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A Debate 'Post-Mortem'

By the editor of Fig Leaf Forum

They say forgiveness warms the heart and cools the sting, and they're right! I thank God for the author of "Does God Approve Of My Sin?", and especially for the preacher of his church. Thanking God for these two brothers might sound strange in light of all that's transpired, but I really do feel that way about them! After all, if it had not been for the author's ill-informed article, and the preacher's unyielding insistence that we debate social nudism, I might never have experienced this unique form of discourse, and I would have been the poorer for it.

It seems to me that debating is an art, a science and, at times, something resembling a street brawl. It's not for the intellectually lazy, the thin-skinned, the easily-riled or the faint of heart. Debating is tough, slogging work. It's also a realm for the gifted, I think, and I remain uncertain whether either I or the preacher possess that gift. I suppose that's for you, the reader, to determine.

I want to share some comments about this debate, and about debating in general — some insights discovered; some behind-the-scenes stories revealed; some further thoughts about my opponent's more interesting gambits. I hope they'll add some real-life "depth" to the debate you've just read. I also hope they'll be helpful to those of you who may one day find yourselves in a similar situation, facing the crucible of vigorous debate. I'll conclude my comments with a few thoughts about the whole notion of "Christian" debate.

I'll begin with a frank admission. I knew from the outset that this debate was not going to result in any positive utterances from the preacher about social nudism. Even if by some miracle I were to succeed in convincing him of certain truths from the Bible concerning voluntary non-sexual public nakedness, I knew he could never acknowledge that fact. After all, at his insistence the debate was to be posted on the Internet for all to see. For any "conservative" preacher to publicly make a concession to the arguments of a nudist — even if those concessions were Scripturally valid — would most certainly result in immediate termination from their post within the church, and perhaps even expulsion from their congregation. Such are the "Christian" times that many of us still live in. When it came to being open to correction concerning the Biblical truths underpinning Christian nudism, by his own design the preacher had placed himself "between a rock and hard place," as the saying goes, with no way out except brutal and costly honesty.

As for the author of "Does God Approve Of My Sin?" and thus the catalyst behind this debate, I never did hear from him. Strange. One would think an author would be the very first to defend his own work. Why did the preacher have to do it for him? Odder still was the fact that while the preacher so vehemently contended that "lust is the core problem with social nudism," the author never even mentioned it in his article against Christian nudists. How can that be if it's so critically important to this issue? Perhaps one day he'll contact me with an explanation.

I must admit that I was totally unprepared for the intricacies of debate. Unlike the preacher, a veteran debater who admitted to having "Been there, done that (many times!)," I knew virtually nothing about debate, and had never engaged in one. I soon learned that there was much more to debating than simply agreeing to debate. A proposition had to be formulated. Definitions needed to be struck. Guidelines had to be established. Actually, I found the process of negotiating those guidelines no less frustrating than the debate itself has been. I offer this one small glimpse into the process to show why.

The preacher and I had a great deal of difficulty agreeing upon word limits and the number of exchanges. I realize now that in my inexperience I was asking for unreasonable word limits. In fact, I was asking for no word limits! He, on the other hand, was proposing word limits I felt were just too restrictive. "You can suggest a large limit like 5000 words," he eventually concluded with finality, "but we must have limits on every exchange." I finally decided to accept his 5000 word proposal and shortly thereafter received this rejection: "My note urged that you can 'suggest a large limit like 5000 words' but it didn't mean we'd take it!" I was understandably upset. "Then why make such a suggestion at all?" I wrote back. "Why even suggest 5000 words if you already knew such a number was unacceptable? You took such umbrage in [a previous] letter at my suggestion that you were 'playing games' with me during this process. Is it any wonder that I should feel that way when you do things like this to me? Is this what acting in the spirit of Christ means to you?" And so it went. I suppose a smarter man would have called it quits right there, but I really did want to engage this brother in dialogue, and I continued to feel led to do just that — come what may.

