How not to debate

Posted By Horizon Staff October 31st, 2012 in Opinions & Editorials : 19 COMMENTS

Michael DeMichillie | Op/Ed Editor

This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of the Horizon.

A week later, I am still wondering: “Why is Seth Gruber electing to stage his protests here?” This is a conservative, evangelical campus, where the usual brand of Christianity takes a pro-life political orientation as creed. What did Gruber hope to accomplish by displaying this material on campus? Perhaps, if we viewed the world through particularly rose-colored glasses, we might say he intended to draw attention to an issue so that he could convince them in a way  that appeals to their brains  instead of assaulting their emotions.

But that would be both foolish and irresponsible.

This irresponsibility comes disguised with the label of “grace towards our brother in Christ,” but it grants license to Gruber’s behavior and his aims. Gruber did not protest to rationally convince others that abortion is wrong.

The only rational aim for his protest was to make it impossible to hold pro-choice views on this campus. Gruber sought to link every pro-choice person on-campus to the pictures he displayed. It is a good thing that the WCSA prohibited Gruber from bringing the whole “Genocide Awareness Project” circus on campus, since it overtly and maliciously describes anyone who endorses any abortion in any circumstance as a Nazi.

Gruber has not responded publicly to the last week’s editorial, but since he returned this week, I consider it safe to assume that Gruber has allowed the criticism to give him some sense of vindication, as if the Horizon and anyone else who dared criticize him were secretly working for the forces of darkness. Since Gruber compares himself to a modern-day William Wilberforce battling slavery or Dietrich Bonhoeffer battling Nazism, this interpretation of his actions seems accurate.

These displays rely upon this argument and intimidation to pre-empt counter-argument, but it is still important to vocally oppose these displays.

The argument for displaying these signs rests on the assertion that abortion is a social evil that requires drastic action to cure. Gruber himself endorses the comparison between abortion and genocide with the “Genocide Awareness Project.” Apparently, pro-choice people secretly want to eliminate babies as a national group.

The fact that the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and injustice against any group, has said that comparisons between abortion and the Holocaust are “deeply offensive and have no place in civil political discourse” apparently means little.

The editorial board spoke out last week to take the side of civil discourse.

I am a member of that board. As the editor of the Opinions and Editorials pages, my highest commitment is to the maintenance of civil discourse on this campus. As long as my co-editor and I hold this position, this page will be the ally of civil discourse and the opponent of those who choose to ostracize and demean those who disagree with them rather than engage and debate. If you want a name to blame for that, take mine.

19 Responses

  1. Daniel L says:

    It should be noted that the Genocide Awareness Project does indeed equate abortion with Nazism. Photos of the Holocaust (and other internationally recognized genocides) are displayed next to abortion images in demonstrations sponsored by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (Seth Gruber is a member of said organization).

    Sources from CBER:
    Photos of the Holocaust and Abortion at GAP demonstrations.
    WARNING – CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES
    http://abortionno.org/index.php/the_genocide_awareness_project_gap

    Further comparison of abortion to the Holocaust and genocide. Text document only.
    http://www.abortionno.org/pdf/whyabortionisgenocide.pdf

  2. Gregg Sanchez says:

    While I agree with much of what has been said in opposition to the way in which Seth has gone about this issue, I must now turn to those who seek to criticize him. Inflammatory language and scathing criticisms, while they encourage comments and draw the public attention, are harmful to the mission we are given as Christians to love one another in Christ.

    I would temper everything that is said (on both sides of this issue) by a reminder that we are all God’s children, and He commands us to love one another. Emotions and arguments about rationality aside, I encourage everyone to focus on the thing on which our attention should really be falling in times of disagreement: telling the truth IN LOVE

    • Jojo Ruba says:

      But what is love Gregg? Does love mean that we can’t say tough things that might offend people? If that’s the case, Jesus wasn’t very loving to many people in the Bible – not just Pharisees and Romans but even the Syrophoenician woman who wanted her daughter healed or Peter or the rich young ruler.

