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What do you imagine people think and feel when they hear the term pro-life? Do you think that phrase builds walls or bridges for ministry and relationships?
Imagine being introduced by your pastor on a Sunday morning. He says that you have a special announcement for the congregation. You proceed to gladly inform the people that the church is starting a new pro-life ministry. Now imagine that everyone in the crowd has a TV set on their head that flashes the uncensored thoughts and images that come to their minds upon hearing your words. What kinds of images do you think would appear on most of those TV sets?
Based on our experience, most TV sets would flash images of hatred and violence. Some would angrily display horrid images of mutilated, aborted babies. Some, especially from women who’ve had abortions, might show pictures of a person cowering in shame, guilt, and tears. Some might just show a static image of a brick wall indicating, “I’m closed to further discussion.” Others, fearful of a political barrage, might display a slamming door.
Now it’s not that you said anything condemning or angry. It’s that the phrase you used (“pro-life”) is already invested with meaning. And for most people, it’s negative, wall-building meaning that stunts your ability to connect. Here’s why we recommend replacing the phrase pro-life:
- Pro-life reminds of historic imbalances. It reminds of the harshly confrontational approach that marked some early life-affirming efforts (e.g., angry picketing) which, unfortunately, have been effectively reinforced by popular media for decades.
- Pro-life evokes personal pain and fear. In combination with media-reinforced historic imbalances, people who have had an abortion or been otherwise involved in a death-implicating decision might feel condemned and judged.
- Pro-life suggests “old white guy” syndrome. Ask people under the age of thirty, and they’ll often tell you that, “Pro-life is an old white guy’s issue.” They might see it as their father’s passion, but not theirs.
- Pro-life signals narrow-mindedness. When people hear the term pro-life, they usually think of one thing: anti-abortion. The two phrases are practically synonymous in many minds. While we are obviously opposed to abortion, this response hinders your ability to show people other legitimate concerns encompassed in the life arena.
- Pro-life sprays a polarizing political odor. The termpro-life almost automatically triggers the unhelpful, wall-building red flag, “Uh-oh, she’s political!”
Again, it’s not that you said any of these things! All you said was, “We’re starting a pro-life ministry.” But words carry meaning, and like it or not, fair or not, pro-life is invested with some very unhelpful ideas in many peoples’ minds. It’s time to replace that unhelpful phrase.
Avoid these wall-building, ministry-crushing problems by replacing the term pro-life with bridge-building terms like champion of life, life arena, or life-affirming. Start a Life Team or Life Ministry, not a Pro-Life Committee. These labels step around the pitfalls listed above and open the opportunity for positive, fresh definition. They give you the chance to show people a new kind of life ministry – one they need not fear, avoid, or battle. In short, they will help you connect with and involve people as champions of life!