Part III: UnClobber (Genesis 19 – Sodom and Gomorrah)

Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19)

The first Clobber Passage I’d like to unpack is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction in Genesis 19.

Take a poll of your average church-going folk, and likely you’ll discover that the most popular answer to the following question, Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, would be: because of homosexuality.

The traditional perspective on this story is that because of the rampant sinfulness of the people of the cities Sodom and Gomorrah, and specifically the sin of homosexuality, God “rained down sulfur and fire from heaven,” and “destroyed the cities of the valley” (Gen 19:23-29). Why would God take such drastic actions against two entire cities? Destroying men, women, children… killing hundreds of people? “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave,” said God to Abraham (Gen 18:20).

Evidently, whatever they were doing had gotten bad enough that the people around them (presumably?) cried out to God against them. Their sin was so grave that both God and people outside their communities had had enough. So God planned to visit to “see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.” (Question: why did God need to visit the city to find out on God’s own if it was as bad as was rumored? Especially when just eight verses earlier God was able to “magically” hear Sarah laughing from inside her tent? Interesting. But we’ll save that for another day.)

Calling Out God for Being Unjust

What happened next, as the story goes, was a fascinating dialogue between Abraham and God. Abraham bargains with God, interceding on behalf of Sodom. He essentially shows more compassion than God does, as the story goes. Saying, “would you really destroy a city full of wicked people when there might very well be some righteous/innocent people there as well?”

Abraham said, “what if I can find 50 righteous people in the city, will you call off your plans of destruction?”

Abraham called out God for not doing what is just. And God acquiesced.

But Abraham kept going…

“what if I can only find 45?”

“Sure,” said God, “I’ll spare the whole place for 45.”

“Okay, how about 30?”

“Fine. I’ll spare them if you can find 30 righteous people.”

“20??”

“Deal.”

And then, ridiculously so, like the husband who isn’t satisfied with just getting to go play golf with his buddies, have lunch at the clubhouse, then hit the pub afterwards to watch the big game, but STILL calls his wife to ask if he could go over to his buddy’s house to play videogames all night, Abraham asked, “Well, I’ve come this far… how about 10, God… what if I can find just 10 decent people in the whole city. You can’t honestly justify killing an entire city then, can you?!”

God, who didn’t seem to mind Abraham wagering with God and questioning the Divine sense of justice, relented. “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it,” God replied. (Gen 18:22-33)

We never get to know if Abraham was successful or not in finding just 10 righteous people. I suppose you could argue that since the story eventually ended with Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed, that that shows Abraham was unsuccessful. But that isn’t how the story plays out. We never are told if Abraham even had a chance to find 10 righteous people. The story goes straight from Abraham and God wheeling and dealing to two angels immediately travelling to Sodom at night. And, after the infamous disaster that was An Evening in Sodom, the next day brought forth the burning sulfur and fire. So who knows if God was just joking around with Abraham, never really intending on changing plans. Or, maybe it’s possible that this story was never told to reflect the exact historical accuracy of what actually happened. But, for the sake of this series (and its probable audience), I will assume that the Genesis account is a reasonably accurate description of the events that took place.

(Sidenote: Archaeologists have uncovered several sites around the Dead Sea that could possibly be the ancient ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah. And each of these sites confirm that incredible devastation was caused by some sort of burning sulfur, and entire cities were leveled. There are really some fascinating discoveries being made. Read here and here if you’re curious. I offer this sidenote because I think that there indeed was an historical event that involved the decimating of the Cities of the Plain, i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah. Whether or not it happened precisely the way Genesis retells, or precisely when Genesis suggests, is another matter. But, as I said, for the sake of this series I will move forward under the assumption that Genesis 19 is an accurate retelling of those events.)

So what DID happen that fateful night in Sodom? And based on what the author of Genesis tells us, can we deduce that homosexuality was a primary (or even secondary?) sin of Sodom’s that led to their demise? Do any other Biblical writers reflect on this story, and if so, what do they have to say?

Here’s what I’d like to do in Part III:

  • Walk through the story in Genesis 19, asking questions and making observations along the way.
  • Once we’ve made it through the story, I’ll draw out some bigger observations about what the story tells us and what it doesn’t tell us.
  • Then we’ll take the traditional understanding of this story, lay it over the top of what we’ve discovered thus far, and see what emerges.
  • What do other Biblical Authors have to say about what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and why?
  • Does Genesis 19 function, in any way, as Biblical support for the sinfulness of same-sex attraction, same-sex relationships, gay people, or any other issue relating to sexuality (homo or hetero)?

The Story

Genesis 19:1-14

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

The story begins with the two angels, who just recently departed from partying with God and Abraham in chapter 18, entering the city of Sodom at night. Lot, who possibly was functioning as the gate-keeper, greets them and invites them to his house to spend the night. When they decline and suggest they’ll just stay in the town square, Lot seems to panic, and “presses them strongly,” the writer tells us, to come to his place instead. Lot had been with these people in this city for possibly more than 20 years. He knew their ways and he knew that it would not be safe or wise for two visitors to stay the night in the town square. So he strongly encouraged them to come to his place, where he made them a nice meal and they prepared to turn in for the night.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

They finished eating and were getting ready for bed, when suddenly a great commotion arose outside. Evidently, word had gotten out that two outsiders had come to Sodom for the evening, and this caused the men of the city to come and surround the house.

Now, estimates for the population of Sodom (based on some of the archaeological studies mentioned above) are between 600-1200 people. Just to get an idea of what is happening, let’s say 900 people lived in Sodom, which would equal approximately 450 men. What does the story say? “The men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man.” Wow. Every single man, the story says, came to surround the house of Lot and demand access to the town visitors. Young men (read here: boys). Old men. All the men.

