Dan Savage’s Bible-Speech is Wrong, and Kind of Right.

A short video of several highshcool journalists walking out of a lecture by Dan Savage is going viral and it’s eliciting intense responses;

I believe Savage’s main point is correct, but his approach and the presmises which lead him there are completely mistaken.

Savage is Probably Wrong to Say That the Bible “Got Slavery Wrong.”

Imposing modern sensibilities upon ancient texts and their cultural contexts might be fun, but it’s hardly fair– especially when the sort of slavery we think of (chattel) and the “slavery” of the Bible are not exactly the same thing.

That aside, Savage claims “the Bible is a radically pro-slavery document” and gives several supporting arguments which hardly hold up to even a casual glance.  He says “the shortest book in the New Testament is a letter from Paul to a Christian slave owner (Philemon) about owning his Christian slave… and Paul doesn’t say, ‘Christians don’t own people’... the Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong; slavery.”

I’m not sure if Dan Savage has read Philemon, but it basically amounts to a plea from Paul to Philemon for his servant’s freedom.  It asks him to free Onesimus from “slavery” so that he can continue serving alongside Paul.

Even in the possibility that Onesimus might not return to him, Paul says; “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Hardly a far cry from “Christians don’t own people.”

Paul himself wrote, in what some have said to be one of the earliest philosophies of radical equality;  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The truth is, the ideas in the Bible probably influenced the abolishment of  slavery more than anything else in history.

Savage Doesn’t Understand That the Bible is More Than Old Testament Law Codes.

He laments- “the Bible says that if your daughter is not a virgin on her wedding night, if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, she should be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death.”

This exact Old Testament prescription, however, is overturned by Jesus himself when he opposed the stoning of an adultress (John 8).  Same thing goes for the laws in the Bible about “shellfish” and “dinner” and purity;  Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17).

Christianity is an expression built upon, but freed from, the Law’s exact prescriptions. The Bible interprets itself through the lens of Jesus and we aren’t simply left with the Old Testament politic.  There is so much more to it.

Savage Demonstrates the Exact Bigoted “Bullying” He Speaks Against.

Dan Savage speaking at IWU as part of Gender I...
(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

So you can tell the Bible guys in the hall they can come back now, because I’m done beating up the Bible. It’s funny as someone who’s on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react when you push back. ”  In a fight for unbiased social community, he seems like the one practicing hypocrisy.

Still, Savage is Probably Right in Saying That Biblical Prohibitions Against “Homosexuality” Shouldn’t Determine the Gay Marriage Debate.

I’ve said as much in a previous post.  Even if all Christian theologians came to agree that homosexual acts are sinful (which they don’t), legislating Christian behavior hardly seems like the way to bring people into right relationships with God and each other.  This might be where you and I part, but that’s okay… just read the other article before you write me off forever.

Then go for it.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

Latest posts by Allen Marshall O'Brien (see all)

Share this: