Community Voices columnists Jonathan Demarest and Joshua Abaya went head-to-head Friday in a debate held by UTA’s Turning Point USA chapter.
Community Voices is a volunteer columnist program run by The Shorthorn; however, the event was not organized or moderated by the publication.
UTA’s Turning Point USA chapter is an organization that restarted this semester and has hosted a guest speaker and now two debates, said organization co-president Reese Surles. The accounting freshman said the organization usually has two different types of meetings, featuring either guest speakers or debates.
The debate between the two columnists started when Demarest, a political science junior, wrote a Community Voices column titled “Opinion: Progressives need to highlight their religious advantage,” on Nov. 6. In it, Demarest made the case that progressives are more Christian than many would think. Citing Christian principles of tolerance, humanitarian spiritual growth and equality, he said he believed the progressive ideology most closely resembles the teachings of Jesus.
Abaya, an architecture graduate student, rebutted Demarest in his Community Voices column “Opinion: Liberal Christianity is no Christianity.” In his response, Abaya said the principles referenced in the previous column hollow out the orthodox beliefs of Christianity in favor of a revisionist interpretation.
Following the Lincoln-Douglas debate format, Abaya and Demarest flipped a coin at the start of the event to see who would speak first, and then each proceeded to speak, rebut and answer questions from the audience and moderators.
In his opening statement, Abaya called Demarest’s progressive Christianity “moralistic deism” and said it was rampant on the right and the left. He said the importance of the debate was about defining the Christian message and to delve into the text of the Bible to determine what it is.
“Christianity is not a subjective religion,” Abaya said in his closing statement.
He said the only reason people know how to act is because God has spoken. The points given by Demarest were just conjured up in the moments he had been speaking, Abaya said.
“If Christianity can not be based on what Christ has said, how do we know what true Christianity is?” Abaya said. “How do we know Christianity exists?”
Demarest said in his opening statement that his political beliefs were not contrary to Christianity but rather an extension of it. He said he used to view religion as a vessel for oppression, driving him to apathy and disdain for Christianity as a whole.
“God has gifted us with the ability for logic and reason, thus it is our duty to apply these gifts to the Bible, theology and to the world,” Demarest said.
When viewing passages that seem oppressive, he said he came to the conclusion that they needed to reflect on Christianity and their understanding of the Bible.
“If we really want to create a Christianity that cares about humanity, then we need to be able to look at what we have so far, as far as faith is concerned, and rework it,” Demarest said in his closing statement.
Business management junior Leah Heinzman heard about the debate through Demarest, who is her friend.
She said she thought the debate had an equal number of similar and differing opinions.
“For my personal faith, it was really interesting to hear both, very empowering for both,” Heinzman said. “It kind of helps you see where you are in your faith.”