Citizenship Confusion: Dan Savage Bullies Christians
Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
This weekend, there’s a very good chance that you read or saw a friend link to one of the following articles:
“Anti-Bullying Speaker Curses Christian Teens” (FOX)
“ANTI-BULLYING CRUSADER ATTACKS THE BIBLE AND CURSES CHRISTIAN TEENS DURING HIGH SCHOOL SPEECH” (The Blaze)
“Students Walk Out on Dan Savage” (CitizenLink)
Dan Savage, author and the founder of the It Gets Better Project, recently gave a speech at a journalism conference for high schoolers called “Journalism on the Edge.” Note that he was not brought in to a public school to speak; he was asked to speak at a conference for high schoolers, an important distinction. During this speech, Savage addressed how the Bible is often used to justify anti-gay bullying. Watch for yourself, but be warned, he uses profanity:
After CitizenLink posted the video and an interview with an attendee, Todd Starnes at FOX picked up the story and from there it went viral. The reactions by Christians have been very strong and mostly uniform:
Savage’s rant reveals the truth about the Politically Correct, liberal, anti-bullying, “tolerance,” homosexual agenda. Bullying is bad, unless you’re bullying and cursing Christian teens, then it’s fine.
FOX’s and The Blaze’s headlines echo this reaction, as they claim that in his speech Savage “Curses Christian Teens,” which is a rather odd verbiage (what is he, a warlock?). But after watching the video myself, I came a way less convinced that Savage had bullied anyone and more aware of Evangelical culture’s tendency toward martyrdom.
Christians have objected to the way Savage said we need to ignore all the “BS” in the Bible. To refer to the Bible as “BS” is to show no respect for Christians and their beliefs. But I don’t think comments like this should offend Christians of any age, for a number of reasons.
First, he did not call the Bible or the Christian faith “BS,” just certain commands in the Bible. And quite frankly, Christians do this all the time to believers in other traditions. Sure, we might not say “BS,” but we’ll mock and belittle charismatics, Catholics, 6-Day-ers, Theistic Evolutionists, etc. Using profanity to dismiss another’s belief is unloving and certainly unhelpful, but I don’t think it’s necessarily “bullying.” Here’s Savage’s response to this objection:
I didn’t call anyone’s religion bullshit. I did say that there is bullshit—”untrue words or ideas”—in the Bible. That is being spun as an attack on Christianity. Which is bullshhh… which is untrue. I was not attacking the faith in which I was raised. I was attacking the argument that gay people must be discriminated against—and anti-bullying programs that address anti-gay bullying should be blocked (or exceptions should be made for bullying “motivated by faith”)—because it says right there in the Bible that being gay is wrong.
Second, Savage’s contention is that Christians do not follow the moral code of the Bible entirely; we pick and choose what to obey. So why can’t we just not pick the prohibition against homosexuality? Most thoughtful Christians would respond that Savage shows a gratuitous lack of knowledge about biblical hermeneutics. Historically, Christians have not simply chosen what to believe in the Bible. We have particular ways of interpreting our Sacred Text that explain why some commands were specific to ancient Israel and why some are still important to us today. But I suspect that most Christians who attend our churches would have a very hard time explaining why slavery was acceptable in the Bible but homosexuality is sin. So why should we be offended that Savage adamantly points out what he reasonably perceives as hypocrisy when that “hypocrisy” has directly led to acts of hate? (If you don’t think it has led to hatred, read the comments on the Blaze article. I dare you). Ignorance about hermeneutics is not bullying. It’s just ignorance.
Third, Dan Savage is not a Christian (from what I can tell), so why would we expect a unbeliever to think the Law isn’t “BS”? Why should that offend us? Is it offensive that he vocalized what millions of our neighbors believe and live all the time? Savage is a famous homosexual who has made a name for himself (in part) through a program which encourages gay teens. His life itself is a very public statement that the Law is BS, just as all unbelievers’ lives are. More importantly, don’t we publicly mock God’s commands when we sin against Him? And if so, why should we be offended that Savage vocalized this mockery? Had he never called those passages “BS” he still would have quite loudly declared that they were “BS” by publicly living as if they were nonsense and encouraging others to do the same. All Savage did is verbalize his already-apparent belief. Our response ought to be compassion and prayer; not offense and indignation.
