Debates In The Upper Ohio Valley

J. W. Shepherd, Ira C. Moore, Thaddeus S. Huston

Bruce Daugherty

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, public preaching of the gospel often elicited challenges to debate. It was not unusual for a gospel meeting to be interrupted and the preacher be challenged to a debate on the spot. To be an effective gospel preacher in that period often required being an effective debater. Many debates resulted from this public challenge to the gospel message.

The men who guided the Christian Leader were well acquainted with the religious controversies of their day. J. W. Shepherd, one time office manager of the Gospel Advocate and a co-editor of the Christian Leader for many years, was a seasoned debater. Shepherd was a participant in numerous debates, most often serving as moderator for others. In addition, his well-stocked and cataloged library was available for his fellow preachers engaged in debate preparation. His friend I. B. Bradley testified to Shepherd’s valuable forensic assistance: “He is the best moderator I have ever seen, being perfectly acquainted with the rules governing controversy and thoroughly conscientious and honorable in his treatment of the disputants. He stands for honorable and decent controversy, stripped of all frivolity and levity, and urges the issues be treated upon their worth and the speeches be dealt with as to their merit.” (Bradley 9).

No one tested Shepherd’s belief in honorable controversy more than R. H. Pigue, a Methodist preacher and debater. Pigue, who held many debates in the Mississippi Valley, had gained his reputation by “sarcasm, ridicule, misrepresentation, and bull-dozing.” For Shepherd, debates with opponents like Pigue were destined to end in “mud-slinging,” and he advised brethren to accept challenges to debate, but with opponents who would be honor bound to abide by the rules. (Shepherd 9).

Shepherd’s co-editor was native West Virginian, Ira C. Moore. Moore was frequently engaged in religious debates. Like J. W. Shepherd, Moore also served as a moderator for other preachers. On one occasion, as Moore was planning to moderate a debate between T.H. Kirkman and a Mormon by the name of Booker, he had to substitute for Kirkman after Kirkman’s daughter was tragically burned in a fire the week before. The debate took place in Moundsville and lasted nine consecutive evenings. (Moore 8).

Hoosier native Thad Hutson was a long-time contributor to the Christian Leader and spent many years preaching in the Ohio Valley. Hutson held debates in seven states and had earned a reputation for being “severe” (Considerations 1917). Hutson did not believe that the Spirit of Christ excluded debating and confrontational preaching. He declared, “… what becomes of this shilly-shally, namby-pamby, milk and water, sugar and cream kind of preaching that is afraid to say devil or hell in the pulpit; that avoids the unpleasant duty of exposing sin, both in theory and in practice, lest some would boycott him or withhold their support or cry out, ‘He ought to show the Spirit of Christ.’” (Considerations 1925).

Despite this hard-nosed reputation, Hutson also often acknowledged his fallibility and need for self-examination. “In more than thirty years’ experience as a preacher, I have made many mistakes. And by some of them at least I have profited.” (Considerations 1921). “Let your moderation be made known to all” (Phil.4:5) was a hard lesson for Hutson to learn, but he believed it could be done without compromising truth or endorsing error. –64308 Warne Dr., Cambridge, OH 43725. 

(Works Cited: Bradley, I. B. “J. W. Shepherd Leaves the South,” Christian Leader April 13, 1915: 9. Hutson, Thad. “Considerations,” Christian Leader Jan. 9, 1917: 4. “Considerations,” Christian Leader April 12, 1921: 2. “Considerations,” Christian Leader May 12, 1925: 6. Moore, Ira C. “Debate with the Mormons,” Christian Leader Dec. 19, 1916: 8-9. Shepherd, J. W. “A Trip South,” Christian Leader Aug. 17, 1915: 9.)

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