Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sacramento's Presbytery meeting and "Dialogue vs. debate"


Sacramento Presbytery's moderator, David Rue, has placed a document on our Presbytery site meant to be a guide for our meeting on Saturday. The document is entitled "Dialogue vs. debate." It is a document adapted from, “a paper prepared by Shelley Berman, which was based on discussions of the Dialogue Group of the Boston Chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR)."

Rue is suggesting that this should be how we address the issues before us in particular 08-B, the removal of the fidelity and chastity clause from our Book of Order.

There are several problems with this paper particularly when a group of Christians are addressing biblical issues.

The first problem with this paper is that it at times redefines debate. For instance while I agree with the idea that “one should submit ones best-thinking, knowing that other people’s reflections will help improve it rather than destroy it” I would not put that under dialogue but under debate with this qualification that “will” be changed to “might.”

The same is true with the idea that “Dialogue involves a real concern for the other person and seeks to not alienate or offend.” While both dialogue and debate might be the cause of alienating or offending that should never be the goal of either.


But some of the statements in this paper are themselves offensive to Christians. For instance, “Dialogue reveals assumptions for re-evaluation. Debate defends assumptions as truth.” Debate or even dialogue from a Christian point of view may be about biblical truths. Therefore a person may rightly understand their assumptions to be truth.

When I look at John 3:16 and state that “God gave his only begotten Son” I am quoting and insisting on biblical truth. To be a believer in Jesus Christ means to believe that some things are true, period. This does not mean that the other person will not be allowed to re-evaluate what I say, it simply means I hold my position as true because I believe it is based on God’s Word.

Another problem is this thought. “Dialogue calls for temporarily suspending one’s beliefs. Debate calls for investing wholeheartedly in one’s beliefs.” But, we are talking about one of the greatest issues in the Church in contemporary times.

When early Christians were called upon to simply suspend their belief’s and say Caesar is Lord they instead invested wholeheartedly in their beliefs to the point of death. This is no mere game we are playing; this has to do with redemption, transformation and the life of the Church. This has to do with the Lordship of Christ. We must not suspend our beliefs.


I will go to Presbytery with the intent of not hurting anyone, of not offending anyone. But the one I am most intent on not offending or alienating is my Lord Jesus Christ.

May God have mercy on His Church.

54 comments:

Mac said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Dialogue seeks a consensus in which each side gives up something in order to reach resolution. That is fine when unimportant things like money are involved. My client wants a million dollars and yours wants to pay $750,000. We agree at $875,000 and everyone goes home a little dissatisfied.

But when the important stuff--sovereignty of God, authority of Scripture, etc -- is at issue, there is no way to compromise.

God is sovereign, but just not totally????

Mac said...

Oooops, I forgot.

Mac McCarty
Downingtown, PA

Jim said...

Thank you, Viola. Well said!

There is another aspect that makes the dialogue-debate paper rather pointless in this situation: The presbytery has a yes-no question before it.

There is no middle ground between approving or disapproving a constitutional amendment. You cannot half approve it and half disapprove it in some kind of grand compromise. It either passes or it doesn't.

Obviously, the whole paper is slanted toward inducing people to give up their convictions and try something new and trendy, in the name of "compromise." But that is no compromise; that is a complete victory for one side that wants to revise morality to go along with "this age," rather than live according to the countercultural morality of the Kingdom of God.

The process appears to be manipulative, in order to get people to do what the Bible tells us not to do: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2).

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Debbie said...

The Dialogue vs. Debate paper is guilty of inventing a straw man. It has mischaracterized what debate is, defining it in very negative terms. Here are three examples, and how I would instead define debate in those examples:

- Dialogue is collaborative: two or more sides work together toward common understanding.
o Debate is oppositional: two sides oppose each other and attempt to prove each other wrong.

My redefinition: In debate, two sides oppose each other and attempt to discover who has the (logically) stronger, more truthful position.

- In dialogue, finding common ground is the goal.
o In debate, winning is the goal.

My redefinition: In debate, finding the truth or the best solution is the goal.

- Dialogue enlarges and possibly changes a participants point of view.
o Debate affirms a participant's own point of view.

My redefinition: Debate also enlarges and possibly changes a participant's own point of view.

