Here at The Bayview Review we aim to champion conservative values and ideas, that’s no secret. We do this for two reasons. First, we think that, in general, conservatives get most things right. That is, our aim is to advance true beliefs and conservatism is what allows for that in the most straightforward way. The second reason is that there are a lot of people that think conservatives are wrong because they don’t understand what conservatives actually believe about important issues. Nothing could serve as a better illustration of this than the issue of homosexuality and same-sex ‘marriage’. Within this arena, not much could better illustrate a misunderstanding of conservatism than Dan Savage’s three-minute diatribe against the “anti-gay bigotry” that he claims is justified by conservatives’ appeal to the Bible.
If you’re not familiar, Dan Savage is a popular sex advice columnist that is (along with his ‘husband’) responsible for the popular “It Gets Better” campaign. In a recent anti-bullying presentation he gave to high school journalists Savage thought it prudent to address what he sees as a primary justification for much anti-gay bullying. In Savage’s mind, “people can’t help with the anti-gay bullying, it says right there in Leviticus, Timothy, and Romans that being gay is wrong.” If such biblical concepts are responsible for the bullying, then the task is to disabuse people of the notion that we ought to care about the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality. For Savage, this should be an easy task because we can “learn to ignore the [teachings] in the Bible about homosexuality, just like we did about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, [and] about masturbation.” It’s obvious, according to Savage, that we ignore the Bible’s teaching about a whole host of things, which implies that we can recognize it got some things wrong. In sum, just as the Bible got slavery wrong, it got homosexuality wrong too. Savage’s argument goes something like this:
- If the Bible got a bunch of moral issues wrong, like those mentioned above, then it’s likely that the Bible got another moral issues, human sexuality, wrong too.
- The Bible did get those things wrong (demonstrated by our failure to care about the Bible’s teachings on those matters).
- Therefore, we should assume the Bible is wrong about human sexuality.
The stakes for Savage are quite high. In his mind, “People are dying because people can’t get clear on this one last hurdle. They can’t get past this one last thing in the Bible about homosexuality” (my emphasis).
Assessing Savage’s Argument
The first thing that should be noted about Savage’s argument is that it’s actually one giant red herring. Whether or not the Bible teaches that engaging in homosexual activity is wrong is unrelated to whether or not the Bible teaches that one should bully homosexuals. Even Savage agrees that the Bible teaches that such behavior is wrong (here he disagrees with liberal Christians that think it does not teach against it), he just thinks we should ignore it because the Bible got other moral issues wrong too. But notice that no where in the discussion is there any mention about the Bible teaching that we should bully someone.
All Christians, everywhere, should stand with the gay community in speaking out against the bullying of homosexuals. Bullying is entirely un-Christian and should be stood against, even when those being bullied engage in behavior that Christians find wrong. (Here it should be noted that those in the gay community should also speak out against the bullying of Christians. This seems to be where the real problem is. Many in the pro-gay lobby are not content with Christians simply standing against the bullying of homosexuals. Instead, they want Christians to also deny their long-standing belief that engaging in homosexual activity is wrong. In fact, some even seem to suggest that to not deny such an idea is itself a type of bullying!) So, we can tell that Savage’s argument isn’t off to a good start if even the most conservative of Christians can actually accept his conclusion — don’t bully.
It’s clear that the bulk of Savage’s harangue isn’t actually aimed at establishing his conclusion, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t exercise a principle of charity and just use his argument to establish a different conclusion (perhaps one that actually follows from his premises). In this respect, the problem is that the if the Bible is wrong about so many moral issues, moral issues that are listed right alongside condemnations of homosexual activity, then it’s highly likely that the Bible is wrong about that too. (Savage, quoting Sam Harris, actually says it’s “certain” that it’s wrong about human sexuality too, but that clearly doesn’t follow. Again, we’ll exercise some charity and just stick with “highly likely.”) How might we assess this argument?
First, we should look at the examples Savage gives of moral issues the Bible clearly got wrong. He lists commands about “shellfish, slavery, dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, and about masturbation.” Now he doesn’t provide much context about any of these commands, but since he associates these with commands against homosexual activity, I think it’s safe to assume he’s referring to the various laws found in the Old Testament. The problem with this, of course, is that almost no one appeals to any passages in the Old Testament to make a Biblical argument against homosexual activity. If my case against it included simply an appeal to Leviticus, then I should be ready to also speak against the other activities that Leviticus prohibits. But that’s not what my argument is going to look like. It would, at most, include some passage from the Old Testament to show that the prohibition found in the New Testament has a long-standing tradition. So what of the various New Testament passages? Do Christians ignore the teachings found alongside condemnations of homosexual activity there too? Simply put, no.
There are several places to look for Biblical prohibitions of homosexual activity, we’ll just look at two. In Romans 1, alongside a condemnation of such behavior, we find a description of people that are evil, malicious, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, among a host of others. Do Christians think the Bible is wrong about all the other moral issues in this list? Not at all, in fact they’re often the focus of many sermons. What about the 1 Corinthians 6 passage? There, Paul writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Right alongside homosexuality is idolaters, adulterers, thieves, etc. The point here is not to equate all such activity, but to show that a Christian has as good of a reason to think homosexual activity is wrong as he does to think that theft is wrong.
We should all agree to speak out against bullying, no matter who is at the receiving end of it. Savage missed a great opportunity to show how that could be done. Instead of simply calling Christians in the audience names (and then justifying it by saying he’s been bullied worse), he should have simply said that regardless of what you think about the Bible’s teachings on human sexuality, it’s simply impossible to justify bullying with an appeal to the Bible. I’m sure some people try to do that, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible is wrong. It only means that some people have misinterpreted the Bible.
Dan Savage’s “Anti-bullying” talk. (A short YouTube video of the relevant portion – contains some explicit language.)
Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. (This is a great book if you’re interested in the slavery question mentioned above. Copan also delivered a lecture at Tyndale University College on this issue, you can find audio of it here.
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