Bullying | Dan Savage | Education | Gay Youth | Religion

Teen Christians Vs. Dan Savage At Student Journalism Conference: VIDEO


A great brouhaha is stirring in the nation's conservative publications over comments Dan Savage made two weeks ago while addressing the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention. The convention was entitled "Journalism On The Edge," which you'd think would prep participants for a certain amount of edginess in the presentations. Alas, the audience was not prepared for edginess. Savage's subject was to be bullying, and he got right to the point:

The Bible. We'll just talk about the Bible for a second. People often point out that they can't help it -- they can't help with the anti-gay bullying, because it says right there in Leviticus, it says right there in Timothy, it says right there in Romans, that being gay is wrong.

We can learn to ignore the bulls**t in the Bible about gay people. The same way, the same way we have learned to ignore the bulls**t in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore bulls**t in the Bible about all sorts of things. The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document. Slave owners waved Bibles over their heads during the Civil War and justified it. The shortest book in the New Testament is a letter from Paul to a Christian slave owner about owning his Christian slave. And Paul doesn't say "Christians don't own people." Paul talks about how Christians own people. 

We ignore what the Bible says about slavery, because the Bible got slavery wrong. Tim -- uh, Sam Harris, in A Letter To A Christian Nation, points out that the Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong. Slavery. What're the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? One hundred percent. 

The Bible says that if your daughter's not a virgin on her wedding night -- if a woman isn't a virgin on her wedding night, she shall be dragged to her father's doorstep and stoned to death. Callista Gingrich lives. And there is no effort to amend state constitutions to make it legal to stone women to death on their wedding night if they're not virgins. At least not yet. We don't know where the GOP is going these days.

People are dying because people can't clear this one last hurdle. They can't get past this one last thing in the Bible about homosexuality. 

Um, one other thing I wanna talk about is -- [chuckles] -- so, you can tell the Bible guys in the hall that they can come back now, because I'm done beating up the Bible. It's funny, as someone who's on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react when you push back. 

I apologize if I hurt anyone's feelings. But. I have a right to defend myself. And to point out the hypocrisy of people who justify anti-gay bigotry by pointing to the Bible, and insisting we must live by the code of Leviticus on this one issue and no other. 

As Savage noted, Christian students in the thousands-strong audience fled from his address, first in a trickle, and then in a great flood. The exodus began right around the time Savage started talking about slavery. Very soon, the offended students were talking to the press. From the rightist rag Citizen Link:

A 17-year-old from California who was attending with half a dozen other students from her high school yearbook staff, was one of several students to walk out in the middle of Savage’s speech.

“The first thing he told the audience was, ‘I hope you’re all using birth control!’ ” she recalled. Then “he said there are people using the Bible as an excuse for gay bullying, because it says in Leviticus and Romans that being gay is wrong. Right after that, he said we can ignore all the ‘B.S.’ in the Bible.

“I was thinking, ‘This is not going a good direction at all,’ Then he started going off about the Bible. He said somehow the Bible was pro-slavery. I’m really shy. I’m not really someone to, like, stir up anything. But all of a sudden I just blurted out, ‘That’s bull!’ ”

As she and several other students walked out of the auditorium, Savage noticed them leaving and called them “pansies.”

The story has now been picked up by FOX News Radio, under the headline "Anti-Bullying Speaker Curses Christian Teens." Today, that article was one of the top links at Drudge Report, which suggests the story will get bigger very soon.

It's too bad the Christian kids left the hall. They're supposed to be journalists, and we in the journalism biz must often dirty our ears with others' distasteful utterances. While Savage might have profitably avoided the use of profanities (which, when used to describe allegedly sacred documents, tend to make believers less than receptive to whatever might come next), what he said was materially true, and good journalism students of any creed ought to know it. And inquisitive Christians also ought to know the standard argument against Dan's point: That Jesus's "new covenant" rendered the Old Testament's "ceremonial law" meaningless (making it okay for humans to eat shellfish and pork) but left in place the Old Testament's "moral laws," which include prohibitions against homosexuality. And smart people in general should know the counter-argument to that counter-argument, which is: Really? Stoning women to death isn't a moral issue?

That's where believers and doubters tend to part ways, which is a shame. Apparently these journalism students are too delicate to get even that far.

Watch the allegedly objectionable bits of Savage's address AFTER THE JUMP ...

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  1. I guess I like him more than I thought I did because I thought I didn't like him.

    Posted by: ggggb | Apr 28, 2012 3:16:28 PM

  2. I've grown so tired of reading anything related to religion, and Towleroad has been fixated on it recently.

    People in most foreign countries don't understand the US obsession with it, and neither do I. It comes up way too much.

