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