The Rev. Rob Courtney
Fr. Rob is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School
Have you heard of SUMMA? It's an initiative of Sewanee's School of Theology, the seminary I attended. SUMMA is a theological debate camp for high-school students--which sounds like something every high schooler is just dying to do, right?! That's what I thought when I first heard of it, but it's well-attended and has been going strong for several years now.
When Bishop Gray was here at St. Paul's he brought SUMMA to my oldest daughter's attention, and encouraged her to participate. She attended SUMMA for three years, and then served a year as a counselor. It was an important part of her formation as a Christian and as a person. Our own Mtr. Gina Jenkins, chaplain for our school, is the SUMMA camp activities director this summer.
The question that this camp is really trying to get students to is the title of this blog post: "Do you always have to be right?" Maybe even deeper than that, "Are you always right?" The very nature of respectful debate teaches an important lesson about there being multiple sides to issues, and that most issues are more nuanced than they might seem to be at first. The camp's motto, and main goal, is teaching young people what it truly means to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).
"We aren't supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let's grow in every way into Christ, who is the head." - Ephesians 4:14-16a
One needn't go further than the comment section of any news story or social media post to find people disagreeing with one another in less than loving ways. What most people seem to want more than anything else today in the arguments I sometimes encounter is simply to be right. "Speaking the truth in love" is a lesson for young people and adults alike, and is a Christian way of being that is utterly countercultural.
The way it works each year at SUMMA is that the entire camp session revolves around one "resolution" that the young people spend the week researching and learning to debate from both the yea and nay sides. Here's this year's resolution:
Resolved: "Complete separation between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion."
Stipulation: Our resolution is a statement by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, as quoted by Federal Judge William Overton, in a decision overturning Arkansas Act 590, the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution Science" law of 1981. We will debate the statement in the limited context of teaching science in public school.
Where do you fall on this resolution? How would you debate it?
I personally love this resolution, and can imagine having fun debating both sides. There is one side I instinctively agree with more than the other, but I think it's important to understand opposing arguments, and I think it would be interesting to try deeply to understand those arguments. Doing so can only refine my position, help me to uncover the nuance, and to understand how an "opponent" might come to a different conclusion that I do.
As people directed by scripture to "speak the truth with love" we have to be willing to do two things. 1) We have to speak the truth as we see it in ways that are respectful of others, and 2) we have to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, we're not right about everything.
Or, in the words of Oliver Cromwell as he pleaded with his opponents, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken."
"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken." - Oliver Cromwell
When you're about to post that comment on a social media post, this might be a good thing to ask yourself. I've also heard it said that a good set of questions to ask before I speak is, "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" Such self-reflective questions are a sure-fire way to get myself thinking about whether what I'm about to say is really loving or not.
Such questions don't just apply to social media, but also everyday disagreements with the people around us.
SUMMA is doing important work of combatting polarization in the Church and in our culture. It's work I wish I'd done as a young person. We could all do with a dose of "speaking the truth with love." What do you think about this as a proposed resolution for today:
Resolved: It is more important to be loving than to be right.