Savage also called the students who walked out, “pansy ass,” which many Christians took offense to as a clear example of abuse and bullying. As with his “BS” comments, I think Christians have dramatically overreacted to this.
First, it should be noted that Savage has apologized for his statements and claimed that he was not attacking the teens, but only their actions, a fact that I have not seen any Christians or conservative bloggers point out:
I would like to apologize for describing that walk out as a pansy-assed move. I wasn’t calling the handful of students who left pansies (2800+ students, most of them Christian, stayed and listened), just the walk-out itself. But that’s a distinction without a difference—kinda like when religious conservatives tells their gay friends that they “love the sinner, hate the sin.” They’re often shocked when their gay friends get upset because, hey, they were making a distinction between the person (lovable!) and the person’s actions (not so much!). But gay people feel insulted by “love the sinner, hate the sin” because it is insulting. Likewise, my use of “pansy-assed” was insulting, it was name-calling, and it was wrong. And I apologize for saying it.
Second, even if he hadn’t apologized, I don’t think that his ironic use of a gay slur to criticize the hypocrisy of Christians, who are willing to publicly condemn sin but are unwilling to listen to a response, was “bullying.” Is publicly declaring that the commandments against homosexuality are “BS” any more “offensive” than publicly declaring that homosexuality damns someone to hell for eternity, destroys culture, and is vile and unnatural (See: Kirk Cameron Thinks Homosexuality Is Unnatural, but Is He Right?)? I don’t think so, and I think that part of Savage’s point is that if Christians want to be able to publicly condemn homosexuality, they need to be able to listen to the response from the homosexual community.
Third, we might respond, “Yes, but Savage and his ilk want to say that publicly condemning homosexuality is a hate crime and bullying. So he’s being a hypocrite by publicly condemning our faith!” Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways, folks. If we want to make room for civil, but impassioned public moral claims about the behaviors of others, we need to make room for others to do the same. We don’t get to complain that “political correctness” is ruining our public discourse and at the same time get offended and cry “hypocrisy!” when someone doesn’t treat Christianity with “political correctness.”
All that said, there is no question that Savage’s words were uncivil and unhelpful. And there is good reason to believe that the man is a bully. But in this situation, I don’t believe Savage was bullying anyone. In any event, our concern ought to be with our own hearts and our own hypocrisy, rather than the hypocrisy of others. Whenever unbelievers reveal their unbelief, we should be drawn to pray for and love them, rather than take offense.
Savage identifies as an atheist, but if you find last year’s live This American Life podcast on NPR you’ll find he has a conflicted and nuanced agnosticism too. Well worth listening to.
Well done, Alan. I appreciate this really balanced perspective, especially that last paragraph.
It’s true that Dan Savage can be a bully, in many ways. He has said some vile things about trans* people, he doesn’t have a great view of monogamy (or people who choose to be monogamous), and he’s had some very problematic things to say about women in general.
But his complex relationship with Christianity that led him to make these comments is not, as you note, one of those things that makes him a bully. It shows, to me, that the audience of Christians freaking out about this have no real idea who Dan Savage is, which is the problem one gets when Othering is common practice. We can freak out about his comments without any context, and we never have to consider that he may have a history that makes religion one of those things he easily flares up about. And, of course, as you note, being sensitive about an issue in no way constitutes bullying.
I have to say that this response troubles me. You call for lenience based on the argument that, by golly, “don’t we publicly mock God’s commands when we sin against Him?” Of course we do, but we typically don’t rejoice in our sin. The Bible tells us to flee from Satan. For a group of high school students, this may feel like the closest encounter they have yet experienced, and you suggest that they were overreacting? Bear in mind that the berating they received was from an “authority” figure, and you suggest that this was just uncivil?
Further, you claim “our concern ought to be with our own hearts and our own hypocrisy, rather than the hypocrisy of others.” By this line of reasoning, Christians can not publicly take a stand against anything because we’re just flawed human beings too. While you may deride others as overly reactive, your under-reaction I find troubling.
