One of the foremost voices in the fight for the protection and valuing of the unborn is Scott Klusendorf. He recently released a new book called, The Case for Life. He was kind enough to participate in a blog interview for Vitamin Z readers.
1. Can you share a bit of your journey on how you got to where you are today? How did advocating for the pro-life cause become a full time pursuit?
SK: I had always been pro-life, but wasn’t lifting a finger to stop abortion, really. Then, in November of 1990, I attended a pastors’ gathering on the topic sponsored by the local pregnancy center and right to life affiliate. Over 100 clergy were invited, but only 4 of us pastors, along with a handful of others, showed up! Thankfully, the speaker, Gregg Cunningham of the Center for Bioethical Reform (www.abortionno.org), did not let the dismal attendance stop him from delivering one of the most compelling cases for the pro-live view I’d ever heard!
With his background in law and politics (he served two terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives where he wrote the bill ending tax-financed abortions in that state), Gregg laid out the problem we face: People don’t know that facts about abortion and they don’t want to know them. Ignorance sustained by denial was why the public tolerated abortion.
To break through that denial, he showed the pictures. Horrible pictures that made you cry.
In the course of one seven-minute video depicting abortion, my career aspirations were forever altered, though it took a few months to realize it. Greg asked us to think of the two religious leaders in the parable of the Good Samaritan who, although they most likely felt pity for the beating victim, did not act like they felt pity. Only the Good Samaritan took pity, thus proving he truly did love his neighbor.
Gregg’s signature quote haunts me to this day: “Most people who say they oppose abortion do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing.” That’s a staggering truth. Every time I tempted to quit, I remember it.
2. Can you summarize what you seek to accomplish with your new book that is distinct from your previous work defending the pro-life position?
SK: I do not pretend to have written an exhaustive defense of the pro-life view. That’s been done already by guys like Robert P. George, Frank Beckwith, J.P. Moreland, and Patrick Lee, to name a few. My purpose is different. The Case for Life book takes those sophisticated pro-life defenses and put them in a form that hopefully equips and inspires lay Christians (with or without academic sophistication) to engage the debate with friends, coworkers, and fellow believers. I like to think of my own book as a bridge to the really smart guys!
3. What are some mistakes that people tend to make when attempting to articulate a pro-life position?
SK: Here’s the biggest mistake: They fail to simplify the issue. Most objections to the pro-life view assume the unborn are not human beings. However, instead of proving that conclusion with facts and arguments, our critics merely assume it within the course of their rhetoric. We call this “begging the question” and as Frank Beckwith points out, it’s a logical fallacy that lurks behind many arguments for abortion.
For example, consider the claim that we shouldn’t force our views on others. Do you think a defender of abortion would say such a thing if someone wanted the choice to kill toddlers? There’s no way. Only by assuming the unborn aren’t human can anyone make such a claim. Or, take the objection that government shouldn’t get involved in our personal decisions. Can you imagine, even for a moment, someone arguing this way if the topic were child abuse? Again, the objection only flies if we assume the unborn isn’t already a human being. If he is one, abortion is the worst kind of child abuse imaginable. We also hear the assertion that if abortion is restricted, women will be forced to get dangerous back-alley abortions. Notice this, too, assumes the unborn are not human. Otherwise, our critics are claiming that because some people will die attempting to kill others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to do so.
4. Many people say that Roe vs. Wade will never be overturned and that our cause is largely hopeless. How do you respond to that?
SK: Hopeless? How do they know that?
During a ministry symposium in 1984, I heard a Christian historian say he thought the Berlin Wall would come down in 10 years. I nearly laughed out loud. As it turns out, he was wrong. It came down in five years. Despite the significant political and cultural challenges we face, I’m convinced our cause is not nearly so bleak when our message is clearly communicated. Though I don’t think we’re in for a quick fix, it’s apparent that pro-lifers are making an impact right now.
For example, during the last decade, leading philosophers like Leon Kass, Francis J. Beckwith, Robert P. George, Christopher Tollefsen, Patrick Lee, Hadley Arkes, Scott Rae, and J.P. Moreland (to name only a few) have published comprehensive defenses of the pro-life view. Topics include detailed philosophical discussions of natural rights, the substance view of human persons, the proper role of science, and the relationship between law and morals.
At the popular level, Stand to Reason has published training material designed to equip pro-lifers for effective service while Ramesh Ponnuru and Wesley J. Smith have educated readers about the disregard for human life in the Courts, big bio-etch, and the media. Local pro-life advocates are using what’s been written to engage friends and critics in thoughtful discourse. Jon A. Shields of the Claremont College argues that conservative pro-life advocates increasingly deploy “sophisticated philosophical arguments” in their efforts to convince Americans that embryonic stem cell research and abortion are wrong. Shield’s main theme is the intellectual maturation of the pro-life movement and the mental stagnation of the abortion-choice one.
Plus, we’re seeing more young people pursuing full-time pro-life work. Meanwhile, pro-life organizations are making an impact with those most at risk for abortion: students ages 13-24. Life Training Institute presents compelling pro-life content at Catholic and Protestant high schools nationwide while engaging in debates with leading abortion-choice advocates at secular universities. Students for Life of American has seen attendance at its annual conference swell to 875 in 2008, up from barely 100 five years earlier. The group now has 400 plus chapters. On the web, Abort73.com gets 100,000 visitors a month viewing abortion pictures and written defenses of the pro-life position. At universities across the United States and Canada, pro-life students are getting big time help from Justice for All and The Center for Bioethical Reform, each of which uses large, professionally designed exhibits to graphically depict abortion. Whenever these exhibits go up, abortion becomes the talk of the school.
So, yes, the challenges are significant, but our cause is not hopeless by any means.
