Dan Savage on Good and Bad Christians

In a recent speech at Rhodes College, Dan Savage responded to a question about whether he engages in anti-Christian bigotry. Savage said he is aware that many “good” Christian churches welcome gays and reject the anti-gay bigotry of people like Tony Perkins. However, Savage criticizes these Christians on the grounds that they shouldn’t simply be “whispering” these sentiments in Dan’s ear, but should be loudly protesting against homophobic Christians. In other words, they should be in Tony Perkins’ face, rather than Dan Savage’s.

I’m happy to comply with Savage’s request that Christians speak out against anti-gay Christianity. Most anti-gay bigotry seems rather tenuously connected to Biblical commitments in the first place, but to the extent that it presumes to be Bible based, I would argue it assumes a faulty interpretation of that text. My church (which is part of the United Church of Christ) welcomes gays and lesbians in membership, ministry, marriage, and every other aspect of church life. I wouldn’t want to be part of the church if it discriminated against people, and I’m aware that some other churches do not allow full equality for gays and lesbians, with some going so far as to preach a message of active intolerance. One Lutheran church in my town, for example, still sponsors workshops about “curing” or “converting” gays to heterosexuality.

On the other hand, it’s hard enough for “open and affirming” churches to get their anti-bigotry message across in the wider world without people like Savage making frequent, disparaging generalizations about “Christians” as a whole. This angle is a regular feature on his blog, not just an occasional oversight or error. Savage reaches a wide audience, giving them further reason to believe that this is simply how Christians are. Meanwhile, all three of the major broadcast networks have refused to sell air time to the United Church of Christ, for its ads promoting an inclusive message! As recently as last month (May 2011), even the Sojourners website that serves many progressive Christians was unwilling to sell space for a UCC Mother’s Day video about a boy coming to church with two mothers. When Christians are willing to put their money behind their words in order to promote these messages, but are barred from even reaching an audience, it’s rather pointless for Savage to complain that “good” Christian churches are being too quiet. To put it in his own terms, why isn’t he getting in the face of organizations like ABC, CBS, and NBC, rather than complaining about the so-called “silence” of inclusive churches?

The other problem is that anti-gay Christians are more likely to agree on a cluster of issues that powerfully motivate their political choices. More attention is paid specifically to Christian anti-abortion and anti-gay voters, because those issues influence turnout in elections and can make or break a candidate’s campaign. For instance, even as the public increasingly accepts gay relationships, the Republican primary candidates uniformly reject gay rights positions. Meanwhile, Christians who base their voting choices on a variety of other issues are less likely to receive media attention for doing so as Christians, per se. This encourages a mistaken impression about what Christians believe, in general. Likewise, most Christians believe in evolution and would not attribute that commitment to their Christianity. However, most vocal opponents of evolution are Christians who do base their rejection on their religious views. This can lead to the false impression that Christians generally do not believe in evolution. I agree with Savage that Christians should be vocal in opposing bigotry, but he needs to stop lumping all Christians together, which only furthers the assumption that one point of view represents Christian thinking as a whole.

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