Why Planned Parenthood is still standing...

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A mother in our congregation passed on an article titled, "Reflections on Pro-Life Protest Rhetoric" by doctoral candidate John F. Brick published yesterday on the website of the Roman Catholic publication, Crisis Magazine. She explained, "...I would be interested in thoughts on this Catholic's article advocating a newer rhetoric in the pro-life movement that doesn't include shock and outrage signs. We had a discussion yesterday at PP about being effective as protestors and I think it's an issue that we need to continue to discuss." For what it's worth, here are my thoughts.

I teach first-year rhetoric and composition to freshmen at a fairly large university squarely in the center of the American Midwest. In September, as part of the introductory unit, we cover some basic rhetorical concepts, including the famous “triangle” of rhetorical appeals: logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos, I explain, is the appeal to reason: does the argument make sound logical sense? Ethos sounds like ethic and it’s a short jump from there to credibility: do the elements of composition suggest a levelheaded, trustworthy arguer? Pathos, the emotional appeal, is the easiest for my students to remember and deploy in their own writing. But, I caution them, it’s also the weakest of the three. Without the other two appeals, emotional rhetoric will do an argument more harm than good.

Thing about ethos is that perceived level-headedness and trustworthiness shift according to the wickedness and spiritual bondage of the audience. According to how jaded or "given over" they are. Who would have sounded trustworthy to the people of the Third Reich after they had invaded their neighbors and butchered millions of minorities, lives-not-worth-living, and Jews from among their own countrymen?

Precious few, and likely only those who tried the fool's errand of arguing against the slaughter by appealing to the glory of the Aryan race and the fatherland.

Try out perfectly logical analogies between abortion and Roe v. Wade and slavery and Dred Scott. People will look at you as if you’ve grown a third eye and turn away from you. In our decadent day, about the only thing that “works,” as the author defines it—particularly in the logos and ethos spheres—are appeals to self-love and comfort, and maybe choice. So yes, you can, for instance, speak of the absence of “choice” in China, and how none of the feminists in our country seem to be upset about it. But even among Christians, the argument falls to the ground with a thud. Pat Robertson famously said that if we lived in a country with a population of a billion, we might not be so quick to judge...

We are so self-centered that the only choices we care about are our own.

Lately it seems that my freshmen grasp these concepts better than the street-protest arm of the pro-life movement. The summer furor over Planned Parenthood’s traffic in fetal organs has impelled pro-life demonstration back into a relevance it rarely achieves. While some question the practical utility of crowds and posterboard signs, protest plays a crucial role as the first face of the movement visible to the general public, and for that reason, it is critical that their rhetoric be of the highest quality.

With the latest round of national protests against Planned Parenthood scheduled for this upcoming Saturday, the call for superior rhetoric is more urgent than ever. I attended two “#ProtestPP” rallies in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the previous round of protests last August, the first outside the counseling center on Wisconsin Avenue, and the second at the clinic on Jackson Street. These demonstrations were slivers of the national whole: 354 events across the United States brought out an estimated 77,000 protesters. Press coverage and social media increased the visibility of the protesters even further. The numbers looked good, and pro-life leaders quickly declared the demonstrations a success—but if the Milwaukee rallies were representative of the initial muster for a revised street activism, it was a poor, even ominous, showing.

Yes, it was poor and ominous, but not for the reasons the author thinks. it’s not that the rhetoric didn’t match the audience or that the rhetoric was poor, but rather that the only response across our nation was yawns and boredom. People didn’t get excited about it because they already knew abortion was murder. So what’s the big deal with organ sales? I mean, honestly? We knew abortion was murder and we’re cool with that. Now let me get back to fantasy football and getting my degree and deer season.

People across the Western world are jaded. God has closed our eyes and ears and there is no logical, reasonable, or emotional appeal that works. None. This is the real lesson of the PP videos.

Good rhetoric has been done quite well, thank you. For decades, now. But we live among a people with no fear of God and pastors aren’t preaching to awaken us to the coming judgement.

The author, I fear, hasn’t been around long enough to write this article. He doesn’t know the condition of the souls of America if he thinks that more ethos and logos and less pathos will win the day. No way.

