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Students Wrestle With Touchy Topic

Berea's commitment to Christian values is a hot topic on campus. The BC speech and debate team, led by Dr. Billy Wooten, recently shed some light on the issue, staging a debate and community forum open to the public.

Dr. Billy Wooten welcomes guests at the public debate and community forum.

Wooten had some initial reservations about debating the topic of Berea's Christian mission. "I was hesitant to stage the debate because I worried how it would be perceived," he says. "I did not want the administration or any group on campus to perceive the event as an attack on Christianity or the college's Great Commitments. Thankfully, my concern was unfounded. Everyone involved was very supportive. President Shinn even aided us in our preliminary research."

In a recent poll, the debate team found that 46% of students thought that Berea was living up to its third Great Commitment, "To stimulate understanding of the Christian faith and its many expressions and to emphasize the Christian ethic and the motive of service to others." Fifty-four percent thought the college could to a better job.

The debate team's hard work and research culminated in an educational exercise held in Phelps Stokes Chapel. "This spring's debate over the college's Christian commitment came to fruition after talks with several GSTR instructors who were finding their class discussions rather polarized about what the phrase 'Christian College' actually means," explains Wooten. "In addition, there have been a couple of events and disagreements on campus that prompted the topic, for example, the 'Walking Out On Homosexuality' event and the ongoing discussion about whether certain religious iconography on campus should be changed or removed."

The debate was held between six students, three representing each side of the argument. Romy Bernard, Levi Bennett and Lorena Luna represented the more conservative side, arguing that Berea needed to adopt more traditional practices and Christian views. The opposition, made up of Boha Esenov, Brendan Smith and Joe Edmonds, argued that Berea was living up to Christian expectations and nothing more needed to be done.

Bernard suggested that Berea's acceptance of students of all religions violated core Christian values and proposed that Berea's support of single-mothers and the homosexual community is not consistent with the practices of a "Christian college." Finally, Bernard criticized elements of Berea's curriculum, especially the science department's teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution. Bernard argued that Berea needed to provide a better balance for students and later stated strongly, "We know that the faith is flawless," in regard to the Christian view of creationism.

The students who followed Bernard argued over her three points, either agreeing or disagreeing with them. Several key points were made by both sides. Joe Edmonds, on the opposing side, cited the gospel of impartial love and Berea's motto, "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth." "The emphasis is on all, not just Christians," he argued. Edmonds and his teammates also raised the question, "If Berea College were to eliminate all non-Christian students, then how could it help those with the most need?"

When all was said and done, the six shook hands and congratulated one another on a lively and successful debate. Jeff Pool, director of the Campus Christian Center, took the stage to offer some personal thoughts on the topic. "I think it's fitting that I'm standing between these two tables," he joked before talking about the Campus Christian Center's middle ground position between the two arguments.

Finally, it was the audience's turn to say a few words. Many asked questions of the debaters, asking about impartial love, free will, social contracts, the "Cause of Christ" and Berea's non-denominational claim. Some expressed discontent towards one side or the other, but everyone left Phelps Stokes that evening with a better grasp on the argument, which was Wooten's motive.

"Everyone involved in the event won," says Wooten. "Our purpose was to compare two perspectives of Christian ethic and values. The two views are obviously polar opposites, but these are also the views we find clashing in class discussions. So, given that the audience was very interactive and voiced many questions and comments, I believe both teams accomplished their goals. Those who attended now have a better understanding of how Berea represents its identity."

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