stirring up…conversation

Earlier today, I tweeted this:
It was in response to reading a rumor that the Christian (as they define it) organization Focus on the Family is set to spend $4 million on an anti-abortion-rights ad during the Super Bowl.  According to rumor, the ad would feature the parents of college football phenom Tim Tebow, and would tell how they chose not to abort their son, despite recommendations from a doctor (Mrs. Tebow had been on some meds that could have seriously damaged her fetus), they chose to carry the pregnancy to term, and that baby grew up to be a football star.

My tweet was re-tweeted a few times by some of my Twitter friends, people I don’t know in real life, but who I’m closer to than Kevin Bacon if it came down to degrees of separation. I know people who know these people, and who knows, maybe once we move to Little Rock, I’ll know them myself.  Those re-tweets and replies stirred up more replies.

Anyway, my tweet stirred up some conversation. I would say controversy, but it was handled so respectfully that it’s much better termed conversation. And that’s an awesome thing! While so many claim the internet leads to polarization and anonymous nastiness, in this case, a tweet led to a fairly thoughtful discussion.  As one tweeter kryanp (I read it as a retweet by kerrijack) put it (I paraphrase): the best and worst thing about Twitter and other social media is that they are constantly reminding us that people we like and even love can have politics we hate.  This can polarize us, or it can bring us closer together, help us to find common ground, help us to avoid pigeonholing the “other side” because it turns out we know people there.  This is a lesson I myself need to learn more and more often, because while I may be a tree hugging, pro-choice, feminist, near-communist, in my own family and circle of friends there are global-warming-denying, anti-choice, anti-feminist, super-capitalists.  And I love them. And when I make comments about “the other side” as I am somtimes wont to do, I need to remind myself that I’m talking about THEM too. And I don’t want to talk about people I like and love that way.

All this brings me back around to what I originally meant in my initial tweet.  One of the tweeters I do follow but don’t know linked to this post by a tweeter I don’t follow and don’t know (ah social media).  This poster was troubled that the conversation was somehow against Focus on the Family’s right to free speech or right to air the ad.  I’ll say straight off that I agree with most of what that poster wrote, particularly that the repeal of Roe is not the best way to reduce or ultimately eliminate abortion.  But what bothers me is the idea that criticizing Focus on the Family and their choice to spend $4 million to run an anti-choice ad during the Super Bowl is somehow tantamount to saying they should not be legally allowed to do so.

By all means, it’s Focus on the Family’s money, and they are more than free to run whatever ad they choose, whenever they choose, no matter how much it costs.  As a private organization, they are allowed to say whatever message they’d like in whatever medium they can afford.

But as a private citizen, I’m more than allowed to question that choice, and as a Christian, I in fact feel *obligated* to do so.

Do you think it’s going to be news to anyone who sees this ad (if it in fact exists) that Focus on the Family would rather they not have an abortion? That Focus on the Family would like for abortion to be illegal? We already know all that. That message has been made more than clear over the years of the “culture wars.”

What I think would be a much more impactful “kingdom message” would be Focus on the Family making news for spending $4 million to radically love on the very people they’re hoping to convince with this message.  Maybe opening a daycare, where single moms could send their kids for free childcare.  Or free clinics providing prenatal care for anyone who chooses to keep a pregnancy.  Or using their crazy lobbying power to mandate maternity leave and childcare and healthcare and equal wages for women, all of which would enable more women to choose to keep their babies. Those sorts of things would be crazy.  They’d blow people’s minds.  And they’d actually lead to fewer abortions.

It’s easy for big giant organizations to raise big giant sums for big giant ads during big giant sporting events.  And it’s easy to dismiss criticism of those organizations as somehow against free speech.  It’s the same sort of thing we saw when Carrie Prejean and Sarah Palin have been criticized– they claim people want to take away their free speech.  By all means, Carrie and Sarah and Focus on the Family are free to say whatever they like.  And the rest of us who love and serve the same God as Carrie and Sarah and Focus on the Family claim to serve (though I’m not sure they’d think of folks like me as Christians like them), well, we’re free to dream of “what if.” What if those with big powerful microphones and budgets stopped telling us what they’re against and started showing us what they’re for (the kingdom, love, individuals)?

