Debate team forfeits to avoid

Debate team forfeits instead of defending partial-birth abortion
By: Kelli Cottrell

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP)–Four California Baptist University students chose to forfeit the chance to win a debate tournament rather than argue that the Supreme Court should reverse a ban on partial-birth abortion.

“We wanted them [the judges] to know firmly that we did not believe in partial-birth abortion,” said Mary Pryfogle, 20, captain of the CBU team. “It’s not like theater where you role play and distance yourself from your morals. … We’ve debated other moral issues that were not as heavy, but Scripture is very clear on this.”

Several members of other debate teams and one of the judges congratulated the CBU students for their stance.

“We are Christians first and debaters second,” said team member Wendeth Matyas, 26. “This is a ministry for us. I’m proud that our coach [Mike Marsh] supported our decision on this.”

Matt Taylor, coach of the host California State Long Beach debate team, drew from current events in framing the topic on partial-birth abortion as one of the tournament’s topics, he said in an e-mail to Baptist Press.

“I always like to see people stand up for their principles,” he wrote. “In this case, I wish the debaters could have seen a way to debate and maintain true to their faith. … Students from Pt. Loma [Nazarene], Azusa Pacific [University] and the Christian members of my own team were able to role play without sacrificing their faith.”

Taylor said he had never seen anyone forfeit a debate before.

“I do not remember a time when debaters refused to debate,” said Taylor, who teaches debate and coaches the CSULB team.

The tournament drew participants from several private Christian colleges as well as secular universities last December.

CBU’s two-member senior team and two-member novice team forfeited their matches when they would have had to argue why the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn the ban on partial-birth abortion approved last year by the Senate and House of Representatives and signed by President Bush. Under the procedure, a physician punctures the skull and vacuums out the brain of a partially delivered baby, usually in the second or third term of a pregnancy.

“We thought, surely, this is not what they are asking us to defend,” said Matyas, Pryfogle’s teammate and a speech major. “We went back to discuss how we could rearrange the topic to find a way to debate it. But there is no good in killing four- to nine-month-old babies.”

Marsh, a CBU graduate and former debater who is a teaching assistant at California State University at San Bernadino, said, “The students came to me and said they couldn’t do it.

“It was a pretty extreme topic. I haven’t seen this [forfeiting] done before, but I try to instill education rather than the winning aspect. I was supportive of their decision.”

CBU team members appreciated their coach’s support in refusing to debate. “We are so proud to be a part of this team,” said Marina Fanning, 19, a CBU sophomore. “Some other coaches would have said they need to have the win.”

The students wrote a paragraph to the judges telling them, “We feel this resolution reflects intolerance and the tremendous lack of respect for those who have chosen a religious point of view.”

“It was very admirable,” said John Pate, chairman of the CBU communication department. “They had other students coming up to them all day long telling them they did a good job. There was a win within a loss. More people noticed their stand for losing rather than winning. It stuck with students all day long.”

And word spread across the nation as Focus on the Family Radio reported the story before Christmas.

Not everyone was happy at their decision.

Thomas Gerstheimer and Fanning, the novice team, were surprised and a little disappointed at their judges’ reaction.

“Our judge, who was from a Christian college, was shocked,” said Gerstheimer, 19, a CBU sophomore. “She asked us twice if we were sure we didn’t want to debate it.”

The judge, who Gerstheimer would not name, compared the decision to her teaching the educational benefits of the grocery strike when she didn’t believe in it.

“She wanted us to debate it,” said Gerstheimer, of Ogden, Utah. “We could’ve tried to find some advantages but it wouldn’t have been right. It should be our natural response as Christians. That’s why we are there — to be light.”

Pryfogle was surprised at other Christian students who did debate the issue.

“They made us feel like we were not good enough debaters because we didn’t do it,” she said. “It was as if they had to justify their decisions.”

Although it was tough for the team to lose the round, they would do it over again, they agreed, with Gerstheimer saying, “I’m tired of being passive. I’m glad we had the opportunity [to take a stand].”
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Copyright (c) 2004 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. Visit www.bpnews.net. BP News — witness the difference! Covering the critical issues that shape your life, work and ministry. BP News is a ministry of Baptist Press, the daily news service of Southern Baptists.

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