Last night I debated Reverend Michael Brewster of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA on the topic of “Does the Christian god exist?” within his church. Pastor Shawn Walker of First Baptist Church joined us as the moderator and the audience — composed of crying babies, young children, teenagers, young adults, older adults, and senior citizens — included approximately 70 people.
The structured debate lasting about 80 minutes — including opening statements, first rebuttals, second rebuttals, closing statements, and a question & answer session with comments from the audience — went quite smoothly thanks to assistance from Pastor Walker.
Following the debate, I primarily spoke with members of Rev. Brewster’s congregation who thanked me for attending and inviting Rev. Brewster to debate. Some, presumably well-meaning, said they would pray for me. One said that she “just knows” I believe in God because she “can see it in [my] eyes”. Another told me she “just knows” God exists because she was freed of addiction following calling out to God. Some said they really enjoyed the event and are looking forward to future interactions. One person unexpectedly said I was “right.” One Christian, saying she was thinking about me while browsing Christian books in a bookstore, gave me a book. Another Christian said she would mail me books and DVDs.
A cordial debate about religious belief — likely the first of its kind in Northeastern Pennsylvania — went well and was well-attended. Many parishioners who likely have never heard such a debate or encountered arguments against their religious beliefs had a chance to think critically about their beliefs and consider (or reconsider) some doubts. Images people may have had of the ‘nasty, angry, uncivil, rude, foolish, irrational atheist’ have hopefully been dispelled.
Pastor Brewster — who told me that he wasn’t much of a debater and is not practiced at debating or apologetics — courageously accepted my debate challenge and prepared for the debate. Brewster agreed to debate, offered his church as a venue, invited members of his congregation to attend, and made a good effort to debate. Pastor Brewster’s hospitality, and the hospitality of his church staff, on the day of the debate was also excellent; the venue was prepared for the debate and my needs were attended to.
I hope to have more events like this in the future — whether they are debates or not — and engage with religious believers in cordial open to the public discussions which are educational opportunities for the community. Sadly, as far as I know, events like these are not common – at least in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Thanks again to Pastor Brewster, Pastor Walker, all who attended in person, and those who listened online.
I hope to follow-up with thoughts concerning the content of the debate. I will reproduce my opening statement, elaborate on my responses to the material Pastor Brewster presented, and detail problems I found with Pastor Brewster’s case for the Christian god. Stay tuned.