Christ and Pop Culture’s writers are pro-life, but when 180 began to go viral, we found ourselves at odds about the film. Is Ray Comfort’s signature socratic style a model for Christians to follow when debating the issue with other Christians? More crucially, does every Christian have a responsibility to post videos like this on their Facebook walls so that their non-Christian friends can watch and learn from them? On the other hand, is the video too flawed to support in any way? In order to try and answer some of these questions we commissioned two regular writers to watch the video and grapple with these questions.
An Imperfect Message Framed by an Unloving Method, by Alan Noble
I am glad that Comfort works so hard to share the Gospel and confront the serious problem of abortion. I am confident that God will use them to accomplish His good work. That said, I also think that the 180 movie is poorly conceived and could very well be a hinderance to our witness, particularly in the area of abortion. In addition, I reject the notion that Christians are forbidden from criticizing (in love, naturally) fellow believers in their work.
To begin with, the content of the movie is rhetorically flawed. Take one example: Nazis. As Justin Taylor has discussed, the film’s evocation of Hitler and the Nazis is, at the very least, a bad rhetorical decision; I suspect that many viewers of 180 will tune out immediately after seeing Hitler.
However, there is a more fundamental problem: the movie works under a false concept of the human person and how we form beliefs. Comfort’s method of discussing abortion is to engage people on the street with a series of questions meant to reveal their prior moral commitment to the sanctity of life, and then to force them to admit that if they would preserve life in one situation, then they must logically preserve it in another; therefore, they should oppose abortion.
But this method assumes that our beliefs are essentially logically determined cognitive positions. In reality, our beliefs are shaped by our culture, biology, families, experience, and our reasoning. Attempts to argue someone to a Pro-Life position using socratic questions and abstract thought-experiments are misguided because they disembody the issue and the other person by focusing entirely on drawing the interviewee into a logical trap. Such arguments fail to acknowledge the complex way a low view of human life is intricately woven into our entire cultural system.
In Comfort’s case, the conversations are even more disembodied since the interview scenarios are so contrived. We don’t see raw documentary footage of serious dialogues about abortion between friends. Rather, the interviews typically involve Ray Comfort posing challenging questions to a stranger who has a camera and microphone awkwardly stuck in his or her face. Is it any wonder that some of these people “change” their beliefs?
Aside from the content, I am also concerned about the way the film as been marketed as a viral YouTube video. Comfort has been asking his followers to share and promote the video, even going so far as to urge them to “save lives” (or something to that effect) by using the 180 logo as their Facebook image. But we ought to ask whether or not this medium is really appropriate.
Is a 30-minute video posted on your Facebook page really a reasonable and effective way to publicly address abortion, probably the most controversial topic in our culture? Can a YouTube video accurately, thoughtfully, and fairly present the moral problems with abortion? I believe that their method borrows more from the secular advertising industry than the Great Commission, and that this mistake can lead to seriously uncharitable and counter-productive exchanges. For example, a few days after 180 was released, a number of Christians spammed the Planned Parenthood Facebook page with links to the movie. The administrators kept deleting the posts, but Christians continued to post them, encouraging each other to spam the page.
Of course this was done by what I assume was a small group of overzealous Christians who don’t represent the intentions of Comfort. But, my point is that the marketing strategy that they encouraged and the medium of their message naturally lend themselves to this kind of Internet warfare. Faux-documentaries do not encourage open discourse; they encourage partisan posturing. Viral marketing encourages “fans” to promote a product without restraint or discernment. Spamming a Facebook Page with a Pro-Life faux-documentary does not create a good impression of the kindness, reasonableness, or love of Christians.
In general, most Christian attempts to address abortion have focused on two strategies: make abortions illegal and/or convert people so that they oppose abortion from their hearts. The 180 movie uses both methods. Comfort seems to be trying to convert people in order to help win support for outlawing abortion. But I’d like to suggest that our task is much broader: we must make an effort to create a culture that promotes life at every level.
Instead of merely fighting for the sanctity of life in the extreme cases (euthanasia and abortion), we need to promote it in the more mundane, typical ways. We need to ask ourselves some difficult questions about our cultural habits and values and what we can do to effect them:
How do we celebrate pregnancy and childbirth in our communities, including those among the poor and unmarried?
