Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Real Sodomites: Proponents of Proposition 8

Theologian, author, and poet David R. Weiss has a new essay out in which he explores this country’s “sodomy problem.” It’s a great piece: informed, incisive, and timely. It’s also reprinted in its entirety below.


Sodomy and Civil Rights
By David R. Weiss
November 7, 2008

This country has a sodomy problem. And until we have the wisdom and the courage to be honest about what that means we’re not going to resolve the question of civil rights for homosexuals. We need to be clear about why sodomy is such a threat to the common good of civil society, why it undermines the family, and why it is such an evil when afoot in faith communities. It’s not going to be easy. But it needs to be done.

The word “sodomy” comes from a biblical text (Genesis 19) where the ancient city of Sodom is marked out for divine destruction because its evil ways so angered God. Sodomy names those who act like the inhabitants of Sodom.

Fine. But listen carefully. Not in this text — nor in any other biblical text — is there a condemnation of committed same-sex relationships. Not one. Not anywhere. There are a small handful of texts that condemn same-sex prostitution in pagan temples, and perhaps military rape and pederasty. But nowhere in the Bible is there a single word that condemns committed same-sex relationships.

To vote on Proposition 8 in California, or on any of the other state initiatives seeking to ban same-sex marriage, based on the Bible is the moral equivalent of using biblical texts to support slavery or apartheid. It is obscene.

So having cleared that up, let’s talk about the real problem here: sodomy. Acting like the inhabitants of Sodom.

The prophet Isaiah (1:10-17; 3:9-15) knew something about the reputation of those who lived in Sodom. He says they despised justice, especially for widows and orphans—those at the edges of family structures in the ancient world. And he says they built an economy that stole the goods of the poor. Likewise, the prophet Ezekiel (16:49) was also acquainted with the sodomy “lifestyle.” He rails against them because in the midst of their abundance they were indifferent to the needy.

Even Jesus, some 2000 years after its destruction, can employ a reference to Sodom with full effect. Twice (Matthew 11:19-24 and Luke 10:12) he invokes the memory of Sodom as a city condemned for its treatment of the marginalized and its lack of hospitality to sojourners.

For both the Hebrew prophets and the Christian Messiah sodomy is not about acting on same-sex attraction; it is clearly and unequivocally about social injustice and horrendous breeches of hospitality, of which the attempted gang rape of Lot’s guests is simply one final bit of damning evidence.

Sodomy, understood biblically, is the sin of creating social structures that systematically isolate those already at the margins of society. It is roundly condemned by the prophets and by Jesus. And for good reason.

It destroys the fabric of families by teaching even the youngest children to dehumanize persons simply because of difference. It undermines the common good of society by scape-goating a minority in ways that contradict the very ideals we claim to hold in a democracy. And it is simply an unforgivable evil in faith communities where it betrays the very messages of justice, mercy, and compassion that are at the heart of religious faith.

So let’s be clear: the desire to close off the protections afforded by marriage to persons living in committed same-sex relationships (and to their children) is itself an act of sodomy and it has no place in civil society or in communities of faith.

Further, when African-Americans and Hispanics vote in large numbers alongside conservative white Christians to ban same-sex marriage they ally themselves with the same strand of Christianity that in the past quoted other biblical texts just as effectively to justify genocidal policies toward Native Americans, xenophobic laws toward immigrants, and abominations like slavery, Jim Crow, and apartheid.

So, yes, this country has a sodomy problem. But so long as we think it has anything to do with gay sex we’ve missed the point of God’s outrage. Sodomy happens when any group uses their majority or their power to abuse and marginalize another group. That’s what happened in California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas on November 4. And it’s time for us, as citizens and as Christians, to stop acting like the inhabitants of Sodom.

David Weiss is a theologian and author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God (2008). He lives with his wife and children in St. Paul, MN.

For more of David’s writing at The Wild Reed, see the previous posts:
Coming Out: An Act of Holiness
Making Love, Giving Life

Recommended Off-site Link:
Catholics, Mormons Defend Backing Same-Sex Marriage Ban - CNN (November 7, 2008).

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Reflections on the Passage of Proposition 8
Unrest in California Over Passing of Proposition 8
Fr. Geoff Farrow on Proposition 8
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
The Bible and Homosexuality
Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
Donald Hanway’s “Fresh Look at a Sensitive Topic”
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology!
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
A Wise and Thoughtful Study of Sexual Ethics
Song of Songs: The Bible’s Gay Love Poem
Jesus and the Centurion
The Many Forms of Courage


Frank Partisan said...

What happens in Sodom, stays in Sodom.

I think a group's rights being put to majority vote, is unjust in itself.