Finally, his entire premise is flawed. He claims that the Bible demands hatred against homosexuality, which it clearly does not. He uses a faulty premise to launch a poorly-reasoned tirade at a bunch of teenagers. His theology is poor, his hermeneutics are terrible, but none of this justifies the verbal onslaught foisted upon a captive audience of young adults. Had this been posted online as part of his campaign, no problem, he is entitled to say and thing whatever he wants. But given the setting and circumstances, his comments were clearly out of bounds.
You suggest that children misbehaved as they acted according to conscience, that the Christian community has overreacted in response, and all the while you justify Savage’s actions due to ignorance. This just saddens me.
I would have simply booed. Boo! Boo! Then everyone could have been happy.
Yeah, he probably wasn’t being a bully, but he was being a jerk. This wasn’t a gay rights rally. This was a high school journalism meeting, and apparently many Christian schools were in attendance.
While I read your posts every week and normally appreciate what you write,
I think this post comes across as a weak form of Slate.com-style contrarianism.
Like many others who wrote about the issue, the concern is not that the teens were bullied but the irony of an “anti-bullying” activists doing it. The fact is that if anyone had called a gay teen a “pansy ass” it would have been considered bullying. Even Savage admits that. In fact, you’re claim that Savage was not “attacking the teens” is contradicted by Savage’s own lame apology.
Now as with what passes for most “bullying” nowadays, I don’t think the teens were harmed by Savage’s comments. But the fact that he engaged in behavior that he spends his career condemning reveals that Savage doesn’t really care about “bullying”—he cares about normalizing homosexuality.
Thanks for reading! Perhaps I should read less Slate.com.
As I said in the post, I think he was clearly uncivil and unhelpful. And I think it was good that he apologized. But I don’t think what he did should qualify as “bullying,” for the reasons I posted above. And so, while I think it’s reasonable for Christians to object to his use of language, the moral outrage I’ve seen, and the idea that there is some moral equivalence between describing ideas in the Bible as “BS” and labeling walking out on an address which challenges your beliefs “pansy-ass,” strikes me as exaggerated and misguided.
I think your post does a fine job of showing how he has a history of being uncivil and perhaps even a “bully.” I just don’t see this incident as an example of that.
So, if I came across as contrarian, I suppose it is because I wanted to temper the backlash against Savage coming from Christians.
How, exactly, do you define “bullying”?
As someone who works as a bus driver, our district has a very specific anti-bullying policy. But in common parlance, bullying does seem to be a catch-all term that is applied to any scenario wherein someone is offended by a speech-act. Can you define the term, apart from saying that it is your opinion Savage bullied no one, but instead spoke words that should be unsurprising, as he is an unbeliever?
In addition, I think your defense on the basis of an apology offered by Savage and his the clarification that he did not say that Christian belief is BS, but statements contained in the Bible are, is a matter of semantics, not substance. Christian doctrine is based, directly or indirectly, on statements or narratives found in the Bible. As you noted, hermeneutics is a complex science–one we should not expect Savage to have mastered–but the fact that neither he nor your average person in the pew can explain a sound biblical hermeneutic should not equal permission to misrepresent the text, for anyone.
Dan Savage made comments that were hurtful by some Christian teens. As much as we should respect Savage as a human being and even be willing to accept his apology, we should also be willing to name his comments for what they were–poorly timed, crude, and in deep need of a more exact nuance regarding the Bible, as well as a more loving posture toward his opponents, in this case Christians.
I don’t believe that “uncivil and unhelpful” fully describes Savage’s remarks. After learning a little more about Savage though, I’m not surprised. What I am surprised is that there has not been a backlash against NSPA (http://www.studentpress.org/nspa/conventions.html) for bringing him on as a speaker or knowing more about what he planned on saying. I am personally curious as to the sponsors of this event and what they have to say about their support for Savage’s comments. While the backlash at Savage may not be helpful, why not take the appropriate actions and let NSPA and the events sponsors know how we feel about it?
Grace and Peace,
Everyone has raised some good points here. I’ll say this: perhaps much of our difference of opinion has to do with semantics. Did he bully, or was he merely “uncivil”? Considering what everyone has said here, I can understand why someone would call at least some of his comments “bullying,” and I hope you can see why I might disagree. That said, I do think it’s helpful to consider whether or not the extent of our outrage was appropriate and what it means to be offended by an unbeliever. Hopefully, I’ve been able to spur some thoughts.
