Challenge: Dan Savage’s Anti-Bullying Speech

Posted: May 8, 2012 by Amy Hall in Do the Right Thing, God Has Spoken, Weekly Challenge

You’ve probably seen this excerpt from Dan Savage’s speech against bullying by now. If you haven’t, fair warning: he does use some spicy language in his rant against the Bible and Christians who think what it says is true.

You’ll certainly see this posted on Facebook, if you haven’t already. How will you respond? Brett will go over his answer and yours on Thursday.

  1. roblazar says:

    Dan Savage is guilty of the thing he acuses Christians of doing, sleecting his own bible verses. The bible also teaches about gentleness (Gal 5:23, Eph 4:2). Gentleness, by definition, assumes the ability to overpower, but by withholding that power one exhibits gentleness. I say this to point out that bullying is possible for the one with more power than another. In Dan Savage’s case, he possessed the ability to overpower (by having the stage and the microphone) and he used it. Dan Savage could have employed the biblical principle of gentleness, but chose not to. It’s ironic that one is told to walk away from a bully. And these that walked away were mocked for it. That’s typical behavior for a bully.

  2. Wow.
    One thing is clear: the dude is angry.

    There’s so much one could write in response to this.

    For someone who seems so angry with what the Bible says, he sure does wave the Bible around a lot in support of his views, mostly in a rapid-fire spewing of out-of-context scripture references designed to make the Bible look ridiculous. It’s an unfair way to criticize the Bible for sure, but we’ve had to deal with that tactic for a long time, and it’s not really what needs to be addressed here anyway.

    What we do need to be concerned with is the Orwellian redefinition of “bullying” to serve his political purposes. He seems to imply that belief in Biblical morality is what constitutes bullying, but classically, bullying means things like ridicule, name calling, assault and so on — some of which he himself engages in as he demagogues his position. One can believe in Biblical morality without being a bully about it, and the vast majority of people who hold to Biblical morality really aren’t into bullying. Some political activists, however, have no problem using bullying tactics, not even when they are giving an anti-bullying talk.

    This is how many activists argue these days, and we’ve got to call them on their bovine manure when they use it. Fortunately, such political tactics are more transparent than ever, thanks to the free flow of ideas and commentary afforded by the Internet.

  3. larrylenard says:

    Dan Savage ought to listen to “THe Bible Fast Forward” to understand the various covenants in the Bible. AS Greg points out, the Bible records God working in history and each covenant has a particular purpose and audience.
    The next problem for Dan (and the people he cites) is their misunderstanding of slavery in a Jewish context. First, the term slave is often referring to a servant, who may be a “free” person under employment. Second, it might refer to indentured servatude to pay off a debt and it was intended to last no more than six years. This indentured servitude was a voluntary arrangement, which is quite unlike the slavery of the American South.
    Finally, Dan needs to understand the purpose of the holiness codes in Leviticus. Much clarity will come from understanding their relationship to the Mosaic Covenant. Christians, however, are under the covenant of Jesus–the New Covenant.
    With this a ground work, Christians should not bully gays, since we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” There are many sins that offend God–adultery; lying; stealing–and homosexual sex could be seen as a category of fornication. In Paul’s letters we see that some of the new Christians had once participated in any number of these activities, but the Spirit that brought them to Christ had led them out of them. This is the picture of Christianity that Dan Savage needs to see.

  4. Well for starters let’s take a look at the definition of bullying:

    “Bullying is intentional aggressive behavior. It can take the form of physical or verbal harassment and involves an imbalance of power (a group of children can gang up on a victim or someone who is physically bigger or more aggressive can intimidate someone else, for instance).

    Bullying behavior can include teasing, insulting someone (particularly about their weight or height, race, sexuality, religion or other personal traits), shoving, hitting, excluding someone, or gossiping about someone.

    Bullying can cause a victim to feel upset, afraid, ashamed, embarrassed, and anxious about going to school. It can involve children of any age, including younger elementary grade-schoolers and even kindergarteners. Bullying behavior is frequently repeated unless there is intervention.” -(

    Let’s see, angrily calling Christians hypocrites, openly criticizing someone’s genuinely held religious beliefs, using inappropriate language to try and create feelings of shame, and declaring anyone who walks away from the situation to be a “pansy-[edit].” After watching this, all I can say is, “What a bully!”

    But besides the fact that he is guilty of the very thing he’s allegedly trying to prevent, let’s take a look at his arguments.

