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Q&A: Pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf

WASHINGTON (BP)–Americans are listening to pro-life advocates in a way they did not previously, giving them an opportunity to make their case for the sanctity of human life, a leading pro-life spokesman says.

Scott Klusendorf, the president of Life Training Institute, told Richard Land in an interview for the “For Faith and Family” radio program there “is certainly not the hostile environment that I experienced 15 years ago.” Instead, the public has paused to listen to pro-lifers, giving those making such arguments an opportunity to “defy expectations” and “scientifically and philosophically argue for our view in a way that our opponents cannot dismiss as a personal opinion.”

Klusendorf gave his assessment as the United States approached the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Jan. 22, 1973, decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Excerpts of the Nov. 30 interview were broadcast during January on For Faith and Family, which is a ministry of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

During the interview, Klusendorf told Land, the ERLC’s president, how pastors and churches can address the abortion issue in a redemptive way and equip Christians to present the pro-life perspective effectively.

Klusendorf travels throughout the United States and Canada, training pro-lifers to defend their views and presenting pro-life arguments in public forums. He has debated abortion-rights advocates and spoken at more than 70 universities and colleges.

He told Land he is optimistic the pro-life cause will prevail, saying he has “hope that we are going to turn this thing around.”

Here is an edited transcript of excerpts from Land’s interview of Klusendorf:

LAND: What do you see as the state of the pro-life movement as you go across the country?

KLUSENDORF: … What I see happening is the public is more willing to give us a hearing. I am not one who believes that there has been a gigantic shift in favor of the pro-life view in the sphere of public opinion, but it is certainly not the hostile environment that I experienced 15 years ago…. They have not yet been persuaded by our view, but we have a pause in the debate, so to speak, where they are listening to us and we have an opportunity to do two things: Defy expectations, meaning we show up and Joe Secularist has never heard a pro-life talk…. He is listening, and he goes, “Wow, I’ve never heard an argument for their side of the issue.” … We’ve got secular kids who have been raised in secular environments; they are hearing pro-life Christians make an articulate defense for what they believe, and they don’t know what to do with that. It takes them by surprise. The second thing we have an opportunity to do is not only defy expectations, but we have a great opportunity to scientifically and philosophically argue for our view in a way that our opponents cannot dismiss as a personal opinion…. There is a down side to this good piece of news…. [I]t comes to the arena of what are we doing as pro-life Christians in our local churches to equip the next generation of pro-life spokespeople…. I think we need to do three things in our churches. One, teach and preach a biblical view of human value…. What is it that we as humans have that gives us value and a right to life? The second thing, though, we’ve got to do — and I don’t see this being done much of anywhere really — is systematically equip our people to engage. How do we give them the tools of thought to make a case for the pro-life view in three minutes or less with a neighbor across the backyard fence, with a co-worker around the water cooler, with a student who needs to know how to defend her pro-life view at the locker in between classes? We’ve got to systematically train our people to do that. Thirdly, we’ve got to give a cross-centered message of hope to the people wounded by abortion. [About half] of all abortions annually are repeat abortions. Those aren’t going to get resolved as long as people are carrying the guilt and despair from those previous decisions….

LAND: I’ve heard preachers say, “I don’t preach on this issue, because I’m afraid I’m going to upset people who have had abortions.” It depends on how you preach about the issue. I do it, and I find that it presents an opportunity for healing for some of those women who still haven’t forgiven themselves for having had an abortion.

KLUSENDORF: … The paradigm that many of our pastors deal with is: “If I preach on this, I am going to cause all kinds of things to break loose in my church that I don’t want to have to take on and have to deal with.” But when we take sin seriously and then use that sin to point people to the remedy that is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that sin becomes a ministry opportunity…. When people bring their past mistakes and failures into our congregations, when we ignore them, we do not do them a favor, and we spare them the very healing that they so desperately need. Rather, what we do is use that to point them to the only remedy. Salvation is found in no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. And we point them to the Lord, who is standing there to adopt them into His family and make them the kind of whole people they need to be….

LAND: One of the things I think we need to really do a much better job of helping our people to understand is that whenever an abortion takes place, there are at least two victims: The baby and the mother, sometimes the father and the medical personnel, and sometimes the parents, the grandparents. It is sort of concentric circles of destruction.

KLUSENDORF: … When I preach on abortion, I level the playing field. I make it very clear that the Gospel is the only solution for human hurt and guilt, but I make it very clear it is not just the people who had abortions that need this Gospel. I need it; the person who has gossiped against their neighbor needs it; the person who stole the pencil from the work pantry needs it; my attitudes when I am driving [prove] I need this Gospel. And when you as a pastor preach on abortion directly, you describe it for what it is, even show it to your congregation. If at the same time you do that, you present the Gospel as the good news of Jesus bearing in full the wrath of God against sin, you then have an opportunity to bring healing to the very people who need it and not just those who have abortions, those who haven’t and have other issues of sin….

LAND: A lot of the people that are listening to this program don’t really grasp, I think, how far down this road we’ve gone in this quality-of-life ethic vs. sanctity-of-life ethic. A society that is governed by a quality of life ethic is a very dangerous place to live unless you are young and productive and healthy. Morally and ethically, what separates a society that assists its old in dying … from a primitive society that abandons their elderly to die of exposure in the jungle or on an ice flow?

KLUSENDORF: The problem is the same in both cases — we view human life as being instrumentally valuable but not intrinsically valuable. Therefore, we look at that person who is 78 years old, we see that his utility to us is not what it once was, and we devalue him accordingly. Or in the case of the unborn, we say the unborn are not self aware; therefore, they don’t have a right to life…. Newborns are not self aware. They aren’t self aware until many weeks after birth. Can we kill them? This makes no sense whatsoever. Our American republic was founded on the rock of what we call natural rights. We are not valuable because we do certain things or because the government says so; we are valuable because of the kind of thing we are, and certain rights spring from our nature as human beings, and we have them regardless of whether government wants to recognize them or not.

Excerpts of the broadcast may be accessed online by visiting: http://erlc.com/audio/Land-Klusendorf_1_2011-framing-argument.mp3

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.