I'm sure there are many of you who are probably thinking, "After this kind of abuse, why didn't the editor just forgo the idea of debating the preacher and simply ask him again for plain Christian dialogue that would include straightforward Biblical substantiation of the accusations of sin made in 'Does God Approve Of My Sin?'" Actually, the preacher closed the door on that possibility, too. "If we can't come to terms here [regarding a debate]," he wrote, "we will post an article proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that social nudism is wickedness and a sin. However, we won't be able to go back and forth with you via e-mail as a result of that article." In other words, "Debate with us or we'll submit you to more one-sided public criticism and then cut you loose." So much for the spirit of Galatians 6.1! Shortly after receiving this ultimatum I decided the debate was more important then disputing over rules. I agreed to his terms for the sake of expediency and the debate began.

I still remember eagerly awaiting the preacher's first affirmative. In my novice debater's naivetι I expected that in it he would carefully state why he believed the Bible condemned social nudism as sinful, and I in turn would similarly articulate my position. We would each follow with two carefully crafted rebuttals and the debate would be done. It would all be so genteel, so civilized, so refined — so Christian. Boy, was I in for a shock!

I thought I had signed up for a debate and instead I got hit with what seemed like an interrogation. What was with all those questions, and why did so many of them seem off-topic? And what about those incessant demands? What were they all about? I was stunned. Why the acrimony? Why the condescension? Why the ridicule? I thought I had signed up for "Come now, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1.18) or "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27.17). Instead I felt like I got "Crucify him! Crucify him!" (Luke 23.21). I confess I was wholly unprepared for such a confrontation by a brother in Christ.

It was days before I could get my head wrapped around that first article and get some sense of what to do next. I was learning the hard way, and as I look back now at my first article it clearly showed. I foolishly used footnotes. I tried to address way too much of what the preacher included in his first article, and thus couldn't do justice to what was really important. And, of course, there was that invitation for readers to contact me outside the debate. How could I have written something so stupid? He was absolutely correct for calling that blunder "outrageous"! Thankfully, though a bit "bruised and bewildered," I began to see things a little more clearly after emerging from that first tangle in my very first debate.

Actually, doing a bit of reading about debates and debating after our first go-round really helped clear the fog. I began to learn more about the preacher's style of debating, one characterized by a plethora of off-topic questions and insidious demands. Knowing what I know now, I've come to believe that there was nothing random or happenstance about this style of debating. I believe his questions and demands, along with his reaction to much of what I wrote in reply, reflected a cleverly calculated and shrewdly deployed strategy.

In their book, How To Debate: A Textbook For Beginners, authors Summers, Whan and Rousse discuss what they term "time-wasting strategies." These are strategies "used for the purpose of causing opponents to waste time in a discussion of trivialities of no particular importance in the debate" (p. 188). Time-wasting strategies can be lethal because in formal debate time or words are limited and precious. The rather unspectacular performance in my first article is a testimony to how effective and distracting time-wasting strategies can be.

The question form of time-wasting strategies is usually the most effective: "If questions are asked in apparent good faith, they can hardly be ignored; undoubtedly the same questions have been raised in the minds of your [audience]. But if time is taken to answer them, your opponents have less time to consider the really important points at issue in the debate" (How To Debate: A Textbook For Beginners, p. 190). This ploy is most often used by debaters when they know their position is weak and they need to do everything possible to avoid having to discuss the essential point or points in the proposition. Our proposition was "Social nudism is condemned by the Bible as sinful." As I saw it, success or failure in the debate would hinge on the answers to three questions:

I believed it really was as straightforward as that. In the debate the preacher unexpectedly admitted that behavior which "dramatically parallels," "exactly parallels" and "mirrors [social nudism] perfectly" was discussed in the Bible. That bit of candor made his job immeasurably harder and mine easier. When something is actually discussed in the Bible, one doesn't have to resort to applying Biblical principles that are not directly related to the matter at hand. One can go right to the source and settle things quickly. Or at least one would think so.

The preacher's discovery that the Bible talked about — but did not directly condemn — behavior which he felt "dramatically parallels," "exactly parallels" and "mirrors [social nudism] perfectly" was probably a shock for him. I believe that's why he put so much time and energy into challenging me over what were really side issues. Instead of "Here's where the Bible talks about nudism and here's where it's condemned" we got "What about lust?" and "What about stumbling blocks?" and "What about Christian influence?" In no way do I wish to diminish the importance of these subjects, but in truth they are simply not at the heart of the questions which would ultimately determine the outcome of the debate: Does the Bible talk about social nudism or something like it, and if so, is it condemned in the Bible as sinful? That's it! It's just that simple.

