Printer-friendly version
   Donate to Whosoever
 

 Fill out our reader survey

 

 Send a letter to the editor


Bibliography:

Visit the Whosoever Bookstore

Or search Amazon.com for books related to GLBT people and Christianity.

GLBT Christianity Book Search

If you live in Canada, follow this link:

GLBT Christianity Book Search -- Amazon.ca

If you live in the UK, follow this link:

GLBT Christianity Book Search -- Amazon.co.uk


Join the Whosoever Community:


Explore More Whosoever:


Comfort and Confidence For a Christian Man or Woman Realizing He or She is Gay


by: Stephen Wakeman


Continued from Part 1:

The Bible

Dangerous assumptions about scripture

The word of God is "perfect." It is "true" and "flawless" as it says in the Psalms. It is complete, lacking nothing. It is true and trustworthy, in leading us to the Living Word Jesus Christ, with the guidance of the Spirit and it is flawless in His hands. But some people ascribe qualities to the Bible that were not the intentions of the authors, or even of the Holy Spirit. For some, they believe that every word of the Bible, (not just the words of the prophets), but every word of the Bible was dictated directly by God as if to a scribe. The authors were in a sense "channeling" God's words onto the page. For others, they believe that since the Spirit was moving on these authors to write what God had placed upon their hearts, that the Spirit gave them knowledge above and beyond the knowledge of their day. God did indeed reveal His will through the authors, (through prophecy), some information about events to come, but more advanced scientific knowledge, or knowledge of the natural world, was not given to any author. It is important for some Christians that the authors be omniscient because God is omniscient. The Bible, however, makes no such claims about itself.

When Christians assume that the authors of the Old and New Testament were referring to homosexuals in the passages they often quote, they are making assumptions that are not only in error, they are dangerous. They assume that centuries, even millennia ago, people's concepts about same-sex acts -- the kind of people involved, and the symbolic meaning of these acts -- were identical to those we have today. They assume that the Story of Sodom and Gomorrah was originally written to show that God will destroy any city where homosexuals live. Interpretations like these, some of which have been past down for more than two thousand years, are dangerous in that they contribute to the needless persecution of gays and lesbians by Christians, Jews and Muslims. In the Bible, in the original languages there was no word for "homosexual," [7] and other biblical authors make no mention of same-sex acts in their references to these wicked cities.


Limitations

God inspired all the Bible authors, but He did so using their limitations, their individual writing styles, editors with political agendas, and their limited common and scientific knowledge of their day. It is important that people of faith understand this. As I worked on my master's in Medieval French Literature, I learned how concepts change over periods of 500 years or more. A medieval author might assume that the audience he is writing for understands why he left out certain details in a text, but we as 21st century readers might not have a clue as to why he left out this information. This may be information vital to our understanding of a story or to the motivation of a character. Often the key to understanding such puzzles is found in studying the historical and cultural background of the author and his original audience. So, when we look at the Bible, we have to be prepared to do a little research from time to time, to get an accurate picture of what an author means or to what he is referring.

Some of us would like the Bible to be the authority on all aspects of human life, and for it to have something to say to about everything in God's creation. Some still assume that since God inspired the authors, that God would not allow them to write inaccurately about phenomenon in nature. The Catholic Church persecuted astronomers like Galileo because their studies showed that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa. Galileo was placed under house arrest and forced to do penance because of his beliefs. The Catholic Church based its charges of heresy upon a passage from Joshua where the Bible states that God caused the Sun to stand still and the Moon to stop. Some Christians spend their lives trying to discredit the scientists who discover dinosaurs and who teach the principles of Evolution. They need to understand how God worked within the limitations of the authors and editors of the Bible to produce a book that is still perfect for that purpose for which it was created - to teach us about His awesome nature and goodness, and to teach us about righteousness, and ultimately, a righteousness that is by faith in Christ Jesus.

