Born and raised in California, Jonathan Wagner grew up in a loving, Christ-centered home. Even in middle school, he developed a passion for reaching people with the love of Christ. He attended Azusa Pacific University (APU), majoring in Business Administration. While at APU, however, the Lord led him in a different direction. He started a club called “Defending Human Value” (DHV), which focused on empowering his college peers to graciously communicate the truth about abortion. This helped him grow as a pro-life advocate and gave him more experience in training others to be effective ambassadors for Christ. It also gave him the opportunity to go on a few outreach trips with the pro-life organization, Justice For All (JFA). Jonathan later decided to become a full-time JFA staff member, which brought him to Wichita, Kansas. With a ready smile and people-loving personality, Jonathan strives to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he mentors and reaches out to others.
Q. You believe abortion should be illegal. Why?
I believe that abortion should be illegal because abortion always takes the life of an innocent human being. The scientific evidence for the humanity of the unborn is conclusive. A just society would give protection to these humans just like it does to any newborn, toddler, or young adult. For more on this, see my articles, “Biology 101 at the JFA Outreach” and “One Conversation Reaches an Entire Campus.”
Q. When did you first become aware of the abortion issue? When did you first become passionate about it?
In 8th grade a teacher of mine said that the abortion issue was too complicated and that it would never be resolved. I didn’t have an answer to his assertion so I became passionate about understanding the abortion issue and discussing it with my peers and teachers. My parents had instilled an understanding of the value of all human beings in me from an early age, so that helped fuel and sustain my passion for justice.
My brother Stephen, JFA’s current Director of Training, was a Bioethics Speaker for Stand To Reason during this time, and that organization helped my family and friends grow as ambassadors for Christ. Stephen mentored me as a pro-life advocate and helped me present the truth about abortion to my Christian club during my senior year. This all coincided with God giving me an urgency through several passages of Scripture. Proverbs 24:10-12, James 1:27, Psalm 82:3-4, and Psalm 139 convicted me deeply about the value of human life and the urgency we should have to stop injustice and serve the weak. Colossians 4:5-6, James 1:19, 1 Peter 3:15-16, and 2 Timothy 2:22-25 gripped me with an understanding of how to act and speak while seeking to defend the oppressed or share truth. God was clearly starting to open doors for me to defend the unborn and for me to use the issue of abortion, along with my interactions with hurting men and women, as springboards for the Gospel. I grew in my understanding of the best pro-choice and pro-life arguments and saw positive results as I tried to challenge the abortion injustice through personal conversations.
When I moved to Kansas to work with JFA, I continued to grow as a pro-life ambassador by training JFA volunteers to dialogue, building training relationships with schools and churches, planning outreach events, and helping JFA staff members with their fundraising. After about eighteen months I realized that I had found my passion: working to stop the abortion injustice until it ends. I am determined to help JFA accomplish its mission. I am willing to travel a lot, endure long trips, stay in host homes, and interact with all sorts of people. I also realized that we had an opportunity to succeed and change the face of the pro-life movement and of abortion. I have now been in Wichita for five years and am committed to work indefinitely for Justice For All. I know we can help make abortion unthinkable for millions of people across our country and around the world. For more on this, see my letter, “Why Is Jon Wagner Leaving California for Two Years?”
Q. Tell us about Justice For All. What is the organization’s primary function?
Justice For All trains thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, one person at a time. We believe that it is necessary to change hearts and minds about abortion through one-to-one conversations. Most people are not trained for these discussions, so we train thousands of people each year to listen, ask good questions, acknowledge sound points others make, and to give reasons for their pro-life views with boldness and grace. Our “Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue” training helps people refocus on the humanity of the unborn, share information about biology, and reason philosophically to defend the unborn. Our training includes outreach because we know that people need to practice in order to learn how to dialogue.
We know that if defending the unborn in healthy discussions is not a priority then no significant change can happen in the hearts of Americans or people worldwide. JFA equips people not to be silent or unloving in their response to abortion (typical Christian responses) but instead to be gracious and persuasive ambassadors for Christ on the issue. For more on this, see Justice For All’s website.
