Letter of the Day | Sodom propaganda
THE EDITOR, Sir:
It's time the churches got real on this homosexuality thing. Church leaders need to set out from the witness of the good and decent gays and lesbians they personally know.
They must not be distracted by the handful of youthful exhibitionists on the street, a few of them criminals who happen to be homosexual. They must not brush aside those honest voices telling them truthfully of attractions and experiences of genuine love for others of their own sex. It is totally unreal to talk about tolerance towards persons while condemning their deeply personal relationships.
The churches insist on keeping the Old Testament command against homosexuality, even though its clearest expression in Leviticus 18 is embedded in a string of other commands (e.g., eye for eye), which today they reject. The main reason for its retention is probably its New Testament support - St Paul's condemnation in Romans1 of "unnatural acts", a much debated text. Another reason, the one I mainly try to address here, is the graphic Genesis18-19 story of Sodom, destroyed by God (the Bible has it) as punishment for its immorality.
This is the usual way that natural and human disasters (e.g., underground gases erupting and catching fire, defeat by the Babylonian empire) are interpreted by the people of that early age (and still by some today!), though Jesus on one occasion (the collapse of a tower that killed 18 people, Luke13), explicitly rejects the connection. This view reads divine favour or punishment into natural occurrences (like hurricanes) or human actions. It ignores natural or human causation in favour of direct divine intervention.
The churches need to be teaching their members to separate the primary message of the Bible from the framework of practices and customs of the time in which the messengers expressed it - they knew no other. Many of those practices - such as killing prisoners of war and their entire households of women and children - we denounce today as barbaric. And we denounce them even though the biblical text has them as expressly commanded by God. Such practices are always portrayed as direct divine commands. That's normal in a theocratic society.
To return to the Genesis story, the fact is that what the villagers of Sodom wanted was not even simple homosexuality. It was homosexual gang rape of travellers, foreigners, and the foreigner part explains much. This was an era when, with populations sparse and communication minimal, hospitality was crucial. Survival depended on it. But it faced clannish practices of demeaning or abusing foreigners.
Lot in the Genesis story of Sodom was the truly good and hospitable man. His offer of his virgin daughters to the sexual demands of a sex-mad village mob is appalling to us. But, compared to the imperative of hospitality,clearly it was less objectionable to him, the writer(s) of Genesis and the people of that era.This is clearly brought out in the strikingly parallel and more historical narrative of Judges 19-21.
In this later episode, villagers again seek to homosexually gang rape a traveller and are refused by the stranger's hospitable host. In this instance the traveller responds by thrusting his concubine out of the door. The villagers abuse and rape her so badly throughout the night that at dawn she is found dead on the doorstep of the villager host - the victim of heterosexual gang rape.
The traveller's reaction is to take the dead woman home, carve her body into 12 pieces and send a piece to each of Israel's tribes. He demands vengeance be exacted on the tribe of Benjamin where the murderous rapists were located. The demand is met. An avenging force after huge losses finally wipes out the offending village.
To extract from these events a denunciation not just of homosexual acts but of a homosexual orientation is highly questionable.With no condemnation of heterosexual orientation taken from heterosexual gang rape in Judges, why should Genesis be read as condemning homosexual orientation?