We must ask ourselves, which is a more awesome God? ­ one who dictates everything magically, word for word, to a scribe - or one who works within the limitations of His human servants, their different writing styles, and political agendas, and still manages to produce a work that is perfect for "teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."(2Timothy 3:16) [8]


"Problem" Scriptures

By faith in Jesus Christ, you are justified before God. No Christian should ever have to "prove" that he or she is acceptable God. But it is important for GLBT Christians to understand God's intentions towards them in regard to His word. To maintain a strong faith, one needs a clear conscience before God, and this is difficult if you assume as some do, that the Bible condemns gays and lesbians.

In this next section, I hope to put the problem scriptures, those traditionally used to "prove" that God condemns homosexuality, in context scripturally, historically and in terms of human same-sex activity. The purpose of my doing this is to show you for your own understanding that these "problem scriptures" that many people believe are referring to gays and lesbians are not, in fact, referring to homosexuals, but rather to other activities and groups of people the authors knew of at the time. Most of these activities are terrible acts of depravity and violence. If you were to ask any of the authors of the Bible, Old Testament or New, if they knew of people with a natural affection and attraction for others of the same-sex, they would most likely say "no." You would probably have a difficult time persuading them that people with this difference existed at all.

I need to warn you that many fundamentalists would never be persuaded by the arguments presented here. They will continue to read the Bible literally, without any real understanding of the of the Spirit of God on this matter and the depth of His love for Christians who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, no matter how real your sexual orientation is, and no matter how logical and reasonable your argument is. For many of them, a literal interpretation is the basis of their faith. To get them to accept you wholeheartedly and without reservation would mean letting go of their entire belief system, as limited as it may be. The Bible, by itself, is just a book, without the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Jesus said to the Pharisees: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life". John 5:39 [9]

I believe the Bible is not referring to homosexuals in these passages, not because this view vindicates them, but because the context of these scriptures explains so much more about what I read. More importantly, this view is in line with the personality of Jesus Christ. Jesus would never turn away anyone who came to him. Jesus did not just reach out to people who were "sinners" who needed to change their lives, he went out of His way to reach out to the Samaritan woman, a person born into a tribe of people universally condemned by the Jewish people because they did what was "forbidden" -- they had racially mixed marriages and they worshipped God on a mountain, rather than in Jerusalem. No matter what she did, she could not become a Jew or make herself racially pure, and Jesus did not ask her to do so. Jesus ministered to her needs as she was, where she was, because He knew there would come a time when worship locations would become irrelevant, and when God's Spirit would be poured out on "all flesh." Jesus said that marriage and states of marriage between believers would not exist in the next life. I believe that our emotional, sexual and marital relationships are for our earthly lives, and are of less importance to God than our relationship, in our hearts, to Him. As I am sure you know there is so much more to you and me than our sexual orientation.


Same-Sex Activity in Context ­Genesis

In Culture and Literature

Most uninformed people, when they think of homosexual sex almost invariably think of anal intercourse. If you were to ask the authors of the book of Genesis what images came to mind when they thought of this kind of intercourse they would probably say two words: shame and domination. We know that Egyptian generals would "shame" a defeated general by performing this act on an enemy. [10] This act, ca. 2000 B.C.E., had a very symbolic meaning. By putting the defeated man in a passive position, it forced him to play the submissive role of a woman, and at this time in history women were socially little more than property. In this sense it very much implies domination of one man over another. From Egyptian mythology, there is an episode in "The Contending of Horus and Seth," in which Seth "stole" Horus' right to royal power by penetrating his nephew Horus while he slept. [11] Although this example does come from Egyptian culture, we believe that this symbolic meaning was evident in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament story of Ham and his father Noah (Genesis 9:22). In the story in most Bibles today, you will read how Ham "uncovered his father's nakedness." The original Hebrew in this passage has been "butchered" according to some scholars, and they believe the original story implied that Ham had anal intercourse with his father, not because he was sexually aroused by his drunken father laying on the floor of his tent, but because he knew that, in doing so, he would symbolically dominate his father, and all of his father's offspring ­ which in the story implies the entire human race after the flood. With the symbolic meaning of this act, the story suddenly makes more sense, as we have a motive for Ham's sexual activity with his father.