      I agree that disagreement does not justify rude behaviour and I deplore any incivility from either side of this debate. But you have to remember that you also can’t love someone if you are unwilling to tell them the truth, even if that truth is hard to see.

    • Michael says:

      Gregg, while I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, I feel the intentionality of what Seth is doing deserves this scathing response. The editorial board tried the soft approach, but Gruber and his supporters responded with condescending self-righteousness.

      Gruber is being handled with the kid gloves by the administration and the community, and frankly, I’m sick of it. I don’t think “speaking the truth in love” is appropriate here because Gruber is trying to ostracize pro-choice people and declare that they aren’t Christians. I think his intentions are reprehensible, and I think as a member of the community I am right to defend those people through my writing.

      Thank you for the comment, and thank you for what you’re trying to do, even if I don’t agree,
      Michael

      • Gregory says:

        “Gruber is trying to ostracize pro-choice people and declare that they aren’t Christians.” He never said that and doesn’t intend it.

        • Michael says:

          He calls them Nazis and he says that they aren’t Christians, the claim I have made is that he does so intentionally.

  3. Gregory says:

    Disclosure: I work for CBR.

    How not to debate: Cover up your best evidence.

    Self-professed Christians are getting abortions at similar rates to non-Christians. Therefore, it makes sense to bring awareness of the reality of abortion to a Christian campus.

    “Gruber did not protest to rationally convince others that abortion is wrong.” What was irrational? If Seth’s use of abortion imagery was used to replace his arguments, or the photos were somehow inaccurate or didn’t otherwise represent the reality of abortion, then he would be guilty of irresponsibility, lying, and petty emotional manipulation. The fact is that the photos are real, accurate, and SUPPORT his arguments, not replace them. The authenticity of the photos has been challenged in court, and CBR has, of course, won. Simply because a sign invokes a strong emotional response, does not thereby invalidate the sign. Of course people will get distraught by seeing a sign of a visibly human being who has been violently killed, and rightly so.

    “Gruber sought to link every pro-choice person on-campus to the pictures he displayed.” Everywhere we do a GAP, we ask people if they had seen pictures like these before. The majority of people say no. What Seth is trying to do is to show people how bad abortion is, something that most are ignorant of. By showing these images to the Church, he hopes to firstly, turn abortion-minded men and women within the Church away from killing their babies, and secondly, inspire Christians to do more than they currently are to end elective abortion. If the Church does not end abortion, who will?

    Social reformers have been using graphic imagery to expose injustice for over a century – it’s how reform is done. Think Emmett Till. Something tells me that you would not oppose a graphic display of awareness to the Nazi atrocities or the Armenian Genocide, or the mass killings in Cambodia, yet when it comes to abortion, you seem to oppose the use of graphic visuals. Correct me if I’m wrong. If I’m not, why is that? If so, why?

    Americans tolerate an injustice until they’re disturbed enough by it to start fighting against it. After 40 years of nation-wide legal abortion, 50 million innocent human beings killed, and one abortion happening every 26 seconds, it’s safe to say that Americans are not disturbed enough by abortion. I think you’d be hard pressed to find even-keeled biblical backing for the claim that it is wrong to disturb people with the truth, especially if that truth will help prevent them from killing an innocent.

    “It is a good thing that the WCSA prohibited Gruber from bringing the whole “Genocide Awareness Project” circus on campus, since it overtly and maliciously describes anyone who endorses any abortion in any circumstance as a Nazi.” Describes? That’s a stretch. CBR makes a comparison; it does not claim that women who get abortions hate babies. In fact, CBR claims that the woman in an abortion is THE SECOND VICTIM. You must not have read the website closely enough. There is a serious lack of urgency when it comes to abortion, and that lack of urgency is facilitated by the cover-up of what abortion actually is. The comparisons are legitimate on a number of levels. Talk to Seth, he’ll explain it to you.

