Tag Archives: Bible

A nation of Sodomites

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis is often cited as a story about how wrong homosexuality is, and God’s desired punishment for such “crimes.” The story has angels coming to Sodom, whom Lot welcomes into his home as honored guests. When the men in the village find out that Lot has visitors, they come to his house and demand that he send the visitors out so that the men of the village may “know” them (aka, have sex with or, in this case, rape). Lot refuses, the visitors pull him inside the house before Lot gets hurt and tell him to gather his family, for the Lord is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah “because the outcry against its people has become so great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” The common cultural understanding of this story is God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of gay sex. It is such a common understanding that laws outlawing sex between gay men (and sometimes just anal sex in general) are referred to as anti-Sodomy laws and one of the epithets hurled at gay men is “Sodomite.”

This understanding is wrong.

God did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of gay sex. That’s not what this story is about.

Lot welcomed the visitors into his home — welcome being a high cultural value of the people of God, iterated again and again throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. This is Lot’s saving grace, his display of welcome. The men of the village destroyed that welcome. They were going to violate these visitors, running counter to culture, custom and the word of God. They were going to commit violence against the stranger, being about as unwelcoming as one can be.

The book of Ezekiel (16:49) makes the sins of Sodom plain, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

God did not destroy Sodom because of gay sex. God destroyed Sodom because they had everything they needed

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. I mean, cool, you want to criminalize not caring for the poor, be my guest!

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
I mean, cool, you want to criminalize not caring for the poor, be my guest!

and more and did not help those who were in need, because the people of Sodom did not welcome the stranger.

Sound familiar?

As I think of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, I think of the new law in Indiana that allows business to deny service to members of the LGBTQ community, I think we need to redefine the word Sodomite.

Those who would not show welcome to visitors, regardless of the differences they may have: those are the Sodomites.

As I read about continued efforts to kick people out of this country because they didn’t come here legally (even those who were brought here as children, those who did not have a choice), those who would not welcome the alien as the Bible commands (Ex 22:21, Deut 10:19, Lev 19:34, Rom 12:13, Matthew 25:40), those who exhibit the sin of the men of Sodom: those are the sodomites.

Those of us who would cut benefits to the poor provided by our government, who would tell those in need to fix themselves, who would deny help to those in need (particularly those of us who live in plenty): those are the Sodomites.

The God who revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ is a God of radical welcome. In the gospels, Jesus speaks of drawing all creation to him through his death on the cross. He tells his followers that that which you did to the least of your brothers and sisters, you did to me, to love your neighbor as yourself, to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Our God is a God of radical welcome and inclusion, who will turn away no one who knocks on God’s door — and God asks us to do the same. Over and over again, throughout the laws, the prophets, the gospels, and the letters. Not showing this radical welcome and love was the crime of Sodom and Gomorrah, for which the punishment was death.

It’s not about gays. People who engage in sex with those of the same gender are not sodomites.

But far too many of us are. Far too many of us are willing to kick out those who think differently, and act differently, as well as people who we feel don’t “deserve” to be here. Far too many of us ignore the plight of the poor and the marginalized to aid our own gains. Every day many of us are indifferent or even hateful as we walk past others on the street who are in great need. We keep what is ours for ourselves. We prop up structures that benefit the privileged while we ignore, shun, demean and oppress those who have little. This is Sodomy.

We are a nation of Sodomites. Our public policy is Sodomy.

If I didn’t believe in the God who will bring all people to God’s loving grace, I might wonder: what will be our fate? Will the fate of a nation that consistently refuses to welcome the stranger and care for the poor end up like Sodom and Gomorrah? If angels were to come to take those who show radical love and hospitality to safety, how many of us would be invited to go with?

What would the God of the prophets have to say to us, as we continue the ways of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Maybe something like this:

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble onself?

It is to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up quicklt; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”  ~ Isaiah 58


Theology with Ice Cube: the beauty of metaphor and killing it with facts

Ice Cube's good day -- a utopian fantasy

These are the things I think about in my spare time. Ice Cube and exegesis.

A few months back, there were attempts made to figure out exactly what day was Ice Cube’s good day in his song Today Was a Good Day. If you aren’t familiar with the song, here’s one of the more pastor’s-blog-friendly segments:

Drove to the pad, hit the showers

Didn’t even get no static from the cowards

‘Cause just yesterday them fools tried to blast me

Saw the police and they rolled right past me

No flexin; didn’t even look in a niggas direction as I ran the intersection…

Plus nobody I know got killed in southcentral LA – today was a good day.

The song has references that help to place it in time – the Lakers beat the Supersonics, Yo MTV Raps is on, the Goodyear blimp is flying (so there’s some kind of big game), people still used pagers. So, some people took these hints and “figured out” exactly what day was Cube’s good day. It was a fun little exercise that got passed all around the interwebs.