And what do they ask? “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them.”

(At this point, I could spend some time on the word “know” in this verse. It is the Hebrew word yada (which immediately brings all new light to that Seinfeld episode, doesn’t it…). I could point out how yada appears over 900 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and only 14 (1%) of those times is it used as a euphemism for “have sex with.” But I won’t. Some people take this line of reasoning and say that the men didn’t want to have sex with the visitors, only that they wanted to interrogate them. It’s a convenient argument, but I don’t think it holds water. If for no other reason than because just a few verses later in the story Lot offers his daughters to the men, daughters who “have not known any man.” I doubt he was saying, “my daughters have never gotten to sit down and get to know other men before, so why don’t you interrogate them for a while?” Moving on…)

No, I think it’s safe to say that the 450 or so men and boys of the city wanted to have sexual relations with the visitors. They wanted to know them in the Biblical sense.

Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

This is what Lot was afraid of. This is why he pressed so strongly that the two visitors not stay in the town square. He had lived with these people for 20 years or more, and was terrified at what they might do to his guests. “I beg you,” he says, “do not act so wickedly.” And then, in a sadly-ironic moment, Lot offers his two virgin daughters as a substitute. Speaking of acting wickedly… #fail

But Lot’s primary concern was that no harm would come to the men taking shelter under his roof. 450 men and boys forcing themselves on two men was not a good thing, in any shape or form. It is no wonder that the wickedness of Sodom (and Gomorrah) was well known throughout the area. Gang rape like this does not go unnoticed. Neither to God nor to people in the surrounding communities.

But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.

The men and boys of Sodom, who had surrounded Lot’s house, were now thoroughly pissed off that Lot was denying them their fun. “Who is this outsider, this Lot fellow, who thinks he can come to our city and judge us? He will have a worse fate than the two visitors when all is said and done!” Not only were these men and boys planning on gang-raping the two visitors, but also they were now intending on doing even worse to Lot. Does it get worse?

Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately) the men and boys didn’t know whom they were messing with. Our modern day saying of “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight” is a direct descendant of the ancient saying, “don’t bring a rape party to the house of angelic beings.” (It’s true. Don’t bother Googling it.)

The two men rescued Lot from the attackers and proceeded to blind all 450 of them… “the small ones AND the great ones” (weird statement, isn’t it?). Evidently the men’s newfound blindness caused them to grope about for the door, eventually leading to them wearing themselves out. Can you picture 450 blind men and blind boys, blind GREAT and SMALL men and boys, excuse me, groping about in the dark for a door? I’m telling ya, the Bible is full of weird stories.

Anyways, the net result is that Lot was spared and the 450 men and boys gave up their hopes of gang-raping two visitors.

Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

The two men urged Lot to go and get whomever he wanted to save and then get the heck out of dodge. Evidently, Lot was informed, the two men were about to set fire to the rain (thanks Adele, for the theme song) and burn the houses down! (Which again begs the question: was God fooling around with Abraham? The two men make it sound like they were sent there for the purpose of destroying the city all along. Hmmm…)

And we are reminded, from the two men, that “because the outcry against the people of Sodom had become great before the LORD” that the city would be destroyed. God had heard people’s cries against the inhabitants of these cities and now God has firsthand evidence of their wickedness.

Lot tried to get his future sons-in-law to come with them and escape, but they thought the old kook was just jesting about. I’ll bet they regretted that decision. Show some respect for your elders, boys.

A Few Observations

Lot Was Well Informed  -  If the city of Sodom was only about 900 people big, then someone who lived there for 20 years would certainly have been well acquainted with the people, the customs, the culture and the vibe of the city. 900 people is smaller than most people’s High Schools, and think about how much you “knew” about different cliques, groups, tribes, classes, etc. And that was only after being with those people for a couple years! So it is safe to imagine that Lot knew the men (and the women and the children) of Sodom well. Probably each one by name. It was not a large city (sidenote: if you checked out the above archaeology sites you may have discovered that fairly recently a site has been discovered that some are claiming were the Cities of the Plain, which included Sodom and Gomorrah. At these locations were burial sites with over 1 million buried bodies! This suggests that Sodom could have possibly been several hundred thousand people large! TOTALLY different from the more established and generally more accepted location and size of the other Sodom site. It’s an interesting exercise to read through this story with both sizes of cities in mind. Can you imagine 100,000 men and boys surrounding a house, all wanting some gang-rape action? Sometimes it is impractical, if not impossible, to read the Bible as literally as some would have you.) Lot knew what happened to visitors because he knew the people of Sodom and probably even more likely because he had witnessed it before. Which is probably why the author of the story tells us that he strongly pressed them to stay at his place and not in the town square.

Entire Cities Can’t be Gay  -  The story goes to great lengths to tell us that every single man in the city of Sodom had stormed the house of Lot that night. Old men. Young men. Boys. And if the traditional understanding of this passage is that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their rampant homosexuality, then are we really supposed to accept that in a city of 900 people, that 100% of the 450 men and boys were all gay? Even the highest estimates on how often gay people are born are 1 in 10. And even in the most concentrated gay cities in the world (think San Francisco) there isn’t even close to the ratio of gay-to-straight men that this story suggests, should we accept that the men of Sodom were homosexuals. It is ridiculous to think that the men in this story were gay men. An entire male population of any city cannot be gay. And if they are, you probably wouldn’t see any children there.

