Bullying by an Anti-Bully Bully? Bully for you!

A couple days ago, my Facebook feed (ugh, I feel like I’m doing product placement every time I type that) included the following story, thanks to a Christian friend in my list:

Anti-Bullying Speaker Curses Christian Teens

Of course I clicked. 

Unsurprisingly, the ‘Anti-Bullying Speaker’ referred to in the article is sex columnist, prominent GLBT spokesperson and, yes, Anti-Bullying Advocate, Dan Savage.  He writes right here in Seattle, doncha know.  Savage is no stranger to controversy, and his often explicit rhetoric has made him a particular thorn in social conservatives’ sides.  He is famously responsible for giving a name to a certain byproduct of butt sex, which just happens to be the name of a former Republican Presidential Candidate.  What a coinkydink.

If you read that headline, what are you going to assume?  The speaker, Dan Savage, attacked the Christian students, right?  If you ‘curse’ someone, you are aiming your curses at that particular person.  The article says that the attacks became so harsh that students up and walked out.  And, indeed, the article has an interview with the Journalism Advisor of some of the students, Rick Tuttle:

“It became hostile,” he said. “It felt hostile as we were sitting in the audience – especially towards Christians who espouse beliefs that he was literally taking on.”

As the teenagers were walking out, Tuttle said that Savage heckled them and called them pansy-assed.

When I read this article a couple days ago, I was disappointed to see Savage’s positive message undermined by this sort of controversy, and knowing Savage’s penchant for heated rhetoric I was willing to believe that this event had happened as reported (the video at the end of the article wasn’t on there when I originally read it).

Of course, my disappointment with Savage was mitigated by the commentators on the article itself:

Americans have to realize who we’re dealing with in (f)maggots like this and all the other cockroaches, Commies, and America haters that helped put an illegal Kenyan Muslim Marxist racist Chicago street monkey in OUR White House.

Communists HATE Christianity because it represents everything that is a threat to them and their decadent beliefs and lifestyle. It’s absolutely UN believable that Americans could be so stupid to actually believe that someone with a name like BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA could be a CHRISTIAN.

HELLO, AMERICANS!!!??? Do you know ANYONE on the face of the earth who is a CHRISTIAN with a completely M U S L I M name??? THINK ABOUT IT!!!

That particular comment continues on with an anti-Obama Birther rant that’s not relevant to this topic or anyone with a working brain.  That is an extreme example of the kinds of people who frequent Fox News and comment on these sorts of articles (whenever a Gay person does something in public, the troglodytes come out in force), but make no mistake, even the more rationed and balanced statements are fairly hate-filled:

…the belief that “everyone deserves to be respected for who they are” may be what decent, God faring people live by but it is naive and even dangerous to believe that Communists, radical liberals, radical gays, radical athiests, etc. believe the same.

They don’t just (and are NOT) “speak up” against those THEY hate and disagree with, they seek to SILENCE them and FORCE them to accept their distorted, twisted, and hate filled beliefs


Dan Savage is a depraved individual who has insisted on making war with God. Insisting on that actually leads a person to depravity. Depravity is a scary state of mind and soul. Depravity has made him into the very thing that he hates….a bully.


…its because homo’s have issue’s in there heads. I still think gay dating should be out of the question. in the 40’s, 50’s an 60’s everyone was close to the bible and believed that being gay was a sin (it still is). What changed all that? That would be drugs an crack from the late 60’s.

So, not the most balanced commentators in the world.

But, okay, idiots make comments, it’s the internet.  That still doesn’t excuse Dan Savage attacking Christian teenagers.  Bullying in the name of anti-bullying is absolute hypocrisy.

Well, I wake up this morning, and what do you know, the video of the ‘attacks’ is online.  So, let’s all get some popcorn and watch it together:


Note that the first girl leaves the audience before Dan Savage makes a single criticism of the Bible.  He brings it up and he’s obviously going to make an argument, and the girl just leaves.  That’s pretty sad considering she’s there as a journalism student and she can’t bear to hear anyone even remark critically on her beliefs.  She’s in for a tough road as a journalist (that is assuming she is leaving for that reason; considering that a stampede of students start following her seconds later, it’s a pretty safe assumption).