Presenting "a detailed burden of proof...including not only the issues which are vital, but also points relating to minor details" is another time-wasting strategy talked about in How To Debate: A Textbook For Beginners. The authors offered a generic example of this strategy that concluded with these words:

This is a tremendous burden, Ladies and Gentlemen. Yet our friends must prove every point to your entire satisfaction if they hope to establish their case. I challenge them to accept the task, and to prove the points I have presented (p. 189).
Sound familiar? By peppering an opponent with incessant demands for absolute proof, especially as it concerns non-essential or peripheral issues, a debater positions himself to later proclaim, "Look how Mr. _________ failed to prove _________ beyond a shadow of a doubt," or "Notice how Mr. _________ has failed to address _________ to the satisfaction of all."

Here's a good example of one of the preacher's burden of proof demands. After discussing lust at length, with particular emphasis on the story of David and Bathsheba, he challenged, "Can the editor guarantee that tomorrow his Bathsheba won't come to the nudist camp, leading him to adultery and the destruction of his marriage and soul?" In truth, nudists make up a very tiny minority in society, yet surveys tell us that adultery is widespread in North America. Clothing is not the answer to avoiding lust, temptation and sexual misconduct, and the Bible never makes such a claim. I could easily have countered the preacher by asking him to guarantee that tomorrow his "Bathsheba" (fresh from her bath and clothed, of course) won't come to his church, leading him to adultery and the destruction of his marriage, but that would have been playing the game by his rules, something I was loathe to do.

The reality is that no one is immune from sin, and that includes the preacher and the editor of Fig Leaf Forum. To attempt to extract a guarantee of sinless behavior from someone before permitting their participation in an activity not forbidden by God is a totally unreasonable standard for one Christian to foist upon another. No one can guarantee sinlessness in a particular area of their life, not even the preacher. His call for a such a guarantee reminded me somewhat of what Paul said a long time ago about a similarly unreasonable demand: "Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?" (Acts 15.10).

So what's the antidote to time-wasting strategies like the preacher was employing against me? Simply stated, don't allow your opponent to lead you in the debate or dictate its direction. Constantly bring him back to the proposition and the key issues related to it. Hammer the proposition and those issues home again and again. Never let up in this regard, and pray that your audience is intelligent enough to get a sense of what your opponent is up to before time or words run out.

Another somewhat devious strategy in debate is to slyly provoke your opponent into making personal attacks. One book calls attacking your opponent in a personal way "introducing personalities" (How To Debate by Robert Dunbar): "Calling your opponents 'stupid,' for example, won't win you any points with...the audience" (p. 68). Being on the receiving end of personal attacks can actually be very helpful in winning the audience to your side through the sheer weight of sympathy, even in the absence of convincing arguments in support of your position in the debate.

But what if your opponent resists the temptation to engage in personal attacks? There are still ways to make it appear like that's exactly what he's doing. The preacher's opening remarks in his second article are a virtual lesson in how this is done. Even though he had vigorously criticized my views on nudism and Christian behavior in his first article, when I dared to criticize his views on the same subjects with no less vigor he characterized what I had done as "trashing him." In his first article he quoted me several times and offered his personal analysis of those quotes, yet when I did the same I was criticized for "putting words [in his] mouth." All of this he characterized as "unkind writing," perhaps hoping that no one had taken critical notice of the less-than-charitable tenor of his own performance in the debate. Of course, any artificial gains of sympathy he may have realized early on through this ploy were surely lost after the viscous and slanderous attack he leveled at me in his "Rejoinder."

Before leaving that second paragraph of the preacher's second affirmative, I really must comment on something related to what I've already revealed about how the word limits were "negotiated" before the debate, and about the ultimatum that was part of that debacle. "No one forced the editor to debate," he declared, "or to agree to the limitations he accepted." Now there's an amazing little statement! It's true, and yet it's also a complete distortion — all at the same time! A Washington DC "spin doctor" couldn't have done it better! I wonder if the preacher had a straight face when he wrote those words?

