Thursday, 22 April 2010

What Was the Real Sin of Sodom?

Theologian and Minister Says That the Real Sin of Sodom Was Inhospitality.

I've covered the same ground before, but the mistaken conflation of "Sodom" and "homosexuality" is so commonplace, with such appalling results in providing a pseudo religious cover bigotry, gay-bashing and even homicide, that it deserves to be repeated as often as possible until the message sinks in. The story of Sodom has nothing to do with loving homosexual relationships. The "sin of Sodom" is not homosexuality, but the refusal of  hospitality and kindness to strangers.   Those guilty of the sin of Sodom are not "homosexuals", but the homophobes who persecute them.

There have been many good rebuttals of the standard, misguided  misinterpertation. This exposition of it is from theologian and ordainied minister, Rev Patrick Cheng, at Huffington Post. In it, he shows how the words of the Hebrew text have here been misrepresented as referring to  "having sex with", rather than the actual act, which was gang rape, a different matter entirely. He also shows how the Bible itself, in otehr passages, quite explicitly describes the "sin of Sodom" in terms which have nothing to do with homoerotic relationships, but are rather concerned with radical inhospitality.

He reminds us too, that responsible Biblical interpretation must go well beyond simply looking at the bare words (in translation) on the page, but must also consider the historical and social context. In Catholic theology, the Pontifical Bible Commission says also that we need to consider always the Bible as a whole, and not just isolated passages.  Looking at the context, Rev Cheng shows just why absolute observance of hospitality to travellers and strangers was so important in the Jewish desert environment, and how the theme continues in the New Testament. (Indeed, one could argue that it is the supreme commandment of the Christian Gospels). Following this reasoning, he concludes that it is those who refuse to extend hospitality and inclusion to "homosexual" are those who are truly guilty of the sin of Sodom.

What Was the Real Sin of Sodom?

To many anti-gay Christians, I'm nothing more than a "sodomite" who is damned for all eternity. It doesn't matter that I've spent the last decade immersed in the Bible, ancient biblical languages, and the Christian theological tradition. It doesn't matter that I've dedicated my life to preaching, teaching, and ministering to all people, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. The simple fact that I'm an openly gay man makes all of that irrelevant. To anti-gay Christians, God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in chapter 19 of the Book of Genesis is a warning to people like me.
Ironically, I believe that these anti-gay Christians actually have it backwards. The true sin of the Sodomites as described in the Bible has nothing to do with same-sex acts per se. Rather, the ancient Sodomites were punished by God for far greater sins: for attempted gang rape, for mob violence, and for turning their backs on strangers and the needy who were in their midst. In other words, the real sin of Sodom was radical inhospitality. And, ironically, it is often anti-gay Christians who are most guilty of this sin today.
So, who are the real Sodomites today? Who are the people who turn their backs on the strangers and the least among us? Ironically, I believe that anti-gay Christians are often the ones who are most guilty of committing the true sin of Sodom. These include the Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops who are trying to scapegoat LGBT people for the horrific crimes of child rape that were committed by their brother priests. These also include the Mormon leaders who are secretly funding campaigns to fight marriage equality for LGBT people, despite the fact that their founders practiced polygamy. Finally, these include anti-gay politicians and self-appointed "family values" advocates who insist that LGBT people are categorically unfit to serve as parents or judges (because they are sinners and morally flawed), but are too blind to see their own sins and moral flaws. 
The bottom line is that nowhere in the Bible does Jesus Christ ever condemn LGBT people. However, Jesus does expressly condemn people who turn their backs on strangers and on those who are the neediest among us. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says that whoever fails to welcome such people has failed to welcome Jesus himself (Matthew 25:43). In my view, the anti-gay religious leaders, politicians, and "family values" advocates who turn their backs on LGBT people should spend far less time obsessing about LGBT people and far more time thinking about the true sin of Sodom: radical inhospitality.
See also previous posts at Queer Scripture:

The Abomination of Heterosexual Intercourse: The Sin of Gibeah (Judges 19)


Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century

Countryman, William L: Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today

Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

Rogers, Jack Bartlett: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Magisterium and Scripture

The problem with attempting to deal with the Magisterium of the Church is that it is so vast, that the only way to do it is as one would eat an elephant: one piece at a time. I propose to do just that. Today's contribution represents just the first course - more will follow.

As the people who insist we follow the Magisterium often also refer us to the Bible, I thought it would be helpful to begin with a look at what the Magisterium has to say about the interpretation of Scripture. Even this is a vast topic. One good starting point is to look at the useful report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1993, "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church" (which may be read in full at the excellent "Catholic Resources" website of Felix Just, SJ).

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Gospels' Queer Values.

Jesus & Family

The opponents of gay same-sex marriage and of the "gay lifestyle" (whatever that is), like to claim that their opposition is rooted in traditional family values, "as found in the Bible."   This claim is so completely spurious, is is remarkable how seldom it is challenged.  Just a little thought and reflection shows not only how the Gospel values have little to d with modern Western conceptions of the "traditional" family, but they are so far removed from it, that the real values espoused can certainly be described as "queer", if not quite as specifically gay.  In reaching this conclusion, I have been reading and reflecting on the social context of the 'family' as experienced in Jewish society and the broader social environment, at Jesus' own 'family' in childhood and maturity,  at His actions, and at His words.

