by Courtney E. Martin
Healing the heart of democracy, as we are collectively setting out to do, is not always easy or straight-forward work. In fact, most of the time, it's fraught, messy, and complex. I was reminded of this, once again, as I read about a controversy that cropped up this week regarding advice columnist Dan Savage and a speech he gave at the National High School Journalist Conference in Seattle.
Savage told the students that it was high time that Christians learned to ignore the parts of the Bible that condemn homosexuality in the same way they have learned to ignore what the Bible says about shellfish and slavery. He went on: "The Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong: slavery. What are the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? 100%."
A group of students walked out in protest, offended by Savage's remarks regarding the Bible. Savage, recognizing their resistance, said, "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."
It all strikes me as a fascinating case study in civil discourse and its discontents. Savage is known for speaking his mind, some might argue, in a way that doesn't prioritize being effective so much as being right. In other words, he has a tendency to alienate his ideological other. He has since apologized. But the students, in this case, didn't hang in there for the discussion. They smelled heresy and bailed out on dialogue. As one blogger put it:
"It's too bad the Christian kids left the hall. They're supposed to be journalists, and we in the journalism biz must often dirty our ears with others' distasteful utterances. While Savage might have profitably avoided the use of profanities (which, when used to describe allegedly sacred documents, tend to make believers less than receptive to whatever might come next), what he said was materially true, and good journalism students of any creed ought to know it."
Our task, as citizens, is not to judge either side here, but to look at this micro example of a macro crisis that we are all responsible for. How could Dan Savage and this group of brave teenagers hear one another better? How could they speak to one another with more respect, dignity, and a commitment to being proactive? What is the tragic gap in each of our lives that demands this same kind of delicate and difficult awareness?
Note: Courtney is the author of our Healing Democracy Action Circles guide. We hope you'll sign up to lead a circle! Learn more here, and be sure to follow along with us here on the blog, on our Facebook page, and on Twitter (@couragerenewal)!