Front-line activists face opposition with grace
CLEMSON—Members of Clemson’s Students for Life group provided a valuable lesson on how to handle controversy after one of their pro-life displays was vandalized recently.
The group had set up a large exhibit called Cemetery of the Innocents, which contained more than 100 white crosses in memory of children lost to abortion.
This year, the message was met with aggressive opposition. One night, an unknown person or persons pulled up all the crosses, tossed them in a pile, and left hand-written signs behind.
It was a disturbing and upsetting act of vandalism, but Students for Life responded in a manner befitting the message of Christ.
The group filed a report with Clemson campus police, but did not retaliate in anger or engage in personal attacks. Devin Gibson, president of Students for Life, stressed that they believe all life is sacred.
“Our group continues to offer prayers for the person or people that committed the vandalism and for those who might have been affected or disturbed by the act,” she said. Kathy Schmugge, director of the diocesan Office of Family Life, praised the group’s response.
“I was really impressed with their Christian spirit in the face of the attack,” she said, adding that it’s a good lesson to carry to the upcoming March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January.
Holly Gatlin, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, said vandalism is an extreme reaction, but pro-life activists must always be prepared to defend their right to free speech, assembly and religion.
Everywhere they go, they will encounter opposition, Gatlin said, and they must know how to respond in a courteous manner and use strategies of debate. For example, ask the attacker why they oppose freedom of speech, or what has happened in their life to make them so angry.
“Our goal is to win them over,” she said. “However, there are those who are never going to get it, and you have to just let them go.”
Schmugge offered three suggestions for handling vocal or hostile opposition to the message of life, family or marriage:
1. Begin and end in prayer.
2. Do not engage in personal attacks.
3. Remember you are representing Christ, and be respectful and loving.
Quoting from Rich Warren, she said “those who attack you are not the enemy; they are our mission field.”
Gibson said the vandalism has only left them more motivated.
“Although we are a very non-confrontational group, we are very on fire for life. We are more determined than ever to continue holding events on campus,” she said