    1. The Bible openly condones slavery, misogyny, and ridiculous dietary codes.

    For starters, I would ask if he’s read the Bible, or just a few particular verses that were pointed out to him by Sam Harris’ book. My guess is the latter. The simple fact of the matter is you can never judge any written work by taking single passages out of context. You have to read the whole passage and make an effort to understand the context and who the intended audience originally was.

    One thing Biblical critics (especially the new atheists) can’t seem to get past is the fact that the Mosaic Law was written for the people of Israel, under their theocratic government, and for that situation only. New Testament believers are not bound by the Mosaic Law. Furthermore, the Mosaic Law did not represent God’s ideals nor did it ever claim to. When the Pharisees quizzed Jesus about the law of Moses, Jesus explained that the law “permitted” many things because the peoples’ hearts were hard, but that was not how God originally intended them to be (see Matthew 19 for one such example).

    Furthermore, if we look at the Mosaic Law more closely, we find that these laws were not quite so ridiculous after all. Slaves in Israel were bound for only 7 years, at which point they had to be released and compensated, unless they by their own free will chose to stay with their masters. While some laws appear to discriminate against women, these laws in fact protected women from unfair treatment that was extremely prevalent in other nations of the day. Dietary codes, and other such laws represented that the people of Israel were set apart from other nations.

    There’s a great deal more that could be said about these things, but I encourage anyone interested to read Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster.”

    2. Christians ignore things in the Bible all the time. They should ignore laws about homosexuality as well.

    I’m not going to argue that Christians can be hypocrites. Everyone is a hypocrite sometimes (including Dan Savage himself as is quite evident in this video). However, if a person is inconsistent in their behavior, this says absolutely nothing about whether or not the beliefs they profess are true. If a statement is true, then it’s true. The character of the person making the claim has nothing to do with the soundness or unsoundness of an argument being made.

    Furthermore, I don’t think this objection is an objection at all but rather a ramrod to silence opposition. My objections to homosexuality in public policy are not primarily Biblical. I’d encourage everyone to take a look at all the articles Alan has written on this blog about homosexuality, and you’ll find that passages in Leviticus have little to nothing to do with it. I’m more concerned about the negative effects on the health of practicing homosexuals and the detriment to the destruction of the family unit in society.

    To close, I should make clear that I am strongly against physically and verbally abusing homosexuals. However, if I am asked to give my opinions on the subject, I do not think that voicing my genuinely held opinions is equivalent to bullying. Savage’s argument seems to be, “Agree with me or else you’re a bully.” I should hope I don’t even need to attempt to explain what’s wrong with this statement.

    • Kris Webb says:

      I agree with mostly everything you’ve written, except for the idea that criticizing religious beliefs should be considered as bullying.

  5. Ryan says:

    This video is a great example of one way tolerance. But lets first talk about the kids!

    This is a bit of a side note from the challenge but I still feel that it is something that needs to be addressed real quick. One commenter had this to say “I feel bad for the kids who can’t even stand to have their faith questioned, and who’s only response when challenged intellectually is to run away so they don’t have to hear opposing opinions. On the other hand, I’m sure their parents would have the same reaction – it’s an endless cycle of willful ignorance.” So is the best decision to walk out on Mr. Savage? Or to hear what he actually has to say even if it is “not nice” and then respond to the challenges that he has made?

    I would like to say that his very remarks against Christians were that of a bully and therefor Mr. Savage is being a hypocrite. But I am making the assumption that his remarks were a form of bullying. I think we need first show that his remarks are that of a bully and not just his fair assessment and opinion of the Bible. I have heard many say that his remarks might not have been nice or politically correct but that he wasn’t bullying anyone.

    • iapologise says:

      @Ryan- I would love to have seen a student wait til he was done and then argue their point respectfully! However I fear that student would have been shouted down from the platform and labeled as an example of a bully. Oh the irony!

  6. iapologise says:

    I almost don’t know what to say to a guy like this, angry and content to stay that way. However, in spite of his blindness to the fact that he is bullying people at an anti-bullying function:

    He obviously has no grasp on how Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled the law and affected the Old Testament law (eating shellfish, etc). But again, I suspect he isn’t interested in understanding.

    He speaks of how “we have learned to ignore” so much of the Bible. It is likely very appealing to those that already agree with him, but the fact is that he is committing ad populum fallacy. He mentions Christians ignoring the Bible in hypocrisy, but as this is coming from a guy who is bullying people during an anti-bullying speech, I’d hope the irony would be evident to most people.