Follow-up question: Is there a chart for levels of outrage to which we might refer? Are there levels of outrage?
I still don’t think I understand your point. How are we to be salt and light if we don’t get outraged every once in a while. We are sinners, who by God’s grace, are trying to be better. Our sinfulness does not disqualify us from calling sin – sin, rather, we it allows us to point to the one who is sinless.
This is not a difference in semantics, but of methodology. We either react to evil or we ignore it. Your comments lead us to believe that we would be better to ignore it, which seems tantamount to acceptance. While the balance between thoughtful engagement and hypocrisy might be precarious at times, your closing sentence would seemingly lead to a moral free-for-all, as none of us are qualified to comment on anything. Perhaps in your zeal to temper the argument, you have swung the pendulum too far.
Hey Marty T.,
For Alan to “ignore it” or to not “call sin, sin” would be for him to not mention at all that Savage was in the wrong. He did that. But this wasn’t the focus of this particular post. There is plenty of coverage from Christians decrying Savage. Alan’s post wonders if some of the response is overblown out of a misguided feeling of outrage fueled more by a culture war than by righteous indignation over sin.
You say that we “either react to evil or ignore it.” This is over-reductive and misses the point of the post (and Alan’s column) completely. More to the point: we “either react well, react poorly, or ignore it.” Alan’s is an attempt to react well, and question whether we’re all doing the same.
Hi there Nick – if I may respond:
1. Alan, unless I missed it, called Savage’s remarks “ignorant” and “uncivil” and “unhelpful”. He did not call them “wrong.” Further, the piece reads more like an apologetic for Savage than a teaching moment for Christians.
2. Comparing bad behavior with other behavior does not help the argument. It just shows are all sinners in need of grace.
3. While I agree there we should strive for a “react well” position, again, the tone and text of Alan’s response was not for reasoned reaction, but for no reaction. Based on the closing sentence, short of meditative prayer, we are not allowed a response. This is overly-reductive.
4. I am a proponent of engaging the culture in a thoughtful and compassionate way. But if we can not draw lines of acceptable behavior in public discourse, there will be no public discourse. There will be tirades like Savage’s.
5. Rather than call-out the “bad reactors”, a more helpful approach would have been to suggest a good reaction, not hint at no reaction.
Enjoy the dialogue. Thanks
I do think your article is on target. Who really cares if this guy is a jerk with an agenda?
I think, though, the most significant point in this debate lies not in our discussion of Savage, but in our examination of ourselves. Here is Romans 12:14-21.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I think this is a pretty clear picture of how we ought to react when the world hates the gospel or the moral stances our faith requires; and I think it’s pretty clear that in their response to Savage, a lot of Christians have failed to make this attitude their goal.
I enjoyed the article Alan. When I saw this earlier in the week and read a few of his articles I was less upset about his comments and more upset by the fact that someone hired him to speak at a high school journalism conference. I mean maybe I don’t have all of the facts here, but he was talking to High School students and even if you consider that High Schoolers can handle foul language there is the matter of professionalism and the fact that most High School events don’t involve profanity( atleast not publicized profanity). I am somewhat shocked that more people have not spoken out about just his use of words in front of a High School crowd. Just wanted to know your thoughts.
Savage says two things
1. I did not call anyone’s faith BS.
2. There is BS in the Bible.
3. However, many Christians believe the Bible is God’s written revelation without error. I am one of them.
4. Therefore, Savage did call some people’s biblical faith BS.
5. So what, though? He isn’t giving any substantial arguments. I am not threatened or even offended. He is a blowhard sans logic.
Is there anything wrong with my argument?
If it’s all just a bit of semantics, then what’s the point of this post? Why bring it up at all, if it’s just a kerfuffle over nothing?
I think instinctively you do know it’s not just a bit of cultural detritus. Watching the video, you hear the cheers and hoots of the kids who agree with Savage’s rant. He’s egging them on. Classic bully behavior.
