I am a church person and I know lots of church people. I love church people but I also can’t stand many things about church people. Many of us subscribe to the ‘God said it, I believe it, that’s good enough for me mindset’ when it comes to reading scripture. Because of this many of us become lazy and simply take a cursory reading of scripture as the gospel truth. Instead of searching for what the Bible means we simply accept what it says. With thousands of years and multiple translations, a rapid, hasty, and superficial reading of scripture just won’t do. To give away some of my theological bias at the start I want to say that I believe the Bible is divinely inspired, written down by the hands of men. But, while I believe God is perfect, I also believe mankind is flawed. With this in mind, “for the Bible tells me so,” is simply not a good enough answer if you haven’t really done the hard work of reading scripture for what it means.
This is the first in a series of articles on the topic that has been heavy on my heart for some time. While leprosy is not a huge problem in the united states we have nevertheless created a modern society of lepers when it comes to the church: homosexuals. For the Bible tells me so is just not a good enough answer when it comes to ministering and being faithful to the gospel with people whose sexuality may not be the same as our own. I believe God loves everyone including, well, everyone. I’m not saying I have all the answers, I just want to take a look at scripture to really see what it is saying. Many of the passages we use to support our viewpoints on homosexuality are not even addressing the topic. I’m writing for the purpose of going on a journey together with a charitable discourse (see Dan Boone’s book), discussing how we may faithfully minister to all people. I don’t want us to put words in the mouth of God and I also don’t want to ignore the His real message to us by changing the Word. I invite you to join me on this journey and I welcome your prayers, thoughts and comments along the way. We don’t have to come to the same conclusions but we must love each other and keep the dialogue open. I just want to follow Jesus faithfully without being exclusionary. I plan on going through scriptures that church people usually use to defend/detract our views on the issue of homosexuality starting with this one.
Scripture #1 Genesis 19
In this passage we find the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This passage is often cited as evidence of God’s condemnation of homosexuals. In this story Abraham’s nephew Lot moved to the city of Sodom. In 2 Peter Chapter 2 we are told that Lot was a godly, yet greatly distressed man. His new home was filled with evil people who did evil things. One day God and two angels appeared in the form of three men to announce that Abraham’s wife was going to have a son and later also to announced a plan to destroy Sodom for its wickedness.
So how wicked was Sodom? What were its major sins? In Ezekiel 16 we are told that Sodom’s sins were pride, laziness, and gluttony while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. (Sounds like present day America doesn’t it).
Abraham is concerned about his nephew Lot’s family and begins negotiating with God for the city of Sodom, appealing to God’s fairness and justice. To sum up the negotiations between Abraham and God, God agreed to spare the city if just 10 righteous people could be found living there. The two angels, who appeared as men, then went into Sodom to look for ten righteous people.
After the men (angels) arrived in Sodom, Lot welcomed them into his home where he treated them with great hospitality and prepared a grand meal for them. After the feast there was a great commotion outside as a mob made up of every man in the city surrounded the house demanding that the two men be brought out to them so that they may “know” them. How we interpret the word know will have a huge bearing on how we translate the rest of this passage. Needless to say, this wasn’t a get to know you potluck to welcome them into the city.
The word “know” is a translation of a Hebrew word that occurs more than 1000 times in the Old Testament. While we usually assume it means sexual intercourse, it’s only referenced as such 11 times. There is much theological debate if that’s what it’s referring to here. If we take a non-sexual interpretation of the story then it could mean that the men of Sodom were suspicious of the strangers and might want to make sure they weren’t spies threatening their homeland security (again, sounds like America today). It might just mean that they were suspicious of Lot because he was a newcomer and had brought strangers into his home without clearing it with city authorities. They might have been trying to open an investigation into these illegal aliens who were coming in to Sodom to take their jobs and insurance. They might have just wanted to get to know them like INS agents want to get to know illegal immigrants.
However, If we choose to translate the word “know” sexually a couple of other meanings emerge. Lot offers his two daughters to the mob of men, suggesting that they may have been using “know” in a sexual context. While this certainly shows a lack of respect for women it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with homosexuality. If every male in the city was acting on an erotic desire that they had for other men then why couldn’t they act it out with each other? Why did every male in the city have a burning need to sleep with these two specific strangers if there was a whole mob of willing men? There seems to be something deeper than a sexual craving here.
My belief is that these men certainly were willing to use sex as a weapon against the two angels (by the way, Angel is a translation of a word that means messenger from God). In ancient society gang rape was used as the ultimate form of humiliation. The rape of a defeated enemy was the right of a victorious soldier in some societies and was an indication of total defeat. The belief was that if a male was sexually penetrated, even by force, that he lost his manhood and was no longer looked at as a warrior (Abu Ghraib in 2004 comes to mind as a modern example of this kind of humiliation).
Most experts will tell you that in prison rape cases the victims are heterosexuals who are forced into a passive sexual role. The assailants are almost always heterosexual as well. These acts of violence are about power, control, and humiliation in most cases. Rape is always an act of power and violence and is rarely, if ever, a sexual expression. It seems that this Genesis passage is more a passage about how God feels about the way we treat aliens and strangers than anything else. Hospitality is the rule in the Kingdom of God.
With all this information in mind, what are the implications of Genesis 19 on the topic of homosexuality? Is homosexuality even addressed in Genesis 19? What does this passage say about how we treat we treat foreigners. Is the saying at the Statue of Liberty an image of the Kingdom of God on earth? ”
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Next week I plan discuss another frequently cited Biblical passage on this topic. Until then, why don’t we have a charitable, generous, and loving discourse. I welcome your prayerful thoughts as we journey together.