Friday, May 30, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 7): Not About Sodom and Gomorrah

“Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!” (Genesis 19:5).

     The Biblical cities Sodom and Gomorrah have become idiomatic of wanton sinfulness.  In Genesis 18, God tells Abraham that God will destroy the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah "because their sin is so flagrant" (18:20).  
     Two angels then go into Sodom to investigate, and they eventually agree to stay in the home of Lot, Abraham's nephew.  That night, the men of Sodom surrounded Lot's house and demanded to have sex with the visiting men.  
     This story is often cited as a proof of the evils of homosexuality.  A traditional interpretation of the story is that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were so sexually corrupt that God could not stand their presence on the earth any longer.  The text's depiction of men demanding sex with men is often seen as evidence of God's prohibition of homosexuality as a whole.  In fact, the word "sodomy" (having various meanings relating to "unnatural" sex) gets its meaning from the city of Sodom. 

      However, this is a gross misreading of the text.  Nothing in the Sodom and Gomorrah story says anything about modern homosexuality or gay marriage. 

Consider the following basic points. 

1. Sodom and Gomorrah is about rape.  The straight narrative of the story is that the men of Sodom try to gang rape Lot's guests and threaten to do even worse to Lot.  The issue at hand is primarily power and domination, not sexual desire.  Men raping men was a common form of humiliation against prisoners of war.  For some reason, the men of Sodom were trying to show their utter dominance over Lot and his guests.  This has nothing to do with consenting sexual relationships and even less for gay marriage.  

2. Lot offered his virgin daughters to be raped. In the ancient Near East, the values of hospitality and patriarchy were supreme.  The host had extreme responsibility for the guest, and women were seen primarily as property and without most basic rights.  We naturally recoil with horror at the idea of Lot thrusting his teenage daughters outside his house to be gang raped by a mob of angry men.  And this horror in itself should remind us that Genesis 18-19 is light years from our own cultural context.  That distance should instill a deep humility in us when we move toward interpretation.

3. The rest of the Bible doesn't associate Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexuality.  Ezekiel says Sodom was condemned for other reasons: "Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door" (Ezekiel 16:49).  Amos (4:1-11) and Isaiah (1:10-17 and 3:9-15) and also link Sodom and Gomorrah's judgment with the economic sins of injustice and oppression.  Sodom and Gomorrah are typically symbols of complete destruction because of God's judgment (e.g. Deuteronomy 29:23).  Jeremiah associates Sodom and Gomorrah with adultery and dishonesty (Jeremiah 23:14).  
     In the New Testament Sodom and Gomorrah are cited as illustrations of wickedness, ignoring God, and suffering judgment (e.g. Matthew 10:15 and 2 Peter 2:6-7).  In the whole New Testament, only Jude associates these cities with even a general sexual immorality (v. 7).  Sodom and Gomorrah are not even mentioned in Romans 1, the Bible's most explicit discussion of homosexuality.  

     In summary, don't allow this horrendous story of evil and judgment to pollute the Church's discussion on homosexuality.  Yes, Sodom and Gomorrah were really, really bad, but no, they don't have anything meaningful to add to our discussion.

Some parts of the Bible do talk about homosexual practice, but the Sodom and Gomorrah story doesn't.
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