Echoing one of the three points in Rev. Ramsay’s sermon, this brief column from the Comments & Timely Topics section of the 5 May 1927 issue of THE PRESBYTERIAN asks, “Should Controversy Be Suppressed?
Impatience with controversy is one of the outstanding characteristics of the day–especially in religious circles. To call a man a controversialist to-day is to condemn him in the eyes of multitudes calling themselves Christians–no matter if it be controversy in behalf of the gospel in which the only motive is love for Christ and those for whom he died. We have no sympathy with this notion — a notion that finds, not sanction, but rebuke, from the example of Christ and his apostles. In the midst of present-day cries for peace — cries which often mean an appeal to stop discussion, debate, controversy, it is refreshing to read the following manly, vigorous and healthy-minded editorial in Liberty, issue of April 30, under the title, “Now Argue About That!” :
“Controversy, argument, furnish the seeds of progress, and the ‘shush h-h’ method of dealing with problems — social, religious, political or personal–never resulted in anything but stagnation or degeneration. Does the writer stop to think that Christianity itself was founded upon controversy, and how many centuries the civilization of the world would have been retarded had Christ and his disciples said: ‘ ‘Shush — we mustn’t say anything; it might start an argument’?
“America was discovered through controversy. It was settled because of controversies, by those who insisted upon arguing and fighting for ideas and ideals. The United States itself is the result of controversy. If Adams, Franklin, Washington, and their fellows had said: ‘We mustn’t talk about the right to tax without representation; King George might not like it.’ there would not have been any United States.
“The emancipation of the slaves was delayed for at least one generation because of the ‘shushers who insisted that it was wrong to discuss the slavery problem, because someone might differ with their ideas.
“The element of humanity that will not fight for a principle for fear of creating discord is a drag on progress. To adopt the attitude of ‘sh-sh-shush when a vital principle is involved is as futile as it is cowardly.
“Business itself is based upon controversy–and competition. Life itself is controversy and competition. The publication that is confined to the ‘sh-sh-shush school of thought gets nowhere. It is contributing nothing to advancement, to progress, to constructiveness in this world. The yes-man of business, politics, church or society merely seeks the easy way that the panderer and the court clown followed in older days.
“If a matter of principle is involved, if factions, parties or individuals honestly differ on any problems of public or private policy, the best way is to thrash out the matter openly. The fact is that the ‘shushers have been the most fertile cause of wars in the past, because by their own attempts to keep quiet and force others to keep quiet, they have created an atmosphere of doubt, distrust and suspicion. [C.S. Ed.: Think, e.g., of Neville Chamberlain and the Anglo-German Declaration — “Peace for our time”.]
“Test it yourself : How often after nourishing a hatred or enmity for years, have you discovered some fact that altered the whole situation and caused you to say : ‘If I had known that I would have acted differently? We all do it.
“We cannot avoid controversy, even the writer who criticises us is guilty of indulging in the very thing to which he objects. Since controversy is unavoidable under any circumstances, we prefer frank, open discussion, because in every controversy, a thinking person may gain something of value from the other fellow, even if he does not admit himself wrong.”