And I could redefine each point in similar ways. The author of the paper colored every point with a negative slant toward debate.

If I wanted to, I could color dialogue negatively:

- Dialogue is coercive: the unpopular or currently socially incorrect side is made to agree with the popular side because otherwise the unpopular side will be made to feel uncooperative.

- In dialogue, agreeing with current societal norms and moving away from traditions and orthodoxies is the goal.

- Dialogue dismisses an evangelical point of view.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Alan said...
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Bruce Byrne said...

Alan,

You wrote, "Dialogue, that is, actually investing the time to meet someone as a person, understand where they're coming from, listen to their stories *from both sides* ... that has the possibility to promote understanding, even if it doesn't result in agreement or compromise. Understanding, even without agreement, is a worthy goal, it seems to me."

Would you be willing to demonstrate the kind of dialogue which you espouse?

You (twice) attribute fear to those with whom you disagree. You accuse them of wanting to stifle open, honest discussion. I could go on, but the above is sufficient to establish that you espouse what you do not practice.

If you choose to respond to this comment, I invite you to use it as an opportunity to live up to your understanding and commitment to dialogue.

Bruce Byrne
Concord, Ca

Alan said...
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Pastor Bob said...

It seems to me that there is another question at hand: is the occasion of voting on an amendment to the constitution an appropriate time for dialogue?

Let me establish my bona fides: I have been part of a covenant group for the past two year that took the PUP report as the basis for dialogue. However we took almost the whole first year before we began to talk about theology and Scripture just to really get to know each other. When we got down to the real issues no one changed their minds but we did discover that we are brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of our disagreements. Beyond that I am limited by the covenant of the group: that we not talk outside the group about what we discussed in the group.

I'm also on the Meetings and Worship Committee of Philadelphia Presbytery. We set the docket for each presbytery meeting and used most of our last meeting to decide how we will debate the proposed amendments. Upon the recommendation of the moderator we decided on a two step process: the first in small groups for discussion and the second a traditional debate. We specifically instructed the Bills and Overtures Committee to choose two questions for the small groups that will be neutral. The small groups can of course go beyond or ignore the questions. Personally I plan to sit with a group of people with whom I disagree.

I voted for the dialogue time. I don't believe that anyone will change their minds because of the dialogue any more than they will by the debate. But I do think that sitting down and talking with people with whom we disagree is critical. Besides the moderator said that the dialogue time has been used in other presbyteries including those that have voted against 08-B and that it cut down on the debate time. I'm all for cutting back on repetition by people who feel that they just have to have their say.

I also voted for the debate time. Some people just have to have their say. All too often I am one of them.

The real question I have is this: wouldn't it be better if we all were in covenant groups like mine in which we take the time to really get to know those we disagree with and delve deeply into the subjects on which we disagree? An hour or two of dialogue in the context of voting on an important amendment to the Form of Government is simply not enough.

I am anxious to see just how much dialogue we can have in this particular context.

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

Debbie said...

Alan, you say you have never seen deleting or disparaging of comments on liberal blogs? Apparently you haven't been around enough. I've seen deleting of conservative comments on the blog of the woman whose name escapes me at the moment, but who is a minister at All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena. And a very notorious site for this practice is www.talk2action.org, where you are not allowed to comment at all unless you pledge that you agree with the site. And even for those who are allowed to comment, if, in a comment thread, they start to raise questions or offer a different view about what the main post has asserted, or about what the site hosts have asserted, they are soon told they are "off topic" and must stop commenting.

At John Shuck's blog, when evangelicals comment, they are allowed to continue, but they are subjected to ridicule.

Alan, perhaps you don't realize how unkind your own comments sound to others. And Bruce was right--your accusations (such as the accusation that we who are raising questions about the appropriateness of the way debate was framed in the document under discussion are only motivated by fear) are not an example of "working together toward common understanding" or "finding common ground"; they are instead alienating, pushing us away as you accuse us of motives that we do not have.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Alan said...
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Alan said...
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timeforthetruth said...

Why all this negativity about debate or dialogue not working to cause people to change their minds? Have not already 9 (as of the writing of this comment) Presbyteries changed their minds about supporting G.60106B? Does this not reflect many individual elders and pastors having changed their minds?