Rape is Not the Same Thing as Consensual Sex  –  I feel like this point shouldn’t have to be stressed, but these boys and men in Sodom wanted to rape the two visitors! Do I really have to explain that this is inherently and fundamentally and categorically a different thing altogether than a situation where one person who is attracted to another person of the same gender wants to have consensual sex? That alone should give a person pause enough to consider why people think that homosexuality was the grave sin of these cities. If you are a person (and they do exist, trust me) who cannot separate in your mind gay-sex from rape, then you have different issues that I can’t help you with. Add to all of this the “gang” part of the story and you start to drift even farther away from anything having to do with homosexuality. This atrocious offense the men and boys of Sodom wanted to commit against these visitors was not to inflict their homosexualness upon them. No, it was to gang rape them. And consider for a moment what’s going on: there are boys in this mob that want to actively partake in this rape. What kind of people create a society where young boys would join a mob in the hopes of participating in rape? This is not a city full of men and women who were born gay and discovered that they have attraction to their own gender… No, this is a city of foul and debase creatures so sick and demented that they’ve trained their children to rape visitors. For pity’s sake, stop thinking of Sodom as a “city full of gay people” and start recognizing what the story is trying to tell you. It’s a city full of evil people. And again, if you shrug your shoulders and brush this off and just think, “what’s the difference?” then I don’t know what to say to you. That’s just sad. (Not to mention wrong and factually inaccurate).

It’s Not About Sex, It’s About Power and Control  –  If you’ve ever watched Criminal Minds, or CSI, or any of those procedural dramas, you’ve probably come across episodes dealing with rape. And what do they always tell you (especially in Criminal Minds)? The attacker does not rape their victims because they are attracted to them (even if in some cases there is an attraction). Rape is not about sex, it’s about power and control. It’s about anger, hatred and sometimes vengeance. Even more so, gang rape is not about attraction or sex. It is about exerting your power and control over someone else. We know that in ancient cultures it was a common practice for the victorious armies to rape the defeated armies (often the generals or other high ranking officials). This was not because the one army was full of gay men (well maybe it was, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell didn’t exist yet). No, it was a tactic that announced in no uncertain terms that “we won and we now control you… you are weak and we are strong.” In this story we have two visitors entering an evil-infested city at night. The men and boys of Sodom wanted not to have sex with them because they were attracted to them, but they wanted to show their power and control. Exert their might and show dominance. When you consider it was gang-rape these men and boys wanted to do, and when you consider the cultural practice of raping outsiders and foreigners to show your power and control over them, it becomes harder and harder to argue a case that these men were homosexuals and God destroyed the cities because of homosexuality. It wasn’t about sex. It wasn’t about homosexuality. Rape has nothing to do with a loving relationship. It was about power and control. Big difference.

Gay Men Don’t Want to Have Sex with Women  –  One thing traditionalists point to as evidence for their interpretation is that when Lot offered his daughters to the men they refused. Well, since they didn’t want to have sex with two girls, but instead wanted to have sex with two men, then clearly they must be gay. Case closed. Burn the place down. Since I’ve already shown that this story has nothing to do with attraction and sex, I will point out here that what is often overlooked is the very nature of Lot’s offer. If Lot lived with these people for 20 years, and knew them all by name, and knew that they were gay (assuming the traditional perspective for the moment), then why on earth would he offer them two girls? If they are gay men wanting to have gay gang-rape sex with two other men, why would Lot think they would have any interest in his daughters? Very illogical. And before you can argue back, it should also be acknowledged that assuming (as I am) that Lot knew the men and knew they only wanted to rape the men out of a sickness and evilness for the sake of power and control (and twisted fun?), then it also wouldn’t make sense for him to offer his daughters. Because that would not have satisfied their desire to exercise dominance over the visitors.  So why did Lot offer his daughters? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a last ditch effort to protect the two men. Hospitality was such an incredibly huge thing for people in the ancient world (especially the Hebrew people) that he might have been trying any idea possible to prevent what clearly would have been the most egregious breach of hospitality. But if they were homosexuals, then Lot would have known they were homosexuals and therefore would not have offered his daughters as a consolation prize.

There’s Nothing Gay About This Story 

Nothing in Genesis 19 states or even suggests that the men and/or women of Sodom were people who were born with same-sex attractions.

Nothing in Genesis 19 states or even suggests that the men and/or women of Sodom were practicing a gay lifestyle.

If you were to have crashed on a desert island as a baby and grow up all by yourself with nothing but coconuts and a Bible that washed ashore, you would not read this story and come to the following conclusion: the people of Sodom were gay… and since they practiced homosexuality God clearly destroyed them.

No, the only way you can logically make a connection like that is if you already come to this story with the presupposition that homosexuality in any form is wrong, evil, sinful, etc. Then, and only then, would you read this story and in it find confirmation that God destroyed them because of homosexuality. But at that point, you are merely proof texting and practicing good ol’ eisegesis.

Genesis 19 is a story about (among other things) a society that was completely out of sync with the heart of God. A debase and deviant people, where they would regularly gang rape visitors. Where they would abuse their children in such fashions that they would also take part in acts of evil such as gang rape. A people deserving, in the eyes of the author, of the judgment of God. A conclusion supported by other Biblical authors.

But not because of homosexuality. The text just simply does not support such a conclusion. Not only that, but other Scripture passages give us even further insight in to why God acted out such harsh judgment on the peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Speaking of “other Biblical writers” who weigh in on the destruction of Sodom, it will precisely be to that that we will turn in the second half of Part III.

To be continued…

Part II – UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible

Presenting the Clobber Passages

Last week I launched a new blog series wherein I will embark on finally addressing my understanding of what the Bible says (and does not say) about homosexuality. I’m already thrilled at the response… most of it has been very positive.

I know you are itching to jump in to the Bible already, but I do want to lay just a bit more groundwork and provide an overview of the Clobber Passages.

