I’m not surprised by the pulse of American conservatism, which jumped to label Dan Savage’s recent blunder at a journalism conference an “anti-Christian tirade.” But watching the dialogue unravel from progressives and hearing some of the reactions from those involved at the event has underscored a deeper problem.
I shrieked at the headline “Is Dan Savage the Gay Santorum?” which inappropriately pinned Savage against one of the cruelest advocates for homophobic public policy, who has made the lives of LGBT people a living hell, whereas Savage has used his public pulpit to inspire many in the religious community, including Mormon parents and hurting LGBT students at Brigham Young University, to stand up as Christians for LGBT equality.
Savage made some offensive comments calling parts of the Bible “bullshit” at a recent journalism conference in Seattle. His choice of words would not have been my style for speaking to a group of high school kids. But to suggest Savage was bullying the religious community is equally offensive.
One of the supervisors in attendance told the Catholic News Agency, “If you single out one group’s beliefs using condescending, profane language, I believe that qualifies as bullying.”
The issue here is not “bullying,” it’s how we talk about homophobic Christianity. Multitudes of LGBT and straight Christians alike are offended by Christians who believe LGBT people are inherently unequal — that is, that they are sinners because of who they are. Those of us who believe in equality for all people are one of the most marginalized groups within the religious community. We are humiliated within our churches, as demonstrated last week when LGBT members of the United Methodist Church were denied their human dignity at their 2012 general conference. We are abused by the religious right on a daily basis, most recently demonstrated by the ouster of Richard Grenell — a Mitt Romney senior staffer who came under fire by the right simply because he is gay. We live in a First World country and yet need an LGBT movement to help those of us living as second-class citizens struggle for the same rites and rights as everyone else.
Dan Savage is a self-professed atheist and sex columnist. So when he’s asked to talk about these issues, I truly hope organizers and pundits know what they are getting — an intelligent gay rights activist and journalist, not a theologian. He can be a highly offensive person, but in no way, shape, or form is he trained to speak in depth about religious doctrine.
What he is trained to do quite effectively is pinpoint the root causes of hatred that has destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of gay and transgender kids in our country.
Homophobic churches are a core problem of LGBT bullying. Homophobic Christianity is a core problem of LGBT bullying. There are many Christians doing everything they can to eradicate homophobic Christian culture so that we can live in a world where all Christians live out God’s directive to “love thy neighbor as thyself”— which means unconditional love of all people.
Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and the Bible says nothing about consensual gay relationships at all.
Last year the Reverend Mark Sandlin wrote a reflection on Believe Out Loud, which humorously points out the horrific things we have done as a faith community including slavery, segregation, domestic violence, subjugation of women and apartheid. But as we continue to walk history’s path, we grow as people and learn that it’s not right to suppress people (Ephesians 5:22); it’s not right to hurt women (Deuteronomy 22:20-21); it’s not right to be racists (Exodus 21:20); it’s not right to have slaves (Deuteronomy 15:12-15); and so on. We learn to contextualize the statements and letters of Paul, and to use the Bible as a spiritual tool to help us understand the good of God’s will and the social-cultural context that shaped the thinking of the Prophets whose writings are codified in the Bible.
Using passages in the Bible to condemn homosexuality, as Sandlin points out, fails to account for this context. “Sexual orientation” was first introduced in the 1800s, and therefore the authors of the Bible realistically had no concept of what we now label “homosexuality.” How then are we – in the 21st century – to read the Bible? How do we apply first-century faith and texts to a 21st-century culture? The “clobber passages”— that is, the verses in the Bible commonly used to promote homophobic Christianity — need to be better understood. We are challenged as Christians and people to open our hearts and minds in the interest of promoting love and compassion for all people.
In order to get there, homophobic Christian thinking must continue to be challenged and stopped, but Dan Savage cannot lead the spiritual debate. The media and world need to hear from the Reverend Jimmy Creeches of the world, the Reverend Mark Sandlins, the Reverend Janet Edwardses, or the Reverend Jacqui Lewises. There are literally thousands of Christian pastors who represent the spiritual voice of LGBT equality, and they are already changing hearts and minds by channeling the compassionate voice of Christ through their pulpits.
These leaders are the voices of the LGBT-inclusive Christian community who will lead the spiritual discussion. Savage is not among them. His voice is needed in other spheres: to continue to educate the public on sexuality, to combat LGBT bullying, to give young LGBT people hope, to speak truth to power in his own, colorful way. Amen for his voice. But let’s not expect him to be a theologian.
The Bible is not “bullshit.” But those who use Scripture to keep the LGBT community down? Now that’s the real bullshit.
JOSEPH WARD is director of Believe Out Loud.