    Posted by: Paul R | Apr 28, 2012 3:18:19 PM

  3. Religion poisons everything!

    Posted by: Joe | Apr 28, 2012 3:20:46 PM

  4. PAUL R - you're right. It comes up way too much. Which is precisely why Towleroad posts about it.

    Posted by: TJ | Apr 28, 2012 3:22:29 PM

  5. @ Paul R:

    Religion has been used as the basis for anti-gay discrimination so it is a very relevant topic to a "site with homosexual tendencies". Kind of bizarre that you don't get that.

    Posted by: Mike | Apr 28, 2012 3:22:47 PM

  6. I'll just repeat part of a comment I left at Real Sceptic blog:

    It’s a matter of propriety and effective communication. A talk on bullying and homophobia is not the place to put teens on the spot about their faith on matters far beyond homosexuality. A direct attack on the notion of Biblical literal inerrancy, using mockery and curse words, seems less effective than emphasizing a message of love, tolerance, and justice found across faiths. And then he taunts those offended by using a term used to attack gays, “pansy”. Perhaps he thought that he was being cleverly ironic and turning the tables, but those on the other side of the political/cultural divide just see an adult verbally bullying teenagers. I hope Savage found this long-delayed revenge on his own high school tormenters cathartic, because it’s a big fat gift to the anti-gay religious right.

    Posted by: Frank S. | Apr 28, 2012 3:24:03 PM

  7. While I do not necessarily disagree with the substance of Dan Savage's comments, I think he went too far here. His comments -- and similar comments that others have made -- run the risk of creating a war between LGBT individuals and Christians. Not only is this unwinnable, but it's unnecessary. Studies have shown that even conservative Christian youth are supportive of same-sex marriage. They have learned to evolve their thinking beyond a few bible verses on this issue, similar to the pioneers that Savage refers to regarding slavery, virginity etc.

    These Evangelical young people can be leaders in their respective organizations and we should seek to form an open dialogue with them. However, Savage's comments risk alienating them and driving them away from support of LGBT causes.

    Posted by: Daniel | Apr 28, 2012 3:25:08 PM

  8. Because ignoring religion magically makes it a problem that goes away? The reason this site focuses so much on religion, is because there are so many religious groups who are attacking gays, justifying it with their religion. Not many non-religious people out there going after us.

    Posted by: LiamB | Apr 28, 2012 3:25:55 PM

  9. Love Dan Savage

    Posted by: JONES | Apr 28, 2012 3:26:04 PM

  10. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is very clearly pro-slavery. The pro-slavery verses of the Bible, including one quote from Jesus, are very easily to find on the Internet. There's really no need for Chistianist nutcases to lie about it.

    Posted by: Artie_in_Lauderdale | Apr 28, 2012 3:26:20 PM

  11. I like Dan Savage (some days more than others) but I really think he hurts his cause and ours by stirring up this kind of press. The medium is becoming the story, in place of the message. And that's a shameful lost opportunity.

    Moreover, on what planet is it ok for an authority figure to attack kids with offensive name calling, and trash their religion with profanities? If he keeps this up, he's likely to inspire some sort of It Gets Better project within faith communities. The last thing we need is to give victimizers more fodder for recasting themselves as victims.

    Posted by: Rick | Apr 28, 2012 3:32:13 PM

  12. The Christians have always insisted on special rights beyond those granted in the Constitution. They insist that we must all treat their beliefs as sacred. But they do not extend that respect. They feel they can say anything about LGBT people they want. The difference is that we don't believe in Gay Rights, such as they believe in the Bible. We ARE LGBT and demand our equal rights. Thanks Dan for breaking the cultural taboo by treating Christians in the way they treat everyone else.

    Posted by: Joey | Apr 28, 2012 3:44:06 PM

  13. Rick, you may be right, but those It Gets Better videos would be the most boring things ever posted to YouTube. Here's a sample script of the narration:

    "When I was growing up as a Christian kid, my parents and nearly everyone around me shared my faith and reinforced my self-worth. The politicians that we elected to high office all professed the same faith as I professed. Nearly everyone, whether religious or not, celebrated the major holidays of my religion. Then, one day, I went to a journalism conference and a meanie named Dan Savage told me that some of the things in my holy book were BS. I was so hurt. But then, I went home and my parents and siblings told me they felt the same way as I did. And the television station we watch for our news also told me they felt the same way. The end."

    Posted by: RyanInSacto | Apr 28, 2012 3:44:15 PM

  14. Well goodness! I certainly never understood that religion is considered important. Thanks so much for pointing that out.

    Perhaps I wasn't clear. I find many other topics far more interesting. I couldn't care less about organized religion. Whatever is said by the Catholic church, Westboro "church," and myriad other entities means nothing to me. I just don't care, and would prefer to have separation of church and state.

    Posted by: Paul R | Apr 28, 2012 3:46:44 PM

  15. Dan Savage has to decide whether he wants to be "irreverent" or "important." And if he wants to be both, he has to learn to figure out when to be which.