CDE said...

renegade eye,

I think you miss the point. A civil right to marriage was precisely the thing at issue... whether such a thing exists. It's not a self-evident right.

Anonymous said...

The real problem begins with the word "sodomy," which Christians have misused for the sin at Sodom. The depravity at Sodom, according to Jesus, was inhospitality, for not offering the daughters of the menfolk to be raped by angelic visitors instead of the men.

I've never understood the "moral" of this horrible and vile tale -- not even as the sin of inhospitality -- unless Jesus was no less misogynistic than the other rabbis of his day. While the story (Gen 19) has elements that recall a gay bathhouse, the sin is confusing to most readers. Is it hospitable to offer daughters to male strangers "that they may get to know them" (i.e., fuck), or were the men's greediness in wanting the angelic men for themselves the problem. What if the "two angels" in 19:1 omits the third angel; is this the Trinity to reveal itself, only constrained because only men are to be patriarchs? Abraham received "three men" (actually angels), but Lot receives onto "two men." If we assume the Levitical Code of Purity arose after this account in Genesis, then the men "getting to know the other men" would have been perfectly ordinary -- and indeed, it is the "two men" who are angelic messengers that remove Lot before destruction of Sodom. But his two son-in-laws insist on remaining.

My purpose in reiterating this vile and immoral story -- is to illustrate the problem it has presented throughout history -- to provide a moral view. In no way can this story be understood as homophobic. Moreover, the word "sodomy" is archaic and inappropriate if it is being used to refer to homophiles, and in particular, androphiles. No modern translation of the Bible (e.g., NRSV) uses the word "sodomy" and with good reason. The notion of "sodomy" as homophilia arose in medieval ecclesiastical Latin, because Augustine misread Genesis and Jude, and the church decided "sodomy" was preferred to pederasty and homophilia (androphilia, gynophilia) until the oxymoron "homosexual" was coined in 19th-century Germany.

Virtually all linguists and social researchers reject "sodomy" and are increasingly rejecting "homosexual," except that it is embedded. Many prefer MSM, assuming that is accurate. But sodomy has no place in modern parlance, any more than "faggots." Even when used humorously.

Anonymous said...

Not in this text — nor in any other biblical text — is there a condemnation of committed same-sex relationships.

No. But then, no where is there any condemnation of "licit theft," either, or "approved murder," or "occasional idolatry." Maybe Weiss and you think the slipped-in "committed" changes the entire scope, meaning, and intent, not to mention use, of Saint Paul's condemnation of all same-sex relations as idolatry, the archetype of all sin, and worthy of death, but one would really have to change Romans 1 much more radically than adding surreptitiously "committed." I thought this was a humorous piece initially (esp. with renegade eye's response), but I think Weiss intends to be serious.

David W. said...

Actually, even Romans 1:24-27 is less clear than many read it.

First, it’s ironic that Paul describes the sin of the Gentiles as “worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator,” when the condemnation of homosexual activity grounded in “the anatomy wasn’t designed for this” seems itself to end up “worshiping the creature.” This reasoning assumes that we can “read” off our creaturely anatomy exactly what the Creator intended, but it is at least possible (with plenty of biblical precedents) that God’s intents can sometimes be quite surprising.

Second, Paul’s use of “natural” and “unnatural” is far from clear. He certainly does not use the phrase “unnatural” to show his admiration for same-sex activity, but the word used is not a word of clear condemnation either. It may suggest moral judgment or it may imply a charge of being culturally backward but not sinful. Both readings can be supported. And later on, in Romans 11:24, Paul uses the same word – “unnatural” – to describe God’s actions in bringing the Gentiles into the church. There it simply means the utterly surprising, who-would-have-guessed character of God’s activity. In any case, it’s hardly wise to let such a contentious judgment hinge on the interpretation of a single word that is fiercely contested by scholars on both sides.

Finally, regarding Romans 1 as a whole this much is clear and acknowledged by everyone: Paul’s theological/rhetorical purpose is to declare the utter sinfulness of the Gentiles. BUT—his purpose in Romans 2 is to make painfully clear the equally utter sinfulness of the Jews. Chapter 2 begins, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment on anyone else you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Paul is not concerned with the details; he is concerned to indict the entire human race across the board without exception . . . and then, in Romans 3, he introduces the grace of God—for absolutely everyone. Regardless of Paul’s historical position on “homosexuality” (which remains far from certain), if he were to hear Romans 1 quoted by one group of persons to condemn another group of persons he would explode in anger. To use the passage this way flies in the face of the very argument Paul is making, which is to silence judgment and announce grace.

Anonymous said...

