“There is no way that this winter is ever going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.” – Phil Connors
Social issues seem to come in cycles. In one season, we are debating one social issue as a society, then a few months later, we are on to the next flavor of the month. Eventually, we come full circle back to the issue we started with, and then we repeat the cycle. It can get exhausting for an old youth pastor, especially when it becomes more divisive at every turnaround. One of the most highly divisive issues I have experienced is the issue of abortion (This issue I’ve been reliving in various discussions since the early 90s). Yeah, that is over 30 years now, 23 of them as a youth pastor.
“You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.” – The Breakfast Club
To be clear from a theological perspective, I believe life begins at conception, and I believe every life is valuable regardless of its stage and source of genetics. I do think science supports this concept; however, admittedly, I find it easier to debate it scientifically after nine weeks. I do not consider myself pro-life because I understand the reasons for the death penalty, a justified war, and I’m not a vegan (now, don’t chant ‘Merica” just yet). I consider myself pro-child, which is why I also support DACA and universal health care, which, by the way, is very easy to defend biblically. I believe it is just as logical to hold the view that since we live in a society striving for gender equality, it is still ok for a man to have an opinion on the abortion issues.
Hopefully, I got everyone’s attention by showing my cards, so when I write the following, I’ve already poked holes in any assumption you may have had about me in this blog. Maybe you will now consider what I have to say about your approach to this topic when discussing it with teens.
“Never put passion before principle. Even if win, you lose.” – Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid
Speaking the truth about an issue is one of the best things we can do as Pastors, mentors, and parents. However, as 1 Corinthians 13 states, we are a clanging cymbal and nothing more without love. Unfortunately, the abortion debate has turned into two clanging cymbals trying to see who can clang the loudest in social media, news networks, politics, and in-person discussions. Somewhere in the midst of this, we’ve forgotten that we are dealing with real people and instead compete for the moral high ground.
Our enemy is crafty because this issue has taken the two marginalized groups of people and pitted them against each other—mothers against their children in the social and political colosseum. Then convinces them the only way to win is to dehumanize the other, so much so that now, regardless of which side wins, we all lose. We either lose the child’s humanity, or we further open the door to the oppression of women. Anyone who can set aside bias and look at the issue objectively can see that it is a very complex issue to which we must take a loving but truthful approach. We must be willing to speak the truth in love but also be ready to own how Christians have made the situation worse. Our failure is probably why many teens are not open to listening or have made up their minds already about this issue.
“May the odds be ever in your favor”…Hunger games.
So when we open up a conversation with teens about this issue, we must understand one critical truth, we have lost the cultural war for the hearts and minds of the majority of this generation. Even very biblically knowledgeable students have retreated to; “I would never get an abortion, but I wouldn’t take that choice away from others.” Our knee-jerk reaction is to react to show why it should be illegal, citing every pro-life apologetic fact and figure. However, I would propose instead, to lean into that concept by not addressing the legalities of the issue altogether. I am not saying we condone abortion; we just need to stop trying to use the “law” to accomplish the “preservation of life.”
The law doesn’t stop people from making those decisions in their lives. The thing that ultimately steers their decisions is the influence of the people around them. Suicide is illegal, and we have had to influence a teen from making that decision; drinking underage is illegal, and we’ve had to walk them through the consequences of that decision, and drug possession is illegal, and we’ve had to help a student see this is not the way to escape the pressures of life. On the flip side, we’ve also had to counsel and influence people who make decisions that are legal, but not beneficial to their lives, such as cheating on a spouse, porn addiction, and alcoholism. The law is not the key to influencing people; the support, grace, and speaking God’s truth in love is the key to turning a heart.
“It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s just they don’t know anything”- Jaime Escalante Stand and Deliver
When talking with youth on this subject, I suggest you don’t be like Mr. Mackey with, “Abortions Bad…mkay”. If you go straight into it with facts, figures, quotes, and hardcore theology their own cognitive dissonance will kick in and they will dig in their heels to what they believe regardless of the truth you bring. The moment you do that, chances are you will lose your influence with the majority of the youth. Instead you must help a student come to that conclusion on their own by asking questions that help them discover the value of children and women.
Begin with a general discussion about the value of children by asking leading questions. Do you believe children are valuable? Is a child valuable regardless of where they come from? Start with older children’s age and work your way down to newborns. Then push just a little with; “ If a child is valuable the day they are born…do they still have value the day before they are born? Let them sit with this question for a bit, then move on to other questions. What makes them valuable? (good test question for students who are into theology) What scripture shows they are valuable to God? How, as a church, can we better value children? How can we (as a student ministry) do better in showing we value children? How can you be better as older brothers and sisters and show love to the next generation? Here, the goal is to help them view children the way God sees them and push them to where that starts.
At some point, you will need to do the same discussion on the value of women. You are asking a version of the same questions, but with women as the point of discussion. This is important because there has been poor care and value for women historically. Currently, by many non church goers, it is still perceived that the church still holds archaic views on women. This is a perspective that must be broken. If you seek to make headway with students, they must walk away with the understanding that God values women, and as a church, we should too. Failure to miss this step or execute it poorly will undermine the whole objective.
It will be inevitable that social issues will spring from these discussions, and your more brilliant students will start asking questions and/or revealing spoilers of where you are headed. Here are a few suggestions to consider. First, before you have a discussion on this topic, make sure you are in prayer and you are self-reflecting about your own biases and inconsistencies of these issues. For example, a student will perceive the conflict in stating “a woman should carry a baby to term” and then a later statement “a country should have the choice to deport/abort an undocumented child.” Next, make sure to take the lessons/discussions at a slow pace. You will not likely change a student’s mind on the issue in one message, and it will take many conversations (possibly over months if not years) so let the Holy Spirit do His work in His time. Teach them to pray, look to scripture, and logically think about issues. Admit where the church and Christians historically have failed at considering and protecting children and women. Lastly, have the students dream up ways the church, society, and government can better serve both groups.
You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you. It’s over Anakin! I have the high ground. -Obi-Wan Kenobi
I’m going to conclude with a sobering reality; these old tactics of how we teach this topic of abortion (the talking points and obsessive focus on the law) are not winning minds and hearts to the preservation of children. I am not saying we condone the decision, but we must understand the how and why it is made. In the spirit of Matthew 25, we must still walk with and show support to women who too have faced these difficult decisions with the grace and love we claim to be all about. It is only in love that they may find the strength to decide to preserve the child. However, the job of loving and supporting a person doesn’t end with the child’s birth. We must also be consistent with that support of the child into adulthood and beyond. When students witness and experience such an act of love and support, it won’t matter what the law is; they will choose the same way of love regardless of the challenges it may bring.
Joseph Valenzuela is the executive pastor at New Life Scottsdale in Scottsdale, AZ