By the time Savage has uttered the phrase “bullshit in the Bible” three times, it seems like most of the Christian teens in the room have vanished (it’s like the reverse ‘Beetlejuice’).  Those are the only instances of curses that Savage speaks.  I don’t think ‘pansy-ass’ constitutes a curse, but even if you do, he didn’t call the “Bible people” pansy-asses, he said leaving was pansy-ass.  I know, semantics, but there is a difference.  Also, keep in mind that he said that of the Christians who were no longer in the room.  He never once cursed the Christians, forcing them to leave.

Should Savage have used the word ‘bullshit’?  Maybe not.  If he had used the word ‘bunk’, no one would have had a ‘curse’ to hang their hats on, and the points he made would have still been just as sound.  What he says is utterly true and it would have been great for the Christian teenagers to hear it instead of walking out because they were offended.  I think Dan Savage needs to fashion his message a little better for the audience, but I also think the audience needs to get over their knee-jerk reactionism, especially as they are there as ‘journalists.’

(As an aside:  I think it’s not only okay to speak candidly about sexual matters with teenagers, it’s necessary.  Teenagers are exposed to sex in everything, so if you’re going to reach them and teach them about safe sex, be honest and be blunt.)

But here’s the real question: Did anything Savage say constitute bullying?

If bullying is critiquing another person’s beliefs, then we’re in for a pretty silent lunchroom.  And Savage didn’t attack Christianity, or Christians.  You could say he ‘attacked’ the Bible, but if you get past the word ‘bullshit’, you’ll find that the things he attacks (prohibitions against shellfish, acceptance of slavery, stoning of non-virgins) are things that Christians readily attack everyday, because they do not follow them.

There is a culture of victimization in American Christians that is frankly getting tiresome (and probably offensive to Christians in other parts of the world who actually are victims of oppression).  If the worst thing that happens to you is someone calls your holy scriptures ‘bullshit’, you’re living a pretty sweet life.  As an atheist, I’ve been told I was going to hell (or worse) by loved ones and strangers.  I don’t feel like a victim, I don’t feel like I’m being bullied.  I feel like I’m on one side of a cultural-divide.

That’s what Christians need to understand:  People are going to disagree with them, and because their beliefs have an effect on the public (at least, they hope so), sometimes that disagreement is going to be forceful and vehement.  They may be cussed at.

That is not bullying.

Bullying is when an individual or group oppresses another person with threats and public humiliation.  And this may be a controversial statement, but I’m going to stand by it:  A majority can’t be bullied by a minority.  They can be attacked, they can be insulted, but bullying requires power (either real or perceived), and as the old saying goes, There’s safety in numbers.  There is power in numbers.

A group of gay teenagers could theoretically bully a straight teen.  A flock of atheists (that’s the technical term) could bully a Christian.  I’m sure it happens somewhere.  But the gay community isn’t bullying the straight community.  Atheists aren’t bullying Christians.  Did David ‘bully’ Goliath?

So, did Dan Savage do anything wrong?  Ethically, morally, I’d say no.  He wasn’t being a hypocritical Anti-Bullying Bully.  Could he have tempered his speech and avoided this whole non-starter of a controversy?  Probably (though, who knows).

What should the Christian teenagers take away from this?  They should remember how they felt when they were being ‘bullied’ by Dan Savage and remember that the next time they tell a gay teen he is depraved or going to hell.  They should fight even harder to stop bullying and use their interest in journalism to stand up for the oppressed.

Or they can work for Fox News.

10 thoughts on “Bullying by an Anti-Bully Bully? Bully for you!

  1. Enjoyed your thoughts. It’s not bullying… possibly poor taste but who cares? I agree that if he would have said “bunk,” it would be a non-story… which is probably why he said BS. I also like your take on victimization w/xians – spot on.

