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Elections & the Bible
October 21, 2020, 10:35 AM

So, this week we will have the last Presidential debate before Election Day, which may go down in history as “The Muted Debate”.  The “muting” of either candidate may make it more difficult for Dani to play her debate “Bingo” games while she listens.  She listens for a word or phrase that is likely to be spoken and if it is on her Bingo card, she marks it out.  I am not sure who she is competing against, but it is odd to hear “Bingo” shouted out during the debate.

I have listened to most of the Presidential debates through the last several decades.  I do not find many of them to be a lasting memory beyond the election cycle.  There are a couple of debates that still stand out for me.  In my lifetime, the Kennedy – Nixon debate still lingers for me. It was the first televised debate that I can remember, and it featured a fresh, young candidate squaring off against the seasoned politician. Both candidates used some humor as they wrestled with the issues of the time to make their case to the nation. Even though they disagreed with the other, they were respectful to each other and to their audience. Both were trying to capture the aspirations of the nation with their political and civil philosophies. Years later, political historians pointed to Kennedy’s success coming from both his comfort in front of the cameras as well as his preparation visually to be in front of the cameras. Nixon on the other hand appeared nervous and pale. Remember, it was the FIRST televised debate.

The other debate that stands out historically for me – which was NOT televised -- was the Lincoln – Douglas debates of 1858, also called the Great Debates of 1858. There were seven debates, held in seven of the nine counties in Illinois (Lincoln and Douglas had already spoken in two of the counties separately before they agreed to debate together). Their debate format was different than the Kennedy – Nixon debate.  Each debate lasted three hours, one candidate spoke for sixty minutes, then the other spoke for ninety minutes, then the first speaker got 30 minutes to respond. The debates were done in front of standing crowds who actively participated with responses to each speaker. Reporters from many states, not just Illinois, came to cover the debates, some even trying to get down what was said verbatim. And although Lincoln and Douglas were running for the Illinois Senate seat, these debates would become significant for two reasons – first, it gave Lincoln much greater exposure across the country rather than just Illinois; and second it prepared him to speak nationally on the issue of slavery (which were his and Douglas’ main topic for debate).

I cannot imagine any current politician being able to manage the format of a Lincoln – Douglas debate. Being able to sit still and quiet, while the other candidate talks for that length of time would be an impressive display of self-control, especially when they speak about what they are for and you are against and vice-versa. It is, no doubt, a sign of our time and our quick-moving, fast-flowing society that we only do hour and a half debate. We do not usually sit and listen to something for 60 – 90 minutes without speaking (except maybe a movie!). Nor do we stand during a debate, as the audience did for Lincoln and Douglas. Audiences would have little tolerance for misbehavior or repetitive commentary.

We do not have it described as debates in the Bible, but I think it would come close to the times when Jesus and the Pharisees or Sadducees would square off against each other. It seemed particularly like a debate after Jesus is in Jerusalem for his last Passover time with the disciples. Every day they squared off against each other inside the Temple, and out.  They put Jesus to the test and scripture records him meeting the challenge each time. So much so, that the crowds were supporting him, and the religious leaders were fearful of the crowds favor with Jesus. These were early debates over perspective, belief, and action. They have been some of the most powerful, world-changing debates in history! What are your memorable debates?