Additionally (as progressives love to remind us), Savage holds a position of clear power and privilege. He’s a lecturer with authority, and the audience is therefore subservient. He’s abusing his position to say things to his captive audience which they would otherwise not hear. Again, classic bully behavior.
The “pansy-a__” (not sure if your filter would allow profanity) comment hurled after them is probably just icing on the cake, although it’s certainly the bit that got the most attention. The more substantive argument to be made lies in the context of the event, as I’ve noted above.
Frankly, your take on this utterly misses the point. The offended reaction is a great way to counteract Savage’s effort to so delegitimize an evangelical perspective on homosexuality that no one is willing to publicly state it. The backlash serves as an effective warning that the evangelical perspective takes itself seriously, and that it will continue to be stated. It also encourages other evangelicals to remember that they are not alone in their beliefs, contra the attempts by Savage, et al. to reinforce an image of Christianity beleaguered and surrounded. Finally, the vocal response is a reminder that evangelicals have every right to be free to speak their minds on the subject, just as do profane, angry activists. No reverse discrimination allowed.
Do some reading on cultural marxism and the Frankfurt School some time. Savage’s behavior is clearly derivative of both.
Thanks for dropping by. Here are some thoughts:
“I think instinctively you do know it’s not just a bit of cultural detritus. Watching the video, you hear the cheers and hoots of the kids who agree with Savage’s rant. He’s egging them on. Classic bully behavior.”—Yes, you’re right. Bullies do egg on others. But it’s also true that during a speech, people cheer when they hear something they agree with. And in this case, I suspect that Savage verbalized a position on Christianity’s teachings on homosexuality that resonated with a lot of students, so they cheered. Again, I fail to see how this is bullying. Of course he thinks the teachings are BS, he’s a practicing homosexual. Why should anyone be offended by the fact that he vocalized what should have been evident to everyone in the room?
“Additionally (as progressives love to remind us), Savage holds a position of clear power and privilege. He’s a lecturer with authority, and the audience is therefore subservient. He’s abusing his position to say things to his captive audience which they would otherwise not hear. Again, classic bully behavior.”—In my mind, this is probably the best case for claiming that this was bullying. I suppose I would just like to say to those Christian teens that this is the nature of living in the world. People will hate you (I’m not saying Savage hates them) and certainly will hate your beliefs. But this should never shock us or shame us or offend us. It’s just the way things are. That said, I will say that you and other commenters have persuaded me that it is ironic and hypocritical for Savage to champion anti-bullying and yet fail to be civil. I do not think, however, that his dismissal of the evangelical perspective is even close to being morally equivalent to the abuse some homosexuals experience at the hands of bullies. Thus, my objection to the extent of the protests by Christians against Savage in this incident.
“Frankly, your take on this utterly misses the point.” —My name is Alan. And this is a family-friendly site, so please keep your discussion of utters to a minimum.
“The offended reaction is a great way to counteract Savage’s effort to so delegitimize an evangelical perspective on homosexuality that no one is willing to publicly state it.”—I’m certain that Savage would like to delegitimize Christian teachings on homosexuality. However, what opponent in a debate doesn’t want to delegitimize the other side, including Christians? In fact, the evangelical reaction which has so focused on Savages hypocrisy has almost entirely failed to respond to his argument. Aren’t Christians delegitimizing Savage’s perspective by refusing to even engage it and instead overwhelmingly dismissing him based on his tone?
“The backlash serves as an effective warning that the evangelical perspective takes itself seriously, and that it will continue to be stated.”—Wouldn’t a much more effective warning about the seriousness of our perspective be achieved by offering a thoughtful response to the content of his words, rather than his tone? Wouldn’t that better demonstrate that our perspective is reasonable and substantive?
“It also encourages other evangelicals to remember that they are not alone in their beliefs, contra the attempts by Savage, et al. to reinforce an image of Christianity beleaguered and surrounded.”—You raise a good point here. I’ll grant that he dismisses the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality as self-evidently wrong, which is uncivil at the very least, but that teaching is not Christianity itself, although it is a part of it. Hrm, I’ll have to think on this point. But regardless of what he is dismissing, reacting in offense is not necessarily the most meaningful or effective way to encourage other believers.