When Ice Cube was asked about this recently he made it clear that there was no one particular good day – this was all just stuff that would make a clearly awesome day (for Ice Cube). It is, if you will, a utopian fantasy. In pointing out exactly what would make a good day, Cube points out some stuff that is really messed up about society. It is rare for a day to go by when no one he knows gets killed. The fact that he is surprised that he drives past the police and nothing happens emphasizes police harassment of people who look like Ice Cube (black, car with hops, gangsta: any or all of the above). Making it about facts takes a lot of this commentary away – it’s no longer a commentary on anything, just a story about a rad day Ice Cube had back in 1992 or so.  Making it literal takes some of the commentary out of the song, it weakens it, takes out the creativity and the story. It’s a fun game, but it’s not really what the song is for. The song is a story meant to express Ice Cube’s dreams – some base physical needs (sex, food, money) and some greater needs (freedom from the constant threat of death, from the watchful, profiling eyes of the police). When it becomes literal, some of the magic is gone. It is just another day.

(It’s pretty clear that this song is not meant to be taken literally – especially the end of the song, where Cube says, “Wait, wait, wait a minute poo, stop this s***. What the f**k I’m thinkin’ ’bout?” Like man, this is just a dream. Let’s get back to it. )

Does this sound at all familiar? Do you recognize the practice of taking an interesting and disturbing story that points to immediate and greater themes and reducing it to dates, times and facts? Isn’t this what many of us do when we study the Bible?

So much of the Hebrew Bible is this amazing compilation of stories written by people who were trying to make sense of their world. They were trying to communicate their immediate needs and their longing for freedom, love and peace.  The people who wrote the Old Testament were helping their communities grapple with famine, death, oppression, and slavery (not entirely unlike a lot of rap and hip-hop music today). Their stories gave meaning to people’s lives and provided hope for a future that will have something different to offer.

Much like a lot of rap, these stories can be violent, disturbing and confusing. So we try to make them into fact. We try to pin dates on things, we try to find Noah’s ark and the location of the Ten Commandments. We take a metaphor and strip it of its meaning by reducing it to facts, all so that we can be more comfortable.

One of my least-favorite examples of this is Jesus’ statement that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. Ow. This is awful for most American Christians. Most of us have a lot –we are rich by the world’s standards even when we feel poor. So, this verse sucks. It makes it pretty plain that at worst we won’t even get into heaven, at best our money won’t help us get there. So we try to make it into fact. We make the eye of the needle an actual geographical place that was really narrow, but not so narrow that a camel couldn’t get through. Jesus was using a metaphor to make a point. We use truth to avoid it.

I’m not saying this is all bad. Archeologists and historians have their thing to do – it is their job to ferret out the truths of the ancient world. Christians have another job, a different job. It is our job to hear the voices of the Bible speak to us as they spoke to the people of their time. It is our job to hear the cacophonous multitude of voices express pain and grief and violence and hope and to hear what they were saying to their community through these stories. It is our job to sit in the difficulty of the story and the challenge of the metaphor, to let it inform our faith, our ideas of God, and our actions in the world around us. The question is not whether the events and stories in the bible are factual, it is whether they are True. Harsh, confusing, violent, full of hope, full of pain, replete with love, lust, mistakes, hubris and just plain weird — that sounds an awful lot like life, doesn’t it? True? True.

Today, it was a good day.


Slut shaming (Jesus says don’t do it)

Slut shaming. It’s the new thing. Well, it’s not new at all, really. It’s at least as old at the prophets, who repeatedly refer to Israel as a whore and a prostitute (two different things, mind you) for being untrue to God. Over and over again, Biblical imagery paints Israel as a woman who is verbally and physically abused by YHWH (God) for being unfaithful, for straying to other Gods. It is really painful to read this. It would be even more painful if I read these words as God’s words and not the expression of a community of faith trying to come to grips with horrific suffering. These are the scriptures of my faith. This is my holy book. And, at times, the things it has to say about women are pretty ugly*. Sadly, things haven’t changes much in the past 2500 years.