The Jewish Family.

It is important to recognise that traditional Jewish society did indeed place enormous importance on the idea of family, both in the narrow sense of the immediate biological family, and in the broader sense of the ethnic Jewish community. 

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Homosexuality and the Bible: Bishop Gene Robinson

Queer Catholics often have a tortured relationship with the Bible.  As Catholics, scripture has usually been less prominent in our faith formation than for other denominations. As lesbians, gay men or other sexual minorities, we are always conscious of the abuse of Scripture used as a weapon against us. Fortunately, there are others, including some who should be important role models, who see things rather differently.

From Mark 15, Book of Kells (Wiimedia Comons)
A year ago at this time, I was developing my ideas for what became this blog:  prepared during Advent, launched during the Christmas season. In this current season Advent season, I am naturally reflecting on what I have and have not achieved. One of the more important failures has been around Scripture. Right from the start, I planned to share with my readers some of the Good News of Scripture – good news that applies specifically to us as gay men and lesbians, but also the more important Bible messages of hope and joy that are relevant to us all.  It is far too easy to hit the roadblock of the clobber passages, and either turn back, or to spend endless time and energy trying to climb over them.  It is important to remove the blockage, but sometimes it is also important to simply walk around, and to enjoy the rest of the biblical landscape.  I have been seeing a lot of useful insights recently, form John McNeill and others, which shed useful insight into the situation of queer Catholics, but which also have a lot to say to the wider church about the nature of authority and the workings of the Holy Spirit.  I have a further commentary on John McNeil which should be ready for posting later today, but in the meantime, as a useful corrective to the common queer Catholic wariness of Scripture, I thought it could be useful to share with you some thoughts of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, renowned as the first openly gay man to be ordained as bishop in the Anglican Communion.

(These are extracts from his book “In the Eye of the Storm”)


I love the Bible. With no reservations, no holding back.

I grew up in a Bible-believing congregation of the Disciples of Christ Church. Every Sunday morning, from ten to eleven, every member of the church, young and old, went to Sunday School, and the study was always about Scripture. From eleven to twelve, we worshipped God, always from the perspective of scripture.

But the experience I had as a child that sealed my love for the bible was this: I heard God’s voice coming through those scriptures.  I’d already begun to wonder about my “difference” and the thought scared me to death. My church was using the words of scripture to say that people who were attracted to others of the same sex were despicable, an “abomination” in the eyes of God.  And yet – and here’s the miracle – I heard God saying to me the words God said to Jesus at his baptism:  “You are my son, the beloved.  With you I am well pleased. [“Luke 3:22”]

Friday, 16 April 2010

Sex and Relationships: The Woman Caught in Adultery

In several recent posts where I discussed pairs of lovers who might be thought of as gay or lesbian saints, (Ruth & Naomi, David & Jonathan, Jesus and John, the Beloved Disciple), I have had to face the question of whether these really were "gay", were these clearly erotic relationships, was there physical expression?  In each case, I suggested that the question was largely irrelevant.  Colleen (and others) in the comments thread pointed out the importance of the quality of the relationships instead.

This point is made very neatly in an observation I came across in "Living it Out", a useful little book which describes itself as "a survival guide for lesbian gay and bisexual Christians, and their friends, families, and churches."  Straight away, the title is instructive. There many books, websites and other resources which aim to offer help or guidance to queer Christians and there families. This is the first one I have come across to suggest that the churches also, need help. (The suggestion of course is sound - but I'm not following that up today.)

It is indeed a survival guide, and one of the features that makes ti useful is that it makes no attempt at complex theological argument or exegesis of Scripture, nor is it in any way preachy. What it does instead, is to draw on the thoughts and experiences of  a wide range of contributors, including lesbian gay and bisexual people, as well as family members, friends, pastors and simple straight allies. (Note also the word "bisexual" in that last sentence. We routinely parrot "LGBT", but seldom specifically include the "B" or the "T". This book does not profess to include "T", but does have some useful observations on "B".)  The material is not organized by contributor, but by theme, with the editors weaving together ideas from a selection of people for each section, fleshing it out with their own ideas, including frequent presentation of "top tips", and action points and a prayer at the end of each chapter.

One reflection from a contributor "Bill" discussed the well-known story of the woman caught in adultery: (John 8 :3-11)
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.  They made her stand before the group  and  said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?"  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
"But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
"At this, those who heard begn to go away one at  a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they?  has no-one condemned you?"
"No-one sir, 2 she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you,"Jesus declared.  "Go now and leave your life of sin."
The story of the woman caught in adultery is used by both sides of this sort of argument.  One side says "look, Jesus didn't condemn her" and the other side says yes, but he told her to sin no more."  The detail I find interesting is Jesus writing in the sand.  We go on and on about sex, either for or against.  It is so easy to latch on to it as an area where actions are unambiguous.  Some think (with good reason) that sex is dangerous and must be controlled. Some think it is to be celebrated and enjoyed (which may often be appropriate).  Both sides think it is unavoidable and of overwhelming importance  .  But Jesus just goes on writing.  perhaps he is bored by the whole idea of sex, as opposed to relationships.