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Division, debate and David Lipscomb

This is America- and there’s no denying that there is division. Within the state, the city, the church, and our school, there is disunity.

Whether politically, socially, or economically, people find themselves “drawing the line.” Someone might find it difficult or even impossible to hold a conversation with another person who believes something different, says something triggering, or does something that they do not agree with.

On October 17th, an organization called Turning Point Lipscomb screened “The Greatest Lie Ever Sold,” a film by conservative commentator Candace Owens about the killing of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives Matter. This film caused a lot of controversy and hard conversations throughout campus. Out of these conversations grew more thoughts. At Lipscomb, where are we when it comes to discussing different points of view? Are certain requirements that must be met before a film is “cleared” or deemed appropriate to be shown on campus? At a Church of Christ liberal arts institution, is there a line for students and faculty? If so, what is it?

I spoke to several faculty members, none of whom have seen the film. There were a variety of viewpoints and thoughts about “balance” at our university and how we are called to talk about various issues.

“This is a university. And so, therefore, we need to be able to entertain arguments from different people coming from different places who may not share our values,” says Dr. Marc Schwerdt, Chair of the Department of History, Politics, and Philosophy. “We should not deny that there are some viewpoints and values that are incompatible with one another. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to discuss them or have them as a subject of conversation here on campus… we can’t help people to advance intellectually, spiritually, morally, and so forth without actually engaging with things that can be very challenging. And this is a great environment to do that.”

Or is there another way?

Dr. Ted Parks, Professor of Spanish and cofounder of HumanDocs, says, “I’m not sure that we’re called to be balanced. I think we’re called to be loving, merciful, and to tell the truth and to pursue justice, justice as defined in the kingdom of God, which is not jurisprudence and legal justice, but social justice, which everybody has,” Parks added. “…I think we’re really called to do those things and to not be afraid of the truth. And to equip people to know when something is the truth or when it’s not. And to think critically about what they are seeing or reading so that they can use the gifts that God gave them to determine if it’s true if it’s good, and if it’s beautiful.”

If this had happened in 1891, what might our founder, David Lipscomb, say?

Dean of the College of Bible, Dr. Leonard Allen, had some interesting insights. “…Lipscomb lived over 100 years ago when Christian debating was a thing. It even was a sort of public spectacle, almost a public entertainment. And, with the advent of radio and television, all of that pretty much went away,” Allen said. “You would get in public several nights in a row and have an opponent who disagreed on some key issues of Christian conviction, and you went at each other, cutting and hueing into the wonderous delight of the audience. Lipscomb thought those were beneficial, good things. I happen not to believe that, but…”

All faculty members agreed that the University must wrestle with different viewpoints. But, is there a danger of acting irresponsibly through media and filmmaking?

“There’s a big difference between a film that’s propagandistic and is intended to persuade the viewers of a specific viewpoint about those facts,” says Parks, who shows documentaries regularly through a series called HumanDocs at the University. “There’s a difference between that kind of film and a film that does it in a journalistically and artistically responsible fashion.”

But, is it appropriate to show a film like “The Greatest Lie Ever Told” at Lipscomb?

“It’s got a viewpoint, but there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Schwerdt. “In fact, we promote that in other settings. I’m really kind of unsure why anyone would be uncomfortable with it. If they disagree with it, don’t watch it. You have that choice.”

We should mention again that none of these professors have seen this film. But they see value in thought and conversation about searching for what is just and right.

How do we respect one another while exploring different viewpoints? Is there room for our university to improve?

These are big questions without clear-cut answers. And there are many places to seek understanding, but where will we turn to?

“There’s some concrete things about Jesus,” Allen states. “He taught His followers to turn the other cheek. He taught His followers to have gentle answers, to be respectful of other people. Always. And not try to win every argument or any argument for that matter.”