Editorial: Jerry Smith


The greatest differences among people of the world in which we live are those pertaining to politics and religion. Someone once said that people will talk about and discuss most topics in a reasonable and civil manner with the exception of differences of opinion in religion and politics.

In last week’s column, attention was directed to the prevalence of religious and political debates in the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. Today there will be some discussion directed to the theme of one or two of the debates; mostly it will be attitudes toward controversy and formal discussions (debates) in the two areas mentioned.

The history of discussions of difference and debates, in both politics and religion, reach far back into the history of the world. Some of the most interesting material one can read or study is the background of debates which have made history. The attitude and conduct of respectable individuals leading up to and in the debates are worthy of consideration for a respectable presentation on the parts of any of us involved in a dispute or difference.

In last week’s column I noted that our city and our country –and I might add nations of the world – are greatly divided and involved in disputes of grave proportions. While some of these differences and positions might be alluded to, as a general rule this is going to be a discussion of attitudes toward debates.

The practical aspects of public forums:

Again, I refer to the well stated position George Crowley set forth at a recent City Council meeting when he advocated gatherings of citizens to discuss the different issues.

Let me add to Mr. Crowley’s statement and say that disputants have discussed their differences with well-defined positions and definitions of terms. There is a place for such discussions today. People should be able to express their position, define their terms, and argue their case; those opposed should be able to do so in a simple, straightforward and logical manner.

I take great exception to arguments made in a mixed-up array with other issues. There is a tendency to hide (or fail to see) the real issues at hand; when all is said and done the “wheat cannot be separated from the chaff.” It becomes difficult to identify the real issue and know accurately what is said. Often, the question in one of the titled features of the late Earnest Ralston in his newspaper is remembered as he asked, “What did he say?”

It is believed that if positions are worth advocating they are worth defending in an open and transparent manner. Conspiracies by any element of elected officials with workings and plans beyond the attention of fellow elected officials are far from the honorable and upright procedure that should characterize acts of beneficial government.

Examples of Attitudes and Consequences in public debate:

In my library (a collection of hundreds of books gathered over the years) are dozens of written debates between people who had their differences. One will be introduced here to show the results of honest investigation.

Ben Bogard was a leading Baptist clergyman, author, editor, educator, radio broadcaster and champion debater. It is reported that Bogard conducted more religious debates than any one. Let me direct your attention to an issue of prominence and one of his debates with its results.

You might possibly have heard of the Foursquare Gospel Church. I have seen only four of their buildings in my lifetime. Aimee Semple McPherson began the Foursquare Gospel movement and the movement flourished greatly for years. The lady made a mistake when she debated Ben Bogard in 1934. While there are still scattered congregations of the church, the debate put an end to the booming growth of McPherson’s movement.

In case anyone is interested, the issue is not as public today as it was during the middle of the 1900s but Bogard’s position in the debate was “Miracles and divine healing as taught and manifested in the Word of God, ceased with the closing of the apostolic age.”

That debate is back in print after not being available for several decades. It is not a long book. Bogard lived from 1868 until 1951 and is buried in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Martin Luther and his 95 Theses:

We have to go back 600 years to know about the acts that proved to be the facilitator of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther wrote the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This composition was known as “The 95 Thesis,” and was a list of questions for debate. On October 31, 1517 this list was nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. This issue needs much more information than I can set forth here. It is worth a diligent study.

Debates between Friends:

It was during the past 100 plus years that Joe. S. Warlick of the Church of Christ and Ben Bogard, Baptist (mentioned above) met in 24 debates. The purpose of this column and this section is to show how the two outstanding scholars felt about each other. One of the most noteworthy responses was made by the Baptist debater, Ben Bogard, who wrote in his paper, the Baptist Searchlight:

“There is within me a feeling of distinct loss today, for I have just received a telegram that my most valiant antagonist, with whom I had twenty-three debates, is dead. He and I had some hard contests, and we did not give an inch in our sharp contentions with each other; but our personal friendship grew with the years and we became as brothers in the flesh. We actually slept together while in one of our hardest-fought debates, and I shall never forget some fine help he was to me once when I stood in need of help. He did just what he could do. He could have easily have refused, but he graciously granted my request. No matter what it was, it was a friendly turn he gave what has never been forgotten. He has visited in my home, and I have been entertained by him. My reputation was safe in his hands.”

Disputants need not be enemies.