Saturday, May 5, 2012

On Dan Savage and Christian teenagers

This week, Dan Savage had an unfortunate encounter with some Christian teenagers that blew up all over the press. I first heard of it when I read Savage's apology on his blog. But I wasn't fully pleased with his apology.

On the one hand, he apologizes for calling the teens "pansy-assed." That part I can accept. He was giving a speech, there was a walk-out, and he reacted. In the moment, he said something he regretted, and he apologized. And given that he was speaking about Christians using the Bible to bully gay people, and there were Christians walking out on him and refusing to engage on the topic, one can forgive him (since he apologized) for having a bit of an emotional reaction.

But "bullshit" was stupid. Saying the sentence "We can ignore the bullshit in the Bible," was utterly ridiculous and foolish and Savage should have known better. And THAT line was in his speech.

Savage was speaking to a group of teenagers who work on their school papers. For most of these kids, that means they were on a more-or-less required field trip. It's not the same as a trip required for a class, but some schools with competitive papers will make attendance at this kind of conference a requirement for students who want top Editing positions, and for many kids this is an opportunity to network and to learn in a way that is usually only available to adults. (I should probably disclose that Mr. Jewess is the advisor to his school's paper and took his editors to a similar conference earlier in the year and was himself invited to bring students to the conference in question.) So I don't think it's reasonable for Savage to even use the word "bullshit" in his keynote address. To me, that feels like bullying, a bit. There he is, the featured adult at a conference for high school students, using a word that is still shocking for some, and using it to describe a text that is sacred to many. There was no call for that. In fact, Savage himself linked to an article he wrote making the same argument he made in his speech which does not use that word. This was not an appropriate venue for foul language and these were presumably not comments made in the heat of the moment, but a keynote address which was prepared in advance.

I want to be very clear here. Nothing about Savage's argument constitutes bullying. It is fine to argue about the Bible with anyone at all, as long as one is actually using the text to support one's arguments (which he did.) Religious people should not feel threatened because someone points out inconsistencies in their practice. In fact, it is a religious person's obligation to wrestle with these inconsistencies. I am only criticizing his choice to use foul language.

Additionally, Savage advocates for Marriage Equality, for sexual freedom, for Planned Parenthood, against bullying of gay teens, for women's rights and for contraception. He has crossed swords with the Christian right before. So he had to realize that they would be paying attention when he made a speech about bullying to a convention of high school students from around the country. "We can ignore the bullshit in the Bible" is a sound bite that can be easily misunderstood by those who would make Savage out as a villain and he should have known better than to hand them that kind of ammunition. Again, this was a speech. He should plan these things ahead of time.

I take Savage's point. He's totally right that believers who ignore what the Bible says about lobster and slavery can also ignore what it says about homosexuality. He's not actually arguing against religion--he's offering a path to reconciliation. The suggestion is that religion accepts that homosexuality is an orientation and then puts the same restrictions on homosexuals that it does on heterosexuals.

But Dan Savage handled this situation badly and that's why it blew up in his face.

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