I didn’t celebrate the morning of Friday, June 24th, when the news broke that Roe v. Wade was overturned. Though I am glad it was overturned (I think it was based on bad legal and ethical reasoning), I knew we had just ripped the bandage off deep wounds in American culture and in the church. Sure enough, within hours the most vocal pro-lifers were wanting us to host a victory parade, while pro-choice mainstream media outlets were sounding the alarm as if the apocalypse had just arrived.
I realized that divide was reflective of my audience. I also knew we couldn’t hide in a corner. As a show and station whose identity is built on being real and doing life with our listeners, how could we greet Monday morning with, “Well, how was your weekend? Yeah. . .the Lightning won a game!” Nope. We had to say something. After 28 years on the morning show, I was anxious. There would be no way to win on this one. Inevitably, whatever we said, we would disappoint both sides of the divide and would lose listeners and supporters.
After a lot of hand-wringing, thought and prayer (in that order, unfortunately), I figured out what to do. I would let my partners, Carmen and Dave, lead off, and I’d bat cleanup! (Sorry. I don’t know any hockey metaphors.) That’s what I did. Honestly, I had LOTS to say, but only one thing I knew I could contribute to the discussion that would be universal, truthful, and encouraging. Carmen led off with her disarming yet challenging honesty, acknowledging that we are sad that on the issue of abortion, the church feels divided. Dave added that where in the past this issue wouldn’t have been controversial for Christians, now it is. After they shared a bit more, I added my part—that the source of the division is ultimately not political, but spiritual, as Ephesians 6 suggests. As Christians we can both recognize the significance of this moment and lament that we have a battle to fight on our knees for the church and culture, and for women who are scared in light of this ruling.
In taking this tone, a tone of humility and dependence on the Lord in a moment that could have been gloating the landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, we were able to state our core conviction that we are FOR life and yet do it in such a way that most listeners were invited, educated, and challenged rather than scolded or pandered to. This was our attempt to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
This approach works for us, because we consistently challenge ourselves to be as real and honest with our listeners as our persona will allow. We do each play a “character” on the show: Carmen the southern belle, Dave the curmudgeon, Bill the absent-minded professor. But those characters are merely exaggerations of who we really are, and they developed organically rather than being cast in a predetermined formula. By staying close to our roles, we could discuss this with a wide-ranging audience, full of both liberals and conservatives, and we could speak truthfully without strident arrogance or cowering equivocation.
We lost one pro-choice supporter that morning. You can’t win ‘em all.
As important as the issue of abortion is—and I’m convinced it is a quasi-religious crusade, poisoning the heart of our nation—we must remember we are here to encourage, inform, even entertain our audiences. It’s our calling to speak to, not “at,” Democrats, Republicans, Pro-life crusaders who care little about the complexities of real families dealing with unwanted pregnancy, and Pro-choice Christians who see no conflict between believing we are all made in God’s image and advocating the destruction of that image in the womb with almost no restrictions. That’s who we’re talking to.
As a model for how to do that, I believe Jesus’ dealing with four women in the gospels provides a way forward. Each of these four women stood outside the religious establishment and the moral law. To the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), the demon-ridden Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-3), and the prostitute who offered him her tears (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus offered forgiveness, acceptance and love along with speaking the truth and requiring repentance. He confronted them in their blindness, false identity and immorality, yet he treated them with respect and dignity. Neither truth nor love was compromised in Jesus’ interaction with these women. He won their hearts by telling them the truth in a way they could hear and believe it.
In our context, in a culture that demands unconditional affirmation as proof of love, our Christian message must not veer from the biblical example of Jesus, which is the offer of forgiveness by grace, and then the power and responsibility to change a life. This is the gospel. Both of these—the offer and the responsibility—are actions of unconditional love which Jesus gives freely to sinners in order to redeem us. Unconditional love, not unconditional affirmation, is the way of truth and love offered to sinners. And let’s not forget that we are included in that lot. We aren’t morally superior. That needs to come across on the air and in social media conversations.
The post-Roe fights in the states have already heated up. This battle is far from over, and like it or not, we who are called to share our lives with an audience each day (and do most of the talking) are caught in the crossfire. We need wisdom. We need abundant grace, both to give and receive. And we need to learn to speak the truth in love, even with a microphone in our faces. That posture, it seems to me, is not only the most genuine, but also the most effective way to win hearts and bring encouragement without compromise to our listeners and supporters.
Bill Martin is morning co-host on “Morning Cruise” at The JOY FM in Tampa. Contact Bill at email@example.com