How many of us have known a missionary who really liked to “bash”? In my missionary days, “bashing” meant that the Elder or Sister would go head-to-head with someone trying to come off victorious in a battle of words. In other words, they enjoyed a heated debate. A debate typically means holding a discussion with opposing viewpoints. I see it as trying to “prove” the strength of an argument or “side.”
There is often a difference between a discussion and a debate. A discussion seems to be the creation of a respectful environment where viewpoints and opinions are shared without shaming, and learning is made possible. This would create a successful environment for the Spirit to join in and testify of the truthfulness of the work. If the debate turns contentious or accusatory, the Spirit cannot bring peace to the hearts of those involved. Debates serve only to harden hearts and promote pridefulness.
In the Book of Mormon, during the beautiful account of the Savior’s personal ministry upon the American continent, He taught about the need for peace in our interactions. He said, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29).
Elder Marvin J. Ashton said, “Contention is a tool of the adversary. Peace is a tool of our Savior. What a wonderful tribute we pay people when we describe them as being gentle, firm, and calm! Contention stops progress. Love brings eternal progression. Where contention prevails, there can be no united effort in any purposeful direction. “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another” (D&C 136:23). Argument and debate must be supplanted by calm discussion, study, listening, and negotiation. The gospel is one of harmony, unity, and agreement. It must be presented in love, and with glad tidings, by those who are calm.”1
When the Lord taught the gospel upon the earth, He did not debate with others. He invited them to come and learn for themselves. He taught by guiding the conversation in such a way as to make the listeners turn inward and ponder His message, but He never pushed the gospel message upon any
person. If they chose not to follow His counsel, then these listeners would lose the opportunity for the greatest of all gifts.
When a member of the Church chooses to debate the gospel, he or she loses the presence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. (Galatians 5:22-23) All of these attributes could turn a learning opportunity into conversion through the power of the Holy Ghost. We can assist in the gathering of Israel as we shun contentious debates and share the gospel in a spirit of peace, love, and understanding.
1. “There Are Many Gifts”, Elder Marvin J. Ashton, October 1987 General Conference