Because the Bible Says So

So you want to find out what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, because just recently you read an article about gay marriage, or about a church hiring a gay pastor, or because one of your childhood friends recently came out of the closet. Whatever the context may be, many of us have been there. Somewhere in the confines of our brain we know that homosexuality is wrong, but we admit to ourselves that we can’t immediately point to which verse in Scripture says so. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll usually discover that we don’t recall ever actually coming to this conclusion on our own, because of our own study of the Text. Rather, we probably just picked up this belief somewhere along the way: parents, youth pastor, a sermon here or a book there.

Like all good Christians we feel obligated to be prepared in season and out of season to give a defense for what we believe. And so we pull out our Bible app on our iPhone and type in “homosexuality.”

Depending on which translation we are searching, we discover (disappointingly so) only two verses come up.

“Surely there’s more than that,” we mutter.

So we get more creative and turn to Google (or Bing, if you’re the type of person that likes to try and get ahead of the curve so that you can tell your friends, “oh I’ve been using Bing for years.” Newsflash: Bing will never surpass Google. Give it up). In the search field we type, “homosexuality in the Bible,” or “why is gay a sin,” or “gay verses in the Bible.” And this looks a little more promising, for now we find a myriad of articles and websites that list all the verses in Scripture that address the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Excitedly we start clicking around, preparing to formulate the arguments in our minds and prepping to memorize the Bible verses in anticipation of our next conversation with our gay aunt, Becky, who shows up at Thanksgiving with her partner.

To our dismay, our list has grown from only two, to a paltry six (or seven, or even eight, depending on who is making the list).

Nonetheless, we press on. Determined to find in our Bible the support for what we’ve always known to be true: homosexuality is a sin. Because the Bible says so.

Underwater Basket-Weaving

Some interesting Bible facts:

There are 66 books in the Bible.
1,189 chapters, and
31,173 verses

Of those 66 books, only 5 books mention (or appear to mention) the issue of homosexuality.

No big deal. That’s decent. Lots of biblical stuff gets less coverage than 5 books.

But to take it further, of the 1,189 chapters, only 5 chapters in the Bible mention (or appear to mention) homosexuality. That’s only one chapter out of each book that’s referenced.

Even more interesting is that, of the 31,173 verses in the Bible, only 6(!) mention (or appear to mention) the issue of homosexuality! That’s 0.0002% of the verses in the Bible!

Okay. You’re not impressed.

Let me illustrate anyways what that might be like.

I’ll use the example of San Jose State University. They have an enrollment of 31,280 (similar to the number of verses in the Bible). Of the graduating seniors last year, the most popular fields of study were Business Administration and Management (2,930 students), Library Science (874 students), Education (852 students), Computer Software (802 students), and Electronics and Communications (622 students).

Using the stats of how many “homosexual verses” are in the Bible, this would be equivalent to having 6 students studying, let’s say, underwater basket-weaving at the University of San Jose State. Six students, out of 31,280. With only one (perhaps two?) of those students graduating last year. 1 student with a degree in underwater basket-weaving.

The way you hear some Christians talk about homosexuality, as though it is of significant importance to God, and by implication, greatly dealt with in the Bible, it would be like saying: “If you really want to study underwater basket-weaving, the place you need to attend is San Jose State University. That is THE PLACE to go.”

(Okay, okay, before you head straight to the comment section to complain, I realize this analogy is silly, and it breaks down eventually, and it doesn’t really compare. But I still find it amusing to think about, in real terms, how absurd it is that homosexuality is treated by many Christians as though it is this significant issue when, by contrast, it is barely mentioned in the Bible. So I kind of like my analogy.)

“Quantity doesn’t matter,” you might retort, even though you’re slightly deflated at the sheer lack of interest the Bible shows on the subject. “Quality is what matters. The point is, these verses clearly say that homosexuality is a sin. So what if it isn’t mentioned much, because when it is, it is clear.

But is it?

Really?

I don’t think it is. And I believe, if you read this series with an open mind, at the end of it you’ll discover it is much less clear than how you currently believe it is.

To Clobber or Not to Clobber

So what ARE these six verses/passages? In order, they are:

Traditionally, these are the passages of Scripture that people reference when defending their position that homosexuality is a sin.

Six passages.

One is a story. Two are part of an ancient law established for a people group thousands of years ago. And three are within the context of Paul’s writings to early churches.

And when church going folk want to clobber gays with “proof” that they are abominations to God and God’s creation, it is to these passages that they turn. For somehow, in their minds, these verses are an affirmation that gays are sinners and/or the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination.

Let me be clear for a moment. I wholeheartedly believe that these passages of Scripture have something to say to us today. I believe that there is inherent value, truth, guidance and applicable realities to be found in these six passages. And throughout this series I hope that I can share precisely what we do find when we wrestle with and interpret these passages. They DO SAY SOMETHING. So don’t misunderstand me and think that I am setting out to dismiss these six passages. Remember, I’m moving forward with a high view of Scripture (as discussed in last weeks post). I’m not interested in the argument, “well so what if that’s what it says… we don’t have to listen to it.”

No, no. These verses say something. Absolutely.

I’m just convinced they don’t say what traditionalists want them to say. Or assume they say. Or misleadingly teach that they say.

I Say “Homosexuality,” You Probably Think “Gay Man Sex”

For whatever reason (and I’m sure there are reasons), the majority of people seem to associate the word “homosexuality” with “two men having sex.” Meaning, if you were to drop “homosexuality” in conversation with someone, chances are that person’s mind goes straight towards the association of two men having sex.

In contrast, should I say “heterosexuality,” there’s a good chance that what comes to your mind is something akin to: the word that describes the fact that people are attracted to the opposite sex.