    “Gruber has not responded publicly to the last week’s editorial, but since he returned this week, I consider it safe to assume that Gruber has allowed the criticism to give him some sense of vindication, as if the Horizon and anyone else who dared criticize him were secretly working for the forces of darkness.” Wow! That’s a lot of information based on silence. Methinks thou dost protest too much.

    “These displays rely upon this argument and intimidation to pre-empt counter-argument, but it is still important to vocally oppose these displays.” The very fact that you say the signs “pre-empt counter-argument” suggests that they are shutting down your hitherto-held arguments. You didn’t actually engage Seth in conversation, did you. He is always happy to speak with people about abortion, in a civil and considerate way. I’ve heard Seth talk with people about abortion several times and have yet to witness him intimidate anyone with his speech or his manner. If it’s the signs that are doing the intimidating, you must think that abortion is intimidating, since that’s what the signs depict.

    “Apparently, pro-choice people secretly want to eliminate babies as a national group.” See note above about post-abortive women as victims. CBR holds that the reason most “pro-choice” people continue to support abortion is because they are ignorant of who the pre-born baby is and what abortion does to him. I don’t say ignorant in a pejorative sense. I was ignorant of the amazing milestones of embryonic development and the horror of abortion until I saw them with my own eyes. Reading about them could not come close to giving me a strong sense of either. Like the awe-inspiring beauty of the Yosemite Valley or the depravity of Auschwitz, words alone could never do them justice.

    “The fact that the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and injustice against any group, has said that comparisons between abortion and the Holocaust are “deeply offensive and have no place in civil political discourse” apparently means little.” CBR has had Jewish volunteers, as well, who vehemently defend the comparison. 6 million Jews in Europe compared to 50 million abortions in America since 1973 only weighs more heavily toward the 6 million if you believe that the preborn are not persons. “Not persons”, “parasites”, “a disease”. Sound familiar?

    “As long as my co-editor and I hold this position, this page will be the ally of civil discourse and the opponent of those who choose to ostracize and demean those who disagree with them rather than engage and debate.” Are you implying that Seth is not engaging in civil discourse, or that he is trying to demean and ostracize others? As I implied above, you must not have actually talked to Seth. He’s very civil and listens to and shows respect to those who disagree with him.

    Where is Seth to go to show Christians an injustice and rally them to fight against it, if not a Christian campus? Covering up an injustice is a lousy way to inspire others to fight against it, and yet covering up the injustice of abortion is exactly what the leadership at Westmont has done by censoring GAP. Where do you and the leadership at Westmont draw the line between respecting people’s peace and making them aware of injustice? How bad does the injustice have to be before it’s okay to make people aware of it by its disturbing evidence? Isn’t this a matter of life and death? Isn’t it a deeply perverse and evil thing when a mother kills her own baby in her very own womb, whose very function is to nourish and protect that child, and to do it with the help of a doctor who has sworn to do no harm but lied? Do you not believe that abortion is taking the life of an innocent human being?

    So much to say, but this essay, I mean comment, is already long.

    • Michael says:

      Firstly, Gregory, thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully reply to this, unlike some others I could mention.

      Here’s the problem I have with the displays. Abortion is not genocide. Now, I know you make comparisons based on the number of people killed, but numbers aren’t actually enough to make something qualify as genocide. Genocide is differentiated from other crimes, like mass murder, by its systematic nature and because it targets a specific ethnic, national, or religious group. Abortion is neither of those things.

      Second, the GAP’s position is that abortion is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust. Inherent in that project is the assertion that anyone who opposes them is the moral equivalent of the Nazis. Those comparisons shut down the possibility of civil debate. I’ve watched the pro-life blogs enough to be convinced that the people who put up these displays are cognizant of that fact and welcome it. I think that’s solid enough to assume Seth’s intention is to ostracize people who disagree with him.

