Appealing to logic: a Socratic approach to the abortion issue from noted international pro-life speaker Stephanie Gray.
Cutting ties: a public school Board in Alberta cancels its sponsorship of a Christian school over the use of “offensive” Bible verses.
Overstepping authority: town workers in Ponoka, Alberta tried to shut down a pro-life flag display in spite of valid permits.
Transgenderism trumps family: a new survey shows how far some millennials are prepared to go in support of “transgender rights”, and the numbers are bad news for the family.
A public school board in Camrose, Alberta, has served notice that it’s going to cut ties with a small Christian school due to a controversy over the use of Biblical texts in the school curriculum. Alberta has a provision where Christian schools can apply to operate under the authority and operation funding of public boards, and part of that system includes an express understanding that the schools will be able to continue to further their Christian worldview.
But earlier this year, the Battle River School Division raised concerns that the Cornerstone Christian Academy in Kingman, Alberta, was including some Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality in its curriculum and promotional literature. The Board demanded that the material be dropped, which prompted a threat of a lawsuit from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in Calgary. Deanna Margel heads the parent group at Cornerstone, and she says the issue appeared to be resolved a few weeks ago with a joint agreement that the Battle River Board would not censor the reading or the teaching of the Bible at Cornerstone, and that the school would respect Board policy and legal requirements around the School Act and the Human Rights Act. Margel says “the controversy, at that point, was kind of over.” But she says the Board added a communications and media protocol addendum to the agreement, which would have placed “some major restrictions” on the school’s ability to effectively communicate with parents and the school’s supporting community. She says the parent council made it clear they couldn’t live with that addendum, and a few days later the School Board gave notice that it was cancelling the agreement and the relationship between the BRSD and the Cornerstone Academy.
The cancellation is effective in June of 2018, and Margel isn’t sure how this will play out. “We’re going to want to keep the school open one way or another,” she says, “and that may involve talking to other public divisions. There may be a provision to work with a different public school board.” She says there may be a possibility of moving forward by re-applying to the province to operate the Cornerstone Academy as a truly “private school” with no public board involvement, but she says there is “some fear that we would not be given a licence to do that.”
We Need a Law hosted a couple of pro-life flag displays over the Canada Day long weekend. One of them was in Ponoka, Alberta, and it involved a bit of controversy. As organizers were setting the display, crews from the town came along and removed a banner they had hung on a fence adjacent to the major highway that runs through the community. When organizers confronted the city workers over the action, they were told that the Town Hall had received complaints about the event. Once the city crews were shown the permits and paperwork which proved that the display was legally allowed, they put the banner back up.
We Need a Law’s Mike Schouten says this kind of attempt at censorship is becoming all too common. “People are looking to the state to just shut us up and the state thinks they can do that. They think they have the authority to do that, even when local groups have (all) the property permits in place; the insurance policies, etc.”
Beyond attempted state censorship, Schouten says there’s another common thread starting to emerge in the opposition they’re seeing at the flag displays. “Some of the most vocal opponents of what we’re doing are middle-to-later-aged men, like in the 40-to-60 year old range.” He says that may seem a bit surprising, but there may be a reason for that. “I think part of the reason (for that opposition) is because with abortion being completely legal at any stage for any reason… that actually makes it quite easy for men – when they find themselves in a relationship whereby a child is conceived – it’s just an easy solution for them (to) drive the woman to the abortion clinic, help make the appointments, and the ‘problem’ essentially goes away for them.”
There are plans for almost a dozen more flag displays in various communities throughout the country over the balance of the summer.
A new survey was released in the US last month, and it showed just how far society has moved on the issue of gender confusion. The poll focussed on “millennials” – generally people under 30 – and it found almost half of them would be OK with the notion that the government should take children away from parents if those parents refuse to affirm those children’s gender identities. Scott Masson is an Associate Professor of English at Tyndale University College in Toronto. He says the survey shows that traditional views of family are starting to change, especially in a certain segment of society. “It says that those that are most animated by issues that we would call ‘social justice’ are in favour of breaking into the family and its historic freedoms in order to justify the ends of what they would call ‘social justice’.”
He says the survey shows that respondents don’t have “any notion of what we would call ‘sphere sovereignty’.” Masson says the poll’s focus on millenials shows the impact that political correctness has had in the education system over the past 30 years. “I’ve been living with that in the university system ever since the 1980’s, and certainly it’s the case that millennials (have) experienced nothing but that. They’re not used to freedom of expression. If they find a view that they don’t like, they’re gonna have no tolerance for it.” He says that demographic is not bothered by the loss of liberty that we’ve seen in recent legislation in Canada, because “they never really thought those liberties really ought to exist as long as social injustice was being done.”
Stephanie Gray is an international speaker on the abortion/pro-life issue. Along with Jojo Ruba, she’s the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform in Calgary, and while she’s no longer formally with that organization, she still spends a lot of time presenting the pro-life cause to a wide variety of audiences. She started speaking publicly about the abortion issue at the age of 18, and she’s given more than 800 pro-life presentations across North America. Recently, one of those presentations caught our eye here at Lighthouse News.
LN: You speak to some pretty interesting groups. Most recently, you did a “Google Talk” down in California. Now, not everybody even knows what a “Google Talk” is or what it’s all about. Let’s start with some background on that.
SG: Well of course, we’re certainly all familiar with Google. We “google” things every day. And the company Google runs a program – initially for its staff – called Talks at Google, where they bring in speakers five days a week. And those presenters are invited to the Google campus essentially, and staff are invited to attend the various lectures, as well as staff who aren’t at that physical location; they’re invited to come in in an internal live-stream program where, from other Google offices around the world, they can watch these talks. And essentially they’re presentations by authors, scientists, actors, film-makers, and people of different backgrounds who come and present basically on their work, and their specialty, and what they do. And then, what Google does is they load these recordings generally to their YouTube channel, and that is how – kind of – word spread that I gave a Talks at Google presentation.
