Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pastor Strangelove: Welcome To Sunny Sodom!

Given my ongoing desire to explore only the simple, non-controversial issues, methinks it's time to talk a bit about scripture, the essentials of our faith, and homosexuality.

Whenever I start one of these conversations, I always feel a bit like Slim Pickens in the classic Cold War movie Dr. Strangelove. You know that delightful scene--simultaneously rousing and horrific--where Slim pounds away at a nuke that's jammed in the bomb bay door of his B-52. It comes loose while he's on top of it, and down he goes, riding it like a bronco, hootin' and a-hollerin' and waving his stetson like a rodeo cowboy. With that in mind..."Yeeeee HAW!"

The obvious starting point of any discussion of homosexuality in scripture is Genesis 19. Welcome to sunny Sodom! This little story--part of the ancient histories of the Hebrew people--is conventionally interpreted in a pretty straightforward way. The folks of Sodom were all overly light in the loafers, so God sends in an angelic rescue squad, extracts the one straight arrow and his family from the city, and then lays in with a divine game of smear the queer. This is nice, simple, Fred Phelps theology.

But there's much more complexity to the story of Sodom than first meets the eye. The angels that visit Lot have just visited Abraham and Sarah, where they were granted generous hospitality. Being welcoming to the stranger in your midst was a core principle in the Semitic world, and when the angels arrive at the gate of Sodom, Lot insists on feeding them and putting them up.

That evening, every single man in Sodom shows up at Lot's door to have a go at his guests. That's a pretty impressive turnout--I don't think even San Fran breaks down that way demographically.

Lot's reaction is--well--interesting. He offers the rapacious mob his virgin daughters instead. "Gee, thanks, Dad." Why? Why is he willing to toss his girls to the crowd?

In his attempts to persuade the assailants to back off, what does Lot say? He doesn't say "don't do anything to these men, because gay sex is unnatural, and God hates fags." He says, "...don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." The primary issue here, as articulated by Lot, is that the basic principles of hospitality and care for the stranger are being cast aside by those seeking to do sexual violence to others. Violating a guest was..by the unfortunate standards of ancient Semitic culture..far more shameful than violating a female family member. Women were, after all, little more than property.

From this passage, that willingness to do violence to another for one's own gratification seems to define Sodom's wickedness far more deeply than same-sex intercourse.

As the text itself doesn't really provide much support for the popular interpretation of why God trashed that town, we should ask ourselves: what does the rest of the Bible have to say about "the sin of Sodom?"

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