In an argument, most people who are trying to persuade their opponents will use arguments that make sense to their opponents--not necessarily the most compelling argument to them personally. It just makes sense to appeal to the reasons that matter to the person you hope to persuade. But if we spend all our effort making the secondary arguments convincing, we risk forgetting our primary reasons, and sometimes we lose the moral high ground.
SlaveryIn the struggle for the abolition of slavery, some opponents of slavery tried to show the South that slavery was detrimental to their economic system in the long term. That argument may have persuaded a few slave-holders to liberate their slaves. But William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionists had to convince the public of the evil of slavery before the tide would turn against slavery. Ultimately slavery was wrong because of how it harmed the slaves and because God declared man-stealing to be wrong, not because of the economic impact.
Homosexual "Marriage"The current debate over same-sex marriage is another example where the opponents of same-sex marriage risk losing the moral high ground when they spend most of their time showing how homosexual relationships are harmful to the people involved and to children in their home, or when they argue about where acceptance of homosexual "marriage" would lead. These are valid points, but homosexual marriage is wrong because homosexuality is wrong. And we know that because God said so.
What is messed up in broader conservative thinking on the subject is this argument that I hear from traditionalists like Bill O'Reilly: People can do whatever they want in private, and that's fine. But don't call it marriage. Let's grant some kind of civil union that gives the legal rights of marriage, but save the term marriage for what it has always meant--a man and a woman.
The real main objection to same-sex marriage is that it legitimizes a wrong behavior. If we really thought men having sex with men was a great thing, why not call it marriage? The logically consistent ground for my side to hold is that homosexuality is wrong because God said so. It's fine to research all the harmful effects and show those, but that's not what makes it wrong.
AbortionIn the abortion debate, we care about both the mother and the baby (as well as the father if he is involved at all). We know that abortion is wrong because it murders an innocent baby. We also realize that abortion harms women emotionally, spiritually, and often physically.
We are trying to persuade women not to abort their babies. When talking to them, it makes sense to take the woman-centered approach and emphasize how abortion is a bad decision for them. Of course most pro-life counselors also share the facts of fetal development, and some pregnancy centers can show the mother her baby's heartbeat on ultrasound, so the mother can get all the information about how an abortion will impact her and her baby.
The culture, however, will never be persuaded to turn against abortion simply because it harms women. If a woman wants to take that risk, why should we stop her, the argument goes. We must persuade our culture of the evil of abortion and the sanctity of life. The campaign against partial-birth abortion, while saving relatively few lives, did a good job of showing the horror of abortion and turning the public against at least some abortions. The pro-life case is one that is built on God and His absolute truth. We can appeal to the cultural acceptance of the self-evident truth that murder is wrong without making it a religious argument, but ultimately our conviction that murder is wrong is based on God.
Let's use the woman-centered approach to persuade women and to show our true concern for women. But we should never be ashamed to say that abortion is wrong because it murders an innocent human life made in the image of God. That is the moral high ground.
Wesley Wilson is the President of Let Her Live, a nonprofit dedicated to saving babies by showing the beauty and value of life to women considering abortion. Please learn more about the Let Her Live pro-life billboard campaign. Donations are tax deductible.
Note: Originally posted at http://blog.letherlive.org/2009/12/leaving-god-out-of-ethics-dangers-of.html