When was the last time a keynote speaker at a high school journalism conference captured headlines across the nation? Frankly, I cannot think of a time in my lifetime, but last week Dan Savage, a vocal activist against bullying, found himself squarely in the spot light because of some very pointed and at times harsh condemnations aimed at the Bible, and at those who hold the Bible to be true and authoritative.
At one point in his speech to an unsuspecting crowd of teenagers Savage informed the audience that they could “ignore the __________ in the Bible” about homosexuality and a number of other subjects. As he continued his condemnation of the hypocrisy of those who hold to one text in Leviticus and not others, a handful of students began to walk out in protest. At this point, Savage ridicules them for not being able to take his criticism calling them a derogatory name. Like most of us learned in the halls of the junior hall, name calling is one of the basic forms of bullying. I fear Savage forgot that simple truth.
In fairness to Savage he tried to mend fences over the weekend by apologizing and trying to explain himself, but as I watched the video on YouTube I must admit the most disturbing parts to me were the reactions of the crowd—many of whom rallied to Savage’s criticism of the students who walked out and cheered loudly for some of his snide comments about the Bible.
Like the classic line from the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy observed:
“We are not in Kansas anymore”
This event illustrated vividly how rapidly our culture has shifted. No longer does Christianity and its moral framework and values color the way people view reality. I suspect Dallas Willard was right in his observation that our nation has taken this course not in spite of what we have done, but because of what we have done. Sadly, the Western church has sold out to either the extremes of conforming to or condemning our culture, when Jesus called us to transform it from the inside out.
Andy Stanley, in his sermon “Separation of Church and Hate”, noted that too often the church has tried to:
“make a point rather than make a difference”
Savage’s comments and observations reveal what happens when we “make a point.” Granted, I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and the Bible calls “sin—sin.” But I am intellectually honest enough to admit that too often the church picks and chooses what sins to highlight and condemn. When the church climbs into the judgment seat, we can with authority say, “Thus saith the LORD” but a society cannot be saved by ruling from on high.
Our world needs more light not more judges
Jesus called us to be “salt” and “light.” Both work best in environments that are foreign and often hostile to them. In the days of Jesus salt was used to preserve meat and keep it from rotting or to treat a wound. Light then and now drives back the darkness with its penetrating presence. Jesus was our model of what it means to be salt and light and earned the critical nickname “the friend of tax-collectors and sinners.”
I believe the events of the weekend must call the followers of Jesus to renew our efforts to “make a difference” through loving actions of compassion rather than simply trying to prove our way is right by “making a point.” Without doubt Savage has been savagely attacked and condemned by sincere men and women of faith who have attack “him” while seeking to attack his “lifestyle.” He struck back.
We will not make a difference by walking out. We will make a difference by walking beside men and women like Dan Savage. We will make a difference by getting to know them as people and not as labels. We will make a difference when our actions speak louder than our words and rhetoric. Jesus showed us the way—let’s follow Him—but never forget His path led to a cross.