Not unexpected in his second affirmative were the complaints about me not addressing "this" or answering "that." The preacher was in fact reaping the fruit of the time-wasting strategies he had sown in his first article. Despite being the victim of such cunning strategies, I nevertheless did feel bad about not being able to address every single point that he raised. As it turns out, I shouldn't have felt that way. I've learned that not answering every point is pretty standard fare in debating. Under the subtopic "Discarding Minor Points," the authors of The Debater's Guide write:

The prime virtue of the rebuttal speaker is an ability to reject, to discard, and to ignore the nonessentials. If you understand the main issues — and this depends largely on your preparation for the whole debate — you will know what is worth the expenditure of your time.... (The Debater's Guide, Revised Edition by Jon M. Ericson and James J. Murphy with Raymond Bud Zeuschner, p. 107).
So then, knowledgeable debate audiences will actually expect that neither side will cover every point raised by the other. What they especially look for instead is whether both sides deal intelligently and convincingly with the main or key issues involved in affirming or denying the debate proposition.

Being an experienced debater, I suspect the preacher was well aware of this practice of discarding minor or non-essential points in a debate. In fact, he did it himself numerous times, which makes his severe criticism ring a little hollow. Observant readers, for example, would have noticed that he failed to address what I stated about Colossians 2.20-23 in my first article. My challenge for him to provide credible and substantive evidence to back his claim that Christian nudists were not living lives beyond legitimate reproach also went unanswered. And, of course, there was his failure to disclose the source of the alt.christnet.nudism post that he quoted out of context. These are just three examples from just one article! What was it again that Jesus said about casting the first stone?

Surprisingly, I occasionally found humor in this debate. Really, I did! Sometimes the preacher wrote things so amusing or astonishing that I just had to laugh! For instance, there was his defense of the alt.christnet.nudism post that I mentioned above. If you recall, this was a quote from a wide-open Internet newsgroup where anyone could post. I investigated and found that the author of the post was really like a little honeybee in a big flower bed, visiting this group and that group, "pollinating" each of them with a few casual comments before moving on to the next. I discovered that he had visited alt.christnet.nudism (the only nudism related newsgroup he ever visited) on only one day during a three year period and had left just four brief messages before moving on to other groups. In his messages he never identified himself as a nudist or a Christian. In defending against my criticism of this product of his "research" the preacher proclaimed:

The editor attacked the alt.christnet.nudism post. Yet the point stands. The poster said he can "get his eye full of attractive bodies" at nudist camps. It matters not if he is a Christian nudist or a pagan nudist. He testifies that he lusts when he goes to nudist camps.
Ah, but there's just one little problem with this defense. In his posts this fellow never gave any indication that "he goes to nudist camps." So then, here's a guy who never identified himself as a Christian, who never identified himself as a nudist, and who never gave any indication that he had ever been to a nudist camp in his entire life! Despite all this, the preacher feels the poster's point still stands! Hmmmm!

Imagine what would have happened if I approached the preacher with a post from a Christian newsgroup which claimed that he was preaching heresy at his church of Christ. He investigates the post and discovers that the author is not a Christian, that he's never visited his church or heard him preach, and that he couldn't tell the difference between heresy and orthodoxy if it bit him on his toe! After confronting me with these facts, can you just imagine what the preacher's reaction would be if I responded, "Yet the point still stands! You preach heresy at your church of Christ!" His unbridled incredulity would have registered nine on the Richter scale!

And then there were the preacher's categorical declarations that "No one is modest when they are naked" and that "a lack of modesty" was "indecency." Well I mean, really! How could I resist taking his ideas to their logical conclusion! In his third affirmative he sputtered a denial of "the editor's outrageous charge that my standards make nakedness in marriage wrong." Actually, I never said nakedness in marriage was wrong, only immodest and indecent — according to his plainly articulated (and un-retracted) standards, that is! Some wit once counseled people to be sure their brains were engaged before putting their mouths in gear. No more sage advice could ever be given to those involved in formal debate!

I was also amused by the great umbrage taken by the preacher whenever I suggested that he had failed to do his "homework" for the debate. Someone who had little or no prior knowledge about social nudism may well have read the debate and accepted his ideas on the subject as authoritative. However, anyone who has actually experienced social nudism or has given it serious study would have a real problem finding any representation of reality in his various pronouncements. God forgive me, almost every time he talked about his "research" I kept envisioning a little child adamantly insisting that yes, he had done his arithmetic homework and yes, he had learned his lesson for the day — all the while stubbornly maintaining that 2 + 2 = 5! Anyone can claim to have studied a thing, but questions need to be asked when the "fruit" of that study bears no resemblance to the actual truth and substance of that thing.