If it wasn't debate that caused this change of mind, then what was it?

Personally I think the distinction between debate and "dialogue" is way overblown by this paper. Debate done with honor, decorum and respect can be very valuable, I have been a part of many. I have changed my mind on issues that were debated when presented with logical cogent positions.

The issue, I believe, has more to do with this being a moral imperative based upon essential beliefs for many in the church. By definition, therefore, the position is settled. So the very idea of debate and dialogue to approve changes to a position that has clearly been viewed as essential, pushed forward by a higher body is offensive to many. But, maybe I'm just out of touch and there are no essentials after all, especially if ordained outspoken leaders can proclaim that Jesus never even existed? It sounds like we can believe anything and act any way we like?

Adel Thalos
Snellville, GA

Bruce Byrne said...

Alan,

I'll be brief: You write in defense of dialogue, but your manner strikes me as one who has given up on dialogue.

For what it's worth.

Bruce Byrne
Concord, Ca

John Shuck said...

At John Shuck's blog, when evangelicals comment, they are allowed to continue, but they are subjected to ridicule.

As it should be. I suffer no fool lightly. Come on over and bring it on!

Except of course, you, dear Viola, as you have broken the one sacred rule and reported me to ecclesiastical authorities.

But other than that, come, visit, and get what's coming to you!

John Shuck
Elizabethton, TN

Alan said...
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Viola Larson said...

I have been at a very long CPM meeting. Sorry I couldn’t respond sooner. Mac, Jim and Debbie all of your points are great--and work so well. One of the interesting things I notice is that when false dichotomies are set up you can write all kinds of refutations about them. I guess you could say that for a writer there is wealth in other’s stealth.

Anyway I appreciate your comments.

Bruce I noticed that wasn’t what the paper defines as dialogue either. Thanks for your comment.

Hmm, Alan, “Of course, no one will be surprised that one side wants to stifle open, honest discussion. We see it on your blogs all the time.” I didn’t know I had more than one blog.

Pastor Bob thanks for your comments also. The way it is laid out according to the procedures stated we are going to go to the microphone and take pro and con positions but use dialogue, as defined in the paper, when we speak. And as I have stated in another comment on another posting I will speak what I believe God has given me to speak, and it will, in proper parliamentary manner, be directed to the moderator.
Hopefully that will be okay.

We did have forums to attend earlier and those were fine.

Adel,
These words were perfect. "Debate done with honor, decorum and respect can be very valuable" always.

Alan said...
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Viola Larson said...

Alan,
I have no problem at all banning people who insult others and myself. I see my blog as an extension of my home. I would not allow a guest to keep insulting others and myself in my home. I would ask them to leave. I would also not allow an unidentified guest in my home. That would be very foolish.

As for debate, people who try to put it down as some kind of wicked device only show they do not understand the usefulness of parliamentary rules nor do they have an intellectual or historical grasp of certain kinds of philosophical method. They simply think of two rubes out behind a bar attempting to argue but on the verge of fisticuffs.
Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Bruce Byrne said...

I think I get it:

Dialogue means that rather than argue with my position, you must converse with me, get to know me, so that you understand where I’m coming from.

I, on the other hand, remain free to mischaracterize your positions, misattribute and describe your motivation uncharitably. I am free to do so because this is my experience of you and while a commitment to dialogue constrains all parties, I am exempt because of my past experience with people like you. (If you’d only dialogue with me, you’d understand where I’m coming from.)

Bruce Byrne
Concord, Ca

Pastor Bob said...

Viola

Interesting way to dialogue. I don't think one can really dialogue with more than 12 people in the group. How does one dialogue with 250 - 350 people in the group, as it will be in Philly Presby? Or even with 75 like it was in Utica when I was there?

I don't think you are going to have a dialogue. No matter what it is called you are going to have a debate.

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

Viola Larson said...

Bob, I agree--and I suppose it will be okay to call it a dialogue--in a post modern world we seem to be good at redefining words.

Debbie said...

I said: "At John Shuck's blog, when evangelicals comment, they are allowed to continue, but they are subjected to ridicule."

John Shuck then said: "As it should be. I suffer no fool lightly. Come on over and bring it on!"

