Dan Savage is right about the Bible

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.

Dan Savage is right about the Bible

51 thoughts on “Dan Savage is right about the Bible

      1. Doug:
        You are the most cogent believer ever, in that you say nothing at all.
        Too bad you’re incapable of being specific in your criticism.
        Cat got your keyboard?

  1. 2

    Christians aren’t bound by the old testament. that’s a meme.

    Yes it’s in the Bible, so is the New Testament. Anything can be truncated to provide false context. Except your clueless rant ๐Ÿ˜‰

    _sigh_ It’s okay, I knew everything when I was the age you appear to be. Be well.

        1. Phrases like “I knew everything when I was the age you appear to be” are straight-up ad hominem, so you should not be surprised when the response you get is hostile.

          Anyway, you want some objectionable shit from the New Testament? You got it:


          The New Testament takes slavery just as much a given as the Old Testament. This “Christians don’t follow the Old Testament” bullshit is just a cheap dodge. Maybe learn a thing or two about the book you purport to believe in before you come barreling in and calling somebody “clueless” and making ad hominem remarks about their age.

    1. 2.2

      Ephesians 6:5-9

      5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

      9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

      From the NIV Bible.

      There’s also Luke 12:45-48, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-3

      Slavery’s in the New Testament as well, idiot.

      Funny how atheists usually know the Bible better than Christians. In fact a lot of atheists who were Christians say that really reading the whole Bible from front to start, as instructed by their pastor or minister or whatever, was the thing that set them on the path to losing their faith.

    2. 2.4

      Matthew 5:17 makes that a pretty old meme, I’d say. And whether or not you subscribe to M517 is not out of context. Add to it 18, 19 & 20 and it becomes contextually clear that if one does not follow the old laws one does not get a place in Heaven. That sounds pretty bound to me.

    3. 2.5

      Jesus states very clearly in Luke, John, and Matthew that it is easier for Heaven and Earth to end than to change Gods Law. He references OT Laws in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If, even in light of those statements, Christians are not bound by the OT then it is because they have decided to ignore certain ideas that are BS. Just like Dan said.

    4. 2.7

      I don’t agree with you. I will take the example of slavery. Christian Americans in the very recent past used the Bible as justification for laws condoning slavery, and then condoning segregation. It is due to modern societal changes that you claim to be “not bound by the old testament” regarding slavery. That’s OK though, I knew everything when I was the age you appear by your writings to be…

    5. 2.8

      So according to you slavery is not mentioned in the new testament? I strongly suggest you pick up your bible…and check the following:
      Matthew 18:25, Mark 14:66, Luke 12:45-48, Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-3, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11.

      As for your thesis that Christians are not bound to the old testament…Jesus supposedly said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5:17). I cannot even be bothered to mention all the places in the new testament which say that the old law (from the old testament) is valid unless Jesus specifically adapted it…

    6. 2.9

      Christians aren’t bound by the old testament.

      Actually, that’s a position considered a heresy by the church since Marcion in the 4th century.

      Also, slavery in the NT. As Savage said.

  2. 3

    Seriously, are you not aware that most Christians don’t consider themselves bound by the laws in the old testament? Westboro isn’t all Christians, they deserve your criticism. My question for you, do you deserve your own vitriol? Does it help? Make the world a better place?

    I’m just a flawed unit, like anyone else but have been flawed long enough to learn a few things, most importantly that I will never know everything.

    Ponder this tidbit. I sold a boatload of Hyundais’ when that was my bag. Not one by telling any customer what a POS they drove up in.

    1. 3.2

      Aha, the old “Jesus fulfilled the o.t. and we follow the n.t.” argument, with a side of no true Scotsman! Love it!

      The best thing about this is the 10 commandments, though there are lots of other issues with it. So, Doug, which is it? Are the 10 commandments now the 10 old suggestions that you don’t have to live by because you have the new testament, or are they still the 10 commandments you have to follow and to heck with saying xtians are under the new testament now?