Imagine trying to have a reasonable discussion of the merits of the issue with Hitler and his minions and you’ll begin to get my point. Then add 45,000,000 victims in this nation, and billions worldwide); factor in that these victims were not slaughtered in some concentration camps up the road behind barbed wire fences, but by your own daughter and wife in your own bathroom. Chemically. Or by your own neighbor downtown, across from the Kroger. Get my point?

The Wisconsin Avenue protest presented the standard scene: some 200 people were packed in front of the Planned Parenthood center and spilled up and down the block. Many held signs bearing the bog-standard slogans that turn up at pro-life rallies: “Abortion Kills Children”; “Jesus Forgives & Heals”; “Adoption: the Loving Option,” etc. About two thirds of the signs, some handmade, were directed against Planned Parenthood; most of these decried the organ trafficking. Some prayed the rosary quietly. Most just stood and chatted with the people beside them.

The first moment of dissonance arrived when the nominal leader of the protest started in on an invective about racial targeting in the abortion industry. He was right, of course—but he was still a tall, hefty white man standing with his loudspeaker in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.

Sure, he’s right here; but to what end? Do we have to try to control the pro-life movement in order to assure that everyone’s on message? Hilary’s handlers can’t even control her, and they get paid to do it. Hillary and her handlers all share the same pagan faith whereas pro-life people are the strongest Roman Catholics next to the strongest Baptist and Presbyterian Protestants. Try to control that.

In other words, what are the chances that anyone in the pro-life movement will be able to choose who will make the argument about Planned Parenthood’s black genocide? Blacks certainly aren’t making it. Think we could get the Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Eastern Orthodox to agree on asking a thin young girl to make that argument? And if not a thin young girl, how about a quadriplegic? Better yet, maybe an hispanic? You know, one of those hispanics who's our friend because we want a wall up between Texas and Mexico? You know, all those many, many hispanics who are just chomping at the bit to stand in solidarity with pro-life voters because of how sensitive and compassionate we are to the sojourners in our midst?

As my mother said, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

Things really went off the rails when an elderly white woman set down her sign and turned to fling holy water at a young woman walking hurriedly into the clinic.

These co-belligerent religionists you’ll always have with you, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to love them as God’s special prophets. Maybe not this woman in the precise way she witnessed, but you get my point.

At that point a few sympathetic locals who had turned up to check out the scene fled the rally. By and large, the demonstration was standard, but stale: generally inoffensive, but not singularly inspiring.

The Jackson Street rally was a disaster.

About 60 demonstrators lined the corners of a four-way intersection beside the Planned Parenthood clinic when I arrived. Most of the signs here were much larger and visibly older: five-foot boards backed with thick styrofoam and packing tape. The protesters were older too; the median age here hovered around 50, while the average Wisconsin Avenue protester was closer to 30. There were few references to Jesus or The Loving Option here. In their place stood forceps, and gore, and shredded limbs that hadn’t quite lost their ruddy translucence, and MURDER and HOLOCAUST and TORTURE in sharp black capitals. The centerpiece was a homemade easel sporting a chubby white font that read ABORTION CLINICS ARE BUTCHER SHOPS FROM HELL. Underneath, bolted to a white plywood panel, hung three dismembered, blood-smeared plastic dolls. Scattered amongst their limbs lay bits of plastic skeletons and rubber knives I recognized from the local Halloween store. I approached the owner and asked for a photo. “Sure,” he said. Someone nearby muttered, “the world needs to see this.”

I disagree. The need for superior rhetoric at street level is as great now as it ever has been. The organ-trafficking scandal has gifted the pro-life cause with a quantity of cultural capital it hasn’t enjoyed in a very long time.

Sadly, no. We have no gift other than a larger understanding of the God-having-given-us-over state of our fellow citizens. We have now learned that even these videos and what they document are incapable of awakening our fellow citizens to the moral bankruptcy of… Planned Parenthood?

No, but rather you and me. Planned Parenthood only did what they knew they could get away with. And they have. Trust me, it’s over. The cleanup will take a while and may produce some tiny symbolic victories such as some loss of funding for PP somewhere sometime. But when you up the ante, watch out because you might quickly find out there is no ante to up.

