You Keep Using That Phrase...

Ben is the son of a minister. When he was nine years old he asked his mother with the word gay meant. She described exactly what he was feeling.

 And then she said, “it is an abomination unto God.”

 “It was like telling a nine-year-old that they are broken,” he said.  “I remember being on the kitchen floor just crying, praying to God to make me normal. That’s how I looked at it – if it’s this bad for me to be this way, why did God make me? I wished I were dead.”

 When he finally came out to his parents at age 16 they sent him to a Christian school across the country where he began reparative therapy. All of this reinforced the idea that he was flawed and that he was a mistake and that “the people closest to me thought I needed to be fixed.”

In 2007, Barna Group – a Christian research group asked people to describe in one word what they thought of when they thought of Christianity.

91% of non-Christians and 80% OF CHRISTIANS said Christians were HOMOPHOBIC.

In September of 2014, Rolling stone magazine ran an article on gay teens.[1] In the article they write that Center for American progress is reported there between 320,000 400,000 homeless LGBT youth in the United States. One study estimates that up to 40% of LGBT homeless youth leave home due to family rejection

the trevor project[2]  - aa national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth - reports:

• LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers.

• Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt.

• LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Biblical interpretation takes time and consideration. We don’t read it in its original language.

 St Jerome translated the original Greek and Hebrew into Latin, but there were blanks spots in the manuscripts he had, so he guessed – scholarly best guess perhaps – but guesses none the less.

 There are a number of words in Hebrew and Greek that don't have an exact match in English. There are words in Hebrew and Greek that could have multiple meanings depending on their context, so the interpretation of meaning is left to the person or group doing the translating.  

 Aside from the issues with translation, today we have different ideas about how human nature works, we have a conception of the "self" that the ancients didn't have; psychology and sociology have given us a way to understand ourselves and our society that that incomprehensible 2000 years ago. And, on the other hand, the way that the ancients related to the earth and nature and the way they constructed their societies seem fairly incomprehensible to us.

 This section of Genesis is one of handful of texts that are used to "prove" that homosexuality is a sin.  Some interpreters have decided that this and a small handful of texts including those from Leviticus, Romans, and 1st Corinthians reveal and absolute condemnation of homosexuality.  These anti-gay verses are known as "the clobber passages" because they have been used to beat up people in the GLBTQ community for centuries.

Beaten up spiritually. Beaten up physically. Beaten up emotionally.  These are texts that are used to terrorize. These are texts that are used to justify all manner of violence and discrimination and hatred in the name of God.  These are the texts that justify parents sending their children to "reparative" or "conversion" therapy. Even people who say they aren't religious will base their hatred of people who are GLBTQ on these texts.

I've picked this particular text because it seems to be the "grand-daddy of them all."

For as long as I can remember, when I read this story, the anti-gay interpretation didn't make any sense.

I'm not the smartest kid in the class, but I could CLEARLY read that that Lot was sending his daughters out to be raped. That is one thing in the text that is COMPLETELY clear. 

What I didn’t know was that there are a few things happening in this story that must be ignored to accept that condemnation of homosexuality is the point of this story.  

The first thing you have to ignore is the role of hospitality in ancient Israel. Hospitality was woven into the very fabric of the way of life of the ancient Israelites. From an article from the Jewish Virtual Library, “hospitality was not merely a question of good manners, but a moral institution which grew out of the harsh desert and nomadic existence led by the people of Israel. Biblical law specifically sanctified hospitality toward the stranger who was to be made particularly welcome "for you were strangers in a strange land". Foreign travelers could count on the custom of hospitality.”[3] 

The second thing you have to ignore in this text is the role and status of women.  Women were property -- and with few,  extremely rare exceptions, had little power, and little social value and worth unless they were attached to a man – a father, husband or son. So this is why lot offers his VIRGIN daughters to the visitors.

One of the worst things you could be was a woman. Therefore, writes theologian Michael Carden, “the threatened rape of the visitors is an attempt to feminize them, thus declaring them to be ‘not real men.’ Lot offers his daughters in the place of his guests as an attempt to protect their masculinity and privilege. The women have no rights, no voice, no self-determination in this misogynist order.”[4]

 Bishop Shelby Spong wonders, “what society today would be willing to incorporate the practice of rape into their moral code? Who among us is willing to accept the definition of women implicit in this account?”[5]

Not only does the anti-gay interpretation make no sense on a simple reading of the text, it doesn’t make any sense if we look at the other instances of the mention of Sodom in other parts of scripture, either.

