(Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Seattle-based sex-advice columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage chose to stand by his controversial remarks about the Bible that made a number of Christian students leave a recent seminar. Savage was severely criticized for saying people should "learn to ignore the bull**** in the Bible about gay people." He did not apologize for the comment, although he did apologize in a recent column for using the term "pansy-assed" against the students who took issue with his remarks.
"I was not attacking the faith in which I was raised," Savage, who was raised Catholic, wrote in the column. "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."
Savage, who recently launched a sex advice show targeted toward college students on MTV and whose "It Gets Better" anti-bullying campaign is supported by the Obama administration, uttered the controversial remarks on April 13 at the Journalism Over the Edge/National Scholastic Press Association National High School Journalism Convention. In a room full of high school students, Savage said that "people [use] the Bible as an excuse for gay bullying." As many as 100 students left the room because of the remarks, witnesses said. Savage responded to the walk-out by saying, "It's funny to someone who is on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible how pansy-assed people react when you push back." A video of Savage's profanity-laced remarks has been published online.
In a blog post on Sunday, Savage wrote that his remarks were "being spun as an attack on Christianity," which he vehemently denies.
"I didn't call anyone's religion bull****," Savage argues in the column. "I did say that there is bull**** – 'untrue words or ideas' – in the Bible."
"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," he continued. "Yet the same people who make that claim choose to ignore what the Bible has to say about a great deal else. I did not attack Christianity. I attacked hypocrisy. My remarks can only be read as an attack on all Christians if you believe that all Christians are hypocrites. Which I don't believe."
Evangelical Christians, who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality as sin, reacted to Savage's remarks by pointing to his track record of using ethically dubious tactics when criticizing his ideological opponents' stance on homosexuality. The anti-bullying activist, who has a history of attacking Christianity and the Bible on the issue, has been accused of hypocrisy for allegedly using bullying techniques in defense of his beliefs.
"Despite being an 'anti-bullying activist,' Savage has a reputation for being a reprehensible bully who uses some of the most disgusting tactics imaginable against people he hates," Joe Carter, an editor for The Gospel Coalition Blog, writes in a response to Savage's remarks. Carter is also the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator.
In Carter's opinion, it was only natural that a number of Christian students present at the seminar took Savage's comments as offensive, as the columnist's ideology is far removed from the Christian one.
"Savage's message to teens and young adults is that before they end their lives they need first to experience diseases, divorces, and drug overdoses," Carter says. "Your bodies are still young and supple, he implies, it would be a waste to shuffle off this mortal coil before you have a chance to trash it."
The issue is rightly a topic of national discussion, as "Savage is no longer just a guy who writes for the weekly tabloids. Now he's taken seriously by political leaders, business executives, actors, and pastors. His influence extends from Hollywood to the White House," Carter adds.
Savage's comments during the seminar also unleashed a storm of criticism from gay-affirming conservative groups who believe there is no disparity between being a Christian and respecting human rights, including fighting against bullying.
"Dan Savage's outrageous anti-Christian tirade hurts – not helps – the fight for gay rights in this country," Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director of GOProud said in a recent statement. "There is nothing incompatible between being a Christian and believing that all people should be treated equally, and Dan Savage's attacks on Christianity only fuel those on the extremist fringe who oppose gay rights." GOProud is an organization representing "conservative gays, lesbians, transgendered people, and their allies."
The National Scholastic Press Association, which organized the event featuring Savage, issued an apologetic statement in which it condemned the columnist.
"NSPA and JEA consider Mr. Savage's use of harsh language and profanity to be inappropriate and offensive to many in attendance. This is not what our organizations expected. In his attempt to denounce bullying, Mr. Savage belittled the faith of others – an action that we do not support. Ridicule of others' faith has no place in our programs, any more than ridicule of the LGBT community would," administrators said in the statement.
"Student journalism, like professional journalism, is built on the foundation of free speech. It should not shy away from controversial topics and viewpoints," the statement adds. "But it should promote and engage in civil discourse. Mr. Savage's speech fell short of that standard, and for this our organizations apologize."