Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Would YOU preach it?

Here’s a question for everyone to ponder. If you were absolutely convinced that another interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story might have nothing to do with homosexuality but rather was a scathing condemnation of poor hospitality shown to resident aliens, would you preach it that way?

Firstly, I cannot find the place in any scriptural reference to the destruction of Sodom where loving, faithful, homosexual relationships are mentioned. The story that I read is about the attempted gang rape of a couple of visitors by an unruly mob (Genesis 19:5), and the mob’s subsequent ire at being thwarted by Lot (19:9), because he is a recent immigrant to the city (13:12). Ezekiel 16:49 says, “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.” Jude 1:7 says, “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion,” a statement obviously open to different interpretations. The other references are pretty generalized. I understand that many people hold to a different interpretation of the story than mine, but nonetheless, my study has led me to this one. We could go back and forth about “right” or “wrong,” but let’s agree that it is different at least.

Another thing to mention: I often like to preach sermons based on non-traditional interpretations of scripture, in the hope that looking at the passage from a different perspective will help people deepen our understandings of God’s word and of our own faith journeys. So for example I will preach the story of the Exodus, focusing on the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, seeing it from the perspective of the wife of a regular old chariot driver in the Egyptian military. So we look at a familiar story from a new angle, and see a bit more of it, which in turn enriches our faith.

Finally, I understand that mentioning hot-button social issues from the pulpit is risky business, and immigration is one of the hottest right now. Just introducing the subject drives people immediately behind their barricades on all sides of the issue. It is the same with homosexuality, which has the added bonus of an association, maybe unfair, with the word “Sodom.” The merest mention of either of these topics must be done very carefully if anything helpful is going to come of it.

So one, I am convinced that the Sodom story could be interpreted as a story about hospitality to strangers / resident aliens / immigration issues. Two, I like to offer alternate interpretations of scripture from the pulpit. And three, I understand how many walls will go up as soon as hot-button social issues are mentioned.

And my question remains: Would you preach it if you were me?


gavin richardson said...

i think we should teach hot button topics, but not to push buttons. most topics are scandalous because lack of information or full perspective. why to try and give some of that. but to preach a hot button only to stir the pot by pushing said button i think is wrong and not a gospel message.

John Meunier said...

To paraphrase A Few Good Men (Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore):

Here's the thing. Neither Gavin Richardson nor John Meunier nor anyone else is in the pulpit at your church.

So, the only question that matters is: Would you preach it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I believe that you should be honest in your struggle to understand God's word to us through the scriptures. And you should be gracious and acknowledge that others may, and certainly do, see it differently. Hot button issues? Should the church not help people deal with these controversial and troubling dilemnas? I have had people leave the church. I have had people thank me for the witness. But you have to be true to your own heart and faith. Jim

Anonymous said...

context is everything

both in interpreting the scriptures

and in deciding to preach it from the pulpit of your church. not really knowing your context, it's hard to say


Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

I guess I wonder, why you would not preach it?

That interpretation is far from marginal, novel or intellectually spurious. In fact, most biblical scholars (including Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah), would attest that that interpretation (sin = inhospitality) is much closer to the truth than any connection with homosexuality, particluarly as we understand homosexuality today.

jim said...

Would I preach it? Not just to raise a political issue or to say that I preached a hot button topic.

Does this passage truly speak to my congregation now? Is this the word that I have interpreted from this scripture if it is the passage for my congregation? If so, then yes.

Simply put, if it is for the building up of the people of God (whether it is confronting them or encouraging them)and not for the sake of scandal, then it is worth preaching.

Anonymous said...

Andy, I would preach it - and I have preached it - and I would preach it again. The text IS NOT about homosexuality, but rather the dangers of not loving one's neighbor.

And just remember - you're not going to make everyone happy all the time - especially when you preach the truth.


David said...

I have preached it both ways, for adults and for youth.
Anonymous Scott said my thoughts before I read his, so I had to change something.

Anonymous said...

