A few years ago, I was a school governor of my local Catholic school. At one point, there was a vacancy on the board and we called for candidates and held an election. During this process, one of the other governors overheard one of the candidates saying that all the gays are going to Hell. They didn’t actually say filthy, but you could hear it loud and clear nonetheless.
I have to say that I was delighted when the other candidate was elected: they were much more accepting of all people.
So, why do so many self-identified Christians get quite so upset about whom we love? This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged on this subject, but it remains important, particularly with Mike Pence in the US White House rattling his sabre and trying to take away everyone’s rights.
Whether we like to admit it or not, the bible is an important document, even in the 21st century because many, many people read it, learn about it and use it as a moral compass when trying to navigate the modern world’s many complexities. Contrary to what many people say, the bible has very few lists of commandments (there are only two really famous lists and most people forget about the second one because it is really inconvenient and somewhat socialist): what the bible is packed full of is stories.
This is part of its persistent staying-power. A list of commandments dates fast, where we can relate to a story, even if it is 3000 years old. Take Lot’s experience in Sodom and Gomorrah as an example. This is often cited by people suggesting that what we call homosexuality in this century is clearly and unambiguously prohibited in the bible.
Lot is living with his family in the city of Sodom. Two travellers arrive on his doorstep and he welcomes them into his home. At this time in their history, Jews were essentially nomads living in a hostile environment. Care for the traveller was built right into the core of their teaching and practice. If someone arrived at your camp in the evening, it was your divine duty to shelter them: after all, the next time someone needs food, water and shelter, it might be you. So, Lot invites them in. A few minutes later, a mob has gathered outside his house: men demanding that Lot turn out his guests in order that the mob might gang-rape them. Nice. Fine, upstanding man that he is, Lot offers his own daughters to the mob that they might gang-rape the girls instead of his house guests (as an aside, people citing this story rarely think that Lot’s example here is one they are religion-bound to follow). No, the mob howls: they want the men, thank you very much.
And so, from this violent scene, we infer that the loving relationship between two people of the same sex is prohibited by God himself and that any such couple sharing their love in a sexual manner will bring down divine retribution upon the whole town (specifically, a rain of burning sulphur to wipe the town off the map forever). Again, I don’t usually hear these people offering their daughters to they gay couple in an attempt to stave off God’s wrath.
Understanding and interpreting the bible is difficult, particularly given the huge temporal and cultural separation between us and the many people who wrote it. Interpretation can be helped immensely if there are explanations within the bible itself that can guide us. Of course, for most passages, there are no interpretive passages but, for Sodom and Gomorrah, we are lucky. The prophet Ezekiel speaks directly of the cities and lays out exactly what, in God’s eyes, were their sins and the reason for their firey destruction:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
What about the loving gay sex between two consenting adults?
No. The thing that fired up God’s wrath was that the mob at Sodom ignored God’s commands to welcome the stranger and to feed and protect the traveller and wanted, instead, to harm them for their own pleasure. I wonder what the Republican administration would make of that as they seek to withdraw healthcare cover, legal aid and many other compassionate-aid schemes from millions of poor Americans.
I think the term Sodomy needs a new definition.
With thanks to Kristin Saylor and Jim O’Hanlon and their fine TEDx talk.