There are two problems here. One is the prejudice held by Mr. Shuck: he evidently believes all evangelicals to be fools. And that is NOT evidence of willingness to dialogue with evangelicals on the part of that particular theological liberal.

The other problem is the idea that a Christian, let alone a Christian minister, finds it appropriate that anyone at all should be ridiculed.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Alan said...
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Kevin said...

Alan, not everyone in the Consistory is PCUSA, take me and Chris Larimer, for example. I think it is fair to say that we are all faithfully Reformed and fairly conservative. Just so you know. We have agreed to read one another's blogs and encourage one another in faithfully walking with Christ, even when we do not fully agree on every point. Viola is especially kind to me when I go off on one of my hyper-conservative rants. :)

Viola, if indeed you reported John Shuck to his ecclesiastical authorities, I cannot say I blame you. I was appalled by his blog. It is difficult to imagine how anyone with such utter contempt for God's Word is in any way regenerate.

Kevin Carroll
Macon, MS

John Shuck said...
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Alan said...
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Alan said...

and once again, I forgot.

alankistechelseami

Brian Spolarich said...

Someone asked earlier "what could have changed their minds but debate"?

I have read reports and have had conversations with folks who were present at the meetings of the increasing number of "flipping" presbyteries. Based on that, I would say a likely explanation for the change is relationships. The dialogues have built understanding and helped "move the middle". People knowing and loving someone who is L, G, B, or even T has changed the dynamic dramatically.

This doesn't surprise me: we believe in a God who is profoundly relational, and follow a Christ who based his beliefs on his relationships, not the other way around. Its the hard work of one on one connections, not ecclesiastical and theological debate, that is making the difference.

Peace to you all.

Brian Spolarich, also of Chelsea, MI.

Kevin said...

Brian wrote:

"...we believe in a God who is profoundly relational"

True, but he is also holy. If anything, the Bible describes this as his primary characteristic.

He continued:

"and follow a Christ who based his beliefs on his relationships, not the other way around."

I have no idea what this means. The only way it could possibly be accurate statement would be to say that Jesus based his earthly ministry on his relationship (singular) with the Father. Even then, the Bible nowhere depicts Jesus as espousing beliefs. He calls *us* to believe.

Just my $.02.

Kevin Carroll
Macon, MS

Viola Larson said...

Kevin, thanks for being there faithfully as a Christian brother. Sure we don't agree on some things but I do not see you attempting to reroute the conversation or hurt other people. I did report John Shuck but it was not about his awful positions on the Christian faith--well except using violent words and allowing violent words towards others is about the Christ faith. Anyway that is what I reported.

In fairness he did finally say some good words about Rick Warren and just recently I noted that he corrected a person about his anti-Semitism which is good. But you are right about the other things and it is a sign of where some in our denomination are at that there is no discipline for any but those attempting to leave with their property.

Debbie, I thought of deleting John for your sake but sometimes I leave people’s comments up because I think it is helpful for others to see where they are coming from.

Brian,
I believe you just proved the point of why the progressives are pushing some form of discernment or your brand of dialogue, temporary disbanding of beliefs, etc. But those in the orthodox, reformed, evangelical position need to understand that we are classifying a whole group of people unfit for the gospel if we vote yes on 08-B. To use church law to place people involved in sexual sin in a category of those who cannot be transformed is awful.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Cameron Mott said...

Is it not a requirement for the presbytery to conduct meetings according to Robert's Rules of Order? Robert's Rules of Order allows dialogue during debate. I'm not seeing the issue.

Cameron Mott said...

Paola, KS

Sorry.

Brian Spolarich said...

My point is that if Jesus followed the purity codes of his day, he wouldn't have broken bread with Roman collaborators (traitors), healed the sick on the Sabbath, or conversed with unmarried women.

He calls us to believe, certainly, but is the point of Jesus' ministry merely to believe *in* him, or also to believe *what* he believed?

Viola Larson said...

Brian,
Jesus befriended the sinner that is true--none of us would even be here if he did not. But he also called the sinner away from their sin. He told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. He praised Nicodemus because he gave back the money he had over charged the people. Jesus’ call to discipleship is a radical call to death of self and that includes our sexuality.

Viola Larson said...