So, contrary to the author’s thesis, it is not faulty rhetoric that has failed to capitalize on the PP videos. Even if he had been able to craft and present, either from his own brain and mouth or the brains and mouths of handsome and strong blacks and homosexuals, the most splendid rhetorical leveraging of the PP videos imaginable, we would have gotten nowhere because God has given us over. We are not even close to being sated with the blood. Our appetitie for it rages within us with the only significant change of the past fifteen years being what those of us working in the anti-abortion movement knew thirty years ago: abortion is going chemical and private, and so the dumpsters will not be oozing blood and body parts much longer and things will seem better.

The videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing Lamborghinis and crushing bodies punched through the accumulated crust of apathy, ignorance, and conflict-avoidance that blankets the public consciousness. Presented with such a rare opportunity, it is critical that we not squander the chance to effect real change. So why now, of all times, does our street rhetoric seem so inept?

Again, he misses the point. It’s not the rhetoric of the messengers but the condition of the hearts of the audience that has stymied this supposedly wonderful opportunity. Yes, the rhetoric could have been better, both in the arguments made and the messengers who made them, but there are no preachers of God. That’s the problem and what we need is God asking "Whom will I send" and many men answering, "Here am I, Lord; send me."

But even then, I wonder if the author would consider calls to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ to be good rhetoric? Would he think the sorts of calls given by Jesus, the prophets, and the Apostles were effective, rhetorically?

A public demonstration is many things. On a practical level, it is a show of force, and it provides a forum for individuals bound by common cause to step forward and recognize each other. It fosters community and momentum. Its key function, however, is to be the public pro-life face, the initial membrane between the movement and the public. However, the dominant paradigm of pro-life rhetoric still proceeds from a mindset that is genuinely shocked and outraged at the concept of abortion. This made perfect sense in the 1970s, ’80s, and even the violent ’90s, decades when the majority of activists could remember a time when abortion was illegal.

I was there and there was neither shock nor horror in the seventies or eighties. Roe v. Wade was greeted by a cosmic yawn across our nation, particularly by Protestants. Conservative Roman Catholics and Christians have more shock and horror at abortion today than we ever had in the seventies and eighties. The year before Roe. v. Wade, there were about 750,000 abortions across the US and no one had been making any noise over the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of these little ones.

Shock and outrage are the natural expressions of a mindset that cannot fully process the violation of the fundamental fabric of reality.

Today, however, shock and outrage doesn’t serve so well as a rhetorical foundation. The old rhetorical saw “know your audience” applies here.

OK, so we're to know our audience and this is the nature of our audience: they are wicked and jaded, and the Lord has not sent them preachers. Only Roman Catholics droning on with their vain rosarian repetitions and Baptists and Presbyterians who think that sounds nice and, having never heard a sermon against Rome, wonder what it would be like to have a church where people have convictions and are committed to being countercultural?

So they pope.

The sooner we realize that the percentage of our target audience (and our movement!) who have never known anything other than legalized abortion is increasing, the better we’ll be able to communicate constructively.

No. He wasn’t there so he doesn’t know and he shouldn’t be blamed. As I've already said, back in the seventies or eighties, no one cared.

Warped as it may seem, for those who have only known a world where abortion is the norm, shock and horror don’t really add up. Of course, it is critical that our movement never loses its outrage, but it is also time to finally acknowledge that outrage can no longer serve as the dominant paradigm for our public street rhetoric. This is the time for the ethos and logos appeals: of both individual and movement-wide credibility, and of smart, reasonable argument. Today, public opinion is sculpted by the John Stewart/Stephen Colbert train-of-logic rant and the John Oliver thinkpiece. “Abortion Is Murder” stamped over the image of a broken fetal body is no longer an argument.

Actually, Stewart and Colbert have no "train-of-logic." They are simply mockers and scoffers.