      Also, could you provide a quick list of people calling themselves christians who aren’t really? Shouldn’t take too long, there are only about 30,000 recognized current and historical branches of xtianity (and lots of them are mutually exclusive, so maybe you could make a truth table based on who goes to hell if x denomination is right). You might want to start with pope-sponsored version of Catholicism (the current version, of course, which would be pretty foreign to anyone from, say Oh, 1517, to choose a completely random year not related to any significant events, lol).

      And as for getting more flies with honey, have you ever done the experiment? Well over half the time, you get more with vinegar.

      Your comparison of religion to poorly made cars though? Right on.

    2. 3.3

      The ten commandments are in the OT, aren’t they? You are implying that most Christians don’t care about any of those? Not to mention the bits in the NT, where the faithful are cautioned against forsaking the old laws ( the OT)? Whichever way you look at it, it is cherry picking.

    3. 3.4

      Most Christians ignore the OT when it suits them (and they get the title of “Salad Bar Christian” as part of this). But they believe the OT has truth in it. Christian preachers preach from it and give out “valuable” lessons from it. Christians say that God doesn’t change. And if that is the case, then the morality of the OT must still be valid. Many Christians say that God and Jesus are the same. If they believe this, then they believe Jesus wanted children slaughtered and people stoned to death for petty things.

      Your car analogy is flawed if their car is an explosion waiting to happen. You should tell them it is a POS that could seriously harm them.

    4. 3.5

      Seriously, are you not aware that most Christians don’t consider themselves bound by the laws in the old testament?

      Are you saying that they ignore that bullshit in the Bible?

      Could we then conclude that just like they ignore that bullshit in the Bible. they might one day ignore the bullshit in the Bible against homosexuality?

  3. 4

    basic morality and car sales have everything to do with each other. For clarification refer to the U.N. declaration of human rights article one. Straight up ad hom? Yep. Did you read your article?

    Not my first rodeo, that was a deliberate trap and you lacked the chops to avoid it. But that’s okay. I don’t hate you, or pity you.

    I applaud you for speaking your mind. Diversity to me means diversity of ideals too. YMMV.

  4. 5

    @james, yet the last time I visited a southern baptist church a young black pastor was giving his first sermon. I guess they are so confused we should just ignore them?

    1. 5.1

      Hee hee! Right, because black people are superhumans who never make mistakes or fall for fallacious reasoning, ever.

      This is the “I have a black pastor” version of Christian apologetics, then? Cute.

  5. 6

    To be clear, I support secularism. Like hard core. I also oppose bigotry whether from Westboro or anti-theists. But James, do tell me what I believe in. This should be interesting.

  6. 7

    Ah jeez _they_need_more_time_

    Okay, I have to do a bunch of stuff because being abused by really smart people online is just a hobby. I’ll be back l8r.

    Peace, Love, and pit bulls,


    1. 7.1


      So even though Christians believe that the same god made the New and Old testament, the fact you guys don’t follow those laws any more makes it alright? To me, it means that the Christian god is a sadistic asshole, though.

      As pointed out earlier, there is plenty of stupid and scary crap in the New Testament. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this the info readily available.

  7. 8

    Hey, Doug, I have to head out for useful works types of things, so I’ll check out a reply from you – hopefully filled with more substance than you managed above – also “l8r.”

  8. JGC

    Whether or not Christians are bound by by the old testament, the new testament or both tetaments isn really relevant, is it, given that nothing in either testament condemns homosexuality in and of itself.

  9. 10

    Isn’t it wonderful how often the gays are attacked by the Christians, their rights undermined, lifestyle compared to bestiality, in some places their very lives are threatened, in others they’re actually killed for it, but then when they defend themselves, just a bit, OH IT’S SO HORRIBLE THEY’RE TRYING TO OPPRESS CHRISTIANS OH THOSE EVIL HOMOS!
    Jesus Christ!

  10. Ian

    Come on all stop playing James game, he has said nothing.

