It gets better, Mr. Savage

If you haven’t heard already, recent remarks by anti-bullying gay-rights activist and columnist Dan Savage at the National High School Journalist Conference in Seattle have caused quite a stir. The video portion of Savage’s controversial comments can be viewed here (WARNING: The video clip contains language not suitable for everyone.) He also issued an “apology” for what happened here.

To summarize, at a national event geared towards high school age journalists, Dan Savage, the founder of the It Gets Better anti-bullying campaign, began to criticize the Bible, Christianity, and Christians. When he did this, several students walked out of the assembly in protest. The walk-out elicited derogatory name-calling aimed at the students by the speaker.

For those unaware, Dan Savage is the founder, along with his partner, of the It Gets Better anti-bullying project. This organization has recruited high-profile spokespeople such as President Obama and pop-star Jewel. It is aimed at stopping bullying for homosexual and transgender youth, as well as “other bullied teens.” On it’s website, IGB contains the following pledge:

Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I’ll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that “It Gets Better.”

In addition, Mr. Savage is an activist in the social and political arena. His views are at times controversial. His wrath is often channeled towards Christians and conservatives. For instance, he has feuded with former Roman Catholic Republican senator Rick Santorum over Santorum’s assertion that he would “pray for” Savage.

Savage also admitted to attempting to infect former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and his entire staff with the flu in 2000, going so far as to cough on and drench phones, pens, and doorknobs with his infected saliva. His motivation? Because, in Savage’s opinion, Bauer was “on the religious right” and “anti-gay.” Savage gleefully described his actions as “terrorism.”

In light of these very public facts, and Savage’s penchant for controversy, the planning committee for the National High School Journalist Conference still agreed to have him come speak to an assembled group of over 2,000 impressionable teenagers. I feel this was a bad decision on their part. I am for the expression of differing views. However, Savage’s history should’ve made them reconsider having him speak at this particular event.

So, here are my thoughts on what happened:

1. As a Christian, parent, and pastor for students, Dan Savage’s behavior concerns me. It concerns me as a Christian because Savage’s harsh words are not indicative of biblical Christianity, whose foundation is built on God’s love and our love for others (John 13:34-35).  As a parent, Savage’s profanity-laced tirade in an assembly of teens causes concern. I would not want my child attending an “educational assembly” and having to hear any adult curse and deride them or others. Savage should’ve kept on-topic and left his views at the door. These were kids!

As one who ministers to teens, I shutter to think of the anti-Christian worldviews they have to encounter on a daily basis, and in the unlikeliest of places. Case in point: at a journalism conference for their peers, listening to an anti-bullying activist, these students got the exact opposite. Parents and churches, prepare your children to think biblically, and filter out the debris that streams from the mouths, minds, and word processors of the Dan Savages of the world.

2. Savage has indicated that he was bullied in the past by Christians. He claims to have been bullied by Christians because of his homosexuality, though he was raised in a Christian environment. If this is true, then I apologize to him. I, too, was often ridiculed by “Christians” in my teens. Not because of my sexual orientation, but simply because I wasn’t a religious church-goer like them. I’ve spoken freely about this over the years. I was often told I was going to hell, unsaved, and mocked because I wasn’t a Christian. I was around so-called Christians my entire life, but not one told me about Jesus until a co-worker did when I was in my 20s.

Christians should learn something from Savage: our lack of love and compassion towards those who are not “like us” more often than not always leads to resentment and rejection. It’s not very beneficial to stand inside our brick and stained-glass boxes and hurl insults about “those out there.” We live, work, and go to school among them. We are the only light they see (Matthew 5:14-16).

3. Two things Savage said needs correction. Actually, much of what he said needs correction, but I want to concentrate on just two things he said during his speech:

A. “I have a right to defend myself.” From whom, Mr. Savage? A group of teenagers, Christian and otherwise, who came to learn more about journalism? What did they do to you? How did they attack you that you felt the need to “defend” yourself? No one has the right to bash others simply because they hold different religious views than your own. Also, every speaker should know his/her audience, and Mr. Savage totally missed his. Instead, you, as an adult, used your platform to further a personal agenda, and you failed miserably.

B. “To point out the hypocrisy of people who justify anti-gay bigotry by pointing to the Bible.” Again, if anyone has used the Bible out of context to hurt you, Mr. Savage, I apologize. However, the fact is, the Bible has something to say about homosexuality, and what it says has been unchanged and coherent for about 8,000 years now. Though the culture may try to reinterpret the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality, this fact is clear: it is sin. The Bible never elevates homosexuality as the “worst” of all sins (as some people do). The fact is, sin is sin and it alienates us all from God.

Also, you, not being a Christian, have no right or authority to interpret and expound on what you think God’s Word says. I’m not saying you need to be a schooled theologian, but it’d be the same if I tried to lecture others on Islam. I only know what someone else has told me. In a similar vein, I wonder why you didn’t blast the Koran and Muslims. It, too, speaks very negatively of homosexuality, Mr. Savage. They, too, oppose homosexual behavior, Mr. Savage.

4. Dan Savage is a hypocrite. This man who is an advocate for anti-bullying is obviously himself a bully, at least in this instance. What Savage did was isolate a group of teenagers based on their beliefs, and began to insult them by insulting their beliefs. That is the textbook definition of bullying. But, this reminds me of how we are all hypocrites. No one, not even Dan Savage, is immune from hypocrisy. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something they are not. We are all guilty of it, and need to repent of it. Our self-righteousness blinds us to the fact that we all fall short of God’s holy standard.

That’s why we need Jesus. Dan Savage, as much as anyone, needs Jesus. In him, and him alone, will things ever get better (John 14:5-6).

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