Occasionally in the teaching profession students will find away to say thank you. I know this was true for me growing up. Now that the roles are reversed, and I’m the teacher, it is nice to receive words of affirmations. The following was penned by my student Donald Garrison and appeared in Oklahoma Baptist University’s The Bison.
In a time where political discourse is seen as intimidating, Professor Loyd argues it is necessary for Christians to engage in these topical conversations. Professor Scot Loyd, coach of Oklahoma Baptist University’s Debate Team, encourages his students to discuss the issues they see in an ever-increasing polarization of political discourse. “The goal of the debate team at OBU is to encourage civil discourse and to create opportunities for students to engage with other students on a variety of subjects,” Loyd said. “What debate does is it trains people to think about issues facing humanity in the 21st century, borrowed from a variety of perspectives–not just getting locked into a binary system of black or white–but to see all of the levels of gray that could be brought to solve a problem or an issue.”
The Debate Team covers a variety of issues related to current events, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. “Anything basically that is debatable comes up. We see a lot of environmental issues. We see a lot of economic issues, a lot of global political issues,” Loyd said. “The great thing about our style of debate is that it gives you a wide variety of issues in which we can express our opinion. Not just our opinion, but an informed opinion; you never know in life when you’re going to be called upon to think about issues that are affecting you.” Despite Loyd’s encouragement of political discourse, evidence shows that many Americans are hesitant to engage in such conversations in which they disagree.
A 2021 study from the Pew Research Center reported that 58% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats find political discussions with people from the opposite party to be “stressful and frustrating.” This is a sizable increase from a 2016 study that reported the same sentiment for 48% of Republicans and 45% of Democrats. Loyd acknowledges that, while conflict can arise from political discourse, these topics should not be shied away from. “All [political] issues have implications for how we live our everyday lives,” Loyd said. “And if we’re not thinking critically about these issues, then we can be subject to deception, we can be subject to manipulation [and] we can be subject to having our emotions manipulated to the point where we take action that is that is harmful, and that actually works against our best interest and the best interest of our neighbors.”
Loyd encourages Christians to engage in political discourse with people who disagree with them. He argues it will challenge their beliefs and opinions in a positive way. “When someone expresses an opinion, follow up by asking them why, and then witness their blank stare as they contemplate,” Loyd said. “A lot of times people will respond with, ‘Well, the Bible says so, or an authority figure in my life, a pastor, a parent, a professor, has taught me that this is right.’ But when you ask those probing questions, which is part of the debate process, it helps people begin to think more clearly, deeply and critically about these things that they believe to be true.” In addition to supporting political discourse, Loyd also believes that conflict from these conversations, if handled correctly, can lead to stronger relationships between people.
“Debate by definition creates controversy and creates conflict. But conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Loyd said. “In fact, I would suggest that the absence of conflict is just as unhealthy and dysfunctional as an excess of conflict. What you want to accept in any relationship is that there is going to be a certain amount of conflict for a healthy relationship to exist.” Loyd has witnessed conflict even between members of the Debate Team, but through it he has also witnessed relationships between the team strengthen on the other side of conflict. “There have been seasons, even within our community as a small debate team, where we’ve had massive periods of conflict,” Loyd said. “But we’ve learned to get through that. And what we discover, as anyone discovers in a healthy relationship, on the other side of conflict, the relationships emerge in a much stronger position than they were previous to the conflict. Being a part of the debate team puts you in a position where you have to deal with conflict. You have to deal with it within the context of people that you really care about, and you learn to work through those issues. On the other side, [the Debate Team] emerges as a much stronger community as a result.