjoyed the seminar. It's great to be able to get a review of it from a non-religious standpoint.

Guest said...

I still think Canada could use JFA.

Greg Peterson said...

Great article, I really liked how you broke down each part of the seminar. I am very much looking forward to your article tomorrow as well. I normally don't think about it when "religion happens" in the seminar, but noticed it a lot more when this time, I think because you and Ellen were there.

purrtriarchy said...

Canada is a lost cause.

m17l6s85 said...

"I normally don't think about it when 'religion happens' in the seminar, but noticed it a lot more when this time, I think because you and Ellen were there."

Makes sense. I was glad Josh made a point of mentioning we were there for that very reason. Helps people see it from our perspective. :)

Michelle Araujo Silva said...

Just some questions: How do you deal with abortions in case of rape? How do you approach the victim? If the victim decided to interrupt the pregnancy, do you try to convince her not to do it?