Isaiah tells the people of Sodom that they should seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.[6]

Jeremiah lists a number of ways in which the “sin of Sodom” means that the people have acted in a number of irresponsible ways[7] -- oppressing and manipulating and taking advantage the poor; acting arrogant.

In Ezekiel, the “sin of Sodom” could not be more clear and it could not be more plain that Sodom’s sin has nothing to do with homosexuality as we know it today. Says the prophet: 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

THESE are the abominations unto God.

The sin of Sodom is arrogance.

The sin of Sodom is allowing injustice.

The sin of Sodom is greed.

The sin of Sodom is hoarding while other starve.

The sin of Sodom is neglect of those who are most vulnerable.

Simply Being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender is not a sin. What is a sin is the way that interpretations of scripture and ideas about God have been twisted in ways that lead to violence against people who are GLBT. What is a sin is the way that interpretations of scripture and ideas about God have led to people thinking they are damaged, that they are hopeless. What is a sin is the way that interpretations of scripture and ideas about God have led to bullying so extreme it leads to suicide or murder.

A while back I was reading the beatitudes – the blessings in Matthew that Jesus gives to his followers.

He knew that he was asking a lot of them. He was very well aware that he was agitating and irritating the social order, stirring the pot. He knew that those in power, the ones who represented, maintained, and defended the political and religious institutions did not like much what he had to say and they certainly didn't seem to appreciate the way that he interpreted scripture. So, by giving these blessings, he was fortifying his listeners.

Blessed are the peacemakers – for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger for justice, you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep, for you will laugh.

Jesus was speaking to a people who were oppressed, shunned, abused, neglected. And he knew he was calling them to dangerous work. 

The irony is that the movement that came up after him –

in short order became the institutionalized, official, sanctioned religion --  

and instead of being the oppressed, it became the oppressor.

And because of this, when I look at my sisters and brothers who are transgender, who are gay, who are lesbian, who are bisexual, who are – for whatever reason – called "deviant" by that institution and its people –

when I look at my sisters and brothers who are mocked, and shunned and terrorized and legislated against in the name of Christianity –

when I think of them, Jesus statement, "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all the kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" takes on a whole newmeaning.

Caitlin Ryan is a clinical social worker with a PhD who lives in San Francisco[8]

she, and Mormon religion professor Robert Rees had been writing materials to persuade Mormon families to accept their gay children. Professor Rees had been temporarily banned from Mormon churches in Northern California for criticizing the that church’s position on proposition 8 – a proposition that struck down Gay marriage rights in California, and which was heavily backed by the Mormon church

in 2008 when Proposition 8 passed,  Dr. Ryan started the family acceptance Project – a program to help Mormon families accept their gay children. They would have open meetings called firesides.

Recently doctors rees and ryan were at one of these firesides attended about 175 people including the Searle family and their 15-year-old gay son, Zach.

In an article in the New York Times about Dr Rees and Dr Ryan, reporter Samuel Freedman wrote that When Zach came out to them the family thought they faced that harrowing choice – they could love their son and lose their church, they can love their church and lose their son.

 “when Zachary first came out,” Mrs Searle said, “I prayed for a miracle, that he would be changed. Then the miracle happened – my heart changed. I saw my son was loved by God. My prayer is that the church receives that revelation. The gay kids deserve all the same blessings as other Mormon kids.”

All of us at some point have made judgement about others.  The great Maya Angelou once said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Every day more and more churches are doing better. They are becoming openly and actively accepting of folks who are GLBT, publicly declaring a resistance to hurtful and hateful interpretations, and extending an open and welcoming inclusion to people who had previously known open exclusion.

Every day, more and more people are doing better and beginning to see realize that we are all God’s children, and that God loves us exactly the way we are for exactly who we are.

[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/the-forsaken-a-rising-number-of-homeless-gay-teens-are-being-cast-out-by-religious-families-20140903

[2] http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide

[3] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09260.html accessed 4/30/16

[4] Genesis, Queer Bible Commentary, Michael Cardin, p 37-38

[5] Spong, living in sin, p. 141-142

[6] Isaiah 1:17

[7] Interepretaiton – Genesis – Walter Breuggeman, p 124

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/13/us/social-worker-spreads-a-message-of-acceptance-to-mormons-with-gay-children.html