Should we be surprised when a gay activist famous for his bawdy sex column and known for his glorification of promiscuity attacks the Bible, ridicules Christian morality, and mocks the Pope in the lewdest of terms? Not at all.
Speaking to 3,000 high school students attending a journalism conference in mid-April, Dan Savage strayed from his appointed theme – anti-bullying – and launched into a tirade against the Bible, also castigating scores of Christian students who walked out during his presentation.
He said, “We can learn to ignore the ‘bull---’ in the Bible about gay people. The same way, the same way we have learned to ignore the ‘bull---’ in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore ‘bull---’ in the Bible about all sorts of things. The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document. Slave owners waved Bibles over their heads during the Civil War and justified it.” After the students walked out in protest, Savage said, “It's funny, as someone who’s on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-a--- some people react when you push back.”
Two weeks later, on April 29th, he issued a clear apology for using the term “pansy-a---” to describe the walkout of the students but emphatically denied that he was attacking Christianity: “I did not attack Christianity. I attacked hypocrisy. [His emphasis.] 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.”
So, an attack on the Bible as a “radically pro-slavery document” which was also very wrong on human sexuality is not an attack on Christianity?
The same day Savage issued his apology, he launched into a similar tirade, this time while speaking in the chapel (!) of Elmhurst College in Illinois (once again, deviating from his anti-bullying topic). He also had some choice words for the Pope: “What the Pope is saying is that the only thing that stands between my [expletive deleted] and Brad Pitt’s mouth is a piece of paper....What the Pope is saying is that once we're all gay-married we're going to go extinct in a generation because once we're all gay-married, we're gonna forget which hole [expletive deleted] babies.” And I imagine that this was not an attack on Catholicism?
Savage posted another column on May 1st, further justifying his interpretation of Scripture: “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.”
Perhaps there are actually principles of interpretation that help Christians (and Jews) understand and apply the Scriptures?
Let’s start here: Christians are quick to point to Leviticus 18:22 in their condemnation of homosexual practice: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Gay activists and their straight allies are quick to ask: “But what about all the other abominations listed in Leviticus?”
Actually, within Leviticus, only homosexual practice is singled out as an abomination, but elsewhere, the people of Israel are told that they should not eat shellfish (see Leviticus 11, although the word abomination is not used there) while in Leviticus 19, the text says, “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19). Why don’t Christians pay attention to these other verses?
The answer is simple. Within the Torah (God’s Teaching and Law), there were many laws given to Israel to keep them separate from the nations (like Leviticus 19:19). That’s why the Torah said that certain foods, like shellfish, were unclean for the Israelites but not for all people (see Deuteronomy 14:7, 19). On the other hand, there were laws given to Israel that were universal in scope, like the command not to murder.
When it comes to homosexual practice, not only it is the only sinful action singled out in Leviticus as an abomination, but it is part of a list of universal moral prohibitions, including incest and other forbidden sexual acts. We know this because the chapter states that the Lord judged the pagan nations for these very acts, and if acts were wrong for idol-worshiping pagans, and they were wrong for the people of Israel (see Leviticus 18:24-30). And when we see that the prohibition against homosexual practice is reiterated in the New Testament, the case is settled for those who accept the Bible as God’s Word.
Dan, are you following? I’m not angry with you at all. I’m simply trying to help. We’ll tackle the issue of the Bible and slavery next.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.