LN: Now Google isn’t exactly known as an organization that’s friendly to the pro-life cause. You know, we’ve all heard if you enter certain search terms there’s kind of a bias in terms of the way the search (results) come up. So I guess the real question is “how on earth did you get yourself invited to speak there?”
SG: That’s a good question. I know we can often have ideas about how certain companies or businesses are, and I have to say I was really impressed with Google in this whole process in which I worked with them. So what happened is, if you go to Talks at Google and watch various speakers, usually a Google staff member is introducing the speaker. So staff who work for Google can initiate the process for inviting a speaker. And so there happens to be a staff member at Google who was familiar with my work and reached out to me, and told me about the whole Talks at Google program, and asked if I would be willing to speak, and of course I said: “Well, I’m willing, but will they be willing on their end?” So I started looking into this Talks at Google program, and seeing the other speakers they’d brought in, and I was very impressed that Google has actually brought in speakers on the range of the political spectrum. Yes, they had just brought in – prior to me – Cecile Richards, the president of Planned of Parenthood. But they have also brought in major conservative Christian speakers like Francis Chan for example. So when I learned that, I thought, “OK, maybe they would be receptive.”
So, you know, I very much believe in speaking the language of your audience, so I crafted a description of my talk that spoke about what I speak on, but very much through the lens of the secular culture. I spoke about human rights, how I’d be appealing to the insights of Holocaust survivor Dr. Victor Frankl, and I proposed a talk description, and that was submitted and Google accepted it. And I found myself in April speaking at Google.
LN: I listened to that talk; I had a look at it online. In fact, we link to it the Lighthouse News homepage this week – it’s available here. And I shared it on social media, and in that share, I used the descriptor that kind of encapsulated for me what I took away from the talk. I said: “There is not a speck of religious presuppositionalism here. Just a clear, Socratic approach – a logical approach – to the abortion question.” And then I dared my pro-choice friends to interact with it. But I found it interesting that the whole argument was based on logic rather than appeals to any kind of morality. I honestly didn’t know – from watching the video – that your pro-life position is rooted, presumably, in your Catholic faith.
SG: Yes, so I mean certainly I would say I was making some assumptions. I was making the assumption that my listeners believed in human rights. I was making the assumption that my listeners believed in equality; that they believed in the basic moral principle that it’s wrong to directly and intentionally kill innocent human beings. However, I did not make explicit appeals to religion – as you pointed out, my Catholic faith, Christianity in general, or any other religious persuasion – because I know not everyone in the audience necessarily is convinced of that. And of course, we do need to evangelize the culture generally speaking, but I wasn’t there for that. I was there to speak on abortion, so I thought “OK, strategically, how do I package my message (so) that (it) essentially appeals to truth that God has written on all of our hearts?” As I said, the sense of equality, and justice. And so, in appealing to that, yes, I have found people to be open to it, and receptive to it. And in one of my proposals to Google as well was: “Yes, I’d be very much applying the Socratic method”, which – when I’m speaking to Christian audiences – I call Jesus’ method. Because if you look throughout the Scriptures, Jesus is continually asking questions when engaging people in conversation, but so did Socrates. And since I’m speaking to an audience broader than Christians, I thought “Well, then I’ll call it the Socratic method instead.”
LN: Is this the future of the pro-life movement? Do we need to move away from arguments about the morality of abortion – or, if you will, the immorality of abortion – and instead make the argument from a purely dispassionate, logical perspective?
SG: You know, I think we definitely need to make sure logic is very much involved in the appeal that we’re making. I think we do need to appeal to morality, but coming from the perspective that the people we’re speaking with can at least initially agree on. So the moral principle being grounded in, let’s say, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says everyone has the right to life. These are appeals to morality, but not necessarily appeals explicitly to religion. But we need to very much rely on logic, rely on reasoning, but understand that the human person is more than just our brains. Our hearts are involved as well. And hopefully you would have noticed as well in my presentation that in some of the stories I shared, while there was a lot of appeal to logic, there was also that appeal to the heart. Sharing, you know, the stories of people I’ve met who made very difficult decisions to carry pregnancies to term, such as a friend of mine who conceived as a result of rape at the age of 12 and did not abort that child. She did the right thing even though it was hard.
LN: So, back to the talk at Google. How was it received? Did you change any hearts or minds do you think?
SG: You know, I am confident based on the experience that I’ve had speaking to many people that hearts and minds would have been changed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t measure that in this particular setting, so I don’t have concrete examples. Normally, I survey my audiences and they, you know, fill out (a) questionnaire about their views on abortion before and after the talk, and in this setting I worked with the format of how Talks at Google always runs their presentations, which didn’t involve a type of survey afterwards that I was familiar with. But I did get good feedback from various people who heard the presentation and talked about friends that they knew who had also heard the presentation. Certainly, there’s some discussion going on now in the comments section under the presentations at the YouTube link.
LN: Final question. We keep hearing, politically at least, that “the discussion is over” on the life question. That the matter is settled. Given that attitude, do you see any positive possibilities for advancing this discussion particularly in the Canadian federal context?
SG: I would say, you know, the discussion is only “over” if we stop discussing it. I think the reality is as long as people like you and me are talking about the issue and forcing it into the limelight, then it will continue to be discussed. And therefore, absolutely, we can create opportunities. And that’s the key word. We create opportunities for it to be discussed, as well as for positive policy decisions to be made in the political sphere. And absolutely, we want to be working to make sure not only (that) abortion is unthinkable, but also that abortion is illegal.