Q. Tell us more about how you first got involved in Justice For All?
God opened the doors, and I couldn’t ignore the opportunity to share His love and truth. In 2005 I went with four other DHV club members to my first Justice For All (JFA) mission trip in Texas. Our team joined JFA’s “Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue” seminar and JFA’s campus outreach at UT Austin and UT San Antonio (UTSA). I was amazed by the opportunity we had for dialogue with people from various backgrounds and by the opportunity to change hearts and minds about abortion. Our team members grew as individuals as well. Some of us who were more direct and loud (like me) learned to be more patient and gracious. A few members who were more quiet and reserved learned to step out in faith as bold ambassadors for the truth. Needless to say, I was hooked from day one. I had been studying the issue of abortion since my freshmen year of high school and had now learned how to put my faith, knowledge, and people skills into action. We were reaching others with meaningful conversation, one person at a time.
Our team took a second mission trip the next year just after I graduated from APU in 2006. By that time I was convinced that before I did any other job, I was going to challenge our culture on the issue of abortion. JFA’s Director, David Lee, told me that I could join the team for a two-year internship by raising my salary and coming to Wichita, Kansas. It took me roughly five months to raise the support, and in February of 2007 I started with JFA. For stories from these mission trips and my start with JFA, see “What I Learned During My Trip With Justice For All” (2005), “My Long-Term Commitment (Part I),” and “My Long-Term Commitment (Part II).”
You are a “mentor” with Justice For All. What does that role entail?
As a mentor I help our trained volunteers through the “Seat Work” (seminar) and “Feet Work” (outreach) parts of our training program. I usually work with a group of six to ten people. We dig into the material, sort through questions, and I equip that group for what they’ll face in a real conversation on abortion. As a mentor I often take the pro-choice position and challenge my group to respond graciously. Role-play activities are an important part of JFA training. They help us understand what different people believe, and they allow us to practice talking through specific challenges that may come up in conversation. During outreach, I model good conversations for my small group and encourage them to start their own conversations. After the outreach, I continue to encourage them, answer their questions, and motivate them to actively engage others in dialogue. For more on this, see my articles, “Raising the Bar in Oklahoma (Part II)” and “Developing Heroes Instead of Spectators (Part I).”
Q. Pro-life organizations and advocates are often negatively stereotyped. When many people think of the pro-life movement, they think of angry picketers. But Justice For All is a different kind of organization that speaks out of love. Describe Justice For All’s approach to the abortion issue.
We do seek to share the truth in a gracious way. We try to meet people where they are and we try to not be threatened by, annoyed at, or judgmental of them. Our goal is to make sure that the only negative thing about any conversation regarding abortion, any outreach, or any seminar is the truth about abortion itself. We can’t change the fact that abortion is a horrific injustice. When we show pictures, we are attempting to balance love for people (including the unborn) and truth about people (including the innocence of the unborn, the bad news of our sinful condition, and the good news of salvation in Christ). We train all our volunteers to have compassion toward everyone they meet and to become good listeners. We teach that it isn’t our job to tell others what to think or to tell them that their beliefs are stupid. We instead want to ask others what they think and why, to join them in their world, to seek genuine common ground, and to share the truth as often as possible in that context. For more, see my article, “Perhaps It Was the Picture.”
Q. Describe the variety of responses you receive at an average Justice For All exhibit on a college campus.
We get a lot of different responses including sadness, curiosity, silence, apathy, anger, and obnoxious behavior. Some people are also quite thankful for us. I would say that most people, even the ones who start out angry, are able to calm down once they realize that we are genuinely open to discussing the issues. Many people are simply frustrated that we are discussing the issue at all, so they try to thwart conversation by yelling or blowing kazoos at the crowd of people engaging in discussion. When this happens, even most pro-choice onlookers are ashamed and thank us for being willing to calmly discuss important topics, despite our differences. In the end, people that started out silent oftentimes end up sharing their opinions. Those who were angry, oftentimes leave quiet, subdued, and thoughtful. Those who are obnoxious oftentimes realize the value of the discussion, and those who were hurting often leave with hope of the healing that is found in Christ. Many others stay angry or apathetic, and we continue to pray for them.
For more on this, see the OU Daily’s article, “Our View: Photos Good For Debate Despite Discomfort,” the OU Daily’s article, “Point/Counterpoint: Did Opposing Groups Promote Civil Dialogue During Justice For All Exhibit?” and this video interview with a protester at OU.
