Monday, September 7, 2009

A Public Debate

On May 15, 1881 in Shady Grove, Tennessee, Elder Hyrum Belnap was challenged to a public debate by Reverend J. M. Moulton, a Campbellite minister. According to Belnap, Elders were encouraged to avoid public debates since they would lead to mob violence if the minister found himself beaten. During this first meeting Reverend Moulton treated Elder Belnap and Spence kindly so they concented and set a date for the public debate three weeks later on July 5th & 6th

On the day of the debate Elder Belnap records what happened.

July 5. After breakfast we went out in a nice little grove, the place where Reverend J. M. Moulton and I were to have a public debate. This is just on the line between Hickman and [Maury] Counties. Brother Treadway here introduced us to Squire Frierson, the gentleman who had been chosen chairman of our debate, “Does the Bible Sustain the Doctrine Taught by the Latter Day Saints?”

At 10:00 o’clock the chair called order and I took the stand and affirmed the subject, proving same from the scriptures. Rev. Moulton took the negative, read nothing from the scriptures, but resorted to abuse of the Mormons from reports he had heard. Said that the Mormons were not the only people who believed in revelation. Spoke of Mohammed. I objected, as we were to confine our proof from the Bible. The chair sustained the objection. This very much excited the gentleman and he was unable to collect himself until his time was up. An adjournment was taken until 3:00 o’clock.

At 3:00 o’clock order was called and I opened, proving each assertion [from] the Bible as I went along. The woods were just full of people form all over the country. They seemed very much interested. This gave us an opportunity to read from the scriptures the principles of the gospel to the people, also to show them Biblical proof of the divinity of the Book of Mormon.

As the Reverend Moulton arose he began reading parts of the scriptures, part of one verse and part of another, making them read as he desired. Then he would explain what this and that meant, not allowing the scriptures to speak for themselves, as I did. Then he resorted to sarcasm and abuse as if he were fairly going mad. At the close I tried to get him to let us continue the same subject that evening, but he declined.

July 6. At 10:00 o’clock we were again at our post. This day the subject was, “Is the Doctrine of the Christian Church (to which he belonged) in Accordance with the New Testament?” He affirmed this subject. Moulton showed forth repentance and baptism by immersion. O. K., but he stopped here. It was my privilege to show that this was a small part of the gospel taught in the New Testament.

At 3:00 o’clock he acknowledged that I had explained the gospel principles correctly as Jesus taught them, but there had now come a more excellent way of perfection. In my answer, it was the opportunity of my life to show the people the acknowledgement of the Reverend that Jesus taught one doctrine for salvation and that my friend Moulton had another, then put the question squarely, which plan should we follow, the one given by Jesus or the more excellent way taught by man, even the Reverend himself. Here compared the two doctrines and stated to them that they could all follow the Reverend Moulton, if they chose, but as for me I preferred to follow Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation taught by him. The judge did not call me when the time arrived. The people were so interested they seemed to have forgotten and I must acknowledge that the Lord blessed me as He never had before with language to express myself and with the spirit of testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. At night I came over with W. Hunt

Elder Belnap did not record any mob violence at Shady Grove following the debate.


JonW said...

You know at 22 years old I was cornered by a gentleman who was evangelical. He tried his darnedest to prove we were just cult lovers.

I wish we had a tenth of what that missionary had. We were a bit naive and dumb struck so we just agreed to disagree and left. I felt really dumb for getting caught so flat footed.

Reading his entry was amazing. Thanks Bruce as always I find this subject of these missionaries and their missions fascinating.

Ardis E. Parshall said...

Elder Belnap must have felt pretty good about how well he did, for him to have recorded this in such detail. I'm glad he did -- it makes for a great window into the past.

BruceCrow said...

I recall being in one such debate on my mission. Even knowing what I did the results were the same.

His detail struck me as well. I love when a journal (or is this case really an autobiography) includes enough detail so that it is more than just "we went from place A to Place B and slept at night. Got up the next morning and went to Place C."