Exchanging Fisticuffs for Gentleness: Doug Wilson on Bloomington
Earlier this year Doug Wilson traveled from Moscow, Idaho, to the Bloomington campus of Indiana University to deliver a series of lectures on sexuality. In the weeks leading up to the event, articles in the student paper accused Wilson of being sexist and a homophobic racist. At the event, Wilson stood before a crammed lecture hall facing nearly 400 people, many of whom were angry protestors.
Wilson gave two lectures and a two-hour Q&A afterwards. The event was continually interrupted by planned protests, angry outbursts, and hateful slurs. One student was arrested and more than 20 were asked to leave. Nevertheless, Wilson displayed an unusual gentleness throughout.
I asked Wilson a few questions about the event and how to engage in apologetics in such a difficult climate. We talked about the use of satire and gentleness, why the issue of homosexuality is such a challenge to the legitimacy of Christianity today, and what he would've done differently.
You were warned about this event. But were you still surprised by the level of animosity?
I was not completely surprised, but I have to say I was somewhat surprised. I know that there are folks out there like that, and I have seen this kind of thing before. But what was surprising was the level of energy in opposing just a couple of talks scheduled for a classroom---their response was way out of proportion to what was going to happen, and so I suppose we should thank them for helping to make it such a roaring success. Seriously . . . couldn't have done it without them.
You began your first talk saying that you hoped that the listeners would be surprised at what they heard. What about your talk did you hope they would be surprised by, and do you think they were?
The agitprop circulating about me beforehand was that I was a racist hate-slinger, so I wanted those present who had believed their own propaganda about me to run headlong into a major existential contradiction. I wanted to present the gospel in a way that seemed like a good news gospel, and I wanted it to hit them that way.
In these tense situations, satire, gentleness, and respect can all be used in response. You are sometimes known for satire, but surrounded by rudeness and antagonism, your manner stayed fairly gentle. What made you use one tactic over the other?
One of the principles of war is surprise. Satire should always be used as a tool or a weapon, and not as a relief valve for a personality disorder. When nonbelievers are expecting an effeminate and (to them) suitably soft articulation of biblical truth, the use of public satire can often come as a complete surprise, and can be very effective. When they are expecting a hate-filled thug, conjured up in their own imagination, surprising them the other way is also effective.
In addition, I should add that in face-to-face, person-to-person situations like this one, the apostle Paul requires us to speak this way.
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
In situations like this where repentance is much needed, gentleness is much called-for. I don't believe this passage is a "one-size-fits-all" verse, but it is a size that fits the kind of situation Paul was talking about. And I think Paul was talking about just this kind of event.
I heard a popular apologist say recently that if he had to write his apologetics book over again today, he'd begin with his first chapter on homosexuality. Why do you think homosexuality is such a challenge to the legitimacy of Christianity in society today?
I believe it is the perfect cultural expression of postmodern relativism, so much so that I call it pomosexuality. If culture is religion externalized, as Henry Van Til observed, homosexuality (and other forms of deviance) are the perfect manifestation of an evolutionary, re-invent yourself kind of paganism, which is the religious worldview our nation is in the process of adopting. It is no accident, no coincidence, in other words. Gay pride is not the basic problem; the basic problem is plain old pride---refusing to honor the Creator, and refusing to give him thanks. Paul lays the whole thing out in Romans 1. This disease progresses just the way the physician told us it would.
If you had to do the whole experience over again, what would you do differently? And what bit of advice would you give to pastors who minister in similar social climates?
I would try to answer some of the questions better, try to think more nimbly. If you imagine me with a metaphorical tennis racket, not as many of the answers were in the sweet spot as I would have liked. And of course, where I was happy with my answers, I would want to guard against being happy about that in a wrong way. C. S. Lewis has a great poem about that problem called "The Apologist's Evening Prayer." I keep a copy of that poem in my Bible.
As far as advice goes, a little bit of calm goes a long way. A crowd like that is wanting me to change my mind about homosexuality (obviously), but they are also wanting me to change my heart, my equilibrium. But why should I change anything in response to their demands? Too many Christians agree to change their hearts while stubbornly refusing to change their minds. But that is just as compromising. It is just another way to give in to them, another way of surrendering. If I don't want to put them in charge of my doctrine, why would I put them in charge of my joy?
I have felt for years that the besetting sin of conservatives in our cultural engagements is that of being shrill, and I have devoted a great deal of attention in learning how to avoid that problem. I believe this kind of event shows the great need for that kind of approach.