I think we do something with the word “homosexuality” that we do not do with “heterosexuality,” and that is that we debase the concept and overly simplify it to one type of situational (sexual) activity. We think bigger about “heterosexuality,” and I’d like to challenge the reader to begin to try and do that with the word “homosexuality.”

Let’s elevate the conversation to consider aspects of a relationship beyond just the sex between partners.

I say all this because I think an important question as we move forward in our diving in to the Clobber Passages is, “does the author of this text have in mind a loving, committed, monogamous relationship between two consenting adults?” Because that is what I argue is a starting point for what a good, pure, holy relationship is. And if the biblical authors aren’t addressing that, then what exactly are they talking about? Can we, as reasonable thinking people, separate the concepts of “two gay people having sex” with “two consenting adults in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship.” We do it with heterosexuality, and I encourage you to at least try and do it with homosexuality as well. It will help in our study.

The Plan

As we delve in to each of the Clobber Passages, some of the questions we’ll be asking are:

  •             Who was writing this story/passage
  •             To whom were they writing
  •             When were they writing
  •             What is the context of this passage within the whole chapter/book
  •             Do these passages address the issue of homosexuality, and if so, how
  •             Do they talk about a loving, committed relationship, or something else
  •             How is this applicable to us today

If you place yourself somewhere within the traditional camp then you would expect to find in these six passages a clear message that homosexuality is a sin. Perhaps not as your only reasoning for your position, but certainly a significant aspect of it.

But if we refuse to start with the presupposition that homosexuality is a sin, and allow the text to speak for itself, I firmly believe that what will emerge is most certainly not a clear statement on the sinfulness of two people of the same gender partaking in a loving, committed, monogamous, God-honoring relationship.

We will find statements that speak to sinful behavior. But if we let the meaning emerge from the text, rather than putting meaning in to the text, I promise you that we won’t find support for the traditionalist perspective.

If the Winds of Change Start Blowin’

I fully acknowledge that Christians throughout history have developed arguments against homosexuality using more than just the Clobber Passages (most specifically, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions). However, I won’t have the time or space to reach in to those areas.

I say this because I know that, even if I do succeed for some people in opening their eyes to a fresh (for them) understanding of the Clobber Passages, it very well may not be enough to change their theological position. And that’s okay.

But what it may do, is that it may begin to cast a sneaky shadow on their old beliefs about this issue. It may cause a chink in the armor, allowing light and air to breathe in to recesses of their mind and heart that previously were shut tight with the Truth. It may be a catalyst for further prayer, investigation, and questions.

For others, however, their position on homosexuality lives and dies with the Bible. They have all their chips placed in the basket labeled, “The Bible says it, so God says it, so I believe it.” And I wonder what is at stake for that person? If you are reading this, and you would describe your sole reason for believing homosexuality to be a sin “because the Bible says so,” then how might you respond if you learn the Bible might, in fact, not say so?

Are you prepared to do the hard, and probably painful, work necessary to allow your heart, soul and mind to be transformed? Will you see the Clobber Passages in a new light and, as a result, see gay people in a new light? Or will you insist on holding on to your truth that homosexuality is a sin? Will you make the conscious choice to, in light of new and compelling evidence, continue to maintain that even if the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality in all its manifestations, I still will.

Basically, I’m asking this: if you currently find your reasoning for your position on homosexuality from the Bible, what will you do if the Bible presents an entirely different reasoning?

I think that is a fair and genuine question to ask yourself.

I’m not saying you’ll be convinced. I’m not elevating myself to some awesome status whereby I’ll be able to change your mind with brilliant exegesis and reasoning.

I have no idea how you’ll think or feel at the end of this series.

But, I encourage you to start by asking

What will I do with my beliefs if I become challenged that the Bible doesn’t say what I always thought it said? 

The Clobber Passages, long thought to hold the key to defending the sinfulness of homosexuality, long used to beat down gay people with a message of shame, long assumed to give a clear biblical position on homosexuality, have been used in these ways long enough.

It is time to unClobber our gay brothers and sisters.

Coming Up

We’ve laid the groundwork for where we will be going.
I’ve stated my purpose for this series and why I’m doing it.
The foundation for the Clobber Passages has been laid, and we are ready to start getting in to the meat of it.

Next post we’ll begin our survey with Genesis 19. The story of God smiting Sodom and Gomorrah.

I invite you to spend some time reading in advance.

Read through the story several times. And do your best to come at it as though you’ve never read it (or heard it) before.

Pay attention to what is going on in the story. Who is there, and what do they do? What happens in the story? What is the conflict, and what is the resolution? Why might God have rained sulfur and fire on these cities?

Is Genesis 19 a legitimate source for decrying homosexuality?

Part I – UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible

Introduction

As announced on Monday, I will be launching a new blog series called, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible.

My hope is to spend the next few weeks sharing with you some of the insights I’ve gained through my study of homosexuality in the Bible.

This could possibly be one of the most important issues of our generation, and while some may be content to ignore it or dismiss it, I feel compelled to be a voice calling out for love, for understanding, for education, for compassion.

I follow Jesus as best I can. And this, my friends, is where I believe Jesus is currently leading me. And so, as unpopular as it may be, I am following.

And I invite you to as well.

“Is homosexuality a sin?”

That question, all four words of it, are for many Christians the first four words and (sadly) the last four words in a conversation about homosexuality. There is essentially only one question to ask, and depending on how you answer it you will either find yourself on their side or against them. Furthermore, what most people mean when they ask this question is, “Is homosexual sex a sin?”

I’ve been asked this question a lot lately, and I hesitate to answer it, because I’m much more interested in elevating the conversation than I am trying to boil it down to a simple “yes” or “no.” It’s not so much that the question is not important, rather I get frustrated that it’s the only question so many Christians care about.

