Where Yuan Went Wrong (Part 3)

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.

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About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011 and lives in Washington DC. She works as a news writer for FiveThirtyEight by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://thegroomsfamily.wordpress.com Lea

    I know this post is on rhetoric, but for the record – the prohibition on homosexuality is not just Leviticus. Check out 1 Corinthians 6:9.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05947081596759328950 Matt

    Romans 1:24-27 also seems to have pretty strong things to say about homosexuality. Gay Christians have ways of dealing with these passages but they do have to admit there are sections in the New Testament that seem to prohibit it and yet do not affirm other Levitical laws. I'd like to say that I do not try to pitch homosexuals who are not Christians on avoiding gay sex (I don't even have strong beliefs about homosexuality) and if that's what Yuan does I think he is misguided. His own conversion story, as you relayed it on your blog, as well as other stories from Christians who gave up homosexuality seem to start with conversion.Kudos to Yale's LGBT groups for the mature conduct.