Cameron,
It is the issue of turning dialogue and debate into something they are not. I am almost sure that informing people that they must suspend their beliefs in the process of either debate or dialogue is not in Roberts Rules.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Bruce Byrne said...

Alan,

I’m trying to dialogue with you, but every time I share my experience of you, you respond in classic debate mode and go on the attack.

I’d like to invite you to respond to me in dialogue mode: Don’t be defensive and don’t give a defense. Remember that my characterization of you as someone who mischaracterizes the positions of others and who describes the motivations of others uncharitably is just my experience. I’m just sharing my thoughts and feelings, which is what dialogue is all about, right? Just listen. Let me know that you’ve heard me by your contemplative silence. Or your agreement would be fine, too.

I know that it will be hard not to respond in debate mode, but please resist challenging the factual accuracy of what I write (for the sake of and in the spirit of dialogue). Please also resist dismissive responses that do not further dialogue.

I suspect that the cynical among us will be inclined to interpret the above as a manipulation whereby I define dialogue in such a way that it allows me to say whatever I want while constraining your response. (People like Viola, Debbie and Jim are always seeing manipulation of the process where none exists, aren’t they?) I’m confident that in your case, however, they you won’t dismiss the above as a manipulation because then you’d essentially be agreeing with Viola’s original post. That would be… what’s that word you like to use? Ironic.

Bruce Byrne
Concord, Ca

Alan said...
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Debbie said...

Alan said that deleting of comments only happened on conservative blogs. He gave no examples. I wonder why John Shuck doesn't accuse him of sliming those blogs? But that's what Mr. Shuck accused me of doing to him, because, in response to Alan's accusations against conservative blogs, I mentioned his blog as one of my examples of liberal blogs that target conservative comments, and I didn't give examples any more than Alan did.

Mr. Shuck himself, however, in an earlier comment, agreed that conservatives are ridiculed at his blog. Now he accuses me of sliming him for saying so. What's up with that? It's true, and Mr. Shuck can say it, but I can't?

Sliming. Now is that a dialogue-level word? But then I suppose Mr. Shuck has not said that he's interested in dialogue so I shouldn't expect it from him.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Alan said...
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Alan said...
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Alan said...
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Viola Larson said...

Interesting Alan,

In a comment to Debbie you write,
"And, another inaccuracy in your comments is that actually I did give an example of blogs that delete comments, Debbie: this blog. Notice that, rather than naming names of other blogs and bloggers and gossiping about other people behind their backs, as you did, I gave the specific example of the comments that get deleted right here on this blog, by Viola."

But earlier you wrote to me:

"Sorry, I was referring to the "Consistory" and other "conservative" PCUSA blogs, not just your blog."

Do not comment here again at all on any posting of mine. You are only attempting to side track any posting about homosexuality.

Viola Larson said...

Interesting Alan,

In a comment to Debbie you write,
"And, another inaccuracy in your comments is that actually I did give an example of blogs that delete comments, Debbie: this blog. Notice that, rather than naming names of other blogs and bloggers and gossiping about other people behind their backs, as you did, I gave the specific example of the comments that get deleted right here on this blog, by Viola."

But earlier you wrote to me:

"Sorry, I was referring to the "Consistory" and other "conservative" PCUSA blogs, not just your blog."

Do not comment here again at all on any posting of mine. You are only attempting to side track any posting about homosexuality.

Viola Larson said...

Well I guess two is better than one! I don't know how that happened.

Alan said...
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Pastor Bob said...

Viola

I think in textual criticism it's called dittography. ;)

Bob Campbell
Sharon Hill, PA

timeforthetruth said...

If this is what "dialogue" is like, then give me a good debate any day.

Adel Thalos
Snellville, GA

Debbie said...

To clear Alan's confusion up, Shuck wanted examples of comments, not of blogs. Alan could have given an example of the type of comment that was deleted, even though the comment itself had been deleted.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Anonymous said...
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Viola Larson said...

Debbie,
If you read this I deleted John's last comment to you the more I thought about it, and for some reason it kept popping into my head at Presbytery, the more I thought how ugly it was. I am sorry I left it there at all.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Kevin said...

I'm thinking you weren't referring to the lion, unicorn post? ;-)

It was very artistic. Very Mya Angelou. Only better. :)

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Kevin,
I consider that quite a complement.