No place for intolerance in anti-bullying campaign

Published 10:32 am Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Letter to the Editor

Do you know who Dan Savage is? Probably not. Do you know about the campaigns for anti-bullying in communities, including Austin? Probably.

Dan Savage gets to speak widely concerning anti-bullying. He’s eloquent, dynamic, witty — everything audiences enjoy. He’s even a pal of our president (nothing wrong with that).

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But what “bullying” is proper and what “bullying” is improper? When it comes to the groups he represents and speaks for, he is a formidable ally. When he speaks publicly concerning religion, he is a formidable foe. And not a kind one.

Take, for example, a recent occasion where he was asked to speak about anti-bullying at a National High School Journalism Conference sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association. Rick Tuttle, the journalism advisor for Sutter Union High School in California, was among several thousand people in the audience. He said they thought the speech was one thing, but it turned into something else.

The longer Savage spoke the more he seemed to focus his attack on the Bible and those who believed it. And this is what bothers me greatly. It’s true that the Bible has been used to defend slavery and a host of other horrible attitudes and behaviors but it’s more true that the Bible has produced people of love, graciousness and tolerance.

Yes, people who oppose the beliefs of Dan Savage are often Bible believers and they base their position on what they believe the Bible teaches. True, some are hypocritical, ugly and judgmental. But why take it out on a group of high school students when Dan Savage has no clue whatsoever as to the positions and attitudes of those students? Remember, these kids represent the future journalists of our society. Is Dan Savage appealing for kindness and tolerance when his comments produced a trickle and then a steady stream of students walking out on his speech? And did he represent tolerance and kindness when he heckled them as they left? And were those in charge of the affair apologetic about the behavior of Dan Savage and some of the audience who joined him in jeering those who were leaving? I don’t think so.

I’m astounded that the organizers would only say that they didn’t know that Savage was going to say what he said. No apologies to the “minorities.” Is it OK to bash the Bible and Christians? Is this what we want to teach our young people?

Dan Savage cannot justify his bullying because he himself was bullied. If I followed that example I would be a racist bigot because of the experiences I had as a teenager, bullied at times by some of my fellow students. Instead, even as a teen I was constrained by the truths of the Bible to respond without fear and without hatred. I had too many black friends and knew too much of the issues of the Civil Rights era to make any kind of sweeping judgments. The Bible forces reasonable people to condemn stereotypical attitudes and behavior.

Austin has been making a concerted attempt to stand up against bullying. In the months of April and May, I have the privilege to participate in a series of workshops on Ethnic Diversity conducted by the Blandin Foundation of Grand Rapids. The participants are a welcome and refreshing representation of our community’s cultures. I’m aware that Austin does experience problems with diversity issues. Let’s be sure that the discussions remain fair and tolerant in all directions.

Gordon Larson, Christian activist