When I reply back with, “well, it’s not that simple… I can’t really say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” this is what I mean:

Imagine I were to ask you,  “is heterosexuality is a sin?”

How might you respond?

You certainly would not be content with just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Neither of those answers would make sense or do justice to the question. Probably your answer would involve some version of the following: “Within the context of a loving, committed, monogamous relationship/marriage, then of course two people of the opposite sex having sex is not sinful. But if it’s heterosexual activity outside those confines, then I would say that it is a sin.”

So is heterosexuality (sexual activity between people of the opposite sex) a sin?

Sometimes yes.
Sometimes no.

Likewise, if you ask me is homosexuality (sexual activity between people of the same sex) a sin?

Sometimes yes.
Sometimes no.

Most Christians I come across would not allow any space or nuance to answer the above question like I have when it comes to homosexuality. Using the Bible as their handbook, they feel confident that homosexuality is always a sin, no matter what.

I disagree.

In this series, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible, I won’t be covering every nuance of this issue. The scope is much too great, and my knowledge is far too thin. Rather, I’m going to target my approach specifically to wrestling with the handful of passages in the Bible that are commonly used in arguing the sinfulness of homosexuality. These passages are affectionately referred to as the Clobber Passages.

And let me say this, I realize there are several ways that the Bible gets used against homosexuality. (Pause… re-read that last sentence. Don’t you just inherently feel queasy inside with the sentiment of using the Bible against something or someONE? Ugh… I do). Utilizing the Clobber Passages is just one approach to arguing for the sinfulness of homosexuality, and I believe it is the weakest approach (as this series aims to point out). There are other ways people go about it (from a covenantal perspective or from an ‘image of God’ perspective, for example) but I’m less interested in that for the time being.  I also recognize that in other traditions (i.e Catholic, Orthodox, etc) utilizing the Bible is only one of several avenues by which they argue against homosexuality. Again, that will not be the focus of this series.

I’m interested in unsettling the way that many Christians use the Clobber Passages to argue against homosexuality.

What are the Questions Being Asked?

Entertaining the above question for just a moment (“is homosexuality a sin”), what assumptions are being made by the person/institution asking such a question? I think when someone asks that question they are doing so because in their mind they have been convinced (or told) that the Bible gives an answer to that question. The Bible, it is presumed, gives a definitive answer to the question “is homosexuality a sin.”

If that were the case, then one would expect to find both a quantity and quality of passages in the Scriptures that effectively and clearly support such a proposition. One would expect that there exist enough texts, or at least enough clear and good texts. Or, perhaps if there aren’t very many texts, at least there ought be a few really clear and simple ones. And vice versa, if there aren’t any really good and clear passages, then perhaps there is at least a vast quantity of texts to gather together. Either way, the assumption is that the Bible is sufficient to provide an answer (which would be a “yes”) to the question “is homosexuality a sin.”

So then, how many texts actually speak to this issue? And of those texts, are there any that are clear and easily understood to sufficiently answer “yes” to the above question? For if we (the church) are going to assume such a position (that homosexuality is a sin) then we should probably make sure the Biblical ground we are standing on is secure. And if it is not (which I’m setting out to demonstrate), then where does that leave us? Can we still answer the above question? Should we still answer the above question? Are there other, more important questions that deserve our time, energy, and attention?

The Purpose of This Series

Over the course of the next few weeks I would like to go through each of the Clobber Passages and attempt to demonstrate that the “traditional” reading of these texts completely miss the point, and in no way present a reliable or reasonable case for the sinfulness of homosexuality.

(Timeout: It is helpful to define, when necessary, the terms that we use. When I say the “traditional position,” I’m referring to the conservative Christian viewpoint that presumes there is a Biblical position, backed by the Text, that pronounces homosexuality to be a sin. However, within this “tradition” there is admittedly a range of ways that this belief is expressed. For instance, on one extreme you have those that would say just being gay is an abomination, and that person will spend forever burning in hell (i.e. the folks of Westboro Baptist). Then, perhaps on the other end, you have folks that acknowledge that just to be gay is not an inherently sinful reality, but to act on that gay-ness in any way is a sin. A gay person’s lot in life, under this view, is to live a life of celibacy and sacrifice, never knowing or expressing love. The point being, that in any “traditional” view on homosexuality, the Bible clearly gives an answer regarding its sinfulness.)

I’ll be offering (for some, at least) fresh readings of the text that bring to light alternative understanding of the Clobber Passages. By pointing to historical context, textual context, and etymology, you will see that different (better?) interpretations of the Clobber Passages emerge naturally without any outside help or force.

By the end I hope to show that the burden lies on the traditionalist to show why we should still answer “yes” to the above question in light of the lack of biblical evidence. Brian McLaren, in his book “New Kind of Christianity,” refers to “fundasexualism” as a combative brand of religious fundamentalism that preoccupies itself with sexuality. Not all people who subscribe to a traditional understanding of the Clobber Passages would necessarily be fundasexualists, but my belief is that because the Bible does not provide evidence to answer “yes” to the above question, then Christians need to consider that and re-consider their stance on the issue of homosexuality. Or at the very least, cease using the Clobber Passages as proof texts to declare homosexuality a sin.

Who Will Read this Series

This series isn’t for everyone. I get it.