On a more serious note, I will admit that perhaps I may have been unfair to the preacher regarding his "research." Maybe he really did put some serious time and effort into studying social nudism. If this is true, however, his inaccurate descriptions and incorrect conclusions about social nudism raise a serious possibility that something far worse than ignorance was at play in his portion of the debate: prejudice (defined here as "an opinion held in disregard of facts that contradict it" — Webster's Dictionary).

Clearly, research means nothing if one is unwilling to accept the truths one encounters along the way. It might surprise the preacher and readers of this debate to know that I too was very skeptical of the claims made by social nudists when I first encountered them. The idea of non-arousing, non-lust-provoking nakedness was utterly foreign to my experience as a member of our clothing compulsive society. Over and over again in my investigation I discovered seemingly sincere testimonies from ordinary people regarding the true nature of non-sexual nakedness. I couldn't at that time believe these claims, but I knew well that unbelief did not equal untruth. Anyone now a Christian who remembers what it was like being a stubborn unbeliever in the face of overwhelming evidence supporting the claims of Christ and Christianity will understand this important distinction.

In Issue One of Fig Leaf Forum I listed curiosity as being one of my motivations for first trying social nudism. I had read the claims of social nudists and though I definitely found the wholesome description of nudism both intriguing and inviting, I was still skeptical. I wanted real proof to settle my doubts, and I finally determined that the proof I needed could only come from first-hand knowledge. I took the next step and verified through eyewitness observation and personal experience that the claims made by social nudists about their non-sexual nakedness were indeed true.

So then, both the preacher and I initially encountered seemingly unbelievable claims made by social nudists, claims that were utterly foreign to our experience as responsible Christian adults living in a clothed but worldly society. In order to confirm or dismiss these claims, I mounted a thorough investigation that eventually culminated in an actual visit to a nudist resort, all the while mindful that whatever conclusions I might reach must be in accordance with clear Biblical teaching. My research and my eyewitness observations found social nudism to be what it claimed to be in all the literature I had previously encountered.

If the preacher's assertions that he has thoroughly researched social nudism are actually true, it's an inescapable fact that he would have encountered the same kinds of honest, sincere testimonies in nudist literature that I did — and lots of them. He would have found the same wholesome descriptions of life as a social nudist, and the same lists of positive benefits afforded by the lifestyle.

If the preacher's research was as extensive as it should have been he would also have encountered totally unbiased descriptions of social nudism written by non-nudists who investigated the practice and discovered it to be "as advertised." The Associated Press religion reporter who wrote the newspaper article that was the basis for "Does God Approve Of My Sin?", for instance, did many interviews and actually visited the gathering of Christian nudists that was the subject of his piece. There is nothing in his reporting to indicate that he found social nudism to be anything other than what it claimed to be.

Another example of unbiased, fair investigation is found under the term "Nudity" in the New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology from InterVarsity Press. I know the preacher read this article because I provided it to him myself early in our correspondence. Here's a portion:

In normal circumstances, undressing in a doctor's [office] today is as innocent as stripping for a practice session in a Greek gymnasium used to be two thousand years ago. Morality simply does not relate to either situation.... Organized nudism can be regarded in the same ethical light. The nudist groups which multiplied in Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century (and a decade or two later in the USA) governed themselves by strict regulations which were designed to rule out all erotic behavior. Whether their aim was to build strong, healthy bodies, or simply to enhance the enjoyment of a summer holiday, most of these groups banned physical contact and made serious attempts to create an ethos in which awareness of members' sexuality receded.... It would be wrong to charge well-run nudist organizations with deliberate attempts to encourage sexual promiscuity. The same cannot be said of all displays of nudity ( New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, David J. Atkinson and David H. Field, Editors, InterVarsity Press).
These Christian authors had no vested interest in social nudism, one way or the other. They simply looked for the truth, discovered the truth, and reported the truth.

All this information and more would have been read by the preacher if he had, in fact, thoroughly researched social nudism. Yet in the face of all these true and verifiable claims, and in the face of his total inability to locate Scriptural condemnation for behavior that he himself says "dramatically parallels," "exactly parallels" and "mirrors [social nudism] perfectly," he concluded in his "Rejoinder" that "deep forms of perversion are behind social nudism" and warns against the "ungodliness that is social nudism." Such conclusions are — and let their be no mistake about it — opinions held in complete disregard of verifiable facts that contradict them.

