Josh Brahm is a straight, Christian, pro-life campaigner from California. Deanna Unyk is a gay atheist college student from Canada who was a pro-choice blogger.
They have become best friends.
It happened over the course of 127 lengthy emails and more than 20 hours on Skype. Unyk became pro-life in May and the two have continued their surprising alliance. They had not met face-to-face until a Nov. 17 talk at the University of Portland.
Voice for Life, the pro-life club at UP, received grants to bring the two on campus for a dialogue. Here is their message: truly listening to people with other opinions is not a betrayal, but a path to truth.
Almost two years ago, Unyk emailed Brahm and asked him a long list of questions and made her pro-choice case in a long essay: women ought not be forced to be “life support machines” for unborn babies.
“I had this notion that I was right all the time,” Unyk says. “I thought if I said just the right things, people would come over to my side. Or, I thought they were just idiots.”
Unyk says she never took the time to really examine her views.
Brahm was similar. “I once had a very jerky attitude about pro-choice people,” he says.
But during a long Facebook debate over abortion with several dozen people, Brahm found himself liking some of the pro-choicers, even if he hated their positions. He decided to listen.
“I learned to humanize pro-choice people,” he says. “I got to know them.”
He has found the new stance more fruitful. The more he listens to others, the more they listen to him.
Unyk began watching Brahm’s YouTube channel. Here was a pro-lifer who understood the pro-choice side, without backing down on his own convictions. She sent her email.
Though he believed she was wrong, he could tell she was “fiercely intelligent.”
They exchanged ideas in the digital realm for more than a year and a friendship grew. When Unyk’s grandmother died, Brahm comforted her.
“Besides the fact that Deanna was pro-choice and lesbian and in Canada, we were practically twins,” says Brahm, a married father of three who believes marriage is a union of one man and one woman.
“You simply will have a greater impact on people you are friends with,” he says. “We should argue to learn, not win.”
Unyk changed her views, but not because Brahm pounded them at her. It was the gentle, compassionate logic of the pro-life view that eventually made sense.
She realized there is a big difference between letting someone die and actively killing a human being. This woman who long argued for bodily rights began to see that dismembering an unborn child is obviously the most serious of bodily violations. Unyk thought of her sister, who has Down syndrome, and realized that many babies with the genetic disorder are aborted.
Brahm gets criticized by many pro-lifers who find him soft on the cause. He points to Unyk as the fruit of his approach.
“You know there are pro-life people who think of pro-choice people as those who hate babies and just love to have sex,” Brahm says. “And on the pro-choice side you have people who think pro-lifers are a bunch of grumpy old-timers who think women should not be working and only should be sitting around breastfeeding twins. That describes almost no one on either side. You know, I think we should just love people.”
Unyk says it became impossible to think of Brahm as evil or ignorant.
“It’s important to talk to smart people on the other side, or else you are not advancing the strength of your own views,” Unyk says. “It turns a battle into a dialogue.”
Unyk and Brahm have tips for pro-lifers who want to be more effective: don’t call anyone names, be open minded, listen genuinely, share personal information, be patient and reflect on what your interlocutor says.
“Treat the person like a person, not a project,” Brahm explains. “I want the pro-life movement to be known for its love.”