Thursday, September 4, 2014

What *really* Makes a Person a Sodomite: A Response to Robby Gallaty

"Sodomite" is a term that I heard as a kid, but that makes me cringe as an adult.  Sodomy is, by and large, one of those terms that really should be relegated to the dustbin of history, not just because of how outdated and offensive it has become (like, say, the term "Negro"), but also because of how utterly inaccurate it really is.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah begins in Genesis 14, but all anyone generally tends to remember about it begins in Genesis 18, when God sends three men (or, angels disguised as men) to Sodom.  There, they are welcomed by Abraham's nephew Lot, and then, in Genesis 19, come nightfall, a group of men from Sodom surrounded Lot's house and demanded that Lot give them the men so that they may "know" them (a Biblical euphemism for sex).

Let's unpack this circumstance for a moment.  Now, I've read commentators that argue that what is depicted here is an attempt at rape (or gang rape) because, well, sex is essentially being demanded by the men of Sodom.  But it's even more than rape.  It's the demand to turn the men (angels) over to the Sodom citizens: this isn't only gang rape, this is an attempt at human trafficking as well.

Of all the gay and lesbian people whose friendship I have had the honor of, not one of them treats their sexuality in the same way as the sex slavers whom so many Christian churches today rightly fight against.  Believe it or not, they seek the same sort of loving relationships that we do, based on trust, affection, and mutual respect.

In other words, this isn't just apples and oranges, this is apples and, I dunno, roof shingles.  The two aren't even remotely related.

And let's be clear here: there are no heroes in this story of Sodom.  Lot, in response to the men of Sodom, offers to give them his two daughters who are virgins for them to do with "whatever they wish." (CEB translation)  He is willing to traffick his own family members (and to be a knowing accomplice in their subsequent gang rape).  His behavior in this story is utterly cowardly and abhorrent.

We're left, then, with two options: that trafficking your own daughters and enabling their rapists is the Biblical standard for sexuality, or it isn't.  If the former is true, then why on earth should we even follow the precepts of such a clearly barbaric book?  If it is the latter, turns out there is evidence for that.

Fast forward to the book of the prophet Ezekiel.  For context, his sixteenth chapter is devoted to prophesying against Jerusalem for its "detestable practices" (or "abominations," depending on your translation).  Starting in verse 48, Ezekiel has this to say:

48 As surely as I live, says the Lord God, not even your sister Sodom and her daughters did what you and your daughters have done! 49 This is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud, had plenty to eat, and enjoyed peace and prosperity; but she didn’t help the poor and the needy. 50 They became haughty and did detestable things in front of me, and I turned away from them as soon as I saw it.

This is Sodom's first sin: being proud and prosperous and without want and not helping the poor and needy.  From that sin comes (they 'became') the second: haughtiness and detestable things, which is presumably a reference to the trafficking and gang rape, but there's no way to say that conclusively, because a number of things in the OT are referred to specifically as "detestable" or "abominations."

The "became" word in the middle there is the clutch part: one led to another.  Sodom's lack of empathy for the poor and needy, even in the midst of their own prosperity, enabled such a complete disregard for humanity that they tried to kidnap and rape a trio of angels in Genesis 19.

And what does all of that have to do with homosexuality, or same sex orientation?  Not a damn thing.

But we pretend that it does.  All the time.

I follow a lot of pastors on Twitter, including many who I disagree with pretty profoundly on different things, simply because I don't like living in an echo chamber and I want to see what other churches outside of my regular stomping grounds are saying.  This past Sunday, one of those pastors whom I follow (and who also follows me), Robby Gallaty of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, decided to preach a fifty minute sermon on what he called "God's Standard for Sexuality."

Here are a couple of verbatim quotes:

"It doesn't take a degree to realize God's stance in the Old Testament on homosexual activity."

By that same token, if it doesn't take a degree to realize God's stance in the OT on rape and sex trafficking, that means that God is okay with it (see also Deuteronomy 22:28 and 29, where a man can force himself onto an unmarried woman and then pay her father fifty shekels and she automatically becomes his wife).

Why would we follow such a terrible and, dare I say it, detestable and abominable God?

The short answer is that we shouldn't.

The longer answer is that, of course, we don't have to. God is not terrible or detestable.  God is amazing, awe inspiring, and a source of love and mercy and grace far beyond yours or my understanding.  And that is what Gallaty gets at: we are all changed by the grace of God.

"It's (homosexuality) not how He created us...homosexuality is a choice."

Being gay or lesbian isn't something you should change.  Or try to.  I even said this in my own sermon on Sunday: we Christians have devoted far too much (which is to say, any at all) time and resources into so called "reparative therapy" with no scientific or medical merit simply because we thought we could magically change gay people into straight people like Minerva McGonagall turning her desk into a pig.

Not only that, but we ignore the truth that is in Psalm 139, a psalm many of us like to quote for our pro life views: that God knitted us in our mother's womb.  And if you came out of that womb orientated towards being attracted to people of  your gender, well, God did in fact create you that way.

But I have a simpler question for Robby: if sexuality really is a choice (as opposed to God creating us a particular way), when did you choose to be straight?  And how was it coming out to your friends and family with your decision to be straight?

"Homosexuality is an attack on family and marriage...Homosexuality is the most lethal attack we have against the family."

Good gravy.  Robby, there are so many bigger attacks on marriage you can spend fifty minutes preaching on.  Preach on absentee parents.  Preach on domestic violence.  Preach on divorce.  Heck, preach on the love of money, since finances are the root of some of the most pervasive and recurring marital disputes.  ALL of those are way more lethal than homosexuality.  In fact, especially in the case of domestic violence, it is literally lethal.  People die from this sin, to the staggering tune of 1,300 souls per year.

But by all means, please, tell me about how gay people are a bigger attack on families than violent abuse.  Even though the only ways gay people die from being gay are the direct results of other people: being beaten to death by homophobes, being kicked out of their parents' home and made homeless, or being driven to suicide at rates far higher than the national average.

So don't preach about gay people as an attack on something.  My friends and colleagues who are gay, they aren't out to ruin your marriage or your family.  They just want to have one of their own.

Why am I going off so strongly on all of this, though?  Because I am so freaking tired of seeing my colleagues get away with peddling this sort of snake oil that does nothing for the belief of their followers but that does tremendous harm to the actual people behind the sexual orientation they are railing against.

I am so saddened by my  from gay and lesbian friends whom I would LOVE to have a pastoral relationship with saying to me, "I can't ever set foot in a church again, I don't feel welcome anymore."

I am so utterly exhausted from having to do damage control for a Christianity that goes so far out of its way sometimes to make itself difficult to love.

And Robby Gallaty is not an isolated pastor by any means.  There are so many of my colleagues out there who are putting their legalism ahead of their relationships and putting their love for a few out of context Biblical verses ahead of their love for God's children.

And their combined voice is what is turning our great church into the ultimate Sodomite: someone (or something) that goes out of its way to gang up on strangers to make them feel completely unsafe there.

Which is the exact opposite of what we should be about: after all, a 'sanctuary' in a church literally means a 'safe space.'  And if we cannot be that safe space for gay and lesbian children of God who want nothing more than to live lives of faith in their Creator and love for one another, then we need to stop calling this thing we do the body of Christ.

Being gay doesn't make you a person of Sodom.  Rejecting out of hand someone who is gay, though, I'm afraid absolutely does.

Yours in Christ,

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