    Dan also needs to learn something else: Public speakers, in discussing oratorical techniques, have a principle called "Reading the Room." You read the room as you begin to speak and adapt your usual talk for what you perceive the audience to be, the object being always: to get your message across.

    Dan needs to learn to read a room better.

    Unless, of course, his goal was to incite controversy and get attention, in which case, he was 100% successful.

    Posted by: Jeff NYC | Apr 28, 2012 3:48:40 PM

  16. Daniel there already IS a war between LGBT individuals and Christians. And Dan Savage didn't start it.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Apr 28, 2012 3:49:12 PM

  17. Love Dan!

    Posted by: GeorgeM | Apr 28, 2012 3:49:37 PM

  18. The Bible is not pro-slavery. Slavery is a condition that has existed in history since the Fall, and the Bible gave clear guidelines to the Hebrews in the Hebrew Scriptures and Christians of the New Testament of Jesus Christ how to behave when dealing within a socio-political system with slavery as a component. Here's a link for a book written by an abolitionist in the 18th century which does a better job of explaining this than I can in this space: http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/bourne/bourne.html
    I have a problem with people on either side of the issue trying to use the Bible to advocate being pro or con any political issue. The Bible is a religious document to help guide those of the Christian religion in spiritual matters. The basic laws found in the Ten Commandments are those universal laws (also found in the earliest law codes such as Hammurabi's Code) which we have all agreed on. Beyond that, the Bible is a spiritual guide and shouldn't be treated as a social studies text book.

    Posted by: Greg | Apr 28, 2012 3:50:00 PM

  19. "Generally, Christians believe that the epoch of the New Covenant began at the first coming of Jesus, who began his ministry saying "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" -Wikipedia
    Hence, Jesus came to abolish the LAW and usher us into a new age. Leviticus quoters have no validity.The New Covenant is considered "a bond in blood sovereignly administered by God." The connection between the blood of Jesus and the New Covenant is seen at the Last Supper where Jesus institutes the rite of Communion saying "this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood".

    Posted by: cloistered1 | Apr 28, 2012 3:50:57 PM

  20. Also, when I said it comes up too much, I wasn't referring entirely to Towleroad. Mainly to TV shows and other media, though Towleroad is also focused on it.

    I don't give a damn about religion, so it seems to me like the hypocritical protests of supposedly religious people against gay rights should just be ignored. It's always the same story, and I can't keep from rolling my eyes.

    Posted by: Paul R | Apr 28, 2012 3:52:31 PM

  21. I love him.Those silly christians that walked out,could'nt handle the truth about their own religion.Dan talking about some of the verses in the bible that they like to ignore and addressing their hypocrisy,made the morons uncomfortable.Pathetic.

    Posted by: Miguel | Apr 28, 2012 3:59:12 PM

  22. Frank, Daniel, and Rick are making sense here. And the ironic thing is that I've become more sympathetic to Dan Savage over time, despite the "Santorum" controversy. Certainly Dan should speak his mind, and yes, these kids shouldn't walk out of every discussion where a speaker is offering dissenting views on a religious issue - we all have to face diversity. But calling the kids walking out "pansies" is an immature act - and won't help Dan at all. A lot of these kids could become more tolerant and help the conservative segment of society transition to a pro-gay culture. They should be approached firmly, but courteously.

    I mean I was close to 50 when my views on gay rights started to change. And this was after 30 years as a social conservative. I'm at the point now where hearing about the breakup of a gay couple I like actually bothers me. Imagine where these kids could be in even 10 years if the gay rights movement operates strategically. Best to minimize alienation among evangelicals. They have larger families than most people and they aren't dying out of the population, as some seem to think.

    Posted by: mary | Apr 28, 2012 3:59:18 PM

  23. "Mary" we know you're a Fundie Troll.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Apr 28, 2012 4:02:16 PM

  24. I appreciate the comments that Savage may have gone too far - for some of those in attendance. For others, they may have been appropriately challenged. Still others may have been thrilled. That many left is important to note. It's also important to note that many more stayed.

    As for the language used, I don't know. It doesn't seem like anything a 17 year-old hasn't heard, or said, daily.

    Posted by: TJ | Apr 28, 2012 4:03:21 PM

  25. I am a conservative Christian personally. I appreciate all the decent people on here who have pointed out that while Mr. Savage's remarks would be fine as part of a debate they were not at all appropriate for the topic being covered or for the audience.

    I would never dream of attacking youth for their sexual behavior (heterosexually promiscuity, homosexuality, or both.) In the proper context I might have conversations about those topics but it would not be an ambush and it would not be an attack.

    Thanks to all of the wonderful people on here who can see that this was wrong even if what he says is has some truth to it. (We can disagree how much at a later time.)

    Posted by: coward | Apr 28, 2012 4:03:45 PM

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