But some of the types of people who might be interested are:

  • Christians who have friends or family members that have come out of the closet, and maybe for the first time are looking to the Bible to really see if there’s reason to view their loved one as a “sinner,” like they’ve been told they should.
  • Christians who have grown up with the traditional perspective and never questioned it… until now. And they are thirsty for some fresh understandings that perhaps will resonate more closely with the world they live in.
  • Christians who, by nature, simply have an open mind and an open heart. They may not have spent much time thinking about homosexuality in the past, but somehow they made their way to this blog and figure, “heck, why not? I’m always open to hearing different perspectives.”
  • Christians who have had massive tension between what they feel to be true (that being gay isn’t a sin… that same-sex couples aren’t destined for hell… etc) and what they think they know to be true (the Bible, though, says it’s wrong).
  • Christians who cannot get behind the traditional perspective on this, but have never been given a way to understand the Bible differently with regards to the Clobber Passages.
  • Christians who have always believed some version of the traditional perspective on homosexuality, yet really respect other Christians who have come to different conclusions. They don’t understand how other Christians can read the same Bible and come to radically different conclusions, so they are genuinely interested in hearing someone like myself explain how I “deal” with the Clobber Passages.
  • People who are NOT Christians but are still interested in what some Christian thinkers think about homosexuality.
  • People who are gay and have never had someone affirm them. Never had someone say, “you don’t have to listen to those in your life that would seek to shame you and defeat you by throwing Bible verses at you.”
  • My mom. She’ll read it. She reads everything I write. Thanks mom.

Who Won’t Read this Series

On the flip side, I’m convinced there are many people who have no interest in a series like this. Such as:

  • Christians who have always believed the traditional perspective on the Bible and homosexuality and see no reason to question it. They rarely question anything in their Christianity. Because “questioning” something shows a lack of faith, and that displeases God.
  • Christians who have a vested interest in making sure the answer is always “yes” to the above question. Some people would be taking a huge risk in questioning the traditional position on homosexuality. Some people might lose friends, family members, their jobs, respect, belonging in a church, etc.
  • Christians who, quite frankly, are lazy. They don’t see this issue as being all that important, and don’t understand why it’s worth discussing.
  • Christians who are afraid of what they’ll find. Most people in life, if you press them, will admit that sometimes they avoid learning about certain issues because they know that once they know they won’t be able to go back. Like people who put off seeing Food Inc., because they know that if they do then they will be forced to change their eating habits. And people don’t want to change their eating habits. And Christians don’t want to have to face the possibility that perhaps they might just be wrong on this issue. Fear is HUGE in this discussion. Huge.
  • Christians who think “there couldn’t POSSIBLY be anything true to what this guy has to say. The Bible is CLEAR on this issue, and even entertaining such notions as this guy proposes is like flirting with the devil.” *shudder… scary.
  • Christians who fear the “slippery slope.” They think that an alternative reading of the Clobber Passages threatens the inerrancy of Scripture. To question the “sinfulness” of homosexuality is to question the very integrity and inerrancy of the Bible. This is to be avoided at all costs. If you’re okay with “gays” then you no longer “believe in the Bible” (whatever the hell that means). So, in an effort to avoid questioning the inerrancy of Scripture, they avoid questioning homosexuality.
  • People who can’t handle reading about sex. Especially about gay people having sex. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Some people just plain get uncomfortable with the topic, and feel icky just reading about it. So they don’t.
  • People who don’t like to read. Or, at least don’t like to read long stuff. Perhaps when I’m done, I’ll make an abridged version, “For Dummies” if you will. Maybe add some pictures.

Outline for the Series

Here’s the basic outline of what to expect in the upcoming series. Of course, as author and administrator, I reserve the right to add/change/or delete anything I want.

Part I: Introducing UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible
That’s this post. Just establishing what the series will be like.

Part II: The Clobber Passages
Laying out the Clobber Passages, how they’ve been used, and.

Part III: Sodom and Gomorrah
God genocided a city because of homosexuality. Right??

Part IV: The Levitical Law
Ancient purity laws involving shrimp and sex (although preferably not together)

Part V: Paul and Homosexuality
What’s with that goofy Greek word arsenokoitai?

Part VI: Romans
Save the best for last. This is the standard go-to passage.

Part VII: For Your Consideration
A look at a few other passages worth considering

Part VIII: Learning to UnClobber
If the Clobber Passages can no longer clobber, what do we do?

Before We Begin

I will be taking a few things for granted in this series. As I stated above, this will be a specifically targeted series, and I can’t (nor do I want to) try and address everything about the issues related to homosexuality.

Homosexuality is real – I am coming from the position that gay people exist. I will be taking for granted that some people really truly are gay, and it’s not because they “choose” to be gay. This understanding is becoming less and less disputed in the Christian world, and not at all in the secular world. It is just understood that some people are gay (most estimates are as low as 2% of the population or as high as 10%). Rare nowadays is the person who still thinks that every human ever born is heterosexual, and that some just choose to be attracted towards the same-sex. And if you are that person, who doesn’t believe that gay people actually exist, then just be aware that I won’t be using this series to convince you otherwise. There are plenty of sites and resources out there that prove that homosexuality is a real thing, and that people who are gay are gay because that’s how they were born and, in part, raised (by nature and nurture).

It also should be noted that the Bible ought not be expected to give us evidence for whether or not there really are homosexual people. The Bible cannot answer this question for us. The Bible doesn’t even try. Gender identity and sexual orientation are fairly recent categorical dimensions, but they describe and help frame for us an ancient reality. There have always been gay people, throughout all of history, and in all cultures (even within the animal kingdom). So the Bible should not be expected to help answer the question, “are people truly homosexual, or are they just heterosexuals who are attracted to the same-sex?” Nor can it be expected to help answer “how are people gay? What makes them that way?”

The best we can hope for (if anything at all) from the Bible, on this issue, is to try and ascertain what God expects for those born with same-sex attraction. That is generally the position most Christians assume: the Bible doesn’t tell us why people are gay, or what exactly that means, but it does tell us what God’s view towards such people/actions are.

