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Church Builds Harmony Through Student Debate


Leaders at a United Methodist church in Nashville, Tennessee believe civilized dialogue would be an important step to help solve race-related issues in the U.S. So they organized a debate for a diverse group of local teenagers and college students. Terry Bulger has more.

(Nashville, Tennessee)

 It doesn't take a sermon to send a message. Debate and the power of words work too.

James Blevins, Member, Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church: "If we could learn how to do that instead of shooting and killing people probably America would not be like it is today."

 Apurva Kunte, Vanderbilt University Student: "That's the cool thing about debate, there's always the back and forth, but we know at the end of the day it's just a debate."

In these volatile times where race, protest, and civil disobedience are headline news every day in the U.S., Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee invited young students here to talk it out.

(Student speaks at podium) "The purpose of this debate is to further discourse on a controversial topic and offer a bridge to communities.”

Debate teams from Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt, and two inner-city Nashville high schools tussled with the topics of the day.

Black Lives Matter, Immigration, Protests.    

Church pastor Charles L. White knows this is no time to be silent.

The Rev. Charles White, Pastor, Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church: “It's helping, not only as a church, but as a community, to elevate the conversations and issues that are affecting our young people today."

(Student speaks at podium)  "Maybe civil disobedience worked in the 1940's, 50's and 60's, but times have changed.”

So as young people spoke from the altar area, elders in the church listened.

(Student speaks at podium)  "An unarmed black boy was shot down by a white officer 12 times..."

And they argued issues that touch their daily lives and changing neighborhoods...

Tabitha Mundy, Member, Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church: “I think it's very relevant. With all of the gentrification right here in the heart of North Nashville, I think it's important for Gordon to re-connect with our community and get involved.”

...connecting with other communities too, just three miles apart. TSU's students are mostly black; Vanderbilt's, mostly white.    

Kaylee Kohlmaier, Vanderbilt University Student: “Oh, it was incredibly cool. It's also an easy thing for us to do. We don't get a lot of interaction with TSU on the intellectual side, so to be able to meet people on the debate team who do what we do, it's really great. I think we made some great friends with TSU today, that's true."

Agreeing that Black Lives Matter, and so do words.

The Rev. Charles White/ Pastor, Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church: “Now they see this time-honored tradition, that they can use the art of debate, as a way to communicate, as a way to argue their point as a way to educate themselves."

No debating what McGavock junior James Blevins knows is a necessary conversation.

James Blevins, McGavock High School Student: “Things are either going to get worse, or people are going to learn what we're doing right now isn't working. So we're going to change it so it can be for the better."

Church leaders say the debate was a great success, and they expect more church sponsored events like this to happen in the future.  Pastor White believes it's now part of their mission.

Learn more about Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church.

Learn more about the Methodist connection in the film, “The Great Debaters.”

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Fran Walsh, 615-742-5458.

This video was first posted on March 14, 2017.