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Interviewing a Phelps

I've got a couple interviews lined up for a new podcast about people or situations I find interesting.

For next week: one of the Phelps, of et al.

I'll be focusing on meta and philosophical issues related to their brand of Calvinism, rather than on any of the usual boringly scandalous bits. No arguing with them about how they're shocking and rude and gays are okay after all; that's been done and I don't believe in arguing with someone's axioms.

So: what questions do y'all think I should ask 'em?

For context, my interview request email:


I'd like to interview a member of the Phelps family for a new podcast.

To get right to the point, my approach is fairly different from what you usually get. Up to you whether you're up for it, but I believe in being upfront.

1. I and my listeners already know about your main preachings - why the Bible condemns gays, stem cells, etc. Frankly, your position per se is relatively standard for conservative Christianity; it's only your approach that's unusual.

As such, I don't want to discuss or debate those questions / positions at all. It's not something new, and it would not be interesting for my listeners.

(And I flatly do not do "spectacle". Certainly people like Jerry Springer can be unoriginal and get people to watch because it's like a car wreck, but I have absolutely no desire for that approach, unlike many of your previous interviews.)

2. I *do* want to talk to you about your approach, and about some aspects of your variant of Calvinism, such as your views on predestination, free will, the purpose and effect of preaching, how one can tell if one is a member of the elect, etc.

Some narrow aspects of your preachings may come up in this context - e.g. to talk about apparent inconsistencies, ways in which you interpret things differently from non-Calvinists (though you might use similar language), etc.

For example, I'll want to discuss why/whether you believe:
"God doesn't hate people because they're gay, they're gay because He hates them." (i.e. conditional election)
"Our preaching is intended to harden your hearts, not to save you." (As mentioned e.g. at ~35 min into Sept 13th's sermon.)
"WBC members are part of God's unconditionally elected few to be saved from Hell."

3. I have some absolute boundaries - both that I will not violate of yours, and that I will not tolerate your violating of mine.

For you:
* I won't directly challenge you on any of your beliefs.
* I won't bait or trap you.
* I won't try to provoke you in any way - though I may ask difficult questions, I don't do so in an attacking manner.
* I will already know a fair amount about your beliefs, and try to demonstrate that knowledge so we can get as quickly as possible onto the interesting material.
* I will edit you to (if anything) sound a bit clearer - removing ums, uhs, pauses for looking something up, etc. It's a relaxed interview, not live, so you're absolutely welcome to take time before answering. In any case, I won't edit you out of context or as if you're saying something you don't intend.
* I will, for the most part, try to avoid the same old questions you've been asked a thousand times before.
* I will not ask you about your personal life, ex-members of your church, lawsuits, etc.

For me:
* We will not, except briefly as a summary, discuss the messages you preach - as I said, it's been done before, and I'm not interested in doing it again.
* We will not discuss my own beliefs or personal life in any way at all. The show is about my guests, not me.
* We will speak calmly and politely at all times, as a normal conversation, not a sermon, rant, argument, etc. If you raise your voice at me, insult me, start preaching, etc. more than once, the interview is immediately off.
* We will treat each other as intelligent adults. In particular, you will need to bear in mind that sometimes I ask questions whose answers I know, because I want to have my listeners hear what your view of it is.
* We will not use profanity or hate speech. I realize you have strong views about how certain people - the majority of people even - are inherently sinful, evil, doomed to burn in Hell, etc. But you'll need to tone it down a notch to remain civil. Likewise, you won't get any hate from me.

My style is broadly similar to what you can hear in most NPR/PRI author interviews - calm, neutral, intellectual, and non-superficial.

It will probably take about 60-90 minutes total, and get cut down to about 50 minutes. I'll email you a copy of the raw recording, and a copy of the edit when it's done.

So far all of my interviewees have enjoyed my interviews; hopefully you would as well.

To be crystal clear: if you do this, you will *not* get to preach with my podcast as a pulpit. (And for that matter, nor will I.)

But you *will* get a much fairer treatment than you generally get, and you'll be reaching a different audience than you normally would have access to.

If you're interested, please let me know your availability, contact phone number, and name of available interviewee(s).

- Sai


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 26th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
Sai, this shows you're completely out of touch with their subculture. I come from it. They are interested in two things: turning your podcast into Jerry Springer, and preaching with your podcast as their pulpit. Spectacle is an end in itself for them, and without them there is nothing in it for them. You are wasting your time, and that of your listeners.
Sep. 28th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
I'm well aware that that's the tendency they go. If they do, I will cut it off and abort if they're not willing to stop. I just want to give it a shot.
Sep. 26th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
Sep. 27th, 2009 06:18 am (UTC)
I support the gist of what you are doing, but be sure to read this before saying a word.
Sep. 28th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
Noted. But what cause for suit do you think might arise from a simple phone interview?
Sep. 28th, 2009 02:47 pm (UTC)
No idea, but if this observation is correct, regardless of the stated intent of the interview, he's going to try to goad you into saying something that's litigation material -- and it's better to know that in advance than not.
Sep. 27th, 2009 08:06 am (UTC)
Am I miss remembering something or did you already do an interview of some sort with one of the Phelps a year or two ago and transcribed the conversation here to your lj? If that was you, I found that interview very interesting and would love to see another one.
Sep. 28th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
Yes, that was me.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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