The Somewhat-Less-Than-Great Debate, Wilson vs. Sullivan

For background, you might want to first read yesterday’s column about Doug Wilson’s debate last night with journalist and gay-rights activist Andrew Sullivan.

Obviously, the debate hadn’t happened yet when I wrote yesterday, but you can congratulate me on my prescience in describing Wilson’s likely debating style.  Last night he was at his obfuscating and evasive best, dwelling more on polygamy than on homosexual marriage, refusing to answer even the simplest questions, and saving his argument — that gay marriage is bad for society — for the conclusion of the debate, when Sullivan couldn’t respond.  This looked especially disingenuous as Sullivan tore out of the gate with a cogent defensive of gay civil marriage and its benefits to society.  While Sullivan used data and reason, Wilson argued from a bizarre mix of the grammatical (“the change in pronouns changes the verb”) and the tautological (“it’s wrong because I believe it to be, and I believe it to be wrong because it is wrong”).

And he still managed a comment on the national debt. Turns out, I wasn’t so far off with my Vietnamese shrimp fisherman comment.  It makes me look wise beyond my years . . 

Or, rather, it makes me look like someone more than a little familiar with Wilson’s debate tactics.  R. Clark Cooper learned the hard way; Sullivan now gets it, although had he done his research he’d know that, in fact, there are fewer moral or civic areas of presumed common ground with Wilson than with virtually any other human being of the 21st century.  Sullivan’s shock at Wilson’s dismissal of evolution, the ubiquity of masturbation, Social Security, and, seemingly, the presidential authority of Barack Obama, was obvious.  What should have been obvious, and what would have been if Sullivan had done his background work, is that Wilson’s worldview and Wilson’s world are radically different from his and from that of the fewer than a hundred or so gay-marriage supporters in the audience.

And how do I know there were a hundred or so gay-marriage supporters in the audience?  Because the moderator, the insufferably pompous Peter Hitchens, who wielded his “curmudgeonly British gent” persona as a blunt-edge Derbyshire walking stick against Sullivan, asked before the debate for a show of hands of people of those who agreed with, disagreed with, or were unsure about their stance on civil marriage for same-sex couples.  He did it again after the debate.

And then, because he evidently hadn’t finished carressing the monstrously large ego of his friend, Hitchens asked for a show of hands from the crowd indicating who they believe “won” the “debate.”  (Pardon the quotes, but it was hardly a debate, what with Wilson’s refusal to answer direct questions or address Sullivan’s points, and so it’s hard to say anyone really won).  Hold on to your coffee, faithful readers:  In a debate sponsored by the University of Idaho’s Collegiate Reformed Fellowship, full of CRF and New Saint Andrews students, Logos teachers, Christ Church and Trinity congregants and Wilson family members who comprised about 80 percent of the audience, the handcount went solidly toward Wilson.

One wonders how tiny one’s membership in the College of True Intellect must be to require that sort of nakedly compensatory assurance. 

Nonetheless, I think that honest observers would see that Wilson remains the undisputed Sultan of Snark, Oracle of Obfuscation, Prince of Pomposity and Duke of Dishonest Engagement.  He belittled audience members, stayed on topic with a topic — polygamy — that had nothing to do with the subject at hand, and even told a gay joke.  This was in response to my question about the utter lack of integrity he showed by being respectful and gracious to Sullivan in person and in front of an audience after spending years on his blog and in other writings — shielded from scrutiny and distanced from the object of his scorn — calling gay men sodomites, homos, catamites, and poofters.  While he declined my challenge to call the real-life homosexual man standing two feet from him a “poofter,” he did rise to it by tossing off a typically juvenile joke about why Episcopalians don’t play chess anymore:

All the bishops look like queens.

Finished with your knee-slapping guffaws?  OK.  Because ultimately, Wilson continued to demonstrate a stunning integrity deficit unbecoming a pastor or, I suppose, a common street thug.  And, just to secure Sullivan’s frustration, he and Hitchens seem not to have informed Sullivan that the debate format would include his being grilled by a moderator not even remotely neutral and not even able to attain simple levels of decency in interacting with Wilson’s guest.  Of course, Wilson doesn’t generally debate in formats that aren’t guaranteed to tilt in his favor; the only exception I know of was in our debate, where there was no audience and the moderator was a KRFP host unknown to both of us.

That the debate went well for me was, as I said yesterday, because the Holy Spirit was with me in giving me gifts that revealed the paucity of Wilson’s wisdom and the shallowness of his profundity.  He’s not a quick thinker, preferring to stay on script and “going extemporaneous” only when making a joke or tossing off comments on issues unrelated to the topic.  Like the Wizard of Oz, he is a substantial force capable of motivating thousands by his words — until the curtain is pulled away and he’s revealed to be a small man of great pretensions.  And while I don’t much like Sullivan, who mocked the Christian virtue of abstinence before marriage and told us a wee bit more than we needed to know about his views on masturbation and male promiscuity, his presence made it clear that there was, on that Wilson-leaning stage, only one true intellect.

Sadly, hundreds of young people, many of whom are undoubtedly struggling with homosexual desire that won’t go away and that leaves them defenseless in the face of the grossly homophobic church and academic culture they find themselves in, left the Sub Ballroom last night convinced that the Wizard was confirmed in his status as the Master of their Fate and Architect of their worldviews.

How different the character of their leader is from the character of the Savior they worship — and how tragic that most of them will never see the difference, preferring instead to make Jesus conform to the image of Wilson rather than see in him a man thoroughly conformed to the character of the One who is his Lord and mine.

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