The Dinner Table Debate between Dan Savage, author of the Savage Love column, and Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, was moderated by Mark Oppenheimer, a writer for the New York Times. If you haven’t seen the video yet I encourage you to check it out, though be aware it is just over an hour long.
As Kate mentioned I decided to do a review/commentary/critique of the debate for the purposes of posterity and because it was just darn interesting to watch. Most of us from Patrick Henry College have had some experience in debate, either formally or informally, or at least interacted with the many excitable debaters. I am going to approach the debate from a more formal debate perspective and evaluate its persuasiveness.
The simplest commentary on the video is that Brian lost quite horribly in terms of the formal debate. The number of Dan’s points that he simply did not address was exceptionally large, and on the debate scale Dan won all those arguments because they went unanswered in any way. Even for a couple of the issues he did address, he failed to actually respond to the points Dan had made.
Even Peter LaBarbera, the head of the rather rabidly anti-LGBTQ organization Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, admitted that Dan won, though he excuses it as a “complete setup.” To give some background, Dan had given a speech earlier this year in April to a bunch of high school journalists and insulted the Bible by saying it had “bullshit” in it about several topics (LGBT issues, slavery, shellfish, etc.) and then when a few people walked out he called them “pansy-assed.” Dan has since apologized about what he said about those that walked out, but stands by what he said about the Bible. In response to this Brian made a blog posts and in it he challenged Dan to a public debate with himself, as someone who could “talk back.” He went on to boast that Dan would “find out how venal and ridiculous your views of these things are if you dare to accept a challenge.” Proverbs 16:18 anyone? “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Since Brian was the one that issued the challenge, Mark had Dan speak first to basically reiterate his criticisms of the Bible and the “traditional marriage” position. Since you can watch the video yourselves, which I highly encourage, I’m going to try to avoid delving into the specifics of the debate too deeply, and just touch on the highlights.
To me the first highlight, and one of the most crucial points of the debate, came at the very beginning. Mark suggested that in debate terms the topic would be something like “Be it resolved: Christianity is bad for LGBTQ Americans.” Dan’s immediate response was that “Christianity doesn’t have to be bad for LGBTQ Americans.” This really struck a chord with me because of how I so often find myself involved in discussions about the compatibility of being queer and a Christian. This also provides a vital clarification for Dan’s later criticism of the Bible and Christianity: he isn’t actually criticizing the Bible or Christianity, but specific interpretations of the Bible and specific sects of Christianity. At the beginning he doesn’t make this completely clear, but he does clarify it later on.
This touches on some deep issues within Christianity about the differences in interpretation of the Bible and what that means for Christianity as a whole. There are a great many Christians, like myself, who hold the Bible in very high esteem and believe it is actually a perverted mistranslation/misinterpretation to say that the Bible condemns LGBTQ people. However, there are people on the other side of the issue that have made this topic of such great concern that they believe anyone who disagrees with them is a false Christian in open rebellion against God and is headed for eternal damnation (and no, I’m not referring to the Westboro Baptist people, though they would be included in this group). Even when they won’t come out and say it, that is the position Christians are pushing when they say being gay is incompatible with being Christian.
Dan points out that NOM and others in the anti-gay marriage camp often phrase things in terms of a war between Christians and gays, when in fact there are a great number of gay Christians. Then he points out one other huge false dichotomy, which Brian fails to really respond to, that Brian’s side pits those in support of ‘traditional’ marriage against those in support of marriage equality (or same-sex marriage). Dan correctly points out that supporters of marriage equality are also usually supporters of heterosexual marriages, not evil political advocates that wish to destroy ‘traditional’ families.
At this point in the video (about five minutes in…yes, I’m really that long-winded in my response), Dan restates his criticisms and the debate begins in earnest. I’ll end with this parting thought: Dan says that “bullshit means untrue words or ideas” and that the Bible has a good bit of that in it. To me this was perhaps the most disappointing part of Brian’s failure in the debate: he simply failed to refute this. And I don’t mean that he failed to do a line-by-line refutation of all the claims about where the Bible is false, but that he simply failed to address this most fundamental claim at all. In terms of the debate, Dan’s assertion that the Bible contains many false words and ideas undermines all the arguments Brian attempts to make, but even worse, it undermines the value of the Bible itself. For a man who talked really big about his ability to debate Dan, Brian has failed miserably, and the debate has just started.
Transcript and video can be found here.