Since the beginning of the year, I have been studying with a cohort of leaders in Christian communities to better understand what the Bible, as well as ancient and modern scholarship has to say about LGBT inclusion in Christian faith communities. Each week we are given reading assignments and asked to interact with the readings in a post online. We benefit not only from the readings, but also from the perspectives of our fellow students of God’s word. Our time will conclude this April in Atlanta, GA with 5 days of teaching and collaborating on the topics we have studied.
The following text is my response to one of our readings this week. I’m sharing it here for two reasons: 1) I think it is very relevant to anyone who is, has been or may at some point be part of church and 2) we are still raising funds through the Reformation Project to support the cohort. For those who have supported me, thank you! I wanted to you see a sample of what we have been working on. For everyone else, please take a moment and consider making a contribution to that effort by clicking here.
Our readings this week focused on teaching and interpretations of events leading to the destruction of Sodom. This particular reading, excerpts from Michael Carden’s book, Sodomy, explores the literary history of how the “sins of Sodom” came to be synonymous with sexual wrongdoing. Carden does a great job examining Biblical, Rabbinical, and extra-biblical texts to show that the sexualizing of the event was a notion that evolved later in the life of the church and is not what necessarily how early Jews or Christians would have read the story. The true nature the motivation for God’s wrath against Sodom and her sister cities can perhaps be seen in Ezekiel 16:49-50,
“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. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”
I am fascinated by the history of words and ideas. My main purpose in journaling is to keep a record not only of actual events and experiences, but also of the evolution of my own cognitions. I feel that Carden does what Jordon (another reading this week) failed to do in bringing the history of the notions surrounding Sodom and related events to light in a language that is more readable.
In my own conversations, I rarely run into the idea of Sodom as a specific argument against same-sex attraction. Usually if it is brought up, it is intended to illustrate the consequence of following the world’s evil ways and not God’s divine plan. It also occurs to me that most conversations I have surrounding my own experience focus on the nature and purpose of the binary gender and not on sexual acts, behaviors or inclinations. Sodom has absolutely nothing to offer that conversation except to highlight the willingness of God to take action against wrongdoing.
Perhaps the biggest alarm that should be ringing in our ears as we look at the historical hijacking of the Biblical text is not that our predecessors have misguided the reading of the text to a more sexual reading, but rather that the have moved it away from the themes of oppression, arrogance and inhospitality. The notion that a text specifically cited as speaking against these wrongs of society’s elite and powerful could be redirected in order to allow a new order of elite and powerful to carry out the exact same transgressions is both disturbing and not surprising.
The protection of power is innate to the human experience. If something someone didn’t like or something that threatened their position can not only be oppressed, but actually oppressed in the name of the very God who clearly despises oppression, it is a win/win for the new religious order that was coming to power in the first through fifth centuries. This was not a distortion of the actual text, but rather the teaching and emphasis that was given to the meaning of the text.
Translate that into modern America where conservative Christianity has enjoyed a strong influence in politics and culture for at least the last century (arguably to some degree or another since the beginning of our nation). Mass media, beginning with radio and carrying on through the advent of the Internet has given the religious establishment unprecedented audiences.
However, it has also given a voice to the oppressed. Those once kept from publishing ideas and thoughts either though the academy or by economic exclusion can now air their notions. These can connect dots, redefine boundaries and step outside the boxes that were once set around them. And once those notions have a foothold, respectable academy must give them due diligence. The result of that due diligence in my own life and led to the deconstruction and rebuilding of my faith that I so often write about. It forces me to live in the questions and revisit the answers that have been so easily accepted in the recent past – a process which, I am convinced, ultimately honors God.
The concept of an alternate reading of the texts describing the events at Sodom than what has been handed down opens doors to questioning everything the church teaches. And the wizard never wants the people to look behind the curtain.