|The Burning of Sodom by Corot|
Lessons from Sodom
“I am gay.” An anonymous professor expressed the difficulty he experienced as a gay man working at an American Christian University in an Inside Higher Education essay.
I and several friends received a link to the essay in an email. One friend asked the sender to cease using the word sodomite to refer to gay men because it is offensive. The sender asked: “If this term is hateful or bigoted then I can assume that when it is used in God's word, it is considered as hateful or bigoted?”
Who is a Sodomite?
Just wondering… I turned to an American dictionary to check on current usage. Sure enough, sodomite is still a word used in the traditional way: “a person who has anal sex with another person: someone who practices sodomy” (Retrieved October 9, 2013 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sodomite
The Sad Sodom Story
Genesis 19 records the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two angels visited Lot in Sodom to warn him of the pending destruction. Showing hospitality he offered his home. But the men of the city came to the house and demanded sex with his guests. Lot protested and offered two virgin daughters instead. Lot and his family were saved by the angels and the city was destroyed.
What’s sex got to do with Sodom?
Of course the story included a demand for sex. But what’s the point of the story? Was Sodom destroyed for the voiced intent to have sex with Lot's guests?
God considered the city wicked and already planned to destroy the city before the angels visited it (Genesis 13:13 and 18:20).
Isaiah Chapter 1 condemns Judah for sins like those of Sodom but does not mention same-sex activity.
Jeremiah 23:14 condemns the prophets of Jerusalem for sins like those of Sodom but does not mention same-sex activity.
Ezekiel explains the sin of Sodom as a failure of hospitality (Ezekiel 16:49-50).
Matthew 10: 5-15. Jesus uses Sodom as an example of punishment to those who do not welcome his disciples.
2 Peter 2:6-9. Readers are warned to avoid the sins of Sodom, which included sexual sins and other acts.
Jude (6-7) warns of punishment by reference to the angels and Sodom and sins of immorality and going after strange or different flesh. Knust (2011) takes this to be a reference to Genesis 6:1-4-- the story about the sons of God having sex with the daughters of men-- the mixing of humans and angels.
How Many Sodomites were Homosexual?
God only knows! The Genesis text identifies those present at Lot’s house as all the men of the town. In the U.S. population, about 4-5% identify as LGBT. Of that a smaller percentage would be gay or bisexual. Though arguably not definitive, it seems unlikely the entire village was occupied by gay men.And why would gay men want to have sex with women? See Pew research for some data and discussion of measurement difficulties. Bob Seidenstickeralso covers the point about percentages.
That’s my reaction! Good Lord!
This Sodom story is about rape!
Can you imagine that scene at Lot’s house? He tries to fend off gangsters who threaten him so they can rape his guests?
But it’s worse.
What loving father would offer his daughters to rapists?
Ok. So maybe I’m reading in some contemporary feelings and ideas about morality. So be it. Isn’t it even a little bit plausible that the story aims to provoke disgust in the reader? Sure the Sodom story is about sex but as most clinicians will tell you rape isn’t just about sex—it’s also about violence, control, and exploitation. And rape is disgusting.
As I wrote last week about fundamentalists and their approach to texts, I understand the desire of Christians to be faithful to scripture. Yet I get concerned when people get lost in a forest of words and miss the pain and suffering of real people—ancient or contemporary.
Times have changed. A more flexible group of Christian Evangelicals has emerged—those who respect the biblical texts but don’t ignore science and reason. Still others look for ethical principles that transcend ancient tribal cultures.
Some embrace a loving God and seek ways to love others. And some will choose their words carefully so they can show hospitality rather than rejection. Kindness rather than hatred.
It doesn’t mean there are no rules. It means the Sabbath was made for man. And woman. Rest becomes a principle. And being guided by love, compassion, humility, gratitude, and other virtues allows people to embrace those in pain and stand against those who would exploit, damage, and harm the neighbors in one’s life.
The beliefs of translators influence their choice or words. You will find sodomites in the King James Bible. The selection of adequate American words for ancient Hebrew words is not an easy task. For more about word choices for Sodom and sodomites see Coogan (2010)
For more on rape and sexual assault, which harms so many women and men see MedlinePlus.
Anti-sodomy laws in the USA. The US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a sodomy law in Georgia in a 1986 ruling, Bowers v. Hardwick. In Lawrence v. Texas, (2003) the U S Supreme court found a Texas anti-sodomy law unconstitutional.
There’s a similar story to the Sodom story found in Judges 19 often referred to as a Levite and His Concubine.
Coogan, M. (2010). God & Sex. NY: Twelve. Click for a Time Magazine interview with Michael Coogan.
Knust, J. W. (2011). Unprotected texts. NY: HarperOne. Website for Jennifer Knust.
Read more about sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures in A House Divided available from the publisher PICKWICK and other stores e.g., AMAZON
Corrections and constructive comments welcome.
Corrections and constructive comments welcome.