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Transforming Conversations with Common Ground

By Steve Wagner

Executive Director, Justice For All (jfaweb.org)


I’ve been a follower of Christ since a very young age, and as a teenager God kindled in me a strong desire to make a difference and help people come to know Him. But how? Paul hints at an approach in Colossians 4:5-6: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” 

I don’t know if showing sympathy when we’re interacting with hurting people is what Paul had in mind in this passage, but after working for more than 20 years to regularly engage non-Christians on topics God cares about, I’ve seen the simple moment of showing concern to be one of the most significant things we do that turns a debate into a dialogue and helps people open their hearts to the truth.

But just before Paul admonishes us to “let our speech always be with grace,” he emphasizes an even more important tool for opening the hearts of outsiders: “devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” Pray; be thankful; then season your words with salt. I’m suggesting as we depend on God through prayer, use common ground as one tool that seasons our words with salt and opens hearts. (See an example of Paul doing this in Acts 17.)

Here’s one example I shared with the crowd of about 200 attending Oregon Right to Life’s recent “Together We Advocate” Conference in Tualatin: A volunteer at one of our events was standing near me talking with a woman who had come up to sign our poll. After discussing for a few minutes whether the unborn is a valuable human being, the woman said, “My aunt died because she could not get an abortion.” The volunteer responded by noting something she had said earlier about the unborn being too dependent to count. He completely missed an opportunity to help the woman open up to his concern for the unborn: by showing concern for her.

This well-meaning volunteer could have used common sense to find common ground: “I’m sorry that happened. It sounds like your aunt was very important to you; that's tragic.” Yes, it’s important at some point to clarify that there is a lot of misinformation about pregnancy complications and there is another human being who is being forgotten when we simply jump to abortion as the “of course” solution in these situations. But it doesn’t hurt anything if I start by saying, “Wow, that is really tough and I’m sorry you had to deal with that.” That moment of sympathy goes a long way to turning a debate into dialogue, to turning someone who seems like an enemy into someone who is a partner in finding truth. (You can read more about this story at www.jfaweb.org/dec-2014.)

Common ground. I don’t want the conversation to end there, but it’s got to begin there.


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For more about Justice For All, including free training materials to help you learn to engage in productive dialogue on abortion, see www.jfaweb.org. For more about Steve Wagner, see www.jfaweb.org/steve-wagner. Find JFA on YouTube and Instagram through the handle @picturejusticeforall.

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