By Steven Vaughan, Debate Committee
The next season for Stoa speech and debate is almost here. Most of you have taken some time off and spent the summer relaxing, working a summer job, going on vacations, finishing up the school work you were supposed to do last spring, or various other things. Your Stoa Board and Committees have been doing all this too, and more. One of those things we work on are the rules for each event. As you begin preparations for your speeches and debates, you will want to become very familiar with these rules. Several have been clarified this year. It is important that you understand the rules so you know how to follow the rules. But there’s more to it than that. How you approach the rules is important: not just for competition, but in all aspects of life.
We can illustrate this by taking a look at the gospels where the major approaches to the law were the Pharisees, and Jesus. Each of them considered themselves under the law, and blameless in light of the law. But Jesus reserved His most harsh comments for the Pharisees. Why? Because of their approach to the law. When the Pharisees looked at the law, they only saw it as something they needed to keep from breaking. “Well, what’s wrong with that?” you may be asking. We have rules. So, don’t break them. The problem came with the attitude of their heart. As they looked at the law, they were asking themselves, “What can I do and still not break the law?” Or, in other words, “How much can I get away with? How much can I push the limit and still be safe?” For example, the law says “Thou shall not commit adultery.” But the Pharisees would see a nice young lady that looked better than their wife, and they wanted her. Now, the law also says that you can divorce your wife as long as you give a certificate of divorce. So, the Pharisees had their loophole. Stay married as long as you don’t find something better. But, when you see a younger, prettier lady you want to have a relationship with, simply write out a certificate of divorce and you are free to get married to the one who looks better. And they did this over and over again, and claimed to be within the bounds of the law.
The law also says to keep your vows and oaths. The Pharisees wanted a way out of this as well. Therefore they stated that if you make a promise in one way, you didn’t have to keep it, but if you worded it a certain other way, you did. It’s kind of like what we used to call the King’s X. Cross your fingers behind your back, and you don’t have to keep your promises. Jesus went so far as to say that this way of making promises was, in actuality, of the evil one.
What about Jesus? Well, He didn’t seek to not break the law, but to keep the law. How is that different? When He was asked what was the most important or highest Commandment, He said it was to love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second was to love your neighbor as yourself. This kind of love is not one that feels, but is one that acts. It seeks to bless the recipient. Jesus kept the law by blessing others. It wasn’t that He didn’t kill, He made others alive. He didn’t just not steal, He restored and gave in abundance. Paul says in Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” That goes beyond just don’t steal. But now we are called to work hard so we can bless others with our abundance.
So, what does this have to do with speech and debate rules? I am calling on you to look at your heart. Do you look at the rules to see what it is you can get away with and still get the win? Do you look at every way you can interpret them so you can find that edge over others? If so, you are approaching them as would the Pharisees. However, if you are looking at the rules as something necessary for honest competition; if you are seeking to bless your opponents by keeping the rules, your approach is more in line with how Jesus kept the law. Who do you want to be more like?