Methodist editor Spurgeon Dunnam III, responding to a "call from God," has challenged Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell to debate abortion and political activiism by religious leaders.
Falwell said he would consider a response when he had a chance to "determine what he really has in mind.
"I want to determine whether he is qualified to represent any viable segment of Christendom," Falwell said in a telephone interview.
Dunnam, an ordained Methodist minister, is editor of the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter, a nationally distributed newspaper serving 9.6 million church members.
Recently, he criticized President Reagan for his one-hour telephone call to Falwell to discuss his then impending nomination of Sandra O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dunnam said he had "pondered and prayed" about the responses he received from that criticism. He wrote to Falwell: "I am hereby responding to what I understand to be a call from God, and challenging you to a public debate.
"I believe the public needs to recognize that not all Christians are narrow-minded, unthinking, Bible thumpers who spout anti-ERA, antiabortion and antihumanism slogans while ignoring those aspects of the biblical message which do not support New Right political ideology."
Dunnam suggested that the debate be held within six weeks, with other details to be worked out mutually. He said he believes both he and Falwell affirm the same Lord, though with radically different understandings and interpretations of his will.
"My immediate reason for issuing this challenge is what I consider to be a grossly unfair and inappropriate public reaction on your part to President Reagan's nomination of Judge O'Connor," Dunnam wrote. "The Moral Majority has come to epitomize a type of political activity draped in religious terminology which I consider fundamentally at odds in many respects with the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ."
Dunnam stressed that he had initiated the challenge as "an individual Christian," not as a spokesman for the United Methodist Church.