I don’t like to debate. Really, I don’t. I’ve always seen myself as a catechist rather than an apologist. And yet, I find myself in debates at times — often lengthy ones — especially on social media. When I’m in one, of course, I try to do well. I can’t say that I try to “win” though. Human nature doesn’t really allow for that. I’ve never heard of a debate where the opposition changed their mind (at least publicly). In that way, we’re not going to win, so why bother?
I recall something attributed to Mother Theresa: we are called to be faithful, not successful. Further, St. Peter tells us to “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15). This isn’t really, strictly, about winning then. So what is it about?
First, at the most fundamental level, it’s about being faithful to the Truth. That’s our primary mission – to be faithful. Jesus is the Truth, so anytime you’re faithful to any truth, you’re faithful to Jesus. When I teach my son that 2+2 = 4 instead of 5, I’m being faithful (even if in a small way) to Jesus, because I’m teaching truth and all truth comes from one source. Taking that further, we should be ready to proclaim and defend truth when necessary, whether that’s truth about human life, about sexuality, about the Church, or about anything else.
Next, it’s about being charitable — loving. Correcting someone who is wrong is an act of mercy. We’re called to go out into the world and bring the truth with us, and, at the same time, we’re promised by God that it’s going to hurt when we do it. Still we’re asked to do it.
Third, it’s about putting on a good face. We have to argue in the kindest, most logical, most loving way possible. We just address the ideas with no name calling, no insinuation, no insults, no attacks against people themselves. There are too many people out there making us look bad. We have to do our best to make people see that we’re polite, kind, good people — that we actually live up to what we preach. We have to do our best to show the world that, while we’re sinners, we can still live up to our name and be little Christs.
Lastly, it’s about putting information out there, even if we don’t convince the other people talking with us. We don’t know who else may be reading or what seeds we may plant in their minds. It may take years or decades to come to fruit, and we may never see it happen ourselves. God, however, will water and grow those seeds. It takes an act of faith to let go of immediate results, of racking up the wins, and simply do the work (and take the lumps).
A debate can and should have a catechetical character as well as an evangelical character. It’s about presenting and defending the truth. And it’s not all about the immediate battle; it’s about the war — the war on Truth begun with the very first liar, the war that Christ has already won.
Copyright 2016, Joe Wetterling