I am not opposed to graphic images. I’ve rescued tiny bodies from dumpsters and photographed the remains. I understand the emotional yank, the powerful iconography of a shattered limb or a delicate, disfigured face. I respect the tactical value of such images as well. Yet I would argue—as does Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller in her excellent article “Graphic Images: An Apologia”—that a higher quality of rhetoric is crucial to an effective public display. Though her article speaks specifically to abortion photography, its central lesson is applicable here: gross shock value commodifies the unborn victim

Really? Kind of a high-handed argument, isn't it, to accuse your fellow pro-lifers or anti-abortionists (my preferred term) of commodifying the little ones? And yet I suppose it is a good rhetorical ploy if the author wants to excite the passions of our passionless generation. Abortion pictures are to babies as naked pictures are to women, both commodifying the souls of their subjects.

But what about the emaciated skeletons of those liberated from Nazi concentration camps? What about pictures of trenches overflowing with corpses? What about Holocaust memorials and museums? Do Jews use them because Jews aren't wise about the best uses of rhetoric or the best ways to win PR campaigns?

whereas a thoughtful, compassionate approach emphasizes the humanity of the victim.

Ah yes, that "thoughtful, compassionate approach" that every man thinks he alone is the perfect keeper of. Back in the day when George Marsden was real hopeful that he could get the Academy to welcome Christians to the table and conversation, I asked him if he thought Christians could say anything Christian about homosexuality or abortion in that conversation? He responded that whatever Christians said would have to be nuanced and sensitive and reasonable if the goal was to be heard.

I replied by asking if he thought that a nuanced and Christian academic who was sensitive and reasonable at the table during the conversation would be heard if he or she said something Christian about homosexuality or abortion?

He responded that it would be important who said it and how it was said.

I replied by proposing that he himself would be the person trying to say something Christian about homosexuality and abortion at the table during the conversation, and therefore that it would be said perfectly nuanced, perfectly sensitive, and perfectly reasonable; did he think they would listen? Did he think they would allow him to keep his place at the table? At that point, I explained to Professor Marsden that I ministered in Bloomington next to Indiana University and I could assure him that the very second he opened his mouth to speak Christianly about homosexuality or abortion, he would lose his place at the table and be silenced in the conversation.

Prof. Marsden did not gainsay me and I've always thought it was because he knew I was right.

Which is to say the "thoughtful, compassionate approach" has been what every seminary and college and graduate school has been enforcing for decades, now, and it is the very evil which is our bondage. We have met the enemy and it is the "thoughtful, compassionate approach." Pastor Tim Keller is the best proponent of this approach, it mostly owns the Reformed and Baptist ministry, and it's long ago proven its impotence. Amos didn't specialize in it. Hosea didn't use it. It wasn't John the Baptist's schtick. Jesus never learned it. This approach bears no resemblance to the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost and it's hard to square with what we see of the Apostle Paul's sermon to the Areopagus or his description of his witness among the Ephesians found in Acts 20.

As a matter of fact, why are there all those murder plots and riots recorded in the Gospels and Acts if Jesus and His Apostles employed a "thoughtful, compassionate approach?"

The writer goes on to make some suggestions about future pro-life strategies, and some of those suggestions are helpful. I am not opposing everything he recommends, nor saying we must avoid a "thoughtful, compassionate approach." And yet two things: first, the question is not so much whether there should be a place for a "thoughtful, compassionate approach" within the pro-life movement, but rather what a jaded wicked nation will perceive to be a "thoughful, compassionate approach?" When the most popular news comes from mockers and scoffers, I'm afraid that nothing but a reading of Pat the Bunny or The Velveteen Rabbit will qualify. But is this really the definition of thoughtfulness and compassion?

Second, assuming our nation is filled with men playing the woman and limiting their rhetoric to what their neighbors hear as thoughtfulness and compassion, is there any place for men who are men and therefore rarely sound thoughtful or compassionate when they oppose the wholesale slaughter and sale of body parts of the most innocent and weak among us?

In other words, can we protest in harmony, welcoming the tenors, altos, sopranos, and counter-tenors while also being careful to guard the place for the baritone and bass? Who knows but maybe God will use the man who walks around the city for three years, barefoot and naked? (See Isaiah 20:1-3.)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!