HSJ Headline News
Sparks fly over Dan Savage's comments to students about Bible
The Seattle Times
May 1, 2012
Dan Savage, Seattle's reigning journalist provocateur, has again stumbled into the cross hairs of political conservatives, this time for a speech involving the Bible, gays and what he called a "pansy-assed" protest by high-school students.
Savage's speech, at a 3,000-student gathering of young journalists in Seattle, linked bullying of gay kids with biblical denunciations of homosexuality. Savage, noting the Bible also banned masturbation and the eating of shellfish, said, "We ignore the bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things."
When about two dozen students, and some advisers, walked out, Savage said, "I have a right to defend myself and to point out the hypocrisy" of biblical commandments.
A short video clip of Savage's hourlong speech, delivered last month, went viral this weekend, and conference organizers Monday denounced Savage for having "belittled the faith of others."
Savage on Sunday apologized on the website of The Stranger, where he is editorial director and writes a nationally syndicated sex-advice column.
In an interview, Savage said he regretted using vulgar terms and apologized for his description of the walkout, but defended his description of the Bible.
Savage said the speech is one he has repeatedly given in promoting "It Gets Better," his hugely successful project to help gay, lesbian and transgender youths cope with bullying. The project has at least 40,000 videos — testimonials meant to offer encouragement — including one by President Obama, and an accompanying book that debuted on The New York Times best-seller list.
Savage, 47, said he asked the organizers — the National Scholastic Press Association and Journalism Education Association — if he should "moderate" the speech. "They said, 'No. Be yourself; do what you do.' "
"It wasn't like I sneaked up on a Bible study class and commandeered the podium. I'm like the devil. You have to invite me in," said Savage.
In the speech, Savage, citing Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation," said the Bible gave instructions about how to treat slaves. If the Bible erred "on the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced ... What are the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? 100 percent," said Savage. Students are heard cheering and clapping.
After the walkout, which came after Savage made comments about the Bible, he suggested the protesting students return. "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," Savage said.
Rick Tuttle, a journalism adviser from Sutter Union High School in Northern California, told Fox News his students walked out of what they thought would be anti-bullying talk, but "what we got was a vulgar, profanity-laced attack on Christians."
In a statement, the organizers said Savage "veered from the topic" of bullying. Student journalism "should not shy away from controversial topics and viewpoints. But it should promote and engage in civil discourse. Mr. Savage's speech fell short of that standard, and for this our organizations apologize."
Savage has a history of walking back from over-the-top political rhetoric, and apologized for sarcastically wishing in 2011 that Republicans "were all [expletive] dead" on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."
Savage said he gave the speech to the student journalists for free, got a standing ovation and signed books after the event.
He said he intended his derogatory remark to apply to the walkout, not the students themselves. "Pansies are some of my favorite people," he said.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmartin206.
Related story that was linked to next to the above story:
Statement by National Scholastic Press Association and Journalism Education Association Re: Keynote speaker at recent Seattle convention
At one of the plenary keynote sessions of the two organizations’ semi-annual conventions, Mr. Dan Savage had been invited to share with students the power of social media in today's world as well as speak about the problem of bullying of gay youth, an issue all too familiar in many American schools. Mr. Savage’s comments on April 13 veered from the topic however. At a point in his speech he criticized the Bible, at times using vulgar language. An immediate consequence was that some students and advisers walked out on the speech.
NSPA and JEA consider Mr. Savage’s use of harsh language and profanity to be inappropriate and offensive to many in attendance. This is not what our organizations expected. In his attempt to denounce bullying, Mr. Savage belittled the faith of others – an action that we do not support. Ridicule of others’ faith has no place in our programs, any more than ridicule of the LGBT community would.
Student journalism, like professional journalism, is built on the foundation of free speech. It should not shy away from controversial topics and viewpoints. But it should promote and engage in civil discourse. Mr. Savage’s speech fell short of that standard, and for this our organizations apologize.
Mr. Savage has also apologized for using inappropriate language in front of the convention audience.