“Finally, the vocal response is a reminder that evangelicals have every right to be free to speak their minds on the subject, just as do profane, angry activists. No reverse discrimination allowed.”—I’m not sure how the issue of free soeech sneaked into this, but assuming this incident did raise questions of free speech, I dont think offense is an effective response. So, we defend our right to free speech by taking offense and complaining about someone else’s hypocrisy? Surely there are better ways to re-legitimize our voices in public discourse.
Again, thank you for your thoughtful comment.
Thanks for the article, Alan.
Ben, spot-on with the Scripture.
*The line between those bullied and the bullies is not clear. Those bullied (like Dan Savage) often become the bullies (as he did here–and bullying kids, no less; big man indeed).
*I am deeply ashamed of the outright hatred that many Bible-believing Christians have for homosexuals. There is no excuse for it, none.
*I am not at all surprised at Dan’s bullying, nor am I surprised by ANY double-standards against Christian faith. We’re promised persecution in this life, remember? And it’s not my responsibility to tell Dan he’s being mean; I can present the gospel, but I cannot control him or anyone else. However, I am called to called to also tell the Church when we fail to reflect Christ’s love as we should. And our record towards homosexuals is mixed, at best.
*Dan’s rather simplistic view of slavery and homosexuality is designed as propaganda, not information. Even slavery is nuanced. Not all slavery involved kidnapping 100% innocent people and treating them worse than animals. For example, the “slavery” of serving seven years (not a lifetime) to repay debts is not at all parallel with the African slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries.
*Yes, Dan was insulting Biblical faith. Sorry–if he finds “hate the sin, not the sinner” as inconsistent, “hate the source of faith, not the faith” sounds even more disingenuous. Faith in the trustworthiness of the Bible–that, among other things, it contains no “bulls**t”–is central to historic Christianity.
*I find Dan’s apology to be a “yes, but” apology that was not an apology, akin to any politicans “I’m sorry if people were offended” apology. But I don’t expect nor need his apology.
*Finally, I am deeply heartened by the courage of the young Christians who walked out. They didn’t stay to boo or hiss, they made a dignified exit. We–and Dan–should learn from them.
I think that we all need to remember that when someone doesn’t know Christ we should expect nothing less than what Mr. Savage has shared. He is a broken individual who thinks that what he is doing is helping himself and others. All of us at one time or another were non-believers and we did some of the same things. However if for some reason Mr. Savage were to come to Christ tomorrow and denounce these things we would receive him with open arms. He is doing again what all people in his position do and we should not be surprised. However when we make such a big deal about comments because that’s what this is we are giving the sin and ideas e pleura and we are also saying yeah he’s right. Just like when Kirk Cameron said what he did they gave Him exposure for Christ. I think that if we would see this as what it is and do what Jesus said and give the other cheek we would be able to pray for Him and maybe one day he may come to Christ. Remember Jesus said they will hate you for my sake. Our enemy the devil prowls around. Don’t take the bait pray for him.
Alan, I agree that calling this “bullying” is (as Joe points out) more about irony than about accuracy. There is something to the notion of the “bully pulpit,” but the celeb-activist-speaker-of-the-day has a lot less “bully” (main sense) in his “bully pulpit” (Teddy R sense) than you or I do, for example, in our classrooms.
…which, by the way, is why I discourage hot-button conversations in my classrooms, and in instructional (as opposed to scholarly) academia generally. (because enforcing a pluralistic ethos is unacceptable, and so is trying to police irate students–not to mention the impossible political situation)
….anyway, though, I do think there is a substantial issue buried in the many layers of abusive rhetoric, here (and I’m using “abusive” in the sense debaters use “abusive definition,” here–like if one accused TR of being a “bully” for using “the bully pulpit” without paying attention to TR’s quaint usage of “bully” for “jolly good” or “ripping”). The substantial issue is, as Doug points out, that this incident does explicitly indicate the relationship between this activist’s perspective and a Christian one, in this activist’s own words, even in the words of his apology. (I am immensely grateful, as someone who spent years terrified of going to school, that he managed to apologize for the “pansy-ass” language)
He may acknowledge some vague respect for Christianity, but he will only do so provided it meets his approval. Christ does not accept you or me on those terms. Christ did condescend to our human condition, suffer in all ways like us, including a lot more than bullying, a lot more than rejection, yet without sin. He may have found a way to rescue a woman from a “lynch-mob” stoning, but he did not fail to tell her “go and sin no more” (the very language I hear every time I go to Reconciliation because I fail to heed it thoroughly). He went out of his way to meet and converse with a Samaritan woman, but when she responded to his call she did so with joyful knowledge that he had forgiven what *they both knew was sin*. Christ did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
No one feels more strongly than I that people need to be told not to use sarcasm, innuendo, smug exclusion, rumor, gossip, backbiting, tattling, or obvious things like unfair fights and physical intimidation to hurt others. I still have to warn those close to me that using sarcasm to “gently” criticize me hurts a heckalot more than just telling me I’m wrong would, because it denies me any way to either justify myself or stand corrected, just like all those times I got told “turn the other cheek” meant that whoever was on top when the fight ended was wrong.