How can we embody the sanctity of life and the beauty and goodness of children among those most likely to seek abortions?
How can we oppose the cultural view that poor children are insignificant and a burden to our society?
How can we challenge the individualism in our cultural practices that provides the philosophical foundation for abortion?
How can we provide for the hundreds of thousands of orphans that would be born if women stopped seeking abortions?
How can we alter the current economic and civic system so that single parents are able to care for their children?
What kinds of laws will reduce all abortions, not just legal ones?
The answers to these questions will give Christians a firm foundation to work against abortion, because to answer these questions we must view our public witness as broad and complex, as opposed to confining it to politics or disembodied witnessing.
I am grateful for Ray Comfort’s work, but I hope that we might learn more charitable, effective, and loving methods of sharing the Gospel and opposing abortion.
Flawed But Helpful, by Brad Williams
I found out about Ray Comfort’s 180 video through the internet rumor pipeline. I am fairly familiar with Ray Comfort and The Way of the Master materials, so I made a mental note to check the video out when I got the chance. When the video went viral on the internet, I figured that I should take a look sooner rather than later.
I went into the video thinking that it would be an evangelistic video, and while it has evangelistic elements, that is not the main thrust of the production. The main purpose of the video is to serve as an apologetic against abortion, and in order to do that, Comfort compares abortion in America to the holocaust of World War II.
I admit that I was shocked by this video, and I am not easily shocked. First, I was shocked to find that Ray Comfort is Australian. How have I missed this? My next shock was that there are people out there who have no idea who Adolf Hitler is. I simply cannot understand this since Hitler and the Nazis come up in every single comment section on Yahoo per Godwin’s Law. After I recovered from those two initial shocks, I settled in to see where Comfort was going with his questions.
I admired a lot of what I saw in the video. My admiration centers mostly around Ray Comfort’s bravery and craftiness, and I mean crafty in a good way. It isn’t everyone who is willing to call someone a lying, fornication, blasphemous sinner to their face, and it is even rarer that a guy is crafty enough to get someone else to admit he is right. Ray Comfort is able to do both without getting punched. That is no easy feat.
As I watched this video of Ray Comfort doing what he does, it brought up an uncomfortable dilemma for me. What exactly am I supposed to do with this video? This led me to a greater question: What should I do about abortion? What is my responsibility? 180 demonstrates what Ray Comfort and Way of the Master do all the time, and I, for one, am glad for it. But what am I supposed to do?
I am a pro-life Christian. I support the local Crisis Pregnancy Center. I agree with Ray Comfort that abortion is a holocaust. I once begged a young girl who was pregnant with twins not to terminate the pregnancy. My wife and I, with tears, pled with her for her babies. We swore to her before Almighty God that we would raise them as our own, and if that wasn’t agreeable, we said we would find a home for them. She moved away, and we soon got word that she had “lost” both babies. I grieve for those children, even as I write this, because I would have taken them as my own. I would have loved them and given them a home.
So yes, we may point out that Ray Comfort’s tendency to argue unsuspecting, ignorant people into an logical cul-de-sac is unfair. It may offend us that he uses Nazis and Hitler to drive his point home. But I will not blame one person for linking that video or another one like it. I know the feeling of helplessness that one feels in the face of an atrocity that has claimed 50 million lives already, and more go into the disposal every day that abortion is legal. Every day, another woman succumbs to the Satanic lie that children are an inconvenience or that death is preferable to poverty.
What else can I do? Go to jail for peaceful abortion clinic sit ins? Should our church make more propaganda videos? If I did, I certainly would not go over to Planned Parenthood’s website and spam it with a hundred links to my new video. I do not think that spamming propaganda will win hearts and influence people towards Christ’s gospel or a pro-life stance, as spam is universally condemned as a terrible sin.
Here’s what I am determined to do: propagate of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reason that people murder children in the womb or grown-ups on the street isn’t because they don’t know God’s Holy Law. No one needs Ray Comfort to tell them that murder is bad. The real problem is that people are dead in trespass and sin. The real problem is that people’s consciences are seared by sinfulness. People don’t need Jesus as a parachute. We need Jesus to raise us from the dead. We don’t need a little help. We need a Savior.
Preaching the gospel is not a cop-out, and it’s not an either/or proposition. It is both/and. If you believe that linking 180 is part of that resistance; link away.