    James contribute or lurk. Maybe start with addressing the NT passages raised above, confirm whether you believe any of the OT is the inspired word of God to be taken seriously today. And if not what criteria you use to sift through the good word. We know what mainstream Christian belief is, we shouldn’t have to try and guess your interpretation.

    Make a case or acknowledge you are playing a polite game of troll. In this case we have a “true dichotomy” of approach.

  11. Ian

    I’m a dope “Doug”. Now why did I have ” James the Good” stuck in my head? Spooky, but probably not an insult. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. 16

    Great post. Sad to see the typical xtian troll responses. Avoid the question, act snide/offended/sage, and then just flat-out lie when you’re called on it. sigh.

  13. 17

    We actually don’t disregard what the Bible says on slavery. At no point does the Bible mandate taking slaves, it only restricts and regulates it. That’s an implicit endorsement, to be sure, but no one in America today openly violates Biblical law regarding slavery, or advocates doing so.

    That’s kind of a nitpick, but slavery is always the example brought out to make this point, and it’s simply wrong. Shellfish is a better example.

    1. 17.1

      That’s kind of a nitpick, but slavery is always the example brought out to make this point, and it’s simply wrong. Shellfish is a better example.

      A better example might be stoning brides who are not virgins on their wedding day but the point is not whether Christians break any slavery rules but that (virtually) all of these Christians accept that slavery is wrong whereas the Bible makes it clear that slavery is accepted.

      1. But “slavery is wrong” doesn’t violate scripture, it goes beyond it.

        The argument is “the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, but it says slavery is acceptable, and we don’t follow that” but in a sense, we do.

        I see nothing wrong with “the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, but it says you should stone women who have premarital sex,and we don’t do that.” I think that’s a better comparison.

  14. 18

    There’s a form at the National Organization for Marriage set up to e-mail the president & your representative. I think it would be good to make use of it. I would suggest a rewording it to show support for Dan Savage. It’s at http://goo.gl/rZAFW

    I reworded mine as follows (I added a sexual orientation category):

    Support Dan Savage against unfair, false demagogic accusations

    I see that Savageโ€™s โ€œIt Gets Betterโ€ campaign is prominently recognized on the White House website as a model for anti-bullying programs across the nation. I am grateful for the White Houseโ€™s emphasis on creating a safe and civil school environment for children of all ethnic, social and religious backgrounds and sexual orientations as this is a goal that we all can share.

    This is why I was appalled at the obviously politically motivated accusations of anti-Christian bullying made against him mostly by conservative news outlets with regard to his recent speech at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention. No fair reading can construe his speech as an attack on Christianity or as “bullying” of Christian students.

    It is clear that certain parties are intentionally distorting the import of his speech for political gain to demagogically fabricate a controversy where none exists.

    I urge you to publicly support Dan Savage, making it clear that your administration stands on principle supporting Dan Savage and does not kowtow to pressures related to this politically motivated attack.

  15. 19

    One thing that escapes this dialogue is intellectual honesty. Emotion driven bias is at the heart of this and it needs to be tempered with reason.

    Here is a Christian scholar’s reasoned response to Dan Savage

    Bumper sticker exchanges only cause division and perpetuate ignorance…

    1. 19.1

      buying and selling slaves does not sound like free will to me. Nor does instructions on punishing slaves for disobeying masters sound like free will. i’ve read the bible as well.

  16. 21

    I am an ex-lesbian Christian. (If that makes any sense). I found these comments amusing. It frustrates me when so-called ‘Christians’ start arguements- and then keep them going. Jesus died for our sins, and we are sitting here bickering about non-salvation issues? I find myself getting caught up in this sometimes, too. So I am not being judgmental. No one will fully understand every single thing the Bible says until Jesus returns. Or are we ignoring that fact, too? Why can’t we just make it a common goal to spread the Gospel, instead of crushing ‘unbelievers’ with our hatred, judgment, and expectations? ๐Ÿ™ :/ ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. 22

    […] Zinnia Jones says Savage is right about the Bible (Truth will sometimes make you cry) – 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. (tags: religion ) […]

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