The two organizations will review their procedures to assure the appropriateness of content to student audiences.
Related story that was linked to next to the above story:
On "Bullshit" and "Pansy-Assed"
Posted by Dan Savage on Sun, Apr 29, 2012 at 9:01 AM
I would like to apologize for describing that walk out as a pansy-assed move. I wasn't calling the handful of students who left pansies (2800+ students, most of them Christian, stayed and listened), just the walk-out itself. But that's a distinction without a difference—kinda like when religious conservatives tells their gay friends that they "love the sinner, hate the sin." They're often shocked when their gay friends get upset because, hey, they were making a distinction between the person (lovable!) and the person's actions (not so much!). But gay people feel insulted by "love the sinner, hate the sin" because it is insulting. Likewise, my use of "pansy-assed" was insulting, it was name-calling, and it was wrong. And I apologize for saying it.
As for what I said about the Bible...
A smart Christian friend involved politics writes: "In America today you just can't refer, even tangentially, to someone's religion as 'bullshit.' You should apologize for using that word."
I didn't call anyone's religion bullshit. I did say that there is bullshit—"untrue words or ideas"—in the Bible. That is being spun as an attack on Christianity. Which is bullshhh… which is untrue. I was not attacking the faith in which I was raised. I was attacking the argument that gay people must be discriminated against—and anti-bullying programs that address anti-gay bullying should be blocked (or exceptions should be made for bullying "motivated by faith")—because it says right there in the Bible that being gay is wrong. Yet the same people who make that claim choose to ignore what the Bible has to say about a great deal else. I did not attack Christianity. I attacked hypocrisy. My remarks can only be read as an attack on all Christians if you believe that all Christians are hypocrites. Which I don't believe.
On other occasions I've made the same point without using the word bullshit...
We can learn to ignore what the bible says about gay people the same way we have learned to ignore what the Bible says about clams and figs and farming and personal grooming and menstruation and masturbation and divorce and virginity and adultery and slavery. Let's take slavery. We ignore what the Bible says about slavery in both the Old and New Testaments. And the authors of the Bible didn't just fail to condemn slavery. They endorsed slavery: "Slaves obey your masters." In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris writes that the Bible got the easiest moral question humanity has ever faced wrong. The Bible got slavery wrong. What are the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? I'd put those odds at about 100%.
It shouldn't be hard for modern Christians to ignore what the bible says about gay people because modern Christians—be they conservative fundamentalists or liberal progressives—already ignore most of what the Bible says about sex and relationships. Divorce is condemned in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus Christ condemned divorce. Yet divorce is legal and there is no movement to amend state constitutions to ban divorce. Deuteronomy says that if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night she shall be dragged to her father's doorstep and stoned to death. Callista Gingrich lives. And there is no effort to amend state constitutions to make it legal to stone the third Mrs. Gingrich to death.
...and maybe I shouldn't have used the word bullshit in this instance. But while it may have been a regrettable word choice, my larger point stands: If believers can ignore what the Bible says about slavery, they can ignore what the Bible says about homosexuality. (The Bible also says some beautiful things that are widely ignored: "Sell what you possess and give to the poor... and come, follow me.” You better get right on that, Joel.)
Finally, here's Mark Twain on the Bible:
It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.
I'm not guilty of saying anything that hasn't been said before and—yes—said much better. What is "bullshit" in this context but "upwards of a thousand lies" in modern American English? And while those slamming me most loudly for "pansy-assed" may be on the right, they are also in the right. I see their point and, again, I apologize for describing the walk-out as "pansy-assed." But they are wrong when they claim that I "attacked Christianity." There are untrue things in the Bible—and the Koran and the Book of Mormon and every other "sacred" text—and you don't have to take my word for it: just look at all the biblical "shoulds," "shall nots," and "abominations" that religious conservatives already choose to ignore. They know that not everything in the Bible is true.
All Christians read the Bible selectively. Some read it hypocritically—and the hypocrites react very angrily when anyone has the nerve to point that out.