Anyone who has ever refused hospitality to a stranger – to someone who is different, odd, peculiar, “not us” – is guilty of sodomy (Genesis 19). Anyone who has ever refused to care for widows and orphans or practiced economic injustice is also guilty of sodomy (Ezekiel 16:49).
Everyone is guilty of sodomy just by virtue of belonging to a nation that oppresses immigrants or won’t provide food and health care to single mothers or is just by being human (treating “outsiders” with suspicion seems wired into our collective DNA).
We, all of us, are sodomites and stand in need of repentance and forgiveness.
The Bible seems pretty clear on all this, but you’d never know it from listening to most religious talk radio or watching televangelists. “Sodomy,” in both popular religious culture and in our courts of law, means something quite different from what Biblical writers understood it to mean (here’s a hint: today it usually means that nasty thing gay men supposedly do all the time).
I was prompted to write about this by some Facebook exchanges over the publication of the book Out of a Far Country, by Christopher Yuan. This autobiographical book recounts Yuan’s journey through drug addiction, lots of sex, an HIV/AIDS diagnosis, and his return to Christian faith – a return that helped him to heal and become an ambassador for leaving the “gay lifestyle.” That lifestyle, presumably, is marked by, well, drug addiction, lots of sex, and HIV/AIDS.
But this is not a review, nor a critique of Yuan’s book (which I have not read). I am much more concerned about those who seem eager to use – the better word is exploit – Yuan’s story and his book for a socio-religious agenda to “cure” or “heal” gay and lesbian people.
I applaud Yuan for taking steps to recover from drug addiction, finding reconciliation with his family, and living into a healthier way of life. I am, however, offended by those who are using that story to paint (yet again) a deeply distorted picture of what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Yuan’s story is emblematic of LGBT people in just about the same way that Las Vegas brothels and wedding chapels are emblematic of heterosexual people. In both cases, the reductionism and stereotyping are not only disingenuous; they are dangerous, harmful, and deadly.
Consider Jamey Rodemeyer, yet another gay teenage suicide to add to the appallingly long list of how “strangers” are treated in our society. Jamey even made an “It Gets Better” video! (You can read about that tragedy here, but I don’t recommend it if your heart is easily broken.) The religious and cultural exploitation of Yuan’s story is just as responsible for Rodemeyer’s suicide as the citizens of Sodom were responsible for the kind of inhospitality worthy of divine retribution. We are all sodomites.
I was on a panel with Yuan back in 2006 during the SoulForce Equality Ride event held at my alma mater, Wheaton College (read my reflections about that event here). The college put Yuan on center stage as evidence of both the destructiveness of “homosexuality” and the possibility for “healing” it. That Wheaton would do so indicates a severe lapse in that school’s critical thinking faculties from which, at one time, I learned a great deal.
But Wheaton’s posture indicates much more as well – the school is guilty of sodomy.
Imagine declaring this: drug dealing and violent crime in urban neighborhoods clearly indicates the inherent evils of the African-American lifestyle. Wheaton (and I should hope many other religious institutions) would reject that claim as racist. Yet Yuan’s story is fair game for exploitation, to deploy it like a religious product for discrimination, exclusion, bigotry, and inhospitality.
With more than fifty years of biblical scholarship overwhelmingly rejecting the idea that Scripture condemns LGBT people, Christian communities are the ones who stand judged and in need of repentance and forgiveness for their sin of sodomy toward LGBT people.
(When I started this blog, I vowed not to deal at all with biblical apologetics concerning LGBT people. That is so twentieth century and the argument should be long since over. Of course, it’s not. To summarize some of the reasons why that argument should be over, I’ve written a short essay on contemporary biblical scholarship on this issue, “Biblical Sexuality and Gender,” which you can find here or on this site here.)
Christian communities should take the sin of sodomy quite seriously indeed, just as Jesus did. As far as we know, Jesus said absolutely nothing about LGBT people. But he did say something about sodomy. As he sent out his disciples to proclaim the gospel and do the work of ministry, Jesus issued a warning. Any town that does not extend a hospitable welcome to those disciples will suffer a worse fate than Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15).
Christian followers of Jesus ought to renew our commitment to the spiritual practice of hospitality, especially since all of us are sodomites. Christ, have mercy.