High View of Scripture – There are basic fundamentals to interpreting Scripture. And I will try to implement those in this series. When digging in to Scripture, it’s important that we follow some boundaries and guidelines, otherwise we end up just “proof texting” (a method where you search the Bible for a specific verse/word/etc to support a specific belief or idea). Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, it’s popular to proof text. Search Google for “homosexuality,” find a Bible verse, and declare the matter settled. I will be taking for granted the fact that this approach is simply naïve, ignorant, and insufficient.

I have a high view of Scripture. I believe the Bible is inspired by God, and has great profit for teaching, admonishing, correction and training women and men in the ways of right living. I believe the Bible is authoritative for the believer, and reveals to us the Word of God, Jesus. (I tell you this, because I’ve run in to more than one person who assumes that anyone who thinks like I do about homosexuality clearly has a low view of Scripture, doesn’t think it’s the Word of God, and doesn’t know how to read it and know the Truth).

So moving forward we will be assuming that there are some people who are truly gay, and that the Bible is not a source that seeks to affirm or deny this reality. And I will be working within a framework that has the highest view of Scripture and seeks to utilize generally agreed upon fundamentals of interpretation.

This Works Best With You

Hopefully you’ll accept my invitation to engage with this series.

Leave your comments, questions and concerns in the comment section.
I’ll try to answer as many questions as I can.

Share the blog posts with your friends and family.
Even if it’s to say, “hey everyone, check out this wacko!”

Because you never know who might be desperate for the things I’ll be discussing.

And as we engage with this potentially divisive topic, I encourage you to keep an open mind and an open heart. And to keep love and kindness and respect as driving motivators should you choose to interact.

This will all be much more meaningful, interesting, and fun if you choose to join the conversation or share it with others who might be interested.

Thanks for reading.

Out of the Theological Closet

Upcoming New Blog Series

Those of you who periodically read my blog, tune in to my Facebook, or follow me on Twitter may have noticed a recent increase in activity on posts, comments, links and stories relating to issues of homosexuality. Over the past few months I have been more and more openly dialoguing about this issue, and each time the conversation inevitably works its way around to the Bible. In almost every instance I am eventually asked things such as:

Why do you ignore what the Bible clearly teaches?

Where do you get your Biblical support for such beliefs?

What do you do with (insert passage here) this Bible verse?

And so on.

Sometimes they come in a snarky “read-this-passage-and-you’ll-be-fixed” sort of way (implying, I guess, that I just never knew such verses exist??).

But mostly the questions are posed in a “genuinely-curious-about-your-perspective” sort of way.

I’ve briefly mentioned here and there some of my thoughts and perspectives on what the Bible teaches (or doesn’t teach) about homosexuality. But each time I end up wishing I had more space, more time, to really do justice to what I’ve discovered over the past few years.

And so, I am beginning a series of blog posts to deal directly with the issue of the Bible and homosexuality, titled, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible.

As you’ll soon discover, if you aren’t already aware, there are only a handful of places in Scripture that address (or appear to address) the issue of homosexuality. These are commonly referred to as the “clobber passages” (I’ll let you guess why that’s so). I won’t be breaking any new ground, most of what I will be writing about has already been written. But perhaps you have never read them before, or never heard the clobber passages broken down in a different way. So I will add my voice to the discussion in hopes that some of you will be exposed in a new way to what the Bible says, and doesn’t say, about homosexuality.

Why this series, on this issue, and why now?

Several months ago I was promptly fired from the church I pastored for five years when they discovered my theological position on homosexuality. During my time there, I did not discuss my views with anybody other than my wife and a few of our closest non-staff friends. I knew my position would be controversial, and probably not accepted or tolerated, so I kept it to myself. However, once I was “outed” and swiftly terminated, I realized my time for silence on this issue was over. I now feel previously unfelt liberty to share my beliefs, and finally able to speak openly about the journey that Christ has taken me and my wife on over the past 6 years.

I am, if you will, out of the theological closet.

And it feels amazing. As hard as it was to lose my job, lose friendships, and lose much of my identity, what I’ve gained back (in the freedom to be open about my convictions on such issues) is incredibly beautiful. I have felt, for years now, this strange conviction (placed only by God’s Spirit, I promise you) to be an active voice in the conversation that is emerging between the LGBT community (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) and the Christian church. However, I have not been in a place where I could do that… until now.

So I invite you to join me in this journey. Participate in this dialogue.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my blog (there is a button on the right side bar. Click it.) and be emailed when a new post goes up.
Friend me on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter. And check in each time a new post has been added to this series.

But don’t just read them (although that IS a good place to start).

Interact with them. Share your thoughts in the comment section. Ask questions.

And then SHARE this blog with your friends and family. At the end of every post there are ‘share’ options for emailing, blogging, or posting it straight to your Facebook wall.
I promise you there are more people out there desperate to have these sorts of conversations (and even more desperate for alternative understandings of the Bible) than you can possibly imagine.

I think this issue is of the utmost importance. Not only for our society today, but even more so for the church. For the Bride of Christ.

If we’ve been wrong on this issue (like we’ve been on issues before), then we need to quickly right the ship and start moving forward in peace, hope and love.

Hopefully you’ll stick around and hear me out.

I think you’ll be surprised at what there is to learn about the Bible and homosexuality as we seek to UnClobber our brothers and sisters.

Part I: Setting Up the Series

Part II: The Clobber Passages

Part IIIa: Sodom and Gomorrah the Story

Part IIIb: Sodom and Gomorrah and the Bible

Part IV: Levitical Law and Abomination

Part V: Paul and Homosexuality

Part VI: But Romans is So Clear!

Part VII: Other Bible-related Thoughts