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Thursday, February 19, 2004

Using the Bible to mask bigotry

I want to get into the heart of the same-sex marriage debate, which is the claim that God forbids homosexuality, and same-sex marriage by extension. But I quickly want to hit two points.


1. People have been decrying the recent marriages in San Francisco, accusing the mayor of creating anarchy. I look at this more as an act of civil disobedience. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, plenty of government officials in the North refused to enforce the law. Was that also creating anarchy? Of course not. Rather, it was resistance against what they felt was a morally invalid law. The mayor of San Francisco is doing the same thing, resisting a morally invalid law.

2. An argument being made against same-sex marriage is that they can't have children. If you believe that procreation is central to marriage, then you have to logically extend that thought. All people who wish to be married must prove their fertility. Also, no barren women, sterile men, or the elderly should be allowed to wed since they can't procreate. Is this what marriage is supposed to be about. No. The procreation argument is so weak that I am surprised that people use it.


Okay, enough about that. I want to start delving into the passages of the Bible that some people use to validate their bigotry towards gays and lesbians. And in doing so, let me say that all this information can be found at religioustolerance.org, a wonderful site that helped me really pull my thoughts together.


The first, and most commonly cited, is the story of the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is found in Genesis 19. It has been cited so often that we have sodomy laws, which are laws against unnatural sexual acts as defined by the state. The actual names of the cities are unknown. The names Sodom and Gomorrah derive from the Hebrew words for 'burnt' and 'ruined heap'.


In the story, two angels visit Sodom, where Lot welcomes them. They warn him that God is going to destroy a large area of land, including Sodom, because of the wickedness of the people. The citizens of Sodom surround the house and demand the strangers be sent out so they might "know" them. Lot refuses, instead offering them his two daughters. The people refuse them. The angels then blind some of the people. The angels tell Lot to gather his family and leave. His wife looks back at the destruction of Sodom and becomes a pillar of salt.


People who are anti-gay read this passage simply: The crowd wanted to know the angels sexually through anal intercourse. That is why God destroyed the city and the people. God doesn't like gays.


This interpretation is horrendously flawed. In describing the mob, the King James Version says they were "both old and young, all the people from every quarter." The original Hebrew is anshei ha'ir, anshei S'dom, or the people of the city, the people of Sodom. In other worlds, women and children were also present. This is not how a homosexual orgy begins.


Where the KJV bible says the phrase "Bring them out unto us, that we may know them," (Gen. 19:4), the New International Version (NIV) reinterprets this as "Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them." This hinges on the meaning of "know." In the almost 1,000 appearances of this word, only in a handful does it refer to sex. And in all cases, it is heterosexual sex resulting in conception.


But even if it refers to sex in this instance, it is not willing homosexual orgy. Rather, it is homosexual rape. This was, and still is in certain barbaric countries, a method used to humiliate enemies of a society. Would this mob want to inflict rape on the two strangers? Is this what they wanted to do? Let us look at the events.


There is a bigger reason. Sodom was destroyed because of their wickedness towards strangers and the needy. Later in the Bible, it is mentioned that one of the serious sins of Sodom was neglect of orphans and widows. In that time, people had an obligation to help those less fortunate and protect visitors in their home. If Sodom routinely neglected these duties, it would be fitting for God to make an example of them. In the Talmud, the phrase middat Sdom, or the way the people of Sodom thought is used many times. It means a lack of charity towards others, not helping those in need. The idea of helping strangers was a central custom of the times. The parable of the Good Samaritan is evidence of that, and it is touched on throughout the Bible.


Their lack of charity and decency is touched upon again in Isaiah 1, where the people of Judah are compared to the people of Sodom. The offenses mentioned include rebelling against God, being unjust and oppressive to others, being insensitive to the needs of widows and orphans, committing murder and others. Not one time is homosexuality mentioned.


The prophet Ezekeiel clearly states why Sodom was destroyed (Ezek. 16:49-50):"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." Again, homosexuality is never mentioned.


I believe that this clearly shows that Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of homosexuality. They were destroyed because the horrific behavior of its citizens towards strangers, the poor, widows and orphans, and others in need. It's a morality tale telling us to be good to one another. Which makes sense since Jesus' single commandment to us was "Love one another as I have loved you." From the beginning to the end of the Bible, the message is one of compassion and love, not bigotry and hate.


I hope this piece has clearly shown that the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah is not anti-homosexual. Someone said that "To suggest that Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexual sex is an analysis of about as much worth as suggesting that the story of Jonah and the whale is a treatise of fishing." I couldn't have said it better. And for those people who spew their hatred of homosexuality or engage in actual physical abuse of gay and lesbians, who have the audacity to say that God hates gays or cloak themselves behind the false piety of "love the sinner, hate the sin", they miss the true irony here:


THEY are the ones who are guilty of committing the crimes of Sodom. Hatred towards strangers, a lack of compassion, being unjust and oppressive. These are the crimes of Sodom that the anti-homosexual forces routinely practice. And what makes it worse it that they do it in the name of God.

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