Review, Eastbourne Herald, 24 September 1999:
Celebrity Debate of future of Christianity packs local hall
Six well-known Wellingtonians got Eastbourne's Bimillennium Festival off to a provocative start last week.
The celebrities argued the motion "that Christianity will be irrelevant in the third millennium" before an audience of more than 200 people at Muritai School.
For the affirmative, veteran debater Noel Cheer led off with the proposition that Christianity had become a religion about, but not of, Jesus. Whereas Jesus had proclaimed the Kingdom of God, "all we got was a church" which was sexist, hierarchical, dualist and a danger to the planet.
Beginning the negative team's presentation, Baptist minister and international opera singer Rodney Macann said Christianity had its shadier side, but this only reflected the necessary fallibility of its followers. There had always been individuals - the Martin Luther Kings and Nelson Mandelas - who had kept it true to its principles. The continuing world-wide growth of Christianity demonstrated its relevance.
The affirmative team's second speaker, Presbyterian minister Pamela Tankersley, said Christianity and the Jewish faith from which it arose had looked on women as little more than receptacles for children, and this attitude had survived down through the ages. Given that men were primarily responsible for the evils such as militarism and genocide, there was a need for the Christian Church to embrace the commonsense of women.
For the opposing team, Eastbourne story-teller Dick Weir argued that Christianity continued to be relevant in the present age because of its infinite adaptability; its ability to create connectedness between people and the planet. Now Christianity was making another adaptation to become the church of the poor, he said. The concept of the Holy Ghost in particular was helping to answer the spiritual needs of people in Asia, Africa and South America.
The final speaker for the affirmative, YWCA director Marion Wood, said Christianity had been a negative influence on human development because of its emphasis on hierarchies and compartments, its belief in the domination of man over nature, and its potential as a justification for colonisation and exploitation. What was needed was "earth-centred spirituality".
Last word went to broadcaster Maureen Garing, who said that as the millennium drew to a close on a note of war and destruction, we should be reminded just how necessary and relevant Christianity still was. Humans needed something stronger than themselves, external and eternal, on which they could place hope.
Summaries from the team leaders, followed by some insightful comments from the floor, wrapped up proceedings and Dick Smithies called for a show of hands for the result. No count was taken, but the outcome was declared - pretty fairly, going on a rough impression of the raised hands - a draw.