This past week I preached on peacemaking, (Matt 5.9) another hot button issue right now. I think we have to offer what we are convicted is God’s message for the people as long as we approach both the subject matter and the congregation with great respect…acknowledging that other thoughtful, faithful people see the issue differently, acknowledging even that we might just be wrong. Neither side of the great debates can claim to have the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but. I think where we get into trouble is when we push our understanding rather than allowing the text to speak. Sunday’s message was received well only because I offered a perspective other than my own. So, should you preach it? Depends on what the “it” is. -Mitch

Anonymous said...

Does "well, DUH" count as an answer? ;-)

If not, then how's this: If it's True, you MUST preach it, even if the Truth is in the uncertainty.

: )
(the other) David

John said...

Like Jim said, what is your motive? Is it to build up the Kingdom, or to push your point of view on homosexuality?

If you feel a call to preach a sermon on hospitality, aren't there better texts for it?

John Meunier said...

Like Jim said, what is your motive? Is it to build up the Kingdom, or to push your point of view on homosexuality?

It could be to do both at once - building the Kingdom by correcting misconceptions.

If you believe the text is incorrectly interpreted by your congregation - and despite the views of Biblical scholars cited above the overwhelming view of lay Christians is that this story IS about homosexuality - then you are doing both at once.

It is only a choice of motives if you disagree with Andy's reading of the text.

Pastor Dave said...

I come at this subject from a fairly conservative perspective, yet when I've preached this text I've talked about how this is about hospitality and sexual perversion and not about people who live in loving and committed relationships. I've said, if you want to condemn homosexuality, you better look elsewhere for your text (and I believe it is there) becuase Sodom is about a lack of hospitality.

Andrew C. Thompson said...

I think the story has a whole lot to do about the lack of hospitality. But even so, the attempted act on the part of the residents of Sodom was homosexual rape. The Scripture could have used any number of different offenses - robbery, murder, even simple indifference (as in Mary, Joseph, and "no room at the inn") which would have amounted to an offense against hospitality. But it chose rape, and more particularly, homosexual rape.

So while I do not think this is a story about homosexuality per se, I also do not think it is really fair to the text to completely remove the story's homosexual connotations, either. Clearly, it seems to be saying that there is something particularly awful about offending against hospitality through forced male-on-male sex.

Should this story be used as a litmus test on the issue of homosexuality by the church? No. But is the story saying something about how Scripture views homosexuality? Yes, I think it is. It may be arguable, and many people may not agree with it, but that doesn't mean we should act like it isn't there.

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

The choice of homosexual rape as the offense is a way to heighten the offense...make it the worst possible act.

Rape is about power, not sex or sexuality.

Raping women was considered wrong, let's be clear, but it was not as shameful or shaming as raping a man.

Why? Because in a patriarchal society, power structures place men above women in the social hierarchy. Giving your daughters over to be raped is preferable to raping your guests in this historical and cultural context.

To be raped is to be treated as a woman...which is the worst possible fate for a man. This is still evidenced today in many Orthodox and Conservative traiditions in the prayer: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, shelo asani ishah; "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who did not make me a woman."

Let's be clear what is sinful here is the domination, shaming and abuse of one person over the other. The fact that it is men who are the ones dominated and shamed heightens the scandal of the sin, but does not render it the source.

Homosexuality, as we understand it today has nothing to do with rape, shame or domination. Persons who are gay and lesbian enter into relationships that are mutual and loving.

Of course, we must all confess that just as some heterosexuals engage in sexual misconduct, so also do some gay and lesbian folk. The sin, however, is not about orientation. Rather it is about the abuse of power.

I also wonder why as suggested in the comments above we are to preach the texts the way the majority of our parishioners understand them? Does majority win claim on truth?

What if we did that in the 1840's when the majority of parishioners interpretted Philemon (and other texts) as supporting slavery? Or in most congregations prior to 1956 that quoted Paul in support of denying women's right to ordination?

Andrew C. Thompson said...

I think that Tiffany makes a valid observation, but that she is also overlooking something about this story.