    His grasp of the book of Philemon is laughable. He knows about it and the fact that it concerns a slave and master, but that seems to be all. He seems to have forgotten verses 15-16: “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.” (NIV) Nothing in that statement smacks of a slave being sent back to his master to be mistreated. Completely aside from the biblical record, my understanding is that slavery in the first century was generally a far more pleasant experience and a far cry from the tragedy of our nation’s past. (Correct me if I am wrong here?) Paul’s understanding of slavery is very different from ours.

    I think my biggest concern is: How does one really reach a guy like this? Would he even be willing to sit down and and have a rational conversation with someone who disagrees with him? Based on this and other rants, I would assume no. How do you show someone like this legitimate Christian love? Would he even let you or recognize it if you did?

  7. Were the students allowed to ask questions and respond at the end of his speech, or did he just leave at the end?

  8. Adrian Urias says:

    How would I respond? I’m not sure. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to even engage this guy. I might stay and talk to the audience and ask them what they thought about what he said, and undo the damage there at that level, but I don’t think I would want to engage Savage in casual conversation. Perhaps if there was a Q&A, I would press him in some of the issues, like the slavery issue and how that relates to his point on homosexuality, or maybe a group could set up a dialogue or even a debate, such as Brian Brown offered. But in all honesty, I just wouldn’t talk to the guy, and hence, would have no idea what to say.

  9. Kevin Walker says:

    Happenings like this make me want to make a distinction of sorts between 2 different methods of responding. How would I respond? Well, that largely depends on what sense of “respond” we are referring to. In my eyes there are a couple of different KINDS of responding: 1. Responding IMMEDIATELY AFTER, in person, AT the actual event, when the pressure is on, when we don’t have much time to gather our thoughts…and 2. Responding LATER, when the pressure is off, when we have much more time to gather our thoughts, etc. I my own thinking, for some reason I tend to draw this distinction often. These two different forms of responding, for me, would need to be handled differently. I for one, would need to sit down and formulate a concise, well reasoned response, and then find some form of expressing it. Doing it on the fly, is, as we all know, VERY difficult. So, let me take the second form of responding first.

    1. If his objections really gave me pause, then I would go home, sit down, and first try to understand his claim through all of the silly rhetoric. I may even write it out in the form of a syllogism for clarity. Then once I had the objection clearly in view, I would look into the CONTEXT of the scripture, figure out what the context of the various passages were, and then see if his claims held water, and if they took into account all of the necessary distinctions between OT covenant, NT covenant, why God commanded certain actions in the OT and why we no longer adhere to these in the NT. These sorts of things. And as you can imagine, he seems to have missed quite a number of these important distinctions. Others have already pointed these out above. In the end, to my own mind and own concerns, I would draw the conclusion, that he had just not done enough study into the biblical worldview, and did not possession a very rich understanding of what is entailed by it AS A WHOLE. In essence, the attack seems a bit straw-man like. It attacks a WEAK or incrediblye MISUNDERSTOOD form of the worldview in question, knocks it down, and then ACTS as if it has won the argument. When in reality, all that has happened is that the person has attacked a view that noone is holding to, at least noone that has actually studied these sorts of things. Like a grown man knocking down a small child, this just won’t do. This is how I would respond, for myself, or for a much later response, in the second sense of “respond.”

    2. Now for the first sense of “respond” (immediately after, in the heat of battle) this is tougher. I suppose I would try to be a good ambassador and keep a calm tone (even though I would probably be slightly perturbed by then… solely from a lack of understanding on his part) because this makes MY argument seem all the more persuasive. If I am bantering at him, then I seem weak. If I can talk in a calm, non-judgmental fashion, then I become much more persuasive almost immediately. I guess I would simply begin asking questions like “Dan, what do you take the OT laws that you mentioned to be?”, “Do you think that Christians believe that everyone is STILL under these same laws today”, “If so, what evidence brings you to that conclusion?”, “If not, then how is it that you can use these as an analog to homosexuality, which is found in the NT?” I guess I would go this route and see what he had to say, trying my best to help him see that we are no longer under the OT laws and that those were for a particular set of people in a particular set of circumstances. This is how I would try to go about more spur of the moment response. If he began hurling objection after objection (steam rolling) then I would probably say “Ok, you have made your point, now let me offer up a final response and then perhaps we can talk later, if you wish.” Then I would take the floor, express my argument (OT laws do not apply to us, and thus to use them as analogous to homosexuality, which does apply to us, does not go through) in the clearest, most powerful, and most genial fashion I could. Then I would ask if he might want to talk later. Being put on the spot like that is very tough indeed.

