Josh Brahm is President of the pro-life Equal Rights Institute, an organization he founded after twelve years of activism that’s dedicated to helping pro-lifers become more persuasive in making the case in a largely secular milieu.
Brahm lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife and three children. Crux contributor Charles Camosy recently spoke with Brahm about the direction of the pro-life movement in America, especially in the wake of the election of Donald Trump.
I suppose the topic on most everyone’s mind at the moment is the election results. Now that you’ve had a few days to process it, can you give us your general reaction to what went down?
I feel very conflicted about it. I was #NeverTrump since March 10th. I can respect the pro-life people who begrudgingly voted for Trump because of the Supreme Court ramifications, and now that he’s won, I hope that he does nominate good justices and fulfills his other promises to the pro-life movement like defunding Planned Parenthood.
I remain concerned that Trump will be seen by our culture as the face of the pro-life movement, a movement that has been falsely called anti-woman for decades. I’m also concerned that leftists won’t see this election as a lesson that they also ran an awful candidate resulting in ridiculously low Democratic turnout, but as “proof” that half of America is racist, causing even more division.
I think the vast majority of people voted for Trump, not because they liked him, but because they liked Hillary Clinton less, which is saying something.
We already knew this, but the election reminded us that we are divided as a country. The election also revealed some deep divisions in the pro-life movement. Indeed, it may have facilitated some of them. What do you think about this division?
I think we can unify as a movement, but I have strong concerns. As I recently wrote, I know several pro-life leaders who said before the election that they couldn’t imagine how anybody could actually be pro-life and not vote for Trump unless they have no understanding of how politics works.
There’s a “No True Pro-Lifer” thing going on there, and I’m concerned about the effect of an attitude like that even after the election.
We all have a series of decisions to make for the next four years. We can spend them taking jabs at each other or we can exercise self-control. Every remark a pro-life person makes to alienate well-meaning but misguided people from the work of saving babies is a remark for which that person is culpable.
I’ve argued that pro-lifers are more authentic and more effective when they connect the principles and advocacy on issues beyond abortion. We are already doing that with euthanasia, but do you think pro-lifers also ought to focus on issues that haven’t traditionally been championed by conservatives?
That’s a tricky question. On one hand, if we are so focused that we only ever talk about one issue, then we look like we only care about that one issue and our moral compass becomes untrustworthy. Every pro-life advocate should be known as people who also believe that rape and human trafficking are great evils, for example.
On the other hand, as the Chinese proverb goes, he who chases two rabbits catches neither. I think God calls people to specific types of ministry, even though there are many evils that ought to be fought. We need some people actively fighting abortion. We need some people actively fighting human trafficking. We need some people mentoring at-risk youth.
I absolutely think all pro-life advocates need to get better at talking about other issues though. I recently wrote about how pro-life people can speak about the issue of rape with truth and compassion. In that article I said, “I’ve trained people before who understood the definition of rape, but they didn’t understand what rape is. There are other pro-lifers who cannot hear the word ‘rape’ and let themselves acknowledge how horrible rape is, because they feel like they’re losing debate points or time. There’s too much of that out there and it’s hurting our movement.”
One thing pro-lifers might do is focus less on big questions of federal legislation and focus more on building a culture of life within local communities. Your Equal Rights Institute has been helping to do that. What has been your approach?
Right now the pro-life movement is not known for our love, nor are we known for being a particularly thoughtful group of people. That needs to change in order for us to be able to change culture.
We want to help pro-life people to be more like Jesus when they talk to pro-choice people. What would His body language be like? What kinds of questions would He ask? What kinds of questions would He not ask? What would it sound like when He made arguments that are grounded in truth but spoken with gentleness and grace?
Rachel Crawford, one of our future staff persons, recently described her conversations with pro-choice people this way: “Many students who identify as pro-choice tell me that they are shocked how much they enjoyed our conversation and remark that it’s refreshing to talk about issues that are considered taboo. It is hard to describe how much I have cherished these opportunities to experience a raw connection with strangers during outreach events and close friends in casual conversations.”
Imagine if thousands of pro-life advocates had that effect on the people they spoke to, and that this shock turned to trust for the pro-life advocate and an ongoing friendship filled with dozens of conversations where their pro-choice arguments could be defeated one by one!
That’s our vision.
You recently transitioned from teaching all-day seminars to putting all of that material in an online video course. Why did you decide to do this?
We needed an efficient way to train more people than the groups we train in person. Now any pro-life advocate or group can learn the practical dialogue tips that we use to create an atmosphere where people are more likely to change their mind.
They can also learn the pro-life arguments that we have found to be the most effective at actually changing minds after having more than 3,000 conversations with pro-choice people. People can buy the course at https://EquippedCourse.com, which comes with 29 video lessons, group activities, an ongoing podcast, and a members-only forum.