Fertility Cults

Fertility Cults and Ritual Prostitution

There was another aspect of life in the ancient Near East that might have provided another context for same-sex activity: the fertility cult. Fertility cults probably took different forms in different cultures at the time, but the basic premise was the same. Through symbolic sexual activity, worshippers sought to increase the productivity of crops and livestock. The more the "gods" were involved in sexual activity, the more fertile the land. Sex was seen as potent force, which makes sense. Outside of a fulfilling relationship with God, sex is one of the most powerful and mysterious experiences we know, and it must have seemed especially so to early civilizations. Primary fertility deities had to do with agriculture. In the ancient Near East, there were two prominent gods: Baal and Asherah, male and female respectively. Asherah had many derivative names, and her cult survived through many cultures and over many centuries. The name means "Earth Mother." Baal means "Lord" or "Husband." As a worshipper, part of your duty was to go into the temple to have sex with your god, represented by a prostitute.

This idea of having sex with a mediator prostitute to ensure a harvest survived up until Celtic times in Europe. The king would annually go in to have sex with the "goddess." You can see this aspect of the Celtic fertility religion in the "Mists of Avalon," an Arthurian legend by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

It is possible that because of the social position of men, and the relatively low position of women in these early cultures, that in some cities men were the only worshippers. This makes sense when we consider that in the orthodox Jewish tradition that survives to this day, women and children are not allowed in the sanctuary. If you were a man worshipping Asherah, you went in to the temple of Asherah and you engaged in sexual intercourse with Asherah's mediator, a female prostitute. Likewise, when you went to the temple of Baal or, similar male fertility deity, you may have played the female role in sexual activity with a male prostitute. Regardless of your sexual orientation, the fear of having your crops ruined by drought or locusts would compel you to do this. A religious practice like this would be a form of ritualized sexual abuse. Fear has driven people throughout the ages to do far stranger and more terrible things.

In the ancient Near East, prostitutes were probably paid either to engage in sexual activities with livestock animals, or to at least "go through the motions" with these animals to increase the sexual potency of animal deities and thus increase their herds.

Although we do not have details from the Bible about what specific activities went on in these Temples, repeated references to male prostitutes and bestiality in the Bible and fertility myths from Canaan are comparable with other fertility cults throughout history. [12] The Legend of Baal survives today in ancient manuscripts. Baal is sometimes represented as a horned bull. He was supposed to die and be reborn each year with the cycle of the seasons. Worshippers of Baal also cut their skin with knives to symbolize the "cutting" of the earth each year by the plows in the fields. In the Legend, Baal's father, El, cuts himself in mourning the death of his son

Fertility Cults and Forced Abstinence

Sex with anyone and anything to represent symbolically the sexual union of male and female was one aspect of fertility worship. In some religions, ritualistic sexual activity took place only on feast days. In-between times, worshipers were forced to abstain from sexual activity, out of the belief that they had to store up their sexual potency for planting season. [13] Forced abstinence (with heterosexual intercourse being reserved for special festival days) might have given rise to same sex activity.

Summary of Cultural Context

What was present at the time of Abraham and Lot was a culture in which generals penetrated their defeated foes, and penetration of one man by another symbolized shame and domination. At that time, if a violent group of men inside of a walled city sought to engage in "sexual" activity with any stranger who happened within their gate, it would be understood that this was an act of rape ­ a deliberate act meant to shame or harm the visitor. It may have been an act meant to "rank" that individual (if the visitor was a male), to establish dominance, to put that person "in his place" within the pecking order of the city. Similar systems of hierarchy through sexual abuse exist in our prisons today. This is not an act of sexual attraction coming out of any particular sexual orientation. This is an act of violence. It is sexual abuse giving rise to more sexual abuse. I asked a psychiatrist friend once why sexual abuse does not stem from sexual attraction. He said, "sexual abuse is like using your penis as a fist." This is a good analogy to use at this point.


