Confrontation and Conversation in Canberra
I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it turns out neither was anyone else. We were taking part in a new event organised by City Bible Forum's Canberra team. The cinema venue in Manuka was excellent, the subject looked interesting and the event was publicized. But would anyone turn up? What would the discussion be like? Was it a debate between Christians? A subtle attempt to evangelise non-Christians by stealth? An undercover political event? It turns out that it was none of those. It was what is said on the flyer – a discussion about ‘Them and Us’ – how people who disagree can engage without demonizing one another.
I will leave others to comment on the whole evening but as one of the speakers let me make the following observations.
Firstly, my task was made a whole lot easier by the fact that the other speaker was brilliant. Priyan Max Jeganathan was stimulating, intelligent, articulate, biblical and great fun. Max’s experience and wisdom made a great contribution to the evening.
Then the moderater, Alex Sloan, was unusual. What I mean by that is that she was coming from a different perspective to both myself and Max, who were essentially on the same page. This meant she had little disagreement to moderate, and so she made things interesting by questioning us from her perspective. Again this worked really well. She is a consummate professional and a pleasant, engaging and intelligent person. I really liked her – especially when our obvious disagreements created an edge – which then demonstrated how it is possible to disagree, graciously. Which was the point of the whole evening.
The audience were the best of all. You could see that the majority were engaged, animated and interested in the discussion. Speaking to several afterwards was really encouraging. Like me, they found the subject to be important and stretching. What are the limits of free speech? Should government regulate what we can say and if so to what extent? Does the internet help or hinder civilised discussion? Are universities in danger of becoming monoversities? Is religious freedom essential for freedom of speech? Should Christians fight for freedom of speech? (the answer to the latter was yes – but we should do so not for Christians alone, but for all!)
In Scotland we have a saying ‘it’s better felt than telt’. I can’t really describe how good the meeting was – you had to be there to experience it! But I hope that this gives you some kind of flavour of the event and encouragement to do similar! Well done to Leon Hribar and the Canberra team for having the nerve to put this on.
I hope that it will bear much fruit – and be only the first of similar stimulating and challenging events in the nations capital!
PS. If you were there and would like to follow up – or if you missed it and would like to come to a similar events in Canberra (or elsewhere) in the not too distant future – why not get in touch with me – david.robertson[at]thirdspace.org[dot]au or your state representative. You can access the the audio recording below.
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David Robertson is an experienced presenter and debater on the place of the Christian faith in the public sphere, a prolific blogger at The Wee Flea and he was the minister at St Peter's Free Church in Dundee, Scotland for 27 years. David joined City Bible Forum in 2019 to lead a new initiative called Third Space.