      Thirdly, it’s far from obvious that the fetus is the same thing as a child. Personally, I abortion should be illegal in most cases, but I recognize that not everyone will come to the same conclusion that I do, given the available evidence. Those people should be engaged with in a civil manner, not deliberately ostracized.

      Thank you, and I wish you best of luck,
      Michael

      • Gregory says:

        You have offered one definition of genocide; other definitions say, “or other people group” and “in whole or in part”. The people group is America’s unwanted preborns. Abortion in America is systematic in that ALL preborns are denied rights of personhood under the law; our tax dollars pay for it; the woman goes to a legal clinic subject to inspection after making an appointment, documentation records the financial transaction and the procedure, the doctor scrubs up, puts on proper attire, methodically lays out instruments, has support staff nearby, and follows an abortion procedure that he studied in school while probably subsidized with government grants.

        Jews in the Holocaust, Blacks in the South, and preborn babies do have more in common than just high numbers killed: all three were dehumanized, which makes the killing easier: “untermensch”, “apes”, “subhuman”, “vermin”, “parasites”, “clump of cells”, “undifferentiated cell mass”, pregnancy as a disease, etc. All three groups were denied rights of personhood under the law. All three groups were legally experimented on. There are more comparisons to be made, but these, along with the previously mentioned definition of genocide is plenty sufficient to justify the Genocide Awareness Project. This is all besides the fact that Seth wasn’t even holding those GAP signs, right?

        Again, we do not claim that women have abortions out of hate, and I re-emphasize that CBR holds the woman to be the second victim in an abortion, and that most pro-choice people’s stance is largely based on ignorance rather than evil, so your assertion that Seth is trying to ostracize people doesn’t quite make muster.

        I would definitely cede that he’s trying to move people out of the mushy middle. It’s so important that we not fall into the modern trap of being offended, for ourselves and others, and accusing people of mal-intent simply because they are boldly proclaiming something to be wrong, something we don’t think is wrong. Who were the prophets if not guys that ticked people off wherever they went, by reminding them of all the bad things they were doing, to put it succinctly?

        The word fetus is simply a term that is helpful when referring to a preborn human after 8 weeks of development until birth. A fetus IS the same things as a born child in the most important sense: they’re both human beings, and as such deserve the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

        Whether someone else has come to the same conclusion that you have on the issue or not, you have every right, and I would even say the duty, to try and change people’s minds about abortion because it IS a matter of killing innocent human beings.

        The reason the Church is so sleepy on this, I think, is because the reality of abortion happens behind closed doors; it’s not on the 6pm news, like the Civil Rights Movement was.

        God bless.

        • Michael says:

          Every legal definition of genocide of which I am aware requires targeting a specific ethnic, national, or religious group, and believe me, I’ve studied this very thoroughly. “An other group of people” is too vague to actually mean anything, which is why international law requires such specificity in defining genocide. Second, as someone who has actually read Roe v. Wade and its related decisions, I can say that they protect the state’s right to protect the life of the unborn during the second and third trimesters and ban partial-birth abortion.

          Thirdly, dehumanization does not equal genocide. Dehumanization is bad because it can lead to discrimination and other violations of human rights. Further (I forgot this last part, which is included in most parts of genocide), genocide requires intentionality. The killing must be specifically and intentionally directed at destroying a ethnic, national, or religious group. By using the language of genocide, you charge every person who supports or has ever participated in abortion of that intentionality.

          He uses the Genocide Awareness Project signs and directs people to a website that calls abortion genocide and its supporters. Plus, he tried to bring the whole project on campus, including those signs. That’s enough to prove his intentions to me.

  4. Diana says:

    Thank you Gregory – you addressed every point I wanted to – and much more eloquently than I could have. My mouth is dropped in astonishment that Michael thought any of that was even necessarily helpful to write. But since you responded to him so well – I hope that this exchange will have been helpful for him.

