This is part of a series of posts which tackles sexual ethics and debating strategies (but not at the same time)
In this last post on problems with Christopher Yuan’s rhetoric (meant as a caution to Christians or anyone else addressing a hostile audience), I want to highlight a misstep that occurred outside of the main lecture.
At the beginning of the talk, some of the members of the sponsoring groups passed out index cards and told us to write down any questions we had for Yuan. After he finished the presentation, the cards were collected and the organizers (with the help of someone from the LGBT co-op I think, but certainly with at least one gay relationship affirming Christian) picked questions and read them for Yuan to answer.
So, here’s the rule: if you filter questions using any non-transparent mechanism at all in front of a hostile audience, everyone will assume you are punting on the hard questions. Even if you told us that you were collecting the cards and reading every fifth question, most of us would assume you were actually cherrypicking. If you are giving a presentation and you don’t feel comfortable handling unscripted questions from a hostile argument you shouldn’t take questions at all (and you probably shouldn’t be in the business of apologetics in the first place).
It’s important to remember that plenty of aggressive questions discredit the person who asked them and build up sympathy for even an unlikeable speaker, so Yuan shouldn’t have been worried that if he opened the floor he might get cussed out. In fact, to avoid this outcome, the LGBT groups coordinating the opposition made sure to warn possible attendees in an email “If any of us are disrespectful to Yuan, like by heckling, asking leading questions, arguing aggressively, etc. that is THE SAME AS giving him money to spread his message.”
The questions Yuan answered were mostly bland or rooted in radically different premises than ones Yuan espoused, so they all provoked pretty boring answers. I still think that in order to get at anything interesting or to budge him at all, you would have needed to either ask theologically based questions (Why does this Leviticus prohibition carry over into the new covenant, when others don’t?) or questions about whether biblically based teachings are accessible to atheists (Is there any point pitching us on gay sex before you’ve got us sold on Christianity?).
Just because this became a series on rhetorical strategy, I do want to mention that filtering questions can work as the setup for stagecraft. If you’re speaking as the guest of an organization, you can pick up some support by getting rid of the filtering system during the event. By encouraging audience members to come up to a mike or by calling on people yourself, you come off as open and engaging. If you pull it off, it looks like the sponsoring organization was being overprotective and frustrating your desire for real engagement. A nice trick if you can pull it off.