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Sodom and Gomorrah and homelessness (10/21/2012)
From: Matthew F. Byrnes

A recent letter writer mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah as a reason to vote for the marriage amendment. As someone who has read Genesis many times, this puzzled me.

Here’s a review of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah: Two angels come to Sodom. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, greets the angels and invites them into his house. The angels, appearing homeless, were planning on sleeping outside in the city square, but Lot insists that they stay in his house (Genesis 19.2-3). Lot “made them a feast” (19.3) and opened his doors to the homeless stranger. Later that night, all the men of Sodom come to Lot’s door and demand that Lot brings the strangers to them so that they may “know them”--- i.e. rape them. Lot begs the men not to rape his guests and instead offers his own daughters to the Sodomites to rape them and “do to them as you please” (19.8). The men of Sodom threaten to attack Lot, so the angels strike the Sodomites blind and direct Lot to leave Sodom with his family. Lot “lingered” (19.16) instead of leaving Sodom immediately, so the angels took Lot, his two daughters, and his wife outside the city, and then “the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire” (19.23).

So, using the biblical commandment that “the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14) as the basis for understanding the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, we find a man who provides hospitality for the homeless stranger in a community that seeks to do harm to the homeless. This exegesis is supported by the Gospel of Matthew (“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” [25:35]). Lot, remembering to love even strangers, is saved while the Sodomites, who hate and fear the homeless stranger, are killed.

It may be a surprise to some that we don’t encounter any mention of loving same-sex marriages in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah; Sodom and Gomorrah is primarily a story demanding hospitality with a side message against male-on-male rape. To compare loving same-sex marriages to homosexual rape is akin to comparing opposite-sex marriages to heterosexual rape. Strangely, this passage doesn’t admonish heterosexual rape, a crime that rates among the most heinous. This is a reminder that the bible is not, as a whole, a document supporting marriage as “one woman and one man.” This should not come as a surprise for people who actually read the bible. Many sections of the bible support and even demand polygamy. Rape is tolerated in some passages of the bible. People who claim to use the bible as their primary moral guide have an obligation to read the bible and read it seriously. The bible makes no mention to gay marriage and loving same-sex unions and families. To cherry pick passages of bible while ignoring the larger messages is akin to idolatry.

In taking the story of Sodom and Gomorrah seriously, we find that the real Sodomites of today are not gay people, but rather people who don’t help the homeless.

That said, as an American, I believe in the separation of church and state. Therefore, gay people ought to have equal rights in the eyes of the law, regardless of some people’s (however misinformed) religious opinions. People are entitled to their own beliefs, but they are not entitled to take away other people’s religious freedom. Some religious traditions, like my own, perform same-sex marriages and others don’t. To privilege some churches over others is both wrong and un-American in the worst sort of way.

*all quotes from NRSV



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