Tiffany, when you write that we understand homosexuality today in ways that differ from the presentation in Genesis, I agree with you (although following the line of conversation thus far, we might say that Genesis 19 is not attempting to say anything about the nature of homosexual orientation or practice either one). That is what I meant by saying that the story of the angels and Sodom should not be used as a litmus test on homosexuality by the church today.

But I think that to say, "Rape is about power, not sex or sexuality," is a pretty significant overstatement. Because it involves force and because it involves intercourse, rape is necessarily about both power and sex/sexuality. Abusive actions that are only about power are many: we can think of various forms of assault and battery, bullying, fighting, harrassment, and murder. But rape is not just power; it is forced sex. To claim that forced sex has nothing to do with sex seems nonsensical to me.

The church needs to have thoroughgoing theological conversations about sexuality in general, and about homosexuality in particular. But I believe we do ourselves no favors when we attempt to explain the homosexuality out of all those places in Scripture where homosexuality is mentioned. And contending that the Bible just doesn't have a sophisticated view on homosexual orientation is a chief way that people do that.

Anonymous said...

If the purpose is to preach about hospitality, and immigration there are plenty of OT passages. In fact, I wonder how many fundamentalists have ever read the OT where it talks about how generous the Jews were to be to aliens? (Lev 19:10, 19:33-34, 24:22, Dt 1:16, 10:18-19, etc) That would throw the bible-thumpin', right-wingers for a loop.
I think that Gen 19:8 is an often overlooked verse. This really seems to complicate the story, and takes it much deeper than what may be going on face value. That verse alone would hopefully really make a lot of folks think. To me it says that we can't make blanket statements today based on a story from long ago. The fact that Lot was giving up his virgin daughters so they could be raped instead of the men is disturbing, but it gives Rev. Tiffany's comments some weight.

John Montgomery said...

Hey Andy!

I had originally posted this comment on 7 Villages, but this is a better conversation!

Thanks for the intriguing post. Your are right on that the context of this text is hospitality. It has nothing to do with being gay - unless every person in Sodom was gay cause they all turned out for the party. Sure looks to me like a gang rape - doesn't have anything to do with sex either (much less sexual orientation) but rather humiliation.

If the context is hospitality, a value honored throughout the Middle East, it seems to me that the point has to do with solidarity. Lot can feel the visitor's pain, because he has gone through this before. Later, much of the Torah will focus on the plight of the stranger - grounded in the fact that the people of the Israelite community were aliens as well. Is this about immigration - maybe, maybe not.

What is ironic though, that while Lot seems able to feel the visitors pain, he seems oblivious to the oppression facing his two daughters

Grace and Peace,


Deb said...

Absolutely I would preach it that way! I too believe the story is about hospitality rather than homosexuality and I think that with any text when we find a new and different understanding, we should be compelled to preach it with the notion that it is the Spirit that drives our exegetical work and the Spirit that will inspire the hearers of the word so that they might see/hear/know God and God's word in a different way.

Larry B said...

In my opinion, the uncomfortableness seems to come from not knowing for certain what is the true meaning of the passage. The debate that has occured in the above comments seems to point to the idea that either one side or the other has the full truth. If you teach this interpretation as full truth then by the law of non-contradiction, any other teaching has to be wrong. Some people obvioulsy want this to be so. Some people on the other side want their version to be true so that the other side is wrong. If you preach it in a manner that discounts the possibility of the other sides interpretation being correct, then you have effectively declared yourself as the arbiter of this truth and called anyone who disagrees a liar. It's simply the reverse of what progressives abhor about fundamentalists.

I think what Andrew said about considering all aspects of the story and not trying to remove or discount a difficult issue because it stirs up trouble with a modern social issue is the most sage advice.

I think it's fortunate that we don't have a transcript of Jesus's traditional preaching in a temple where he most likely would have recited Levitical laws, whereby we would really have some problems with modern issues relative to what he said during that time.

Lorna (see through faith) said...

if you were you (and you are) then you should follow God's guidance and not only what's politically correct -or otherwise:)

your interpretation is interesting - more than that I don't know ...