16 Replies to “stirring up…conversation”

  1. As someone who doesn’t know you on Twitter (yet!) or IRL, I just want to thank you for
    writing and thinking on these things. Be back to visit you here, and glad to hear you’re moving to LR…


  2. You are arguing half a dishonesty though I don’t think you mean to.

    The core political problem we have today is a snap reaction to shout down opposing voices. Watch what passes for political debate on TV today.

    The proper response should not be, “I doubt their integrity spending their money that way and I as an opponent of their message will dismiss it by questioning their judgment in how they spend the money”.

    Go into the public arena and raise the counter-arguments.

    Offering counter spending proposals of what they should do with money given for that specific purpose is just an advanced ad hominem attack. Remember that based on rumor, at least 75% of this money came to Focus solely for that purpose. Neither side of the argument is putting its money where its mouth is creating free day care centers. Do you donate to free day care centers? If not, why do you expect them too either?

    It’s an evil little system we have. Conservatives know they can’t raise money by accepting reality that Roe won’t be over-turned yet across the aisle, liberals know they can’t effectively raise money without raising the boogeyman of Roe being over-turned. The whole thing is poisonous.

    Focus is going to do their thing.

    The challenge is in the response. It can be tut-tut look at them waste their money, or it can be an out-reach for the hearts and minds of the middle advocating society improving programs that evidence reveals can reduce the number of abortions.


  3. What a great post. I’m like you. I love it when social media ignites a sensible conversation about an important topic. I had been seeing little snips of tweets going back and forth about this, but had no idea who FoF or Mrs Tebow was, so I’m glad you cleared up the mystery.

    Just for the record, I agree with your point of view. They do have every right to air that ad, but I do think their cause could be better served by using the money to provide birth control or prenatal care for women who need it. Maybe that would help prevent unwanted pregnancies and the abused children that result when women feel forced to bear children they don’t really want or are equipped to handle.

    Good discussion.


  4. The beauty of freedom of speech, is that it works the same for everyone. Focus on the Family has the right to run such an ad; we have the right to criticize their decision. Admittedly, our criticism comes from a position of greater strength if we, ourselves, are taking the steps we accuse our counterparts of not taking, but there is no stricture that states our criticism is any less valid if we do not. For we are not a large group, bent on a single goal; we are individuals, who live our lives in the milieu that is society. We see the larger picture, that a group such as Focus on the Family refuses to see — that abortion is just a single aspect of a woman’s right to determine when and how she will get pregnant. Abortion, though it may be a repugnant or repellent idea, is a viable option for a woman to control her reproduction, and no matter what belief any group or individual may have, it is up to the woman, her conscience, and her her faith, to determine if it is an option she will consider. While the “debate” over abortion is, in fact, more harmful than helpful, at least it is spoken of in the open, and all sides are allowed their say.


    1. I guess I’m still confused about how wishing $4 million could be spent in a more loving and effective way by a large Christian organization is an ad hominem attack. For me it’s not even specific to the issue of abortion (which I admit is not in the top 5 of issues I care passionately about, though I do believe abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”) but is related to an issue I have as a Christian: whether our methods are loving and effective, whether we are advancing the kingdom here on earth or whether we are advancing political agendas. I’m sure it’s in large part due to my growing interest in the emerging church movement, but I think we’ve been getting our message wrong in a lot of ways. We all know groups like Focus on the Family love fetuses. What I’d love to see is some love for the women carrying them. (This is just a specific example related to this specific case– I’d also like to see similar efforts in every area we’ve been quick to label sin.)


