A couple weeks ago, Dan Savage was the keynote speaker at the National High School Journalism Convention, where he discussed social media, anti-gay bullying, and his It Gets Better Project. While addressing the role of religion in homophobia, he said:
We can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people, the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things. The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document.
He went on to explain how the Bible contains specific instructions about keeping people as slaves, and not once does it prohibit the practice of slavery. While he was speaking, a number of students got up and walked out, to which he responded:
It’s funny, as someone who’s on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-ass some people react when you push back.
Two weeks later, this has now become the latest manufactured controversy of the Christian right. Breitbart.com devoted their entire front page to stories about Dan Savage, accusing him of “bullying high school kids” with a “profane Bible rant”. The gay conservative group GOProud claimed that Savage was “attacking high school students who were offended by his outrageous remarks” and demanded that he apologize. Michelle Malkin accused “the activist left” of “anti-Christian bigotry” for having Savage speak to student journalists, and the president of the Family Research Council called him a “disciple of division and intolerance”. Todd Starnes of Fox News has written a handful of melodramatic stories about the Christian students who were present at the speech. Starnes describes their decision to leave as follows:
Some will say what happened next took courage – but [student Jake] Naman said he was simply following the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Isn’t that just so brave?
Of course, this reflexive outrage at any criticism of the Bible is really nothing new. This January, the National Organization for Marriage demanded that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withdraw his nomination of a judge who had criticized arguments against gay marriage that appeal to tradition and pointed out that slavery was also a tradition endorsed by the Bible. Clearly, this is something that many right-wing Christians just don’t want people to talk about.
But let’s get one thing straight: The Bible is unequivocal in its support for slavery. This isn’t a situation where there are a variety of conflicting verses that can be interpreted as for or against slavery. In every instance that slavery is mentioned in the Bible, it is never condemned. Instead, the authors of the Bible only address how slaves should be acquired, how they should be treated, and how they should obey their masters. And despite every apologetic argument about how the context of this enslavement of human beings was different from the more modern forms of slavery, the Bible consistently and indisputably endorses the buying and selling of people as the property of other people. If this is wrong, then the Bible is wrong – and if we can choose to disregard the Bible when it comes to slavery, we can likewise disregard it on the topic of sexual morality.
So regardless of Dan Savage’s tone or how terribly offended some Christians were, his underlying point is completely valid. And its impact was only amplified by the incredible sight of devout Christians literally fleeing from the truth about their Bible and their own moral hypocrisy. In doing so, they made his point even better than he did. After all, if you’re so pious that you won’t tolerate anyone speaking ill of your Bible, then how can you be so completely unprepared to face the reality of what it actually says? What the hell kind of Christian are you?
And if this was your reaction as a student of journalism, then what the hell kind of journalist are you? Make no mistake, this was an event where attendance was voluntary. It was not a mandatory school assembly and they were not a captive audience. And while they certainly had no obligation to stay there and listen to him, I have to wonder whether they really understand what journalism is about. Journalists may often have to talk to people with whom they disagree. They’ll find themselves covering events that they find objectionable. Yet these aspiring journalists decided there was no need to listen to Dan Savage as soon as he said something that offended them.
Now, I’m no journalist, but when the Westboro Baptist Church came to my neighborhood, I didn’t run away from them. I walked right up to them and asked for an interview! I consider the human equality of gay people to be fundamentally truthful, but that didn’t stop me. And many Christians consider their alleged “word of God” to be fundamentally truthful as well, yet these journalism students were unwilling even to be in the presence of someone who criticized their beliefs.
Considering what Savage actually said, it’s remarkable that conservatives would call his comments “outrageous”, “bigoted”, “hostile”, and “bullying”. Do they not agree that slavery is bullshit? Because if you think supporting slavery is bullshit, then the Bible’s position on slavery is also bullshit. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. If these particular Christians haven’t yet found a comforting explanation for the slavery, stonings, and other unpleasantness in the Bible, then they should either cut those parts out of the book, or stop being offended when we quote what it says. Why should there be anything offensive about saying that a text which endorses slavery is not the best source of moral guidance? And why should such a book be immune from criticism merely because some people believe in it strongly?
Just because something is part of your religion, that doesn’t mean it can’t be wrong. And slavery is wrong, even if it’s in the Bible. No matter how much these people whine and scream and cry about it, the all-knowing, eternal God of the Bible apparently saw fit to instruct us on who we can buy and sell, whether we can keep their spouse and children as slaves, and how badly we’re allowed to beat them. Complain all you want! It’s still in there. If you have to grapple with the unpleasant realization that even you yourself have ignored the Bible’s antiquated teachings, then great! But that’s your problem – not our fault. You might walk out on us, but good luck walking out of your own mind.