    These are some thoughts I had concerning this. Hope you all have a good day!!!

  10. Kevin Walker says:

    However, with this particular challenge I am finding in notoriously difficult to come up with concise syllogism that captures the essence of what is being claimed. I keep trying to write it out but there are so many variables that I am having a hard time keep them straight. Ah… sometimes it’s just not so tidy I guess.

  11. It would seem that the argument made (in this particular video) comes at the very beginning. He’s questioning the veracity of the Biblical claims of homosexuality. He said that if we have “learned to ignore the [expletive] about shell fish, slavery, virginity, [et cetera]” we can “learn to ignore the [expletive] about homosexuality” and then proceeds to go into a… scarecrow? …argument about slavery.

    In any case, I would argue that his knowledge of Old Testament laws is severely flawed.

    There’s three types of Old Testament Law:
    • Priestly
    • Civil
    • Moral

    The priestly laws – dealing with the Levitical and Aaronic priesthoods – were representative of the future and true High Priest, which we all know as Jesus – who offered Himself as a sacrifice on the cross. Since Jesus fulfilled the priestly laws (Matthew 5:17), they are no longer necessary to be followed and are not now applicable. How do we know? The veil was torn when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51) so that we now have access to God Himself, no longer needing a Priest to fulfill ALL of the Laws required in order to access the Father for us. Jesus granted this access by fulfilling the Law and tearing the veil.


    The civil laws must be understood in the context of a theocracy. Though the Jewish nation in the Old Testament was headed by a king, more often than not, it was a theocratic system with the Scriptures (Bible) as a guide to the nation. Those laws that fall under this category are not applicable today because we are not under a theocracy.

    Furthermore, these civil laws were written for nomadic people living in a desert thousands of years ago (you know: with the Pharaoh and Moses and the plagues and the Exodus, etc). Unlike the surrounding peoples, who practiced human sacrifice and had unjust laws, the Israelites had just laws. They established legal practices, such as having eye witnesses. A person couldn’t be condemned without 2 or more eyewitnesses – that’s something still used today.

    Under such circumstances, certain habits (and foods) were unhealthy, and – in those circumstances – were prohibited. Practices of the surrounding peoples – like tattoos – were prohibited. Why? Pagan nations tattooed and pierced themselves in the name of heathen gods and God wanted his people to be set apart from these nations and pure. Also, I would venture into saying that God protected his people from certain diseases that would come with poor sterilization practices and the cleansing and preservation methods of meats, for example. I would argue that God ordered certain meats to not be consumed as it would be “dirty” or “impure” meat because they could make you sick.

    ANYWAY, most of these things were meant to keep the people culturally unified, which is why there’s laws about things like shaving, haircuts and even dress codes, too.

    The early Christians were all Jews – and followed all of the Jewish laws – including kosher food, the Sabbath, etc. When more and more gentiles (people who weren’t Jews and with different customs – like you and me) came to the faith, it was decided – for practical purposes – to let the pork-eating, tattoo-wearing, beardless, shaggy haired gentiles keep the Jewish MORAL laws, and not be burdened with the Jewish customs, or civil laws.

    This was decided with that little spat Paul had with Peter. (Acts 15, Galatians 2:11-21)

    Note that God didn’t change his mind or contradicted Himself. He merely allowed the gentiles to come to a greater truth without having to change their eating habits. So, eat a ham sandwich and cut off your beard (or let it grow) – if you like!


    The moral laws, on the other hand, have NOT been abolished – because the moral laws are based upon the character of God. Since God’s Holy character does not change, the moral laws do not change either. Therefore, the moral laws are still in effect.

    In the New Testament we do not see a reestablishment of the civil or priestly laws. But we do see a reestablishment of the moral law. This is why we see New Testament’s condemnation of things like homosexuality as a sin, but not with the associated death penalty.

    Again, the MORAL laws have NOT changed. Things like: “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, “Don’t have sex until you’re married,” “Homosexuality is a sin,” the 10 Commandments, etc, are still in effect for us today. We’re still required to obey the moral laws, as they define our character and determine our eternal resting place.

    This is the reason why we follow some laws (like the moral laws, which apply absolutely) and not others (like the priestly or the civil).

    I hope this answers suffice and that I made it in time for the answer’s deadline!

    God Bless! 😉

  12. Whoops. Forgot to conclude:

    In conclusion, Dan Savage’s mistake is confusing the Old Testament Laws and making no distinction between them, saying that if we ignore some laws, we can ignore them all – which is not true.

  13. Billy Sparks says:

    John 10:26