This is part of a series of posts which tackles sexual ethics and debating strategies (but not at the same time). To get an overview of the controversy under consideration, check out yesterday’s summary post of the controversy that erupted when an ex-gay speaker came to campus (which has now been updated to include a link to the explanatory/apologetic letter from the groups that invited him).
The talk was an anti-climax.
Prior to Yuan’s arrival, I’d gotten plenty of tip-off emails from the LGBT groups I belong to on campus as well as everyone who forwarded it to email lists to see if anyone knew if the announcement was a prank (the lecture was scheduled for April 1st, after all). One email warned that no one attending the talk should dress provocatively or heckle or act confrontational, since Yuan would use any protests in his fundraising pitches (Watch me stand up against the assault of the heathen, you can see how effective I am by the way they rebel, etc). I should add I haven’t heard anyone substantiate this claim and I didn’t see any recording equipment used by Yuan, but I know this is the financial model used by some preachers who visit liberal campuses.
Right before the talk began, as we noticed the vast majority of the audience were wearing rainbow-colored “Ally” stickers, and my boyfriend and I started speculating that the talk was an elaborate trap. Maybe Yale Christian Fellowship and Yale Campus for Christ advertised an anti-gay event, knowing liberal atheist types like me would swarm and were about to pull a bait and switch and make a big evangelizing pitch to us. After all, the fire marshal had just announced that we were pushing legal capacity and that, if anyone left, they wouldn’t be allowed in. They had a captive audience.
But there was nothing that exciting on the agenda. Yuan gave a narration of his life prior to conversion (realized he was gay, kicked out of home, fell in with a drug using, promiscuous, risk-taking crowd, began selling drugs, became a sucessful drug kingpin, was arrested and imprisoned). During this time, his parents converted to Christianity, asked him to come home and reestablish contact, and his mother prayed for him.While in prison Yuan began reading the bible (since there was nothing else to read), detoxed, and was driven to despair when he found out he was HIV positive. He didn’t spend a lot of time on what galvanized his conversion, but, after the fact, he decided he had to give up having sex with men to be properly obedient to God’s will.
Yuan explicitly disavowed the extremely wrongheaded ex-gay message I was expecting. He said he did not believe anyone could “pray away the gay” or that his attraction to men marked him as uniquely sinful or broken. Although some gay people might want to settle down in companionate marriages (similar to arranged marriages), he did not think that was a healthy or productive goal for gay Christians. He emphasized that not everyone, whether gay or straight, is called to marriage and that no one is cheated by a celibate life.
Given his theological premises, I thought it was about as compassionate and mild a response as could be expected, and I was surprised how angry my queer, Christian, and queer Christian friends were after the fact. There were specific things in his talk that I thought were offensive or tin-eared, but overall, I thought it was as nice as you could expect from a Christian who believed that God forbade gay sex. Asking him to say anything more liberal seems unreasonable unless you’re going to pick a theological fight as a fellow Christian or deconvert him during the Q&A.
I’m going to expand on this as a case study in conversations between people of different religious convictions, but I’m interested in your questions/objections/reactions to his approach and the backlash that followed.