So just over a week ago, our college ministry hosted an event on the University of Idaho campus entitled The Lost Virtue of Sexism. About 250 people came, along with a medium-sized cadre of disruption agents and hecklers. The Internet audience has been much larger, coming in around 15K so far.
What’s Not to Like?
From my perspective, the whole thing went swimmingly. The planning was great, the UI security team was smooth and professional, the hecklers were not numerous enough to risk shutting it down entirely, but were disruptive enough to attract the attention of many to the event, free speech actually happened at a state university, and the gospel was presented. What’s not to like?
But a question nevertheless arises. Why do we do things like that in the first place?
In a moment, I will get to the reasons for doing such things, but something else must really come first. Questions assuming the ineffectiveness of such tactics generally arise when they have proven themselves astonishingly effective. When something is working, there is usually going to be a push — originating somewhere in the strategy offices of the other team — to get it to stop. When something is not working, usually nobody cares enough about it to explain why it isn’t. That game is not worth the candle. But when something is just blowing down the road with a full tank of gas, there will be no shortage of explanations about how it is somehow the wrong road, or the curves are being taken too fast, or the bridge might be out, or something.
So the first reason for doing something like this is that it presents a genuine evangelistic opportunity. Jesus said to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15), and this is a really good way of getting to that place. But on this point, don’t be distracted by the protesters. It would be wonderful if any of the hecklers were touched by the message and converted, and so we don’t forget them, but they are not the principal audience. Whenever there is a debate, or collision, or a bit of interpersonal drama like this, the apologist should always remember that his principal audience is made up of the onlookers. Notice this about that time that Apollos came to Ephesus. “And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27–28, ESV). Notice how Apollos powerfully refuted one group, but was a great encouragement to quite a different group. It is the same kind of thing here. You present the gospel to a group that is not open, and it can be a very effective tactic in reaching a group that is wide open.
The people who came to heckle need to hear the gospel, obviously, but they are not the primary group being addressed. There were a number of silent unbelievers there, not to mention among the thousands who have watched it online These people were not participating in the monkeyshines, and they heard the gospel, lovingly presented to people who were doing their level best to make themselves unlovely. There were a number of silent observers throughout the auditorium, some with the security team, and others watching it on Facebook at two in the morning. There may even have been some among the hecklers.
One time, decades ago, this principle was illustrated for me in spades when I went over to WSU to do some open air preaching. The day was overcast and it was kind of drizzling when I got there, and open air preaching is always a bit like going off a high dive. When you preach in a church, or teach at a conference, everybody there came expecting to hear from you. When you are doing open air preaching, nobody there came expecting to hear from you. So I went back and forth in my mind whether or not to start. It was drizzling. It was a sad day. I wouldn’t be able to gather a crowd. Maybe I should just drive back to Moscow. But then I decided that I should just go ahead, crowd or no crowd. So I started preaching, and within a few minutes a communist who was selling Maoist newspapers jumped up and tried to shout me down. Whommpp. Instant crowd, and so I proceeded, with much gratitude in my heart to the communist. He would hold forth, I would answer him, and then pivot to the gospel. He would say his political thing, I would answer with my political thing, and then pivot to the gospel. It was almost like we had rehearsed it, and it was like he walked right into it.
In the same way, these hecklers walked right into it. And I don’t need to worry about explaining the tactic here because I honestly don’t think that they can help themselves. Thousands of people heard the gospel and the protesters were the ones who made it happen. Conflict is interesting, and when something interesting is going on, there will be spectators. When you have spectators in such a situation, you have an opening for the gospel.
But a likely reply that comes back leads to the second point. Yeah, you could gather a crowd by distributing flyers all over campus that said “come hear why your mother is a lying dog-faced pony soldier,” not that anybody real would ever say anything like that. So if we spread the word all over campus saying that Doug Wilson was going to insult all your mothers, and a huge crowd were to gather, and then I said surprise! before presenting the gospel, that would be, um, problematic. Random insults are an ungodly way to attract a crowd — even if you managed to get a crowd that way.
But this was no random insult. As a result of the general Christian unwillingness to bring the gospel to bear at the very places where our culture is in rebellion, look at the “inflammatory” title of my talk again. The Lost Virtue of Sexism. Nobody on earth thought I was going to show up and argue for wife-beating. Neither was I going to say that your mother was a LD-FPS. No, with a title like that, I was likely to say, as I did say, that sex roles as defined by Scripture are good and right, and that it was a good thing that your mother was the one who used to fix you a hot breakfast. That was my inflammatory sentiment. We are rapidly approaching the place where some bomb thrower is going to maintain loudly that grass is green, and the professional shushers among the Christians will move into their shush mode, and they will say, “Don’t talk that way. Do you want to make them mad?” Don’t you know that the Philistines rule over us? What have you done to us (Judg 15:11)?
I don’t want to make them mad. They already are mad, clean through.
Some might think that I am controversial enough all by myself, and all I would have to do is announce that I would going to be speaking on anything whatever, and I could present the gospel then. But I have spoken on the UI campus multiple times, and this doesn’t happen every time. It rarely happens. I am not controversial all by myself. I am cheerful and sunny, and can usually deliver my talks with my hands in my pockets.
Another reason for doing things like this is that we must learn how to challenge cancel culture every chance we get. We must do it in a way that demonstrates the vanity of the ploy they are using. It used to be that a man or a speech was considered offensive when he did or said things that were offensive. That is the old school definition. But today, under the influence of the social justice weenies, a man or a speech is considered offensive if anyone is offended. And finding someone who will get offended can always be arranged. And lo, it is arranged, on cue, every time. This means, as long as this arrangement lasts, that absolutely anybody can be designated as offensive. There is no defense against this tactic.
No defense, that is, except not caring about it. No defense, that is, except refusing to cooperate with it. And let me state things bluntly. I have said many times that our cultural battles are battles over who controls the dictionary. If these people are allowed to control the dictionary, then we have lost already. They will define sexism the way they do, and the Scriptures that Christians honor as the very Word of God will be included in their definition. They already have been included. This is why faithful Christian witness has to be willing to say that if the Bible is sexist, “then I am sexist.” Any other approach and you are just chasing your tail.
Incidentally, one disclaimer. I was not doing this to demonstrate how brave I am. A number of people have mentioned that it was brave, but really it wasn’t. Being heckled by sophomores is hardly the charge of the light brigade. If doing something like that is now the new courage threshold, then we are in a sad way. But — and this is not a coincidence — we are in a sad way.
This was not a big deal. But when you consider how many Christian leaders fold under minimum pressure, pressure like this — and they do, they fold like a yard sale card table — you can begin to see why the Philistines are ruling over us.