As Paul Varnell, a homosexual columnist and writer, says, "It can scarcely be doubted that the primary, and perhaps only sources of our culture's anti-gay hostility are the Christian denominations."
To counter this threat, some activists have undertaken a long-term strategy of capturing the Church from within, in order to use its longstanding moral authority as an instrument of change.
However, this approach has one glaring weakness. How could churches, which hold to beliefs that are presumably anchored in Scripture, be used by activists to condone something the Bible clearly condemns - namely, homosexuality?
The solution to that dilemma has been to allege that the Scriptures have been erroneously interpreted. Some activists claim that the mistaken assessments are the result of simple ignorance, while others, like the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the homosexually-oriented Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), assert there are more malevolent reasons. In his book, Don't Be Afraid Anymore, Perry said, "To condemn homosexuals, many denominations have intentionally misread and misinterpreted their Bibles to please their own personal preferences."
Smoke and Mirrors on Sodom
So what does the Bible actually say? Activists have taken great pains to provide alternative interpretations of the biblical passages that seem to clearly condemn homosexuality.
Of course, the obvious place to start is Sodom and Gomorrah. The familiar tale of the duo of doomed cities, recounted in Genesis 18 and 19, has made Sodom and Gomorrah synonymous with divine judgment. But the cities have become synonymous with something else, too: homosexuality. In fact, the word sodomy, which generally refers to unnatural sex acts (especially homosexual anal intercourse), is derived from the name of the city of Sodom.
This association comes from the events of Genesis 19. When two angels, in the form of men, came to Sodom to stay with Lot, the men of the city surrounded the house and asked, "Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them" (vs. 5, KJV).
Lot pleaded with them to reconsider their request, and - shockingly - even offered them his two virgin daughters instead. The men again demanded that the two newcomers be brought out, and even threatened Lot, after which the angels pulled Lot to safety and warned the man of God to take his family and flee Sodom. Fiery judgment then engulfed the two cities.
With such a biblical event casting its shadow over the theological landscape, how could "gay" advocates sidestep the obvious implication that God considered homosexuality a despicable sin?
Some simply deny that any type of sexuality - homosexual or heterosexual - is in view in the Sodom and Gomorrah saga. For example, in his book, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, Dr. Sherwin Bailey argues that the Hebrew word translated "know" in this verse does not refer to sex at all. Instead, the request on the part of the townsmen to "know" the visitors was merely a request to become acquainted with Lot's guests, especially since they were outsiders.
A proper exegesis of this passage reveals the ludicrous nature of this argument. Lot responded to the initial request by beseeching the men, "Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly" (vs. 7, NAS). This is hardly a comprehensible statement if all the men wanted to do was meet Lot's guests and start up a conversation.
Furthermore, as P. Michael Ukleja argues in Bibliotheca Sacra, with such a restricted meaning for "know," Lot's offer of his daughters to the men of the city (itself a disgraceful act) would be inexplicable.
The more common approach for activists, however, has been to argue that the sin here in Genesis is not homosexuality per se, but homosexual rape. "Violence -- forcing sexual activity upon another - is the real point of this story," said lesbian English professor Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, co-author of the book Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?
Mollenkott is not completely off the mark, for the story does demonstrate that the men of Sodom, after being rebuffed by Lot, fully intended to sexually brutalize Lot's visitors.
However, Mollenkott misses the obvious: what if Lot's two visitors had been agreeable to the initial suggestion of carnal knowledge with the men of the city? There is nothing in the Genesis account to suggest that the resulting homosexual orgy would have been forced. The homosexuals wanted sex with the strangers, and they would take it any way they could get it; but they were homosexuals.
In any case, it was not one incident alone that led to the demise of Sodom and Gomorrah. As clearly seen in Genesis 18, God had already stated that the sin of the cities was "exceedingly grave" (vs. 20). Even before the two angels showed up in Sodom, the Lord had already targeted the cities for destruction. The divine intention to "sweep away" all who lived there (vs. 23) was what led Abraham to plead for mercy in that passage's memorable example of intercession.
An Inhospitable Folk?
So what were the "exceedingly grave" sins which led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Most Christians would be surprised to hear an interpretation of these events that did not even include the issue of homosexuality - but that is precisely what many activists offer.
