The Nonsense of Christopher Yuan: the Christian Minister Speaks at Yale about God, Gays, and Holiness
April 2, 2011
Christopher Yuan visited Yale’s campus yesterday evening, and spoke for just over one hour at the Afro-American Cultural Center (Af-Am House) to an audience of students including self-identified LGBTQ allies and members of the Christian community. Yuan, invited by the Yale Christian Fellowship and Yale Students for Christ is best known for testifying to the power he feels God has to transform one’s life.
He spoke to a packed room (see video below), aided by a slideshow of photographs and Biblical scripture, or what he called the “breath of God.” Yuan’s argument was this: he wanted to talk about love, specifically the unconditional love between himself and Christ. He told the room how he came to that love: Yuan was a gay student who was kicked out of dentistry school for dealing drugs. He then moved to Atlanta where he was later arrested for possessing “9.1 tons” of marijuana. Following Yuan’s arrest and while serving his six-year sentence in prison, Yuan discovered his HIV positive status. This story is widely identifiable as a quintessential, urban, queer coming-of-age story during the era of the HIV/AIDS outbreak. What follows is the stuff of redemption narrative. Yuan found God. He got out of jail. He went to Bible College. He graduated. Now he’s a minister and professor. He’s left sin behind.
Yuan told students that he wants to be holy because God tells him to be: “God did not say be heterosexual for I am heterosexual—He said be Holy, for I am Holy.” For Yuan, then, being holy means following God and leaving behind his “feelings” of homosexuality.
Yuan’s logic surrounding this personal aspect of coming to God was deeply flawed, and disturbed me (a queer, atheistic, Jewish woman). Yuan asserts that we should all love and respect one other, arguing there is nothing evil about being gay. Rather, for him, “the problem is the sex.” From Yuan’s point of view, gay people can love, but he would prefer them to not form kinship structures as it “closes” them off. He does not feel the same way about heterosexual marriage, and also validates “singleness.”
Though Yuan does not like labels, stereotypes, or generalizations, and stated, “I am Christopher Yuan, I am unique,” he applied labels to everyone else. He told the audience he “has Gay friends” however, this line was most oft used before deploying a homophobic comment, for instance, that he would “prefer” for trans men and women “not to get the surgery.”
Finally, Yuan concluded by taking questions that were cherry-picked by two assisting Yale students. None of the questions directly asked Yuan about his current idea of his sexuality or why he has made his career out of publicly testifying his need to free himself of his “old” sexuality. His politics were not addressed head on, instead students discussed his message and its affects.
Yuan himself asked for respect and an open dialogue between the two clearly identified groups of students in the audience. Marina Keegan ’12 stood up and noted that were Yuan to actually believe in said free discourse, he would have allowed audience members to ask questions as they pleased instead of having comments “vetted.” Students applauded the decision to open the floor. However, Yuan’s mother intervened, preventing the decision from being made due to concerns about her son’s health as someone living with HIV.
So what is going on here? We have a man who refuses to identify with the ex-gay movement speaking to a large number or LGBTQ and allied students. These students (aside from Keegan’s concern) did not interrupt him; they listened to him deliver his message. He was invited and sponsored by Yale organizations that must have felt this man deserved a Yale student audience (and, in turn, was wanted by Yale students). Yuan did not provide concrete answers about sexuality and religion—but instead stated that queer sex was not holy (I know that at least Allen Ginsberg would beg to differ.) Though attendees saw photographs of Yuan as a baby, as a student, in gay clubs, in a mug shot, and heard him testify to the love of God and his own personal redemption, I am left with many more questions than I entered with. I was not wondering about sexuality and God, but instead all the sanctioning of this event by Yale Christian Fellowship and Yale Students for Christ. It is even more unbelievable that this talk was delivered on the first day of Yale’s Pride Month—Yuan wants us all to swallow ours.
Hannah Zeavin is a junior in Yale College. She is the managing editor of Broad Recognition.