Some pro-life groups and inviduals have criticized Focus on the Family’s Tim Tebow Superbowl ad and Yellow Line Studio’s faux-reality drama series “Bump” as not going far enough. I asked Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, how he felt about such efforts in the context of pro-life work overall. Here’s what he had to say.
There’s been a fair amount of controversy over the approach of Focus on the Family’s Tim Tebow Superbowl commercial and Yellow Line Studio’s faux-reality show “Bump+”. Do you see a place for such efforts in the broad scope of pro-life work?
Yes. The reason is, first of all, the commandment is against killing and compromising with killing, not against soft ads or approaches. We need to be wise and prudent and know our audiences. The Tebow ad was a victory in that the ad was shown.
I think that one of the things that is helpful for our people to understand, and this is traditional Catholic teaching, is the difference between positive and negative commandments. Negative commandments, such as ‘do not kill’ are absolute. Positive commandments, such as ‘do good’ or ‘preserve life’ or ‘protect your health’ admit of different degrees and limits. While I have an obligation to preserve my health, does that mean that I need to set up an exercise room in my own house or shop only at health food stores? These things vary and there is a lot of room for discretionary judgment. It’s the same thing with the whole pro-life effort.
How strong does a pro-life ad have to be? There’s no norm for that. Imagine all of the negotiations that had to take place with CBS to air the commercial. You get the best things you can get under the circumstances. I was delighted with the ad. Could it have been stronger? Of course, but could it have been stronger under the circumstances?
Are there other examples of softer approaches which have had success?
A lot of the efforts of the pro-life movement in general could be described in this way – television ads with different degrees of intensity, newspaper ads from National Right to Life, or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Second Look Project. Their message to the people was, ‘Have we gone too far?’ Of course we have, but the point in advertising is where is the mind of the people and how do we best reach them where they are at?
All of these campaigns have had success. The Tebow ad shouldn’t be considered outside of the norm of what the movement has been doing in reaching the audiences where they are.
How do you feel about web-based drama series “Bump+”?
“Bump+” is a great service to the pro-life movement. “Bump+’s” target audience is not the pro-life community. It is trying to reach the vast number of citizens whose attitude toward abortion can best be described as conflicted. “Bump+” is not a forum for an abortion debate. The point here is to help viewers hear and feel both sides of the issue through stories. This is simply a conversation, not a condoning of abortion. We need to bring people through the conversation through stories. Jesus was a storyteller. You tell a story and let people connect with that. We do this through our Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
The big benefit for people in the middle is that “Bump+” helps people get beyond the slogans. Slogans can contain a lot of truth and grace, but they can also shut down thinking. If you can get people beyond slogans, that is a big benefit.
On the pro-life side of the coin, we have to make sure that we’re not just articulating arguments, but that we can feel with those who are facing the decision and the temptations that lead one toward abortion. This doesn’t mean that the decision should be anything other than choosing life, but the more we understand them, the better we will be able to help them.