For those who are insistent about excluding our LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & queer) siblings from within God’s love and family, I can see why they use Genesis 19:1-38. This chapter can superficially be interpreted as a morality tale about sexuality.
First, we have the men of Sodom threaten to rape the two strangers. Then Lot offers to let them rape his daughters instead of the guests. Finally at the end of chapter 19, the two daughters trick Lot into impregnating them because the new town they’ve settled in has few eligible men. This is not a story about healthy sexuality.
Neither is it a condemnation of homosexuality.
Sodom is a bad news community. Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family are good at finding trouble and have settled in Sodom. In chapter 18, Abraham and God are talking together about Sodom and Gomorrah. God says, “The cries of injustice from Sodom and Gomorrah are countless, and their sin is very serious! I will go down now to examine the cries of injustice that have reached me. Have they really done all this? If not, I want to know.” (Genesis 18:20-21 CEB)
In the end, God sends two messengers to find out if the cries of injustice are true about the two towns. In his own bumbling way, Lot wants to do right by God. When the two men show up in Sodom, he tries to follow God’s dictate to welcome the strangers. He insists they come to his home for the night.
When the men of the town hear Lot has offered hospitality to outsiders, they form a mob and surround his house. They demand that he send them out. Their intent is the violent act of rape against the two men. It is this verse (Gen. 19:5) that those who would “hate the sin & love the sinner” use to justify hateful rhetoric against our LGBTQ siblings.
But this is not about homosexuality.
Rape — whether homosexual or heterosexual rape — is about power and control. It is NOT about loving sexuality or even healthy desire. The men of Sodom wish to exert their control over the strangers. This is why they reject Lot’s misguided offer of his two daughters instead of the men. They seek control over the outsider, over the stranger. Raping Lot’s daughters would not quench their violent lust for power.
So, in this parable, God does not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah in response to homosexuality. Internal biblical references (Isaiah 1, Jeremiah 21:14, & Ezekiel 16:49-50) to the multiplicity of sins that led to their destruction, do not list homosexuality as one of their sins.
Nope. Nothing about homosexuality as a sin in this passage.
This story is about the importance of welcoming the stranger. Prior to their arrival in Sodom, the strangers visit Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah respond to the strangers with a lavish meal. The couple do so because of the cultural and God’s dictate to welcome travelers and immigrants. This dictate to care for the sojourner and immigrant permeates God’s expectations throughout both testaments of our Bible.
Note that when Lot is not cooperative with the mob at the door, they angrily ask one another, “Does this immigrant want to judge us?” before turning to Lot and saying, “Now we will hurt you more than we will hurt them” (Genesis 19:9 CEB).
I am saddened, sometimes angry if I’m honest, that this sacred story that teaches us the importance of welcoming the immigrant and traveler and those who are different from us, has been upended and used to hate.
That hate, by implication, has been attributed to belonging to God. That hate has led over and over again to violence against our LGBTQ siblings. That hate fuels hatred and fear of Muslim and Mexican immigrants today. Though God’s destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah is a fictional story, it is a story about God’s expectations of you and I.
As the Deuteronomists wrote, “[God] enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19 CEB)
And, of course, when asked the greatest commandment Jesus responded,
Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.[d] 31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself.[e] No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 CEB)
I challenge each of you today to reclaim the stories of our faith. Reclaim the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative as God’s demand for each of us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Reclaim the rhetoric. Speak lovingly. Do justice. Be Christ on earth. Amen.
Sermon delivered by Rev. Tim Graves at the Condon United Church of Christ on June 19, 2016.