Sodom and Gomorrah

The original story of Sodom and Gomorrah comes from a cultural context over 4000 years old. The story does not include any reference to the motivation of the violent crowd as to why they would want to "know" the young men (angels) who have come to visit Lot that night. The authors and their intended audience would have understood the motivation implicitly. The story remained without external commentary for a thousand years, but the context ­ the culture of fear and sexual abuse faded as the Jews eventually drove out the Canaanites and their "religion." As God separated His chosen people from the darkness and horror of the Canaanite way of life, the oppression of sexual abuse dissipated, but so had the knowledge of the motivation of the men in the story.


A History of Misunderstanding

It is human nature, indeed it is Christian nature, to read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and ask one's self, "why did God destroy these cities so utterly?" If you focus on the actions of the violent mob, and then on the act of God that followed, it seems logical that God punished these cities because of the actions of these men. Many Biblical scholars have come to just that conclusion. We all want to know what it was that God objected to, in order to avoid having similar destruction rained down upon us.

One thousand years after the events of the story were written down we get the first biblical commentary known to attempt to answer this pressing question. A rabbi wrote "The Book of Jubilees" in the second century B.C.E. Rather than coming to the conclusion that this was a violent group of homosexuals bent on satisfying their lust with the visitors, it says that the motivation of the crowd was to have sex with the visitors because they were heavenly beings or angels. [14] We as 21st century readers must take pause and reflect on this. This Rabbi was far closer in time and culture to the events of the original story than we are today. He searched the scriptures looking for some other precedent situation that would shed light on the nature of the sin of the men of Sodom. He did not conclude that what bothered God was that these men wanted to have sex with other men, but that they wanted to have sex with angels. He found precedent in an earlier chapter of Genesis (6:4) in which Angelic beings came down to have sex with men and produced a race of Giants. This act was "unnatural" to him because it crossed earthly with heavenly beings and set the stage for God's destruction of the World through the waters of the Flood.

The first commentaries to connect same-sex activity as being the main sin of Sodom did not appear until after the Roman occupation of Palestine. By this time, Jews were able to witness the same-sex activities of the Greco-roman culture, most notably pederasty. Indeed, this was the same-sex-activity identified in these commentaries, not same-sex activity in general. The Romans were seen as heathen and idolatrous people (which many of them were). Now the Jews had same-sex activity in their experience to connect with the Sodom story and with the references in the OT Law. Even the author of the book of Jude looked to these commentaries as useful sources of information. [15] So to say that these commentaries did not influence the writing of the great Christian moralists on the topic of homosexuality is unrealistic. These early Jewish writers were earnestly trying to understand the Sodom story. It is clear from the first example that these Jewish "authorities," trying to pin down the sin of Sodom, were making a "stab in the dark." Unfortunately, most authorities after them built their interpretation upon the work of these early commentators' culturally determined guesses.

"Same-sex" activity (in general) was not named as the sin of Sodom until the Greek historian Philo wrote his commentary on the story in the 1st century AD. Josephus, another Greek historian and Philo's contemporary, actually coined the word "sodomy" referring to a same-sex act. This is an important juncture in Biblical commentary, because these commentaries would become part of the basic body of knowledge the Church Fathers would use to make statements about the meaning of this Old Testament story.

By about 100 C.E., the idea that the sin of Sodom was same-sex activity was firmly in place. These beliefs concerning the Sodom story did not capture the imagination of Christian Europe and the western world to the degree they do today until the fourteenth century - the time of the Black Death. If you look at the culture of superstition and fear at the time, combined with a deep faith in God, the men of learning at the time probably wondered how God could visit such destruction on the Christian people of Europe. The Black Death wiped out over a third of the population. Yet of all the periods of Christian history, no more time and effort was spent in devotion to God, at least as an ideal. In every major town, a cathedral was erected, and every Christian man had to participate in its construction. The Bible and the Church were the unquestioned authority on moral issues. How then could such a calamity and death strike down so many? It had to be something they were doing or not doing.