    From the theology side, Savage is right; you can’t selectively cherry pick from OT law in order to heap shame upon gay people and then ignore polyester blends & football (you can’t wear 2 kinds of fabric or handle a pig skins). However, Savage is not an expert in theology or scripture, so he’s reading the bible very flat footed. I think he’s rightly critiquing a common Christian misuse of the scriptures, but I don’t think he’s anywhere close to getting the complexities of the scriptures itself (the bible is not pro-slavery, re: Exodus for Pete’s sake, or Jesus in Luke 4 quoting Isaiah about the release of the captives). Savage’s critique of how many Christians have used the bible (slave owners, etc.) is right on, but his critique of the bible (calling parts of it BS) shows that he doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t have an appreciation for the nuances, richness, and depth to which the issues of person-hood and even sexuality are treated by the scriptures.

    All that to say that I think it is infinitely more helpful to offer a better reading of the scriptures (one which would subvert homophobia & bullying in powerful ways), instead of simply calling it BS. Those parts of the bible which seem to promote slavery are mitigated and redeemed within the scriptures themselves. I know it’s a lot easier to quote Leviticus when you have no idea what you are saying… which is, sadly, what too many Christians do. However, I think that’s what Savage was doing as well. Thus, he falls prey to his own critique.

    However, in the end I don’t blame him. Christians started this whole thing by failing to understanding, study, and apply the bible legitimately, choosing instead to misuse it to heap shame on those we are told to love and care for. This is our fault.

    Enjoyed your post…

    • Good response. You are right that the ironic trap people fall into when criticizing lazy theology is to be a lazy critic.

      I don’t think the Bible’s position on slavery is as cut-and-dry as either Dan or you would have it seem. Certainly, Dan has a point, though, that ‘Paul’ does uphold the institution of slavery:
      1 Timothy 6:2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.
      Titus 2:9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them…

      Which is to say, if one wanted to justify slavery using the Bible, it could be done. There is probably a more nuanced way of addressing this point, and Dan Savage is more a sledgehammer kind of speaker, but I think overall he has a valid argument.

      I appreciate any Christian who is using his/her faith and interpretation of the scriptures to “subvert homophobia & bullying,” so I hope you get that message out there, Tim.

  2. Yeah, I’m with John Howard Yoder & others who say that Paul was actually recommending a revolutionary attitude among slaves which would serve to subvert the institution of slavery by way of voluntarily submitting to it. By working as a free man would work, they assert their freedom regardless of how the slave holder might feel about it. It’s a similar attitude to carry the pack an extra mile & the cloak & tunic thing from the Sermon on the Mount. I cor. 7:21 is helpful too. Paul thought it would be better to be free of slavery. I’m still working on it 🙂 I know that causing another human person shame because of their sexuality cannot be what Jesus had in mind for us.

    • It’s an interesting take, a kind of “Kill them with kindness” theology, but you have to admit that would not be most people’s readings of those books. I’m not saying it’s wrong, only that it’s kind of counterintuitive. I’d be interested in seeing more how such a theological point of view plays out.

      It’s too bad shame is such a powerful tool… of powerful tools.

  3. I wonder if the students had actually discussed leaving beforehand. It wouldn’t surprise me if the walkout was planned, or at least on the table in discussions before the speech.

    • That wouldn’t be a total surprise, especially considering some of the expressions on their faces (one of the girls is downright smiling). On the other hand, it very well could just be that one girl got up and walked out and all the rest thought, “Ooh, so rebellious, I want to go to there.”

  4. The main issue that I have with Savage is that he ignores the evolution of words.
    What was referenced as a slave 4000 years ago or in the Greco Roman period, is very different than what is referred to as a slave in the modern era.

    If the Old Testament laws about slavery had been enacted to the slavery such as existed in the United States, all of those who went to Africa and kidnapped people to sell into slavery would have been executed.
    Slavery was largely a person selling themselves, not a person being sold by another person.
    Also by the laws, every year of Jubilee(once in 49 years) all slaves were to be set free. So the maximum length of time for a slave to be held was 49 years according to the laws of the Old Testament.