  5. Jojo Ruba says:

    What bugs me as I read this is that there really is no shred of evidence that what Gruber did was biblically wrong. The only assertion was that he is a terrible person for comparing abortion to the Holocaust and that he does dialogue wrong.

    Before we assume both arguments are true, we need to ask a few simple questions:

    First, is it wrong to compare abortion with the Holocaust? I think that’s a pretty obvious question to ask before you assert it. Certainly some Jewish groups are upset with the comparison, but how does their anger prove that argument? If abortion kills a million Americans every year (40 million around the world) and there’s a systematic, government-sponsored way to do it, then how can it not be comparable (comparable does not mean identical, something that noted on the GAP pictures).

    And yes, the pictures do make it impossible to hold a pro-choice view and be rational. Why? Because the pictures are true. And just as it is irrational to be a “pro-choice Christian” on rape or slavery or racism, it is just as irrational to be “pro-choice” about the choice to kill pre-born children.

    Another question you must ask before saying that the way he presents the pro-life message is wrong is then what way have you presented the pro-life message that is correct? What other ways have you modelled helping an indifferent Christian community to be pro-life?

    I think this is where Jesus’ command to not throw stones at someone before you examine your own witness comes in.

    Ultimately, the main questions you should be asking is this: What does abortion kill (because everyone in the debate agrees it kills something)? Biology not the Bible tells us that abortion kills human beings whose only crime is that they are younger than us.

    And if abortion is killing a million Americans a year, people who God loves, then the only other questions you should be asking yourself are these: why am I and my Christian school spending more time fighting pro-lifers instead of fighting abortion? How am I loving my pre-born neighbours?

  6. Caitlin Postal says:

    To Gregg and Diana,
    I could say so much more, but I will only say this: I am a pro-choice student at Westmont College who has tried to engage with Seth via his blog (as I am currently abroad). He has largely ignored my comments and refused to take a stance when those who agree with him demeaned my character and accused me of not being Christian and of being comparable to both a Nazi and a slave-owner. If Seth truly wants to fight injustice, why not respond when his friends and followers say things like this? If he doesn’t want to ostracize his peers, I would recommend that Seth be a LOT more careful of his language, among any number of other things.

    • Gregory says:

      Caitlin, it is your responsibility to defend yourself. To oppositionally engage someone on their blog and expect his defense seems a bit presumptuous. Let’s also remember that the kid is a student and probably doesn’t have time to respond to everything. I don’t know why Seth isn’t more actively engaged in the comments, etc, but there’s something to be said for sparking a debate, letting if turn into a lively fire, and studying it as it goes.

      • Caitlin Postal says:

        I should have to defend my position, not myself and my faith. The comments on his blog are not a “lively fire” but a toxic warzone.

  7. Dave says:

    Michael: You have leveled some pretty serious accusations toward Seth. Do you consider him your brother in Christ? If so, why are you shooting at your own team mate? As Gregory said, “you must not have actually talked to Seth”. Well, have you? And since you acknowledge that you are pro-life, what are you actively doing, either financially, or physically to fight abortion? I hope you are, for a number of reasons, not least of which would be how it appears for a spectator to criticize a team of athletes from the sidelines who are working hard, while the critic who doesn’t play the game at all, accuses and criticizes them. For whatever mistakes Seth may make, he is actually Doing something about his convictions. Please give this consideration, brother.

    • Michael says:

      Being a Christian does not exempt Gruber from the rules of civil debate, and he’ll get no special privilege. The defense of civil discourse is a value worth defending. That’s what this issue is about, and with respect to that issue, I am NOT on Gruber’s team.

      As for my own convictions, please don’t assume that abortion is the only issue in the world. I donate to the church, which supports pregnancy crisis ministries. What I am passionate about is not calling people Nazis.

      • Gregory says:

        At the risk of offending, you sound more passionate about not “calling people Nazis” than sparing babies from being tortured to death.

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