10/03/2011 01:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Dan Savage On LGBTQ Bullies: Why The Church Must Change

I've always appreciated Dan Savage's brutal honesty, and to-the-point bluntness. Just look at Rick Santorum. Back in 2003, the former U.S. Senator compared gay sex to pedophilia and bestiality, and in retaliation, Savage, a Seattle based sex columnist and founder of the "It Gets Better" project, has led an almost decade-long Google bombing campaign, forcing Rick Santorum to embarrassingly eat those words. Why? Because people like Rick Santorum bully the LGBTQ community. I asked Savage if Santorum would ever be off the hook, to which he laughingly said, "Rick Santorum literally wants to destroy our lives."

And he's right.

From the upper echelons of government, we have conservative politicians, like Santorum, who advocate reinstituting harmful anti-LGBTQ policies such as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and who support preventing same-sex couples from ever having the opportunity to marry or adopt children. They spew harmful anti-gay rhetoric and align themselves with Political Action Committees and funding sources that do the same. Of course, these bullies aren't solely in the halls of Congress, PACs or conservative grassroots advocacy groups. As Savage mentioned during an appearance at Union Theological Seminary in New York, the church plays a significant role in this too.

Savage grew up in the Catholic Church, but the self-professed atheist never cloaks himself as a gay Christian, because he's not. But he has spoken up for gay Christians and our allies when others have bullied us for believing in our right to be welcomed into the church.

Most recently, he spoke out against a progressive Christian magazine that rejected a Believe Out Loud ad that promotes LGBTQ welcome in the church. "Okay! If progressive Christians can't unite behind the concept of welcome then, gee, what the fuck good are they?" he wrote at the time. And today, Savage, like many others who view welcome as an issue of basic human equality, is "exhausted" by those who don't support their rights and rites in the church. "It's a God hates fags with a big smile," he said.

But there is an interesting contradiction that happens from the pulpit of the church, which Savage raised in a rather poignant way during his address.

A few years ago, Gallup published an opinion poll, which looked at how Catholic beliefs measured up against non-Catholics. What was informative about the data was that Catholics are much more liberal on several key social issues. When it comes to favorability of abortion, 40 percent believe it's morally acceptable; 67 percent say it's okay to have sex before marriage; 71 percent are okay with divorce; and 61 percent believe it's okay to have a child outside of marriage. When it comes to homosexual relations, a majority, 54 percent, say it's morally acceptable. The Catholic hierarchy is clear on condemning each of these issues. The Catholic community rejects such positions.

Savage pointed out that clergy look out into their congregations and they don't see the divorce; they don't see the abortion, or the sex, or the child outside of marriage. What they see is what's in front of them: the gay couples in the pew... the lesbian moms with their child. Unlike these other issues, which might not be as visible, LGBTQ individuals are real people, staring congregants and clergy in the face. At one point in American history many individuals used literal readings from the Bible to justify sustaining slavery, but eventually society said that was wrong. Eventually, Savage believes (as do many others) that using the Bible to justify sustained hatred towards the LGBTQ community will eventually fade away too.

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He highlighted many legitimate concerns both Christians and non-Christians have about extreme conservatives and anyone who believes in anything less than full acceptance. He uses his "It Gets Better" project to give hope to young people so often bullied by these types of churches, as well as unwelcoming parents and other individuals around them. There is a growing community of LGBTQ-inclusive Progressive Christians who are out there, and doing all they can to make sure it also gets better in the church. When I mentioned this to him, Savage had one piece of advice for the community and folks like myself: "Be louder!" "Louder and as well resourced as groups like Tony Perkins," -- the head of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council.

So, I close with a few words to my fellow Christians who are on the fence, or in the closet on this issue.

To clergy -- make a point to preach on welcome and don't be afraid to talk about how God made LGBTQ persons in God's own image. Nurture positive conversations with your congregants who are probably as eager and interested in discussing this subject as you are. If you need to further your own thinking, here are theological resources that come from academics and theologians around the world writing, speaking and preaching on this topic.

To congregants -- open your hearts and minds and remember, you're not being asked to welcome some abstract concept into the church. You're being asked to welcome your neighbors, your grandchild, your sons and daughters, children who just want to grow up in a world free of fear and discrimination. Many LGBTQ young people look to you as a role model to help them realize they can live in a world that respects their right to exist, and allows them a fair opportunity to reach their full potential. Meet the LGBTQ community if you haven't. And if you've ever been in a situation where you might have unintentionally been bullying young people by something as simple as denying them equal access to faith, you are forgiven.

But starting today, don't ever do it again.