I don't know if there has ever been a time in which debate, civilized or otherwise, hasn't been slave to rhetoric instead of cold, hard, undeniable facts. I guess there would be nothing to debate if everyone had to concede that the facts were undeniable. That would kind of defeat the purpose of a debate, and some folks just plain need something to argue about. Besides, from what I've seen, any "facts" mentioned in a debate are nothing more than self serving fabrications manufactured by the side using them to support their position.
One of the problems, I think, is that people are no longer taught how to separate fact from fiction. We seem to have lost our ability to critically think and assess the validity of information. I mean, if you can find it on the internet, it must be true. At least until you find the next website with completely opposite information. I think Mark Twain said it best: "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."
Facts are really irrelevant in debate, though. The side that is able to control of the rhetoric controls the terms of the debate. For example, the end of George W. Bush's presidency saw a rip roaring, howling debate over immigration reform. I personally think it was nothing more than a mid term ploy by the Democrats to get minority groups angered at Republicans in the run up to the 2008 presidential elections in which the American public somehow managed to elect a post turtle with a teleprompter. For those of you who have not heard the term, a post turtle is a turtle that is found sitting on top of a post. You know full well it didn't get up on top of the post by itself, you know it has no clue what to do while it's up there or how to get down, and you have to question the sanity of the person that put it there in the first place.
Speaking of President Obama, I found it profoundly amusing that he dignified Congressman Wilson's "You lied" outburst during Obama's address to Congress on Wednesday by saying "That's not true." I guess he told him. Did we suddenly have a mass regression to first grade that I missed? The only thing that would have made it funnier is if it had degenerated into "did not/did so", "my dad can beat up your dad", "I'm gonna tell my mommie." Now boys, play nice or go play somewhere else.
Anyway, back to our main story. The immigration reform debate got hijacked by rhetoric pretty quickly. If you were in favor of building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, or against amnesty for illegal aliens already here, or for enforcing existing laws and rounding up and deporting illegals; the rhetoric painted you as "anti-immigrant" and against the very melting pot that made America great. If, however, you were in favor of letting millions of people who entered the country illegally have a "path to citizenship" (a.k.a blanket amnesty), the rhetoric painted you as Ceasar Augustus watching Rome burn as the Visigoths raped, pillaged and plundered our great nation. What? You've got to be kidding me. Instead of focusing on real issues, we're going to demonize our opponents and their positions?!?!?
Preachers are getting into the act now, too. I recently started seeing billboards pop up in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area with a couple of variations on the theme: "Would Jesus Discriminate? Why Should We?". Well, the short answer is: No, He wouldn't and neither should we. The problem I have with this billboard campaign is the blatant misrepresentation of scripture to support an agenda.
If you go to the website advertised on the billboards (http://www.whywouldwe.org/), you will find that this ad campaign is supported by a group of churches primarily catering to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transsexual community. They cite Matthew 8:5-13 to claim that Jesus "affirmed a gay couple". They also cite Acts 8:26-40 to claim that "the early church welcomed a gay man." As you probably have guessed, this group's position is that we Christians shouldn't discriminate against those of the GLBT persuasion because Jesus and the early church didn't either. So now, if I don't accept homosexuality, I am somehow discriminating against GLBTs and being hypocritical of my Christian faith at the same time?
I don't think so. Let's look at some ugly facts for a moment. The folks at whywouldwe.org would have you believe that Matthew 8 is the story of a Roman Centurion (an officer in charge of 100 men) who comes to Jesus to have his gay lover healed of an affliction. The term in question in this section of the scripture is the word translated in English as "servant" from the Greek word "pais". Whywouldwe.org claims that this word can mean "his master's male lover." According to my Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and it's Greek Dictionary, pais means "a boy (as often beaten with impunity), or a girl, and a child; specifically a slave or servant (especially a minister to a king...).
Similarly, whywouldwe.org says that the eunuch mentioned in Acts 8 was actually a homosexual. They claim that homosexuality was widely associated with eunuchs in the ancient world. Here again, Strong's tells another story. The Greek word translated in English as "eunuch" is "eunouchos". The definition is "a castrated person (such being employed in Oriental bed-chambers); by extension an impotent or unmarried man, by implication a chamberlain (state officer).
Now, I am gracious enough to concede that understanding cultural and historical context is as important to understanding the Bible as anything else. However, just because a Roman officer might have used a male servant as a sex toy or that a eunuch might have been gay does not mean that those verses cited by whywouldwe.org automatically mean what they say it means. Further, you can't take one verse out of context and ignore what the rest of the Bible says. There is plenty of other scripture that condemns homosexuality as sin (just as it does for adultery, murder, and several other things).
The rhetoric whywouldwe.org is using would have you believe that condemning the sin is the same as condemning the person, but that is not the example that Christ set for us. Look at John 8 and the story of how He handled the adulterous woman who was brought before Him for stoning. He didn't tell her that it was okay to be an adulterer. He told her: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." He had compassion on her and forgave her the punishment prescribed by the Law, but He did so with the strict admonishment for her to cease her sinful ways.
To borrow from Congressman Wilson, you lied whywouldwe.org. Would Jesus discriminate against a GLBT person? Absolutely not. Would He accept them into the church after repentance and baptism? Absolutely. Would He condone homosexuality? Absolutely not. He would love the person but hate the sin. We as Christians (literally followers of Christ) should do the same.