Sadly, I believe ignorance and/or prejudice played a role in what I view as an especially troubling dark side to this debate. No, I'm not talking about the venomous personal attack used by the preacher to end his part in it. This dark side in fact has to do with something about nudists that continually seemed to perplex him. He just couldn't figure out why many of us needed anonymity, why many of us often complained about being misunderstood, or why many of us were often distressed over the world's misconceptions about nudism. In reality, the solution to his perplexity was always close at hand. All he ever needed to do was look in the mirror. It's people with attitudes and beliefs like his that cause such concerns in the lives of upstanding social nudists. As a result of reading what the preacher has written for this debate, I wonder how many Christian nudists will avoid broaching the subject with friends, family or church leadership out of fear that they will encounter the same kind of self-imposed ignorance, or the same kind of tightly-held prejudice fueling the same kind of belligerence and bullying in the name of Christ? Only God knows.

There's lots more I could discuss in this debate 'post-mortem,' but that will have to suffice. So much for the great — or perhaps, not-so-great — debate between the preacher and the editor of Fig Leaf Forum.

Looking back, it's clear that I never foresaw how "costly" this debate would prove to be for me. It was something of a marathon, taking place over a period of more than eight months. The debate virtually took over my life each time it was my turn to do the writing. Each article went through countless drafts before I finally felt that I had done my best. I lost sleep over the debate. I fretted and I stewed over the debate. But do you know what? I think I also discovered that I like debating almost as much as I like rebutting critics in Fig Leaf Forum! I like how it feels to expose ill-conceived arguments and absurd ideas and replace them with truth. I like showing how so much of what Christian critics say or think about nudism is found neither in the Bible nor in real life. I like demonstrating that almost always there's more than one way to look at something. That is not to say that I'm fond of the excruciatingly hard work involved in debate, and I certainly don't like what the process does to me sometimes, but I have to admit that I do like the feeling of accomplishment I get when the job's done, and done well. I honestly do.

Have any minds been changed as a result of this particular debate? Truthfully, I doubt it. I'm reasonably confident that the preacher still looks at the editor of Fig Leaf Forum (and people like him) and concludes, "They just don't get it!" And I know for a fact that the editor of Fig Leaf Forum still looks at the preacher (and people like him) and concludes "They just don't get it!" Are we back to square one, then? Not by a long shot! Despite the acrimony, the questionable debate tactics and the blatant character assassination, truths were discovered here. Truths were clarified here. And truths were proclaimed here. Two men's beliefs about social nudism were placed in the crucible of debate and the truth emerged. What also emerged — and what must not be discounted — were revealing insights into the true character of the two participants. And finally, much was learned about how to debate, and how not to debate. This knowledge may prove very useful to me in the future, and perhaps to you, too. I take satisfaction from all of these things, and many more besides.

How Then Should We Debate?
I'd like to conclude with a few brief remarks about Christians and debating. What should be the purpose of Christian debate? Should it be the same as worldly debate? Secular books about debate universally — and quite naturally — stress the primacy of prevailing over your opponent in the end. Can such a mundane goal reflect the spirit of Christ in Christian debate? Somehow I don't think so. Perhaps I'm being naive, but I really do think debate among Christians should take place at a much higher level. Employing devious secular debate tactics and strategies, incessantly quoting out of context, using unreliable or irrelevant sources, distorting the truth, engaging in character assassination — all these things might be expected in the modern world of politics, TV talk shows and supermarket tabloids, but in the realm of "Christian" debate I believe such things should be greeted by surprise, shock and disgust. Is it asking too much, I wonder, to expect Christian debate to reflect higher ideals, like those expressed in Ephesians 4.29-32?

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Can Christian debate live up to such lofty principles? I would like to hope so, though I'll be the first to admit that neither I nor the preacher measured up to Ephesians 4.29-32 in our debate, and that saddens me. If either of us should ever debate again, my prayer is that Christ, truth and compassion will be held in higher regard than pride and the need to win.

An earlier version of this article was published in Issue 55/56 (May/June, 2000) of Fig Leaf Forum.

Next article: A Letter To The Editor

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