Here is Pastor Doug Wilson debating Andrew Sullivan. Now most debates are just a waste of time. That is because we seemingly have lost the ability to separate argument from personality. The point of debate is to understand the best arguments of the opposing side on some issue that is causing division. I don’t hold out the hope that people are actually converted by debate. I agree with Cranmer that our normal pattern is the heart wants, the will enacts and the mind justifies. The outcomes of debate that I’d like are: 1) exposure of fraud/malice, some sides might just be based on these and debate should expose, 2) finding out underlying presuppositions and 3) the ability to act civil in the face of an opponent. If you have understood the best argument, and it is not based on fraud/malice, then we should be able to act civilly. I don’t think that is the case in most of our society. This debate is different.
Pastor Wilson blogs here. He is the Pastor of ChristKirk in Moscow, Id and engaged in a wide public ministry based out of that church, one of the big ones being a rebuilding of Christian education from elementary to undergraduate. Andrew Sullivan, now back out on his own, blogs here. And if you don’t recognize the name, you probably just don’t get out much as he is one of the best controversialists of the age.
The debate is upon marriage and more specifically same-sex marriage. And both of these men are able to actually be involved in a real debate as outlined above. That is why it is different. I wanted to sort out a few reflections after watching.
1) Based on the showing of hands and the location in Idaho, Sullivan is “the away team”. Sullivan is often infuriating and willfully blind, but he constantly demonstrates one virtue that makes him formidable and worth listening to. Sullivan is courageous, or he demonstrates fortitude. I have trouble thinking of any other representative of northeast elite opinion who would debate Doug Wilson in Idaho. Maybe more to the point, I have trouble thinking of any other one who would think it is there duty to do so. Sullivan is different.
2) Now I want to add two things to that. This can take place in Idaho because the Christian residents are going to act civil. They are not going to “stone the gay guy”. If you watch it you will notice how civil and respectful the crowd is. As much as I’d love to see this same thing in say NYC at say Columbia or NYU, I don’t think it could happen. I doubt that crowd would extend to Pastor Wilson the civility, and they don’t see the need to allow such opinions to be heard. If Sullivan was being real fair, he’d have done a “home and home” gig.
3) Just to hint at that reality, watch right at the start the for/against vote and then tally up and watch the Q&A questioners. The crowd is overwhelmingly agreed with Wilson, but all the questioners, some who get very hostile and snippy, are against him and take to attacking Wilson. Now multiply that to a crowd that knows it is the majority and is feeling its own moral righteousness unrestrained by Christian hospitality.
4) Sullivan is skilled at this stuff in a way that Wilson is not. (Unfortunately Pastors preach. We don’t get too much direct push back.) What comes out clearly is that Sullivan’s arguments are emotional and personal while Wilson is left arguing logic. Around 1:41 Sullivan terms the anti position an “attack on love”. Now that sounds like it is a debate hand-grenade, but the way Sullivan uses it, it felt in bounds and it also expressed the core of his argument. What the Christian is left arguing is something like “you don’t know the definition of that word” or worse “what’s love got to do with it”. Either might be true (first more than second), but if one side is claiming love and the other is arguing definitions, you’ve lost.
5) Wilson admits that multiple times. He said it once earlier in the debate (although I can’t find the time reference) that “we lost this debate decades ago with no fault divorce”. Section 1:49-1:55 is a later section on “ruining marriage” that nicely captures the slanted field. The presuppositions of Christian marriage in the culture vanished some time ago. The institution stumbled along badly for 30 years being ruined by heterosexuals. It is actually quite amazing that anyone would “want in”. I think there are two reasons: 1) the definition of marriage has been changed from “lifelong monogamous pairing pointed toward family life” to “person number one on my emotional register” and 2) introducing same-sex into marriage almost ensures that there is no going back. Both definitions going forward would have to be tolerated.
6) That is important because Wilson around 2:02-2:04 badly answers a question. When asked roughly what the real bad impact of same sex marriage is he bumbles around and has a tough time answering. This is where you needed a Lutheran. The first use of the law is civil. The civil law teaches. If the civil law says that two same-sex partners who have a deep emotional bond is the same thing as a man and a woman joined in a union that produces and raises the next generation, it has placed a falsehood in its teaching. The civil law no longer functions on the most basic level of its existence, and hence over time the populace taught by it would grow more lost. The answer of marriage and civil unions would respect that deeper natural law truth about marriage. I’d even go so far as to say open civil unions up to heterosexual couples. As a pastor there are many times where you’d just like to say, “you don’t understand marriage enough to consent to Christian marriage at this time”. Make the definition explicit. A civil union is a state recognition and regulation of great emotional bonding. But that is not marriage.