The Sin Of Sodom
There are a couple of guys staying at the shelter lately, who spend their days “preaching the Bible like it should be preached”, according to one of them. I assume that means they shout at people, probably on the campus of the local university. When they were leaving the other morning, I heard one of them refer to someone as a “sodomite”. I doubt that he was thinking of Ezekiel 16:49–50, “‘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.” The “detestable things” could be what we might now call “sodomy”, but only if you really want it to be. If you go back to Genesis 13–19, where Sodom is introduced, judged and destroyed, it’s obvious that the issue is violence, not sexual behavior.
Violence, arrogance and neglect of the poor and marginalized are the main things that make God angry through the entire OT. Oh, and worshiping false idols — God definitely doesn’t like that. The only proper idol, or “image of God”, is humanity. That’s pretty obvious — “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”, Genesis 1:27. Humankind — in all of its diversity — is God’s representation on Earth.
Mutually beneficial, consensual relationships between two people of the same gender are not forbidden anywhere in the Bible. Relationships of that type probably existed in the centuries when the Bible was written, but they were apparently not common enough for the Bible’s writers to ever mention them. History records no instance where relationships of that description had any negative impact on any society anywhere.
Relationships between people of opposite sexes, during the Biblical centuries, were legal arrangements that centered on reproduction. Same-sex relationships don’t produce children, so they would not have fit into the same category as marriage. I’m all for dismantling modern constructions around binary gender categories, but the fact remains that reproduction requires binary — the “male and female” of Genesis 1:27. Blowing apart social constructs won’t change the fact that babies are made by the combination of egg and sperm — nor do I think there’s any reason to change that. Changing what people think it means to be “male” or “female” is a pretty big undertaking, and I think it will solve a lot of problems.
In the NT, Paul appears to condemn same sex relationships in Romans 1. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why a surface level reading of Romans 1 gives a false impression, because the first verse of Romans 2 is “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Remember that Paul didn’t break his letter to the Romans into chapters and verses — that was done later, to make studying and talking about the Bible easier. Paul seems to think that sex between people of the same gender is something that pagans do, and therefore followers of Jesus shouldn’t, but he couldn’t have imagined same sex relationships as we now know they can be. He couldn’t have imagined opposite sex relationships as we do either.
A lot of people dunk on Paul because he seems to promote homophobia, and because he appears to be somewhat sexist in a few places. These ideas come from surface level readings and completely ignore the fact that Paul advocated for women as church leaders and as equal partners in marriage, both of which were unheard of in his time and place. He clearly stated that all social categories should be ignored by followers of Christ. If he disapproved of same sex relationships, he did so within his context, knowing only what it was possible to know in his milieu. And he was a tireless spreader of the gospel, enduring years of imprisonment and abuse before dying for the faith in Jerusalem. The man deserves props.
As moderns, knowing what we know, we can recognize homosexuality, bisexuality, trans genderism and the rest of the spectrum, as normal ways for humans to be. We can still recognize that children and adults who are mentally compromised in some way — by intellectual disability, mental illness and/or dugs and alcohol, for example — are not able to give consent to sexual activity and should therefore be protected from predators. And we can choose to love our neighbors as ourselves, whether they live the way we do or not. It really isn’t that hard.
None of what I’ve said should be taken as indicating that I don’t believe in sexual morality. I do. The Bible gives different rules for sexual behavior at different points, but it never indicates that just going at it, willy-nilly, with anybody you fancy is a good thing. I believe that the Bible’s rules about sexual conduct are more for our benefit than anything else — I mean, I believe that God gave us some guidelines around sex to show us how we can be happy. I fully acknowledge that this belief fits my own experience quite nicely.
I started adulthood — and sex with another person — fully committed to monogamy. My early relationships were monogamous. When I was drinking and drugging, I had some casual encounters, and again when I was a few years sober. My kid’s mom and I were not exclusive — at that point, I was trying non-monogamy, to see if that would work. It didn’t. We decided to have a child together, but we knew we would not be a life-long relationship. Actually, we broke up a week or so after she showed positive on a home pregnancy test.
During the pregnancy, I was doing some hard looking at myself and how I lived. I came to the conclusion that I needed to make some changes to become the kind of dad I wanted my kid to have. I knew that my sexual behavior was not making me happy, so I stopped having sexual behavior. When my kid was two, I met a woman and decided to try being in a relationship with her. After a few months, I was sure that I didn’t want any kind of sexual relationship. She and I are still friends — the kid’s mom and I manage to co-parent without much friction, but we aren’t friends.
So, I came to celibacy several years before I became a Christian. This makes it very easy for me to endorse Paul’s recommendation of celibacy, allowing for sexual activity if celibacy is too difficult. The fact that it is easy for me is exactly why I don’t do it. Well, I wouldn’t anyway because I’m not qualified to decide how other people should live.
I believe that followers of Christ should adhere to some kind of sexual standard, but I don’t know exactly what it should be. Celibacy is the safest sexual behavior — in many ways — and it works for me. Other people have the ability to pray and think and figure it out for themselves.
In any event, it is not okay for me to judge how other people conduct themselves sexually. As a Christian, I am obligated to love my neighbors — all of them. If I am trying to avoid being like the citizens of Sodom, I would do well to be humble and to do what I can to help the poor and marginalized.
Yelling at people is no way to spread the good news that the kingdom of God has come near. It is, however, a very good way to convince people that the followers of Christ are judgmental lunatics. If you actually want to get people interested in Christianity, the best possible way to do that is what the first century church did — take care of the needy, live simply and love God.