The Lesson of Job They Missed

When we as Christians suffer, and the reason why is not immediately obvious, we can either take a lesson from the Book of Job, or we can start an anguished and fruitless search to find out what we need to do differently (or how we need to "change"). Job concluded his ordeal by telling God "There is nothing you cannot do." He is God, we are the clay and He is the potter. We as his children have confidence that "all things work for good to those who love God, who are called according to his good purpose." His purposes, however, are not always readily understandable to us. If there is some sin or attitude in our heart that needs to be changed, it will be evident every time we open the scriptures. As Job said "God would not crush me for some secret sin." God says at the end of Job's Story, that he (Job) has done nothing wrong.

It is easy, however to move beyond the simple message of the book of Job, and start looking for the reasons for our suffering. And this is precisely what the Christians of the fourteenth century did. They came to the conclusion that the reason they were suffering was that they were tolerating Jews, "witches," and especially heretics of all kinds. People involved in same-sex relationships (and people caught in same-sex activity) were apparently also on the list. John Boswell, in his book "Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe" [16] writes that for some reason, same-sex unions that were performed in Mediterranean countries mysteriously disappeared from history after the 14th Century. These people, as well as Jews, witches, and heretics, were hunted down and burned at the stake. The fires were assembled with bundles of sticks. These sticks were called faggots. Thus we get the slang term for homosexual today - " faggot" or "fag" - meaning "something to be burned."

It was at this time, amidst this fear and superstition that "sodomy" laws were put down in the English law books. These laws have remained on the books of many U.S. states to this day.


What the Bible Itself Says About the Sin of Sodom

Ezekiel 16:49:" `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. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. [17]

In the Old Testament, "detestable" is used to describe the idolatrous practices of the other people in the region (i.e. Canaanites, Jebusites, Perruzites, Ammonites and Egyptians.). It is often used to describe the word "idol." It is also used to describe unclean animals, especially when used as symbols for idolatrous worship. One of the most specific references we have in regards to something considered "detestable" occurs in1 Kings 14:24:

There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. [18]

The impression one gets from the use of the word "detestable" in the Bible is that it was used primarily to describe the idolatrous activities that were present in all of the indigenous cultures of the time, such as fertility cult worship and all that went with it.

No explicit reference is ever made to same-sex activity in any of the references to Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible. The Book of Jude mentions sexual immorality and perversion. The Greek says literally, "they went after strange flesh." But here, their acts are compared to those of the angels who came to earth and had sex with humans, (Genesis 6:4) indicating that the perversion consists of the men of the city seeking to have sex with the angel visitors. We know that this author looked to the rabbinical commentaries for information (in particular a commentary called the Book of Enoch that agrees with the conclusion of the author of the Book of Jubilees). The author of Jude here clearly follows their line of reasoning. The sexual perversion is in having sex with fallen angels, not in having same-sex activity in general. The author of Jude is writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit. He is limited by his understanding and the knowledge of his day. The people he is writing to would be familiar with the connection he is making between the sin of Sodom and the angelic beings. This connection was not universally professed, however, and many Jewish scholars stuck with the less specific statement about the sin of Sodom given in Ezekiel 16.


What Did Jesus Say About Sodom and Gomorrah?