But much more important than my feelings or yours or Dan’s or anyone else’s about bullying or the tidiness of web rhetoric (which, let’s all face it, is a mess–like every other kind of rhetoric in our mass-market culture), there is a matter of truth, here. And a matter of offense.
Bullying is offensive. Bullying which takes homosexuality for its matter is offensive.
Calling a tenet of someone’s faith BS is offensive, as well. I should know, as I do it regularly. Oh, not so much matters of controversial but authoritative teaching which can easily be understood by anyone willing to do the historical research–that would make me look foolish, wouldn’t it? But random thoughts injecting themselves into serious discussions, like when someone injecting himself into a Reformed theology conversation turns out to be anti-Trinitarian. In other words, when I think the matter is of little real signficance, so that I can afford to be dismissive of and offensive to its proponents, because I am engaged on more serious business; or when I think that being thus offended might jar my audience into engagement with my points; or (on my worst days) when I just want to hit back at someone who has offended me in some way, then I call the matter “BS.”
Well, it is offensive to call teachings of Scripture BS. And while it ought not be *surprising* that someone who has turned his back on what he calls “the faith I was raised in” should be dismissive of its claims and more willing than I would be to offend against it, neither should it be *surprising* that offensive behavior … offends.
And in so doing, he is as much an agent of the continuing cycle of violence as anyone who with justifiable pique but unjustifiable inaccuracy played up the irony of his behavior.
But in rejecting the only one who can reconcile us all in one Body, he has done something much worse. For his sake, and all of ours, I hope he will not long persist in doing so.
It is interesting for me to be the reactionary…. as usually I’m on the other side of most discussions on homosexuality. But Dan Savage was talking to *high school students*. And that makes this a clear case of bullying to me. Most high schoolers hate the idea of being mean… even if they sometimes are. And to be yelled at by a “cool spokesperson” about being mean is being bullied. It is clearly that. And I’m sorry he did it. I get it that he is reacting to real problems. And for cryin’ out loud, quoting Atheist Sam Harris at the kids…. I don’t see this as being in any way constructive. And in fact the end result may even be that some Christian kids who might have gone to the seminar being teachable left there convinced that being mean was their only option! A classic example of unintended consequences.
Mitch seems to hit the key point as far as I am concerned. Savage is an authority figure on the subject of Bullying who was invited to speak to hundreds of high school students. Savage proceeded to go after Christians in this setting that clearly included Christian kids and non-Christian kids. Typically, bullying involves an apparently stronger person intimidating a weaker person. In this case, the authority figure, who was hired by some organization authorized to convey information to kids, used his apparent position of power to attack the Christian kids in his audience.
I’m much more concerned about a publically financed organization allowing such a thing to be inflicted on children. If the organization that organized this “convention” was in any way affiliated with a School District or confederation of school districts, it has an implicit duty to protect the children from the abuse that occurred. Hopefully, any future plans for such gatherings will carefully consider the credentials of anyone they hire to educate the kids. Tax Payer dollars should not be used to pay for someone like this to recruit his own converts.
the notion that people, or groups of people can’t be civil at various volumes and degrees of outrage is to really consider one’s own “degree” the elite or correct one.