Q. Justice For All has been condemned for displaying graphic images in its exhibits. How would you respond to this?
We hate the pictures too. Still, pictures show the truth about abortion in a way words never could. We feel that it is important for people to have all of the facts, and we believe that women and men are strong enough to view the results of a very common and legal medical procedure. I often ask people whether they are angrier by the fact that we are showing abortion or by the fact that abortions are happening thousands of times each day. Most people respond by admitting that it would not make sense for them to be against the pictures but for the practice of abortion. We know the pictures of abortion refocus the discussion, cutting through rhetoric that misleads people about the injustice. We also have good conversations with people who turn away from the pictures or when the pictures aren’t present. Our arguments stand on their own, but the pictures help many people gain perspective.
Q. Justice For All works to prevent abortion, but what would your message be to a woman who has already had an abortion?
I would say, “The abortion doesn’t need to define you.” We want to reach women (and men) who have experienced abortion with the forgiveness and grace that Christ has shown us. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 calls us to help people see that there is new life in Christ and that Christ is eager to reconcile the world to Himself through His selfless sacrifice. We seek to share these truths, listen earnestly to people, pray with them if they are open to it, and connect them with a local Pregnancy Resource Center (www.optionline.org) for more counseling and post-abortive support groups. We know that many women who have had abortions will be troubled by our display and won’t desire to engage us on the topic of abortion, but we know those who will can find healing.
We also know that many abortions are repeat abortions, so our goal is to help post-abortive men and women avoid making the same mistake in the future. Some need encouragement to sort through the challenges that caused them to seek abortion. Others need to understand the facts about the humanity of the unborn and develop true convictions about abortion. We know that post-abortive people are often the best at helping others choose against abortion so we are very thankful when we reach women who are willing to share their story and help others choose life. For more on this, see my articles, “Helping Kim Find Healing,” and “Abby Will Never Be the Same.”
I encourage average Christians to prayerfully study the abortion injustice and to take an honest look at the passages of the Bible I cited earlier about helping the defenseless, the value of human life, and reaching the unsaved. I’d urge them to stay constant in prayer. BUT I’d also urge them to get out there! We need to free these oppressed people and love the lost through Christ’s strength and grace… RIGHT NOW (see 2 Timothy 2:1-3).
There were two challenges I was given over the years that I simply couldn’t ignore. One was from bioethics speaker, Scott Klusendorf, and one was from my brother, Stephen. Scott said that anyone could “push play” on a DVD player. By this he meant that everyone, no matter how busy, can share the truth about abortion in a gracious way with their family, friends, neighbors, and local groups. I suggest using Abort73’s “This Is Abortion” video and website. My brother Stephen helped me see that anyone can have effective dialogue on abortion. His life and book, Common Ground Without Compromise, were both great examples for me in this area. Everyone, no matter how busy, can listen well, ask challenging questions, affirm good points made by the opposition, and share the truth as the opportunity arises.
For more on this, see my articles, “Living Out My Responsibility,” and “Developing Heroes Instead of Spectators (Part III),” and “How Would the Good Samaritan Respond?”
Q. What would you say to encourage other Christians who want to engage their culture with the message of Christ?
First, we all must truly be devoted to Christ. Genuine outreach starts with being fully committed to Christ and His principles. Matthew 6:33a states, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” We teach principles from Stand To Reason in our seminar. Stand To Reason calls ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) to focus on knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method), and character (an attractive manner). We need to understand what the Bible teaches about things like sin, faith, the value of life, and our purpose as human beings so that we can represent Christ well. My view is that Christians should continue to learn the truth, but that part of that learning process should include sharing it graciously with others. Too many of us are waiting until we know everything before we share anything and because of that, we don’t learn all we can about God’s faithfulness, goodness, and compassion. Most people have a heartfelt opinion on abortion and most people have heartfelt opinions about God, the Bible, and religion. Many are open to dialogue when we graciously engage. Let’s get out there and meet these valuable yet lost and dying souls with truth. For more on this, see my articles, “Best Email in 5 Years!” and “Becoming Effective in Everyday Life.”
To give a gift to Justice For All in support of Jon Wagner’s work, use JFA’s Donate page and specify your gift designation as “Jon Wagner – 18.” Or, download this pledge form, fill it out, and send it to:
Justice For All
113 N. Martinson
Wichita, KS 67203