Jesus himself says that it will be better for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of Judgment than for some cities He and His disciples visited during His ministry. Specifically, he mentions Capernaum, Corazin and Bethsaida - all cities near His home. He mentions these cities because, although He performed most of His miracles in these cities, they did not receive His message and they did not repent. He also mentions to His disciples that it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah than for any city that will not welcome them or listen to their words. Jesus' choice to compare these cities to Sodom and Gomorrah is probably not haphazard. As the angels, and indeed any visitor was not received and honored in the city of Sodom, so Jesus' word was not received and honored by the citizens of these cities in Galilee. Our Lord probably understood the intended themes of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Certainly one of the major themes of the story had to do with hospitality, and specifically, the welcoming of strangers.

We know the importance of hospitality in the Middle East. The tradition survives even to this day. But would God destroy an entire city, simply because they did not welcome strangers? Certainly they were at least as wicked as the other nations that God drove out by His hand through the nation of Israel. They were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned. They did all the detestable things we have mentioned earlier with fertility cults. However, the sexual abuse modeled by the religion, the confined life within the city walls, and the complete lawlessness of that city had given rise to rape gangs. Any visitor would be raped, and if not killed, at least robbed. We know from Abraham's negotiation with God, that ultimately there was not even ten righteous people in either city, (and if we know the forbearance of God, there probably was not even one). There was likely no one in town God could call upon to be a witness to these cities. The witness would have to come from outside. How could God call them to repentance if any messenger sent would be raped, robbed, or murdered? They had effectively cut off their only means of salvation.


The Crime of Gibeah

Few people who talk about the Sodom and Gomorrah story are aware that there is a second "Sodom - like" story in the Bible. It is commonly referred to as the "Crime of Gibeah" and it takes up all of Chapter 19 and 20 in the Book of Judges. Both stories start off with a long description of what was considered ideal hospitality - Abraham welcoming and attending to the visiting angels in the Sodom story, while the father-in law in the Gibeah story begs his son-in-law to stay "just one more day" and waits on him hand and foot several days in succession. This hospitality is contrasted with the harsh treatment of both the angels and the son-in-law in the two stories. The Gibeah story makes it clear that the men banging on the door intend violence -- to both rape and kill the son-in-law. They end up raping the son-in- law's concubine, a woman, to death. The two stories portray ideal hospitality contrasted with its opposite: violence.

When two stories with similar events and plot are included like this in the Bible, the reader can compare the two. Often there was an original story that has been retold by different people until two or more accounts were finally written down, each account being somewhat different. Even with these differences, a common theme, or purpose is preserved that is the Holy Spirit's message in the story.

The Gibeah story offers the closest thing we have to a stated motive of the violent mob outside the house. The son-in-law states:

"I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me" Judges 20: 4-5. [19]

Clearly, the son-in-law recognized that the crowd's motive was violence, and not sexual gratification. Many people today do not understand that rape is an act of violence, and not of sexual attraction. When the crowd demands that the son-in-law come and have "sexual relations" with them, they are referring to the kind of sexual abuse they intend.

It is interesting to note that Gibeah, though a similarly wicked city, was not punished by an act of God, as was Sodom, but by an act of war brought on by the son-in-law over what the men of the city had done to his concubine.


Conclusions concerning the message of the story of Sodom & Gomorrah

The message of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when taken in its complete historical and biblical context, is a warning to us to welcome strangers, because at times God will bring saving words or instructions to us through them. This message can be found in Hebrews 13:2:

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. [20, 21]

We must reflect on the number of prophets who were turned away, attacked or stoned to death by the people of Israel, as God repeatedly tried to reach them with His Word through messengers He sent to them. This form of rejection is central to the theme of God's forbearance and the continued disobedience of the people of Israel throughout the Old Testament. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the most extreme example of this kind of rejection, because all visiting strangers to these cities were treated so violently. This is not a story meant to condemn homosexuality. It is a warning to receive strangers openly and graciously, for in doing so we may receive the "One who comes in the name of the Lord." and not miss out on what may be our only means of salvation.

 

Part 3: Old Testament Law and the Apostle Paul

Copyright © 2003 by the author
All Rights Reserved


 Fill out our reader survey

 Send a letter to the editor


Back to the Table of Contents