I’ve often said that I find the very idea of “debate” to be useless. I certainly know that people have valid opinions that differ vastly from mine and are worth a listen. But there are so many better ways to share views than in the context of a debate. A debate is a competition, and there is presumably a loser in a competition. No one wants to be a loser. Which is why no one ever seems to lose a debate. I’ve been in debates where I felt my points were stronger and better articulated than my opponents, but I doubt they would admit that I won or vice versa. I also doubt I’ve ever been close to changing someone’s views because we had a debate. “To debate” is to build a wall around your beliefs so no one can prove them wrong.
My contempt for debate only gets worse when it becomes “religious debate”. Religious debate is so out of step with the spirit of ecumenism and more broadly feels contrary to a Christian worldview. What good comes from telling someone their beliefs are wrong? The only benefit I see coming from religious debate is that each combatant becomes more affirmed in their theological superiority.
But did Jesus tell us that the reason he is The Way is because he was the greatest? No. There is one God for all of us, not a Catholic God, a Presbyterian God, Jewish God, and Muslim God. Jesus made this clear in his dealings with the Samaritan woman: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (JN 4:14). Christ’s exchange with the woman was not an argument but an open invitation to help and love one another; differences be damned. The Samaritan woman ends up declaring, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything” because she was moved toward the spirit, not because she was told she had been wrong in her beliefs.
I doubt I’m capable of emulating the appeal of Jesus’ voice, so I believe my greatest tools for evangelization are my ears. When I lead a group of teens in small group discussion, I make it clear no one on this retreat is going to try to tell them to live their lives one way or the other. Rather, particularly through small group discussion, my hope is that through seeing and hearing the experiences of others, each teen can better understand the role that God plays in their lives. God has a different plan for each of us, but we all exist as one body together. To debate that would take away an opportunity instead to love.