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.