By Bishop Paul Peter Jesep
"Why do you pass judgment on your brother?
Or you, why do you despise your brother?
For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God . . .
Each of us shall give account of himself to God."
Romans 14:10 and 12
Jesus never mentions it. The Ten Commandments don't cite it. And the Bible is more concerned with the sexual indiscretions of men and women. Yet a handful of negatively understood scriptural references to homosexuality have worked politicians and religious leaders into a national frenzy. It offers a fascinating opportunity for a Freudian psychoanalysis. Exploring the dark recesses of those animated by it is better left to a trained medical professional. I'll stick to political-theology.
Much has been said and written about homosexuality from every Judeo-Christian ideological perspective. Depending on the interpretative approach used, the Word of God can be as flexible, accepting, or rigidly traditional as the reader wants.
Understanding the social context to human sexuality, being mindful of how it is addressed in a specific passage, appreciating the translation difficulties of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, and making an honest effort to comprehend something written thousands of years ago before the benefit of modern science are factors that contribute to different Biblical interpretations.
Hence my brief scriptural discussion below is just another in a long line of them. I offer it not as the commentary's central theme, but merely as a reference point. Ultimately, every social justice advocate must read scripture along with credible theological commentaries for themselves. Individual study enables a broader, more informed understanding of the topic which better positions advocates to debate the subject.
One frequently cited passage used to condemn gay men and women is the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18 and 19) story. Just about everyone has heard it. How many have actually read it or appreciate its complexity is a different matter.
Lot greets two angels. They take shelter in his home when "all the townsmen of Sodom, both young and old - all people to the last man - closed in on the house." They demand that Lot produce the angels for sexual humiliation.
Translations differ on the wording. But even Biblical versions that use the softer phrase "to know them" is a sexual reference according to the leading Old Testament theologians. Whatever translation is used, the scriptural context is clear - the men wanted to inflict extraordinary harm and humiliation on the angels.
Lot refuses to comply with the demands. Instead he offers his two virgin daughters as a sacrificial substitute. For this, Lot is later rewarded by God. His daughters are never sacrificed because the angels drive away the men. God then destroys the two communities.
Scripture is enlightening for what it may say as well as what it doesn't. Prior to the destruction, the Almighty says, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave . . ." Hence, God had already determined they were a problem. He doesn't say whether it's because of homosexual acts.
Did the Creator destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of brutality, paganism, demon worship, or something else? If a man commits the hideous, barbaric act of violating a woman, does it mean that consensual heterosexual intimacy is wrong? All the townsmen of Sodom showed up to commit a heinous assault. Their intent was clear - engage in vicious, demeaning conduct.
Remember that the entire communities of Sodom and Gomorrah were leveled - this would include the deaths of women, children, and the elderly. Were they all gay? Of course not. Perhaps none of them were. God's wrath was not motivated by homosexuality.
A literal reading of this passage is not anti- gay or lesbian. On the contrary, it is at the very least neutral on the subject of homosexuality. In truth, the passage speaks to violence no matter what act or form it may take. God leveled the communities for their sins - the attempted violence against the angels are among them.
A so-called literalist would take issue with my reading of scripture. Let's suppose, only for discussion purposes, that my position is wrong and the narrow, evangelical reading of scripture is accurate. It still doesn't make homosexuality a sin greater than any other. This isn't emphasized enough.
Homosexuality is not ranked higher than adultery. In fact, heterosexual infidelity is on God's top ten list of "Thou Shall Nots." It is one of the single greatest threats to traditional families. Infidelity could even be called an abomination. Yet conservatives don't want it criminalized.
Why the harsh judgment on God's gay and lesbian children? Why are they singled out? "Hypocrite," Jesus teaches about judgment. "First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7). It's something everyone fighting for equal rights must highlight - why, if homosexuality is a sin, the double standard?
Pointing this out undercuts the radical right's position and questions their motivations. It opens the discussion to a better analysis of scripture. Use the text. Educating the average citizen with an objective, common sense approach will win many to the cause of civil rights. It must be done without the political correctness that can derail a good cause.
I've heard opponents of civil rights dismiss calls for equality because supporters lack credibility. Some reading this commentary, for example, may know of the theories that the Apostle Paul was a repressed homosexual. It's used to neutralize Paul's attacks on homosexuals. It's an odd position since there's no evidence to support it.
Paul's references to a mysterious ailment are cited. If you read all of Paul's letters in their entirety then it becomes plausible that he may have had epilepsy or a speech impediment. There is some evidence to support that Paul may have been married to a woman with whom he shared a platonic relationship. This would give "repressed" a new twist. The possibility offers another understanding of the Letters of Paul and the apostle's sexuality that goes beyond this modest commentary.
It's important to probe and question, as I did in reviewing Sodom and Gomorrah, but never compromise personal credibility. Give a fair reading to the text. To do otherwise diminishes the ability to advance an important civil rights objective. Even a narrow reading of Sodom and Gomorrah does not condemn homosexuality. It condemns violence.
I highlighted the Book of Genesis to show that when an individual works with the actual words and does so with a critical eye it takes on a whole other dimension. Many American families may be God-fearing, yet don't have time to become studied in scripture. That's understandable considering its intense nature. In the information age, this enables media savvy persons with a narrow agenda to bombard the unsuspecting with a deceptively innocent, yet discriminatory message.
A wise soul once said that reason without faith is cynicism. Faith without reason is superstition. God challenges us to use our hearts and minds to think and educate others so that a community may be built where all live in peace, happiness, and fellowship.