Thursday, January 6, 2011

Homosexuality, Hospitality, and Women's Rights

Today's reading begins with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The story begins by two angels of the Lord walking into Sodom where they are greeted by Lot.  Lot convinces them to stay the night with his family in his home.  After dinner all the men of the city, both young and old, surround Lot's house and demand that Lot send out his guests to be raped.  This text is one of the premiere Biblical texts used to condemn homosexuality.  Although I believe the Bible does condemn homosexuality (and remember, it also condemns greed, gluttony, and causing divisions between people), that's not what this text is really about.  This story is about hospitality and how we treat outsiders.  The comparison in this story is not a comparison between Lot's heterosexuality versus the Sodomite's homosexual desire.  The comparison being made is between Lot's immediate effort to provide for and protect the traveling strangers and Sodom's desire to abuse and take advantage of the strangers.  Sodom's evil is not primarily shown in homosexual behavior but in its desire to do harm to undeserving strangers (in this case rape them).  That is the focus of this story.

What intrigues me about all this is how many people in my religious tribe (Churches of Christ) are deeply angered and offended by this interpretation of the Lot and Sodom story.  Some get so upset that they practically accuse people who don't believe the focus in this story is homosexuality of being unscriptural heretics.  Reading through the story today I started wondering why that is, and I have a theory.  In my experience, the people who are most outspoken in their disgust toward homosexuals don't know any.  Therefore, homosexuals are easy to demonize.  Also, I'm not a homosexual, so if I make homosexuality the focus of this story I can write it off, pat myself on the back, and tell myself, "Phew, I'm glad I'm nothing like those Sodomites."  However, if we allow this story to be about how we treat outsiders (the powerless, those on the fringe, you fill in the blank...), then we have a problem.  We don't always treat outsiders well (especially if they happen to be homosexual).  In fact, sometimes we can be downright nasty.  That means we can be just like Sodom, and Sodom was destroyed.  So, we don't want this story to be about hospitality because we're all guilty of being inhospitable at times, some more than others.

One last reflection from today's reading.  Many people are bias against the Bible (and therefore anyone who reads and believes it) because they think the Bible is against women's rights.  In my opinion, that attitude fails to take into account how old the Bible is.  For example, in Genesis chapter 20 Abraham gives his wife Sarah to Abimelech (strike two for the whole not selling your wife thing).  Sarah, of course has no say in this.  The fact that this story is in the Bible does not mean the Bible condones abusing women.  It means 3000 years ago men saw women as property.  What is interesting to me in this story is that it ends by Abimelech paying 1000 pieces of silver as a way of saying Sarah was innocent.  That money is not meant to vindicate Abraham, but Sarah.  This story actually values and upholds women's rights by condemning what was done to Sarah.

Stopping point: Genesis 21


  1. One thing that puzzles me is why it is so hard for people to accept that homosexuality is not the focus of this story. While other parts of the Bible address homosexuality, people seem to have a particular attachment to this one. They want Sodom and Gomorrah to be their ultimate proof text. I think the violence of what happens to the cities is comforting to the disgust reaction so many have to homosexuality.

  2. That's a really good point. The violence legitimates their disgust and sanctions their hatred.

  3. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 clearly shows that homosexual acts are unacceptable for Christians but that if one repents and ceases practices mentioned in this passage of scripture all is forgiven.