    The problem is the modern usage and understanding of the word slave colors the perception of anything written 4,000 years ago when talking about slaves(Of course, this also means that many of the things the Christians are up in arms about in the modern day need to be looked at as well, it doesn’t only apply to slavery).

    Granted, these passages were used by those practicing modern slavery as saying that God condoned slavery.

    • I’m not convinced that a semantics discussion is all that relevant to the point Dan Savage is making, other than to reinforce his larger point (that no Biblical law has a place in our modern society). Even if we are to pretend that the slaves of the Biblical era were all happy-go-lucky indentured servants who giddily worked for their masters, it’s still not a just or fair system. And, correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not), but 49 years in those times was pretty close to a life sentence, especially if ‘slavery’ began at adolescence. Hell, even now that would be almost a life sentence.

      It seems to me that slavery has many guises in the Bible. The Israelites were slaves, and I don’t think anyone is going to claim that was a pleasant experience.

      So even if we accept your argument, all that proves is that words in the Bible can have multiple meanings, which then goes to support the common pro-gay argument that the use of the word ‘homosexual’ in the Bible doesn’t mean what we think it means now and Paul wasn’t really condemning homosexuals (as we know them). So, if this discussion on semantics gets us to this point, isn’t Dan Savage really only helping his argument by forcing people to think about the meaning of words and the era they were used in?

      And does it really matter? On one side is Dan Savage talking about the Bible in a way laymen understand it, and on the other side are a bunch of laymen using the Bible in an ignorant fashion. Meanwhile, theologians stand on the sideline ‘tut tut’-ing everyone’s misinterpretations, but accomplishing very little in changing the hearts and minds of the people who need to be changed. Dan Savage’s methods may lack a certain finesse, but he’s done more for bringing about cultural acceptance of homosexuals (and especially homosexual teenagers) than any well-meaning theologian. Maybe a theologian can offer their services to Dan as a go-to expert on Biblical minutia.

      • The only reason I think it matters in this case is because the end of slavery was brought about by people using scripture as the principle reason as to why slavery wasn’t just.

        I think it was a mistake because I don’t believe it’s helpful in any way. It will cause cheers from those who agree with his statements, but it will cause many(most?) of those who disagree to tune out anything else he may say completely.
        It’s just like everything political in this country. One side will lambast the other by saying the other stands for something, but they’re completely distorting what the other side is for.
        If he is trying to get people to change their minds, how will what he said change the minds of those who believe it?

        I think that attacking someone’s beliefs by mischaracterizing those beliefs is counterproductive.

        I do agree that much of what is in scripture does need to be reevaluated. I could be mistaken on this, but I don’t think the word or a version of the word homosexual actually shows up in the original languages. I think fundamentalism makes concrete a lot of things that are not concrete.

        As to the 49 years, the year of Jubilee happened every 49 years. All slaves were to be freed then. The maximum would be 49 years, that’s true, but the expected time would be much less than that depending on when you sold yourself into slavery. I’m not saying that everything was perfect for slaves, but with the modern idea of slavery, I think it’s disingenuous to say that old testament law supports slavery without noting that those laws are very different than what our modern understanding of slavery is.

      • What exactly is he mischaracterizing? What slavery was in Biblical times? How many Christians do you think actually know about the distinction of slavery in Biblical times? Certainly not most. And of those who are educated on such matters, those are probably not the ones using scripture to attack homosexuals.

        I understand a desire to be accurate and to have ones facts straight, but Savage’s point isn’t that one should or should not use scripture to justify slavery. It’s that no one pays attention to the Bible on that matter, so why pay attention to it on homosexuality.

        If you have a complaint with anyone, it would seem to be Sam Harris who made the initial point that Savage is repeating. Harris is the one who says we should toss out the Bible because it’s so morally wrong on the issue of slavery (Savage repeats this idea, but I don’t think it’s fundamental to his point of view). Even if Harris is wrong about what slavery was in Biblical times, he’s still right in saying that the Bible has been used to justify atrocities, so why act like any one interpretation of it is ever the end-all, be-all of morality?

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