Saturday, July 3, 2010

Incrementalism: An effective strategy?

While learning the actual arguments and detailed information about the life issues is extremely important and valuable, the Academy is also helping us learn effective communication skills and helping us to lay a foundation on which to put all these facts and figures.  What do I mean by this?

Let me try to explain through this analogy: say an incredibly brilliant guy knows everything there is to know about cars - specific information for hundreds of models, the fuel efficiencies of each kind, the year they were made, their safety ratings, etc, etc, etc. Is his knowledge useful in selling cars at the dealership if he stumbles all over his words, speaks with incoherent phrases, rattles off numbers in no logical order? No, of course not. Suppose however that he learns public speaking skills - how to speak clearly and concisely, how to express his opinions in a logical flow, how to use hand gestures to make a point... But the final piece of the puzzle before he can become effective in helping people buy the best car is an effective strategy. He wonders - "Should I be upfront, loud and coercive when I trying to convince people to buy the best choice in a vehicle? Should I always tell them my opinion upfront and then challenge them every time that they are wrong? I know that I am right." He tried this approach for awhile, but realized that he is not selling any cars. People got angry and frustrated at his absolutism and just walked away if their opinions didn't match his own. He tried a new strategy the next week: after meeting his new potential customer, he started by asking questions, trying to find common interests and building a relationship. He then began sharing pieces of information in a calm, clear way and then asked hard questions, slowly but surely leading the customer to decide for himself that this car was truly the perfect one!

While this analogy is definitely not a perfect one (and very silly!), I think it does convey the important message that we've been learning so much about. Its not enough to know a lot about pro-life issues, we must also have an effective strategy in how we will communicate that information.

A few days ago, we had a lecture entitled "What is National Right to Life Committee?" - given by a lady who has been working in the pro-life movement for over 30 years. She defined NRLC's strategy very clearly. First of all, it is broad-based, which means that it is not founded upon a particular denomination or political affiliation. It is clearly focused on a single issue - the right to life for all. This strategy has helped them unite all kinds of people from all over the country versus alienating potential allies. NRLC has affiliates in every state at the grassroots level that are completely autonomous entities. Every state looks like a little different and operate with different "tactics" but through NRLC, they share the broad, overarching vision and strategy, through Education, Legislation and Political Action. This is exactly when Jesus asked us to do in John 17 - "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one."

The other critical strategy of NRLC can be defined in one word: Incrementalism. They are willing to take the biggest step possible toward their goal versus waiting until the perfect path (or bill) comes along. For example, they fought for the Partial Birth abortion ban a few years ago and are currently fighting for a bill that would stop all abortion after 20 weeks (because of proven fetal pain). They sometimes get heavy criticism for conceding and not focusing on all their efforts on overturning Roe v Wade and stopping ALL abortions, but they would rather protect as many babies as possible, slowly chipping away at the foundation of pro-abortion agenda, moving closer and closer versus virtual inaction until Roe v Wade could be overturned.

They believe that this is an effective winning strategy because it has been proven in history to work.

We went on a field trip yesterday with Burke Balch - the resident genius in pro-life history among other things - to talk about Abraham Lincoln's strategy to save the Union and free slaves. We visited a statue of Abraham Lincoln - the first place to be named after him after his assassination.
We read about 10 first-hand documents - the speech that Fredrick Douglas gave at the inauguration of the statue, speeches and letters that Lincoln wrote, letters that were written to Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, etc, etc, etc. Lincoln was criticized in his day and still is for not taking a firm position on freeing the slaves. He even says in his Inaugural Address and in letters to the Editor that his interest is not in freeing the slaves but in saving the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves that were only in Southern states, and didn't even mention the slaves that were in the North (who actually in Lincoln's jurisdiction versus the Southern slaves). Fredrick Douglas, a staunch abolitionist, strongly rebuked Lincoln multiple times during his presidency.

HOWEVER, throughout the morning, we came to realize that Lincoln was not a man who flip-flopped on the issue of slavery because of a lack of convictions about freeing slaves based on human rights and equality. Instead, this seeming non-committal was his strategy. Let me explain: If Lincoln had always expressed his views on slavery and had made a point to clearly identify it as his goal from the beginning, the Union could not have been preserved. There were SO many opinions about slavery - even in the North - that he would not have had enough support to win the war and keep the country together. The result would have been that he could not have freed the slaves even if he wanted too since the South would have become their own country. He tried to unite as many people as possible, and slowly introduce the idea of freeing slaves, so that the end result would be freedom for all. Fredrick Douglas, at the end of the war, wrote that he had never met a man like Lincoln who treated a black man as a true equal and friend.

The Civil Rights Movement also operated under this incrementalist strategy. We learned about how the NAACP slowly fought for the rights of freed slaves. Even though the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments  abolished slavery and guaranteed equal rights and voting rights, the courts began defining that segregation was constitutional because they were "separate and equal" at the same time. Instead of trying to attack the fundamental issue (equal treatment for all) and fail because of the deeply rooted racism, the NAACP began slowly bringing up court cases that attacked smaller issues from shortly after the Civil War ended up until the 1950’s and 60’s. Finally in Brown vs the Board of Education, the courts granted that segregated but equal was really not possible, and they allowed black children to integrate into schools. This decision was the turning point for the Civil Rights movement. If the NAACP had not been willing to accept small victories for decades, this turning point would have probably never come.

The point to studying several other movement’s strategies was to give all of us a clearer picture of why NRL operates the way that it does, and to show us that this strategy can work. This question of incrementalism is an important and a difficult one - when is it okay to compromise and “settle” on a issue instead of fighting for the whole issue all at once? The Bible verse that kept coming to mind during the whole discussion was Matthew 10:16, “...Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”


  1. Wow, Abby! You really made some interesting points and gave me some things to think about. Thanks so much for helping us to learn along with you.

    Love you,

  2. from Mrs Jongeling:
    AMEN and AMEN! We all need to put on our "GOD glasses". Hope is not lost and we need to cast down doubt. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this battle can be won! As Christians we are victorious in CHRIST who is omnipotent! So, let's put on on spiritual armor and go to war! Keep standing for the LORD. Continue to claim GOD's promises and walk in them daily. Blessings,
    Mrs. Jongeling