"Many contemporary [scholars] agree that the Old Testament story about the destruction of Sodom cannot be read as a lesson about divine punishment of same-sex copulation. If any lesson is wanted from the story, the lesson would seem to be about hospitality," said Mark D. Jordan, Emory University professor of religion.
As bizarre as that assertion might seem at first, Jordan's explanation is worth investigating. In Ezekiel 16:49-50, the prophet addresses the sins of Israel by pointing to the sins of Sodom: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it."
Ezekiel clearly links Sodom's judgment - at least in part - to the city's pride and luxurious lifestyle, and the inhabitants' refusal to help those in need.
Do we have two conflicting accounts of Sodom's guilt in Scripture? Does Genesis focus on homosexuality, while the prophet Ezekiel accuses the city's inhabitants of pride and inhospitality?
The two passages are actually in agreement, for Ezekiel does not ignore the issue of homosexuality at all. The prophet's reference to the fact that Sodom "committed abominations" before God is no doubt a reference to the inhabitants' homosexual proclivities - especially with the Genesis story in the minds of Ezekiel's hearers. After all, the Jews understood "abomination" as a common way of referring to grotesque sexual sin like homosexuality (Lev. 18:22).
Therefore, rather than being an unexpected revision of Scriptural history, Ezekiel's reference to Sodom is a clear explanation of it, adding to the Genesis account, rather than contradicting it. The "arrogant self-indulgence" of Sodom's citizens contributed to the sexual perversion.
In fact, this supposition fits more reasonably within the context of Ezekiel's denunciation of Israel - who, after all, is the real subject of the prophet's preaching. Israel's harlotries and abominations, clearly laid out in the earlier portions of Ezekiel 16, are tied to the unfaithful nation's own wealth and material blessings (vv. 10-14). Such luxury and arrogance, therefore, can lead to sexual perversion, and that would be the precise impact of Ezekiel's reference to Sodom.
However, the attempt to deflect away from homosexuality the horror of the judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah receives its fatal blow from the New Testament. In verses which even Jordan calls "problematic," the epistles of both 2 Peter and Jude link Sodom's guilt to carnality and sexual perversion.
In 2 Peter 2, the apostle said the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah should serve as an example to the wicked of every generation (vs. 6). Lot, he said, continually witnessed "the sensual conduct of unprincipled men," who, among other things, "indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires" (vv. 7, 10).
Jude 7 makes the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah even more explicit: the inhabitants "indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh," and what could be stranger than men fornicating with other men?
While the two cursed cities may have been judged for more than their homosexuality, there is no legitimate way to remove homosexuality from the list of sins that doomed them.
The Deadly Sin
Openly homosexual Rev. Peter J. Gomes, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University, also insists on reinterpreting the Sodom and Gomorrah story. In The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind, which argues for Christianity's acceptance of homosexuality, Gomes says that even Jesus "was under the impression that Sodom was destroyed because it lacked hospitality."
His proof? Gomes cites Matthew 10, in which the Lord Jesus prepared his disciples to go forth and preach the gospel among the cities of Israel. Some cities, of course, would reject the message of the kingdom, but the disciples were simply to turn away from them.
"Truly I say to you," Jesus warned ominously, "it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city" (vs. 15). In Gomes' mind, Jesus' reference to the destruction of the doomed cities is yet another warning against inhospitality.
Gomes' exegesis is inexcusably poor. Jesus did not use the judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah as an indictment against inhospitality, but as a warning against rejecting the gospel. As Brian Fitzpatrick argues in the Lambda Report, it is the severity of the Old Testament judgment that is in Jesus' view, not the reasons for it.
Ironically, in turning to Matthew 10 in an attempt to excuse Sodom and Gomorrah, Gomes has laid the groundwork for his own judgment. In rejecting the necessity of repentance (by homosexuals) for entrance into the kingdom of God, he has placed himself in the position of the very cities to which Jesus referred in Matthew 10.
Homosexual activists like Gomes, by repudiating the obvious meaning of Scripture, run the risk of committing the most deadly sin of all - unbelief.
Ed Vitagliano, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is news editor of AFA Journal, a publication of the American Family Association. This article appeared originally in the November/December 2003 issue.
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