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Finding Truth in the Debate 08/22/2008

Saddleback forum

Pastor Rick Warren hosted a
helpful political forum.


Last weekend’s political forum at Saddleback Valley Community Church was a wonderful example of civil discourse. Despite the modern sledgehammer of "church versus state," America has a long and healthy history of political debate within the walls of the church. As far back as 1733, the “Great Election” was held at St. Paul's Church in Eastchester, New York, where Lewis Morris was first voted to the provincial Assembly. He later became chief justice of New York and governor of New Jersey. Churches like the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Small Gloucester, New Jersey, were used as a part of the “underground railroad” to help slaves find freedom. And, of course, the Civil Rights movement depended heavily on churches to register the black vote and fight for social justice.

Pastor Rick Warren hosted the candidates of the two major political parties and politely asked them a wide range of questions on variety of issues. Instead of the petty press rants and shallow "gotcha" questions of past debates, those who tuned in to the televised event were able to finally hear Senators McCain and Obama address important topics without being filtered, ridiculed or set up. It was the best look at our next president we have had so far. All who were attentive could easily detect certain underlying principles that will definitely affect the decisions candidates would make and policies they would pursue.

It is one of the pillars of my book The Absolutes that “truth withstands debate.” Christians need not fear debate and non-Christians need not fear a debate within the church. This is as American as the Constitution itself, which says in the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

At Saddleback, the very best of First Amendment rights were exercised. The founders' first word on liberty was this: give ordinary citizens from every walk of life the freedom to disagree. Let every voice be heard. Permit no argument to be silenced. Let no debate be censored. Ensure everyone the right to be heard -- and the right to be wrong. In our ongoing pursuit of liberty and justice for all, we must reaffirm our commitment to the core American principle of freedom of speech. There must be a place at the discussion table for everyone, including the many well-reasoned, articulate people who hold to the absolutes. Unless we uphold the right of every viewpoint to be represented, our society will suffer irreparable harm.

The popular slant in today's marketplace of ideas is to smear opposing opinions, tagging them as narrow-minded and unacceptable. Instead of evaluating the merits of one's argument, many media sources and even average citizens prefer to label people in an effort to discredit what they say. Those who don't put their faith in the scientists and politicians promoting the global warming theory are called "deniers." Those who find gay sex unnatural and inappropriate are labeled "hatemongers." And those who oppose porous borders are derided as "xenophobes." This marginalization of alternative viewpoints is contrary to the founder's intentions and the American tradition of political discourse.

The founding fathers believed that unhampered and unfettered truth was the only suitable ground upon which openness, honesty and freedom could be established. This truth is not merely a moral concept; it is a reflection of the way things actually are. Unfortunately, we are not naturally inclined to affirm the truth even when we are well aware of it. Truth can be uncomfortable. It calls us to account for our words, thoughts, attitudes and actions. Truth confronts our preferences and prejudices.

It has been said that truth may be stretched, but it cannot be broken. To be effective, truth simply needs to be presented faithfully and proclaimed fearlessly. We need not fear debate because it leads us to the truth and it is this knowledge and support of truth that enables us to preserve our freedom. Let us all encourage more healthy discourse and open discussions like the one presented at Saddleback.

Author: James Robison

Word Count: 707

About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, a Christian media ministry and mission relief organization. He and his wife, Betty, host of the television program Life Today; He has authored numerous books, including The Soul of a Nation, The Absolutes: Freedom's Only Hope and True Prosperity.

Media Contact: Randy Robison, editor at . Photo available upon request. Reprint rights granted with attribution for complete, unedited article. Revisions allowed only with approval.