Clearly some things have, at least in the wealthier nations. It’s pretty uncommon to sell your daughters or to kill women who aren’t virgins when they get married, at least in the United States. These things are also illegal here. However, as mouthpieces as diverse as Rush Limbaugh and Bill Mahr have recently demonstrated, it’s still okay make women less than due to their sexuality. As it has been true throughout history, a pretty quick and easy way to take down a woman is to call her a slut, whore, hussy, tramp, prostitute, or bimbo. Call a woman’s sexual activity into question and she’s done. This is even more clear when we examine how quick everyone is to say that the woman Limbaugh insulted, Sandra Fluke, is NOT a slut, she is NOT promiscuous, she was just standing up or a friend who needed birth control for medical reasons. What if she did sleep with a ton of people? Would that have somehow made Limbaugh’s take down of her okay? Would it have been totally reasonable to disregard her testimony because she was *gasp* having a lot of sex?
This is tricky territory as a female Christian leader. I don’t want to strap women in chastity belts or conscribe us to lives of submission, nor do I want to make anyone feel dirty or ashamed of sex or their bodies. However, I don’t want to glorify having a lot of sex with random people. It is my observation that women tend to have random sex to fulfill other needs — the need for emotional connection, self-esteem, or approval — and usually end up not only not fulfilling these needs but usually feel worse afterwards. I also fully believe that sex is best had within a loving, committed relationship. This is where emotional and physical needs can be met (even spiritual needs), where you can talk about what you like and what you don’t like, where you can experiment, where you can cry during sex without being a total weird-o, and where you will (in theory) both be physically safe from disease and (also in theory) where you will be better prepared if a life is created from your coital joy. However, there’s something else I believe.
I believe that when Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” he meant it. He said this to a crowd that was about to stone a woman who had been caught in adultery. He took on an angry crowd that was about to kill a woman for having sex by drawing a line in the sand and challenging the status quo. He stood up for the sluts of the world. When all the men went away, he asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” I love this part. He takes the time to point out to her that no one has any room to judge her, freeing her from her internal voices of judgement. “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus replies. “Now go and sin no more.” So, he’s not saying, “Have at it sister!” But he’s saying she’s alright, but she might want to change her ways. He doesn’t lecture her, doesn’t demean her, doesn’t take away any of her humanity. He loves her. He implores her to fix her brokenness. At no point does he judge her. And, as he is Jesus (and therefore God), if anyone gets to judge, it’s him.
So, in conclusion, STFU, angry mob of slut-shamers. Jesus said so.
*I’m still working on the roles of women in the prophetic texts. If anyone has words that will make me feel better about the whole God raping the woman Israel thing, I’m all ears. Or, in this case, eyes.

Because I’m a woman

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I vividly remember the first time the Bible was used to tell me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. I was 20 and in my first semester at my second college. Hanging out in the cafe talking to this really cute Christian boy (likely the only one at Warren Wilson College that year), I mentioned that I felt a really strong call to ordained ministry. He informed me, without so much as a pause, that I must be misinterpreting this call, as God would never call a woman to such a position. Then he started quoting Paul. Off the top of his head. This was all new to me. I had never been proof texted before, and I sure as hell had never had the Bible used to tell me I couldn’t do something.
Being told I was less than because of my possession of tits and a vagina was nothing new to me (or most women). Especially as I am crap at things that require hand-eye coordination. My mom and dad taught me to shake that off because I could do and be anything I wanted to, and my inability to play tee ball was not about my gender. But I had never been told that I couldnt do something because God said so. I didn’t have the defenses for that.
I left the cafe almost in tears. As soon as I got to my dorm room, I found my Bible and looked for these verses. There they were, plain as day (or so I thought). God told Paul that I couldn’t lead a congregation, couldn’t be an equal partner in my relationships with men, and generally should just shut my pie hole. Crying, I threw my Bible against the wall and cursed God and the apostle Paul.
Fortunately, we had some amazing religious leaders on campus. Dr. Sommers walked me through the importance of audience and context when reading Paul’s letters. Paul wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to a specific people at a specific time in history with specific issues. And he had some issues of his own. He also had female leaders in his group of gospel spreaders.
In the years since this experience I have heard again and again that a woman’s role is to have babies and care for the family and submit to the rule of her husband, through whom God speaks. Every time I hear this, it breaks my heart. And the voices peddling his crap seem to be getting louder. Purity balls, a creepy ritual in which young women pledge their purity to their fathers and fathers pledge to care for it, are an actual thing. Mark Driscoll and many like him are teaching that women should be submissive and feminine all the while treating that “sacred” and “blessed” role as an abomination if men want to take it on. And my sisters are buying it. Women are struggling with obeying what men are telling them God says and the different message they hear the Holy Spirit whispering to their hearts.
Now this battle to re-domesticate women has moved from churches to the government. Too many have heard the words of Christ as words of liberation, too many know that we are created in God’s image, male, female and somewhere between. The Holy Spirit has revealed to faithful men and women that women CAN lead, can preach and teach and administer the sacrament and lead households. And many Americans are so sick of the hate and prejudice spewed by the religious right that they aren’t listening to the church anymore. Now, those who want to keep women powerless have to force it upon us through legislation. Want to keep women out of the public sphere? Make birth control illegal so that they have to keep pumping out babies. Force them to be vaginally violated by the government if they decide that they don’t want to carry their pregnancy to term. Make sure women know their opinion is irrelevant by not allowing them in on the conversation.
Unfortunately for those go wish to make sure women’s voices are silenced, God created us to be badasses. Blood doesn’t scare us; we bleed every month. Pain? We were created to push watermelons out of a hole the size of a lime. Intelligence? We invent, we create, we write. Strong and fast? We win sports championships. Church cred? We become bishops. We reform the church. We push through your glass ceilings even while being harassed and put down; we do it in uncomfortable shoes and an itchy bra. We love radically and fiercely. This is how God created us. And, as long as God has our back, your efforts to keep us silent and subservient are going to lose.

An anthem for this post: