(Originally published in the New England District News, Spring 2017 )
We as Lutherans are called by God to uphold the sanctity of life from conception to resurrection. Stories about abortion, medical and research ethical issues, suicide, euthanasia and other end-of-life issues flood the news and our social media feeds. We know where we stand on the issue (don’t we?), but it is very difficult to speak the truth in love to topics in which people invest so much emotion. If you’re against abortion you’re labeled anti-women’s rights. If you’re against euthanasia you’re painted as someone who wants the terminally ill to suffer. Even when we dress our concerns in positive language, we too often receive an emotional response. If you’re pro-life, you’ll likely be called anti-choice or anti-progress.
Abortion is an Emotional Issue
The problem is that these are indeed emotionally-laden issues. We get emotional about them, too. We don’t like “murdering babies” nor do we want people to reject the life God has given them—no matter how troubled that life seems. We pro-lifers cry, “This is a permanent solution to a temporary problem!”, but for those in the midst of despair it doesn’t feel temporary. There are strong emotions everywhere you look.
We need Self-Differentiation
When our emotions are heightened, our blood pressure rises and our ability to think clearly and creatively begins to diminish. People with opposite opinions about how to plant a garden may be able to discuss the topic calmly and productively because they don’t have a lot of emotion invested in the topic, but those on each side of the abortion issue can rarely have a conversation that doesn’t devolve into a shouting match or hurt feelings.
The key is self-differentiation. When a person can separate the way he or she feels about a topic from what he or she cognitively knows to be true, that’s self-differentiation. You can have strong convictions and be prepared with intelligent reasons for those convictions without being a slave to your emotions. When both sides of a certain topic are able to control their emotions instead of being controlled by them, discussions are more productive and respectful. It takes practice and self-awareness, but it can be done. A good easy-to-digest resource on this concept is in Dr. Roberta Gilbert’s book, “Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions.”
Perhaps you’re thinking that you could learn to be more self-differentiated, but in an age when everyone seems perpetually offended you doubt that your opponents will ever be. The good news is that in the same way that stress and emotion can be contagious, so is a calm and rational demeanor. Also, we must quit thinking of those on the opposite side of an issue—even with serious life issues—as our “opponents.” Instead, recognize that the reason you’re passionate about life issues is because life itself is a gift of God.
Everyone who has been given life has been given eternal life, even those whose earthly life is cut short. That eternal life is either spent in the presence of God or separated from His love. God has called you to proclaim His Word through which He works faith in the hearts of unbelievers. The man drowning is not an enemy of the man standing on the side of the boat with the life-preserver. Those lost without Christ or deceived by the wickedness of this world are not our opponents. They are people for whom Christ died. For their sake and for ours, let’s learn to reach out to them in love and truth without the emotional baggage that often keeps us divided.