5. In the recent election we know that many Christians voted for Obama. Why do you think that more people don’t consider a candidate’s position on abortion to be a “trump card” issue when voting?
SK: Simply put, they wrongly assume moral equivalency. For example, Just prior to the 2008 elections, a kindly nun at a Catholic high school pulled me aside to thank me for speaking to 400 of her students on the theme, “The Case for Life.” In fact, she couldn’t say enough good things about my talk. “I agree with everything you said. It was exactly what our kids needed to hear,” she beamed.
However, a moment later it was clear we didn’t agree when it came to applying pro-life principles. In fact, her moral reasoning was deeply troubling. She began our conversation by lamenting that her students were not pro-life on all issues. She then said, “I am consistently for life, and that’s why I’m voting for Senator Obama. Most people focus too much on abortion.” To which I replied, “What do you mean people focus too much on abortion?” She said that ending war is a pro-life issue like ending abortion, and at the moment, the war in Iraq was even worse than abortion. So I asked her, “To be worse than abortion, how bad would an unjust war have to be?” She replied that war, abortion, and poverty were all equally bad and Obama was right on most of those issues, so she was voting for him. “But are those issues bad in the same way?” I asked. “Correct me if I’m wrong,” I continued, “but doesn’t church teaching distinguish between moral absolutes and prudential judgments? In other words, the decision to wage war is not intrinsically evil, though it must be morally justified and prudently considered. But the deliberate killing of unborn human beings is an absolute evil and laws permitting it are scandalous. If I understand you correctly, you are willing to overlook Obama’s pledge to uphold an absolute evil because he might help us avoid a contingent one?” Her reply: “I just know war is worse right now.” I left her with this question: “To be worse than abortion, wouldn’t an unjust war have to kill more innocent people than abortion does each year? The war in Iraq has resulted in 100,000 deaths total (all sides) while abortion kills 1.2 million each year! In short, the evil of abortion is immeasurably worse, but she refused to see it.
6. What role do you think pastors should play in the pro-life cause?
SK: The pro-life pastor commits himself to four essential tasks.
First, he preaches a biblical view of human value and applies that view to abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning. That is to say, he demonstrates that humans have value because they bear the image of their Maker, not because of some function they perform. Pastors should not assume their people understand this.
Second—and this is key–he not only preaches a biblical view of human value, he also equips his people to engage the culture with a persuasive defense of the pro-life view. In The Case for Life, I devote a whole chapter on how to make that case simply and clearly.
Third, the pro-life pastor restores broken lives with cross-centered preaching. Many precious pro-life advocates I meet are trying to atone for past abortions with tireless activity. There’s a better way. It’s called grace.
Fourth, the pro-life pastor confronts his own fears about communicating inconvenient truth. Will pastors take heat for addressing abortion? Perhaps. But here is the fundamental question every pastor must ask: Do I trust God to protect His ministry through me when I preach necessary, but controversial, truths? Sadly, many pastors fear man more than they fear God. To quote Gregg Cunningham, “they worship peace rather than the Prince of Peace.” That’s sad, because when abortion is handled carefully, the results are positive not negative.
7. For some, when they think of the pro-life movement, the only thing that comes to mind is people arguing with one another. Of course we have to have intellectual engagement, but in what other ways can Christians make the pro-life cause more winsome to the on-looking world?
SK: All pro-life Christians should support their local crisis pregnancy centers. But most important, when we graciously, yet incisively, make a case for life, we communicate to the watching world that our worldview is worth a second look. It’s amazing how people will tolerate a strong pro-life presentation if you make your case graciously and incisively. Kindness goes a long way and often pays off with changed lives. Consider this email from 15 year-old Brittany, received after I spoke to an assembly of 1,000 high school students in Baltimore:
Dear Scott, Yesterday you came and talked to my high school, Archbishop Spaulding, about pro-life. It made a big difference on how I thought about abortion. I was totally for abortion and I thought that pro-life was just plain stupid.I have totally changed my mind after I listened to the pro-life point of view. Upon watching the short video clip of aborted fetuses, I felt my stomach turn and I thought, “How could anybody do this? How could anyone be so cruel and self absorbed as to kill an unborn baby who doesn’t have a say in that decision?”Then I thought, “Oh my gosh, I think that!” I was totally ashamed at how selfish I had been. Before the assembly, I didn’t want to listen to what you had to say. I was going to nap during your speech…until I saw that video. Now, I am totally changed forever. Keep doing what you do!
Always stress grace. Give hope to those wounded by abortion. Ask God to fill your heart with love for people struggling to know right from wrong. Then speak the truth in love. Your listeners can take it!
Scott, thanks so much for this interview!
Here are some endorsements of “A Case for Life”:
“Scott Klusendorf has produced a marvelous resource that will equip pro-lifers to communicate more creatively and effectively as they engage our culture. The Case for Life is well-researched, well-written, logical, and clear, containing many pithy and memorable statements. Those already pro-life will be equipped; those on the fence will likely be persuaded. Readers looking to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves will find much here to say. I highly recommend this book.”
Randy Alcorn, best-selling author
“Scott Klusendorf takes the insights and methods for defending the right to life he so effectively communicates in his teaching presentations into a book that provides a clear and cogent biblical rationale for the sanctity and dignity of life, born or unborn. This is a great tool for the layman who knows he or she is pro-life, but doesn’t understand the presuppositions on which his or her beliefs are based or who doesn’t feel equipped to defend or discuss the issue with others.”
Chuck Colson, founder, Prison Fellowship
“The Case for Life is a veritable feast of helpful information about pro-life issues, the finest resource about these matters I have seen. It is accessible to the layperson, and it lays out a strategy for impacting the world for a culture of life.”
J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; author of Kingdom Triangle
Thanks to Zach Nielsen for a great interview.