No offense to David W., but his casuistry is just that. The word Paul uses is the Greek "physis" which is the same word Aristotle uses for "nature." No serious biblical scholar denies Saint Paul condemns same-sex relations, but many who disagree with God's Word will twist it so it says something different from what it OBVIOUSLY says.

Anonymous said...

If Gen 19 has been misread, *why* has it been misread, apparently by Jews and Christians, for so long?

Anonymous said...

Now, Mark wants to shift from NT to OT and think the referent the same?

Come on guys. The Levitical Code of Purity is superceded by the New Covenant, but Paul makes its clear (in ROMANS, not LEVITICUS) that same-sex relations -- well-known among Gentiles -- was still archetypal sin for the New Covenant.

Don't shift TEXTS and REFERENCES, and think the casuistry works with folks. The NT text is undeniably hostile to same-sex relationships, indeed, Paul makes it the archetype of ALL SIN, the sin of idolatry, which not even the LCP does. As one of my mentors insisted: Must it mean what it says? Yes. Notwithstanding all the B/S to make it seem like it says something else. Of course, making it say something else is precisely what Knights of Columbus and Mormons did to the California Supreme Court Decision.

I guess Christ-Liars are sanctified, but Truth-bearers get the ax (or Cross)? Hypocrites always use Double Standards, and I see it, just as others do to!

Anonymous said...

I apologize for not making myself clearer. I'm not trying to engage in casuistry. I am asking a question about the history of varying interpretations of the text.

People have been all over Genesis 19 for thousands of years and held various interpretations over time. They hold those interpretations accurate. Now those interpretations are being challenged. Okay, where did those earlier interpretations go wrong? What was it the rabbis, for example, weren't getting? Why weren't they getting it?

Anonymous said...

Hermeneutics, or interpretation, does not allow much room for movement in Romans. It says what it says, and like most individuals of the androphile disposition, I don't like what it says. I also think it is gravely mistaken, and most RC biblical scholars consider Pauline Anthropology of Romans 1 - 12 an embarrassment -- rightly -- given what Calvin's literal interpretation provoked.

The issue of interpretation is fairly settled: homophilia is thought by Paul to be the archetype of idolatry, and idolatry is considered in Judaism and Christianity as the gravest sin. One can dispute the basis of Paul's thinking easily, but that leads invariably to the "slippery slope:" If Paul is wrong, what can we trust of his writings to be right? Can a person inspired by god to write letters and be an "apostle" be so gravely mistaken about something of which Jesus says nothing? And if it is insignificant to Jesus, why is it paramount to Paul?

Assuming the interpretation is not in question, and I am very confident it is not, these types of questions must press on us, just as the question about women keeping silent and earning the salvation through childbirth. And since Paul prefers celibacy, but permits sexual relations in marriage only, but two men are not conferred sacramental marriage, that places many homophiles between a rock and a hard place -- frankly that is inescapable.

At least RC have non-biblical sources of divine revelation, and most of its moral theorizing is based on Aquinas' misunderstanding of the pagan Aristotle!!! Given that Christian Doctrine can and does develop -- one presumes aided by the Holy Spirit (see, J. H. Newman's book) -- then the CHURCH, which is the depository of that revelation (i.e., the Ark of the Covenant), not the particular instances that are its resources, can always modify its previous stances through enlightened spiritual understanding. Both the Immaculate Conception and Assumption depend on this development to be consistent with the Vincentian Canon.

But, how can the Church that has taught X for 2,000 years suddenly teach non-X suddenly? Credibility issues arise again! On what basis? Usury is one suggested model; natural law theory, which is the foundation of the Church's moral theology is irrational and erroneous, which the Church could replace, which might open the Church to reconsideration of many issues falsely constructed on its false foundations of natural law theory.

The natural law in this sense is human moral reasoning, per Aquinas, but if that moral reasoning is itself wrong -- and it is -- then so are the conclusions that follow from it possibly wrong. Readers interested in the issue can visit my webpage and search "natural law" and "natural" as well as the "fact/value fallacy." Despite the obvious error of natural law theory, I suspect the Church would rather become smaller and wrong than the bearer of God's revelation. It's an economic, and credibility, dilemma.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, GS. But I am curious about the Hebrew Scriptures. There was already a long interpretive tradition (and a number of them too) in Judaism before Paul came along. So, again, what was it or is it that the ancient rabbis were missing that modern scholarship has uncovered, discovered - or devised?

Anonymous said...


Wayne Dynes of
may be of interest to your question.

Was there Twelve Tribes of Israel? The period of the Kingdoms?

Few people regard the deuteronomistic period as actual history, such as Thomas Thompson's (1999) The Mythic Past which might prove fascinating.