Thank You, Dan Savage, Part 1

It never ceases to amaze me how many liberals and gays, when confronted with a person who says, “Homosexuality is bad, because the Bible says it!” will stick their heads in the sand. It is as if they would rather lose the debate than dare to criticize the Bible. This cowardice is exemplified by the recent reaction of some gay activists to the comments of Dan Savage. Since Savage seems to be a popular last name among celebrities, I will clarify that Dan Savage is a gay pundit and journalist. He should not be confused with Fred Savage, the kid from The Princess Bride, Ben Savage, Fred’s brother from Boy Meets World, Michael Savage, the anti-gay, anti-black, anti-autistic children talk radio host, or Randy Savage, the dead ‘80s wrestler. Never one to shy away from controversy, Dan Savage recently ignited a firestorm by saying in a speech, “We can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people … the same way we learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery,” When a group of Christian students angry but probably unable to offer any constructive arguments in rebuttal, walked out, Savage quipped, “It’s funny, as someone who is the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react when you push back,” Now, some gay activists are rushing to repudiate Savage, while conservative Christians whine about how he is supposedly such a big bully. Doubtless, the gay activists repudiating Savage will now reassure people on the fence about gay issues that they can retain their belief in the infallibility of the Bible and still support homosexuality. The argument of what might be dubbed the “rainbow evangelical” camp seems to rest on the assumption that we should disregard what anti-gay passages in the Bible seem to mean and instead search for some hidden meaning that could give credence to the idea that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Hence, rather than pointing out that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah should not be a guide for sexual behavior anyway, considering the fact that the supposedly virtuous Lot offers up his daughters to be gang-raped (check your Bible if you don’t believe me), these theologians try to claim that the city was destroyed for being inhospitable and stingy. The fact of the matter is that there are a multitude of passages dealing with sex. Is it not reasonable to suggest that if the Biblical writers had believed that homosexuality was moral in some circumstances, they would have clarified this point instead of just putting in a number of passages that appear to condemn homosexuality? And do gay rights activists really want to make their entire argument contingent on the Bible? That would mean that their argument would only be as strong as the biblical case for homosexuality, which is quite weak. Furthermore, this dependence on the Bible for justification represents an abdication of human reason. It is the same line of thinking that causes people to believe that “Rush Limbaugh/Michael Moore/the Founding Fathers/the Constitution says it!” is a good argument. Meanwhile, some conservative Christians are performing acts of mental gymnastics in an unsuccessful attempt to refute Dan Savage’s claim that Biblical passages condone slavery. Over at the conservative American Thinker, James D. Agresti quotes Booker T. Washington as saying, “If no other consideration had convinced me of the value of a Christian life, the Christlike work which the Church of all denominations in America has done during the last thirty-five years for the elevation of the black man would have made me a Christian.” Of course, it is well known by historians that Booker T. Washington was an accommodationist who continually avoided saying things in public that would offend powerful white people. Washington similarly praised Grover Cleveland for his alleged efforts to help blacks, ignoring the fact that Cleveland won the 1892 presidential election partly by labeling the Republican Party as pro-civil rights. Agresti goes on to list a slew of abolitionists who were Christian. These men and women are indeed people that I treasure among my greatest heroes. Yet their actions and sacrifices do not prove that the Bible is antislavery. One could just as easily cite the proslavery Christianity of R.L. Dabney, Alexander Campbell, James Henry Hammond, Howell Cobb, Robert E. Lee, and others. Abolitionist Unitarian clergyman Samuel Joseph May recalled that when William Lloyd Garrison and his followers began calling for an end to slavery, nearly all of the churches denounced them. In fact, in 1830, when William Lloyd Garrison could not even get a church in Boston to loan him a meeting house as a place to make antislavery speeches, it was Abner Kneeland who provided him space. Kneeland was a pantheist and the last man in the United States to be jailed for blasphemy. While many abolitionists, like Frederick Douglass and John Brown, at least claimed to be theological traditionalists, other abolitionists, like Samuel Joseph May, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Lydia Maria Child were either Unitarians or “New Agers.” Wendell Phillips, despite being a neo-Puritan, denied the divine authority of the Apostle Paul and argued that slavery was “against the spirit of Christianity” rather than condemned by specific passages. Sojourner Truth denied the existence of Hell. Agresti goes on to use the same argument as Phillips, quoting Biblical injunctions about treating other people kindly. Here, I have no problem with his argument. Of course, it could also be used to support gay rights, since it involves placing the Biblical ideals about kindness above specific unkind passages. I think that this is exactly what Savage was encouraging people to do in the first place.

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