in any event, dan savage was simply being a bully. he can attribute it to whatever reasons he likes. he has apologized, so be it. the fact is, HE can’t have it both ways. he can’t claim to be the tolerant left, nor can anyone claiming to be in the church who supports homosexual behavior as a valid, non-sinful activity.
that said, i have no animosity toward sinners of any ilk. i am well aware of what i’ve been forgiven, and of what i’m capable outside the bounds of a gracious Father. i happen to have close family members living the homosexual lifestyle and we get along well. they know where i stand, and i know where they stand.
i agree that the only way a person is ever persuaded or even gives an ear to listen is by some mutual respect and walking, not just talking about life’s challenges and solutions. that doesn’t mean principles and convictions need to be diluted, it means they must be lived in love with clear boundaries and respectful relationships. no one makes a feverish pursuit of ‘luke-warm” in any of life’s disciplines.
the use of taxpayer funds for this kind of event is shameful. folks who approved it should be disciplined properly. they hold the public trust and have breached it.
and just to be clear, i know bullies. dan savage is no bully by any definition of the word. the way it’s explained is: the loudest noise clangs come from empty barrels.
he’s hurting. i hope he finds his way to healing.
Thanks for an interesting read. I appreciated your comparatively tolerant assessment of Dan Savage’s comments.
The other thing I hoped to gain from in this article, though, was a bit of insight into the details of the Biblical hermeneutics to which you refer as an explanation for why Christians interpret certain parts of the Bible as relevant only to ancient Israel, and others as relevant to us today. Can you provide more explanation for this, or perhaps links to websites?
Dan Savage was raised Catholic and went to seminary before coming out as gay and quitting the Church, and having heard him in several interviews, I think he knows and understands scripture and scriptural interpretation better than most here give him credit for.
While he could have used more polite words, many would have been offended regardless of the wording, because he “attacked” their beliefs.
As a former Christian myself, and one who has also studied the Bible extensively, the arguments against same sex marriage are so similar to the arguments formerly used against interracial marriage, it is amazing that many still cling to this ideology and say it’s different because it’s about a “behavior.” One’s own prejudices are difficult to see, and unfortunately, it is my experience that a person who has experienced discrimination can be just as blind to this truth as anyone else.
I am tired of the oppressor-as-victim mentality that many fundamentalists continue to portray, and I am heartened that seemingly the majority in the room that day agreed with Savage. This gives me hope for the future.
Why should Dan be expected to be particularly sensitive to a religious group who voluntarily attend a secular event, knowing he is speaking at this event? Dan is famously not Christian and regularly speaks out about selective Bible reading and many religions’ defence of bullying in the name of religious freedom. It’s nothing he hasn’t said and written many times before in multiple forums and although a little rude (also not new for him) nothing that can be construed as bullying.
So in the midst of all the moral “won’t anyone think of the children” outrage, has anyone actually clarified what the Bible DOES say about gays? Honestly, I’m willing to give Savage’s comments a pass if the BIble is indeed as hateful towards gay people as he suggests
Christian hypocrisy in the public sphere is one of the things killing this faith.
Since when are Christians supposed to publicly and proudly look for the mote in others eyes while ignoring the beam in their own? Since when are Christians supposed to publicly denounce others lives while ignoring the festering sin in their own?
Savage has a point that many people seem to like to overlook – whatever your beliefs, using those beliefs to negate the rights of others is unacceptable. It violates separation of religion and government, and attempts to codify Christian values and force all others to live by them fly in the face of the very precept that this country was founded on – separation of religion from state and pursuit of happiness.
It seems these days that what many Christians assumes this means is that their way is the only true and proper way, and everyone else should believe as they believe for the sake of their own souls. That is not the way to minister to others; all it creates is resentment, and the type of fallout that leads Christians to start looking for examples of how we are the victims, when the truth is that yes, we (as the majority religion) are the bullies.
Christians no longer follow Christ’s example. They follow blowhard political pundits who use Christianity as a veil to shroud their own hypocrisy, greed, and avarice. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. No wonder people like Savage call the Bible (or parts of it) BS when we follow only the parts that we think allow us to condemn others and force others to think as we do.
Until Christians start actually fighting back against those who have usurped the name of Christ, and start following Christ’s example to love and forgive rather than to attack and condemn, he will be right.
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