  5. If there’s anything the internet has taught me its that so many people have a fundamental misunderstanding of what “freedom of speech” is. Anyway, good for you for stirring up an important conversation.

    Also this? “Or using their crazy lobbying power to mandate maternity leave and childcare and healthcare and equal wages for women” hahahahahahahahHA. ahh. ha.


  6. Also: the premise of the supposed ad, ie. we didn’t abort and now our son is a football star, reminds me of a family guy episode where Peter is counseling a room full of drug addicts to have as many kids as possible to up the likelihood that one of them will be a rich and famous celebrity one day and take care of them, “hollywood baby.” Sorry. It just makes me laugh.


    1. Ha, great parallel to Family Guy. Things like “I almost aborted my potentially damaged baby and he grew up to win the Heisman!” seem so disingenuous and almost malicious to me. As if not having an abortion will grant you a miracle that the baby fried by pharmaceuticals will turn out just fine. Too often the reality would be “I didn’t abort my potentially damaged baby and he was born severely deformed and suffered much pain for a few short weeks of life.”


  7. I’m glad you wrote this and I’m glad you tweeted on that topic. I heard on the news this weekend that Pastor Rick Warren has raised a few million dollars to keep his church going (because he was in debt or something) and just felt despair. Those millions of dollars could have helped real, living, breathing, suffering people. The priorities are so out of whack.

    And some of your commenters need to look up the definition of “ad hominem” before they use it in an argument.


  8. Thanks SMC! I tweeted about Rick Warren too, but it stirred up less of a twitstorm. Apparently they got less than they usually get in end-of-year donations, and were $900k in the hole, but he raised $2.4 million by sending out an email asking people to donate. While there is a LOT I don’t like about Rick Warren, in particular with regards to Prop 8 and the criminalizing of homosexuality in Uganda, as well as general discomfort with wealthy megachurches, it’s my understanding (after doing some research, as I wasn’t really initially inclined to be charitable toward Warren) that the church was in the hole because they’ve been giving so much away to congregants in dire economic straits lately. So it’s hard for me to have a problem if that’s what the money is being raised for, for giving away to people in hard times, though I’d still wonder if the church with the big shiny buildings couldn’t trim some fat to make up those funds, rather than asking people in dire straits to dig deeper. I’d also point out that Warren takes no salary from his church and in fact gives lots of his money from his book sales (for the record I thought Purpose Driven Life was unoriginal) back to his church.


  9. An attack ad hominen is against the person. When the debate is content of speech and the response is to sniff and suggest they spend their money elsewhere speech is not debated rather the values of the speaker.

    Suggesting Focus put it’s dollars into contraception misses two valuable points. First contraception by unmarrieds flys in the face of their faith and among many fundamentalists use by marrieds is frowned upon. Might as well ask Jews and Muslims to lighten up about ham. Second it is not mine nor your business to tell Focus what it is about. They aren’t a social improvement charity feeding the poor. They are an advocate in their own peculiar arena as distant from mainstream as Heritage Foundation, the ACLU, or Move On.


  10. That would be perhaps be understandable if I were not also a self-identified Christian. I care about what message the world gets about God by looking at people who claim to follow Him, so I speak out when I feel those who claim to represent my faith act in ways I feel are contrary to it, ways that I feel damage my faith and its reputation. So yeah, supposedly Focus on the Family and I share the same values, and I can speak about those values if I wish, as a follower of the same Christ. In the same way, I wish more Muslims would speak out against extremists, and I wish more Jews would speak out against some of Israel’s actions.


  11. But EB made no such personal, ad hominen attack. I don’t think the original twit was an “attack” at all, rather a thoughtful question to pose. Additionally, I think the twit posted above refers to the money going to help single mothers not towards contraception. Lastly, groups like Focus trumpet themselves as “Christian” so if a fellow Christian disagrees with their methods and voices that disagreement in a non-inflammatory way (as was the case here) that is the opposite of ad-hominen attacks.


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