LYNDONVILLE — At the two worship sites of Our Lady of the Lake Parish, a dedicated, strong group of parishioners has been meeting since March to discuss "Persuasive Pro-Life," by Catholic author Trent Horn, a guide for encouraging persuasive and productive discussion on the pro-life cause with those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. On Sept. 7, the group held a meeting at the parish's St. Patrick worship site in Lyndonville. It also regularly meets at the St. Joseph worship site in Barker.
In his book, Horn encourages a grassroots change of persuasive techniques to encourage people of any faith, or no faith, to change their hearts and minds about the topic of abortion. Each month, Our Lady of the Lake parishioners have engaged in activities and practiced scenarios that might come up in a discussion about the topic of abortion, and they hope it will encourage others in the diocese to do the same.
"This started in Maryland with my son and daughter-in-law. They are doing a book talk down there," said Linda Rak, pro-life coordinator of the St. Joseph site, who facilitates the group with Kathy Curry, her counterpart at the St. Patrick site. "The concept is that it's a grassroots movement, and that we change the hearts and minds of people about abortion. The idea is that it spreads, hopefully, around the country - our church has it, and then we persuade other churches to have it, and then it grows and moves."
In addition to the local parishioners of Our Lady of the Lake, the book discussion group also includes a selection of people from St. Mark Parish in Kendall and St. Mary in Holley, and Rak hopes they will also eventually host the discussions at their own parishes. Typically, the group leaders will assign chapters of the book to read, and then they will come together the following month to discuss them.
"Another technique that we came up with, that has been very effective, is everyone comes up with some scenarios from people who are pro-choice. We write them down on index cards, and then we come to our discussion and work with a partner. We discuss how we would talk to people, if they were saying this to us, how we would respond to them. We practice so that when we meet the people, we have some practice on how to talk to the people in a gentle, non-threatening way," Rak commented.
In "Persuasive Pro-Life," Horn, whom Rak described as a "very eloquent writer," discussed different types of people and their likely reactions to being confronted with information that does not mesh with their own beliefs. "He talks about what's at stake and how important it is for us to not only hold our beliefs ourselves, but to share this. He shares with us a gracious approach for doing this," she added. "He talks about different kinds of people: pragmatics, tolerant, distracters, skeptics, disqualifiers, concerned and conflicted people, and how you would deal with these different types of people."
Horn promotes the idea of always focusing the conversation on the question of who the unborn are, as this is the pro-life movement's bottom line on abortion. Rak suggested if they are truly human beings, then it would logically follow that no one would want to kill them. The book suggests that if it is unacceptable to kill a 2-year-old child, which should horrify people, one should not do this to a fetus, either.
"He gives us some varied techniques, and he also has some principles for doing this," said Rak. "His basic principles, in talking to people, are 'don't be weird,' 'make your evidence bulletproof,' 'use questions instead of statements,' 'actively listen' and 'agree whenever possible.'"
In finding this common ground, the goal of Horn's philosophy, and ultimately the book talks at Our Lady of the Lake, is to ensure people who otherwise would not agree on this controversial topic are able to meet in the middle while encouraging those who are pro-choice to change their minds. Rak ultimately hopes people will be able to promote this movement beyond Orleans County in the diocese.
"(Horn) goes on to show us that a fetus is a stage of human development, as is infancy, childhood and adolescence," Rak said. "Dependency isn't something that we lose just because we are born. We all have a level of dependency even after we are born, and throughout life. Horn shows that those aren't valid reasons for abortion and, again, bringing the argument around to, 'Who are the unborn?'"