Sin of Omission

Sin of Omission October 14, 2014

A recent comment on a post of mine related to homosexuality sparked a realization related to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis.

On the one hand, what conservatives do in making that story into ammunition against homosexuals is disturbing enough. There is no reference anywhere to the people of that city having had the custom of engaging in same sex relations prior to divine judgment coming upon them – that is something they add. Indeed, texts which mention the sins of Sodom focus on their haughtiness and lack of concern for the poor. And so the fact that people who are engaging in the real “sin of Sodom” use the text not to motivate themselves to repentance, but to condemn others, is sadly ironic.

But on the other hand, conservative Christians and conservative legislators are notoriously unconcerned with what the story actually does depict: an attempted gang rape. This should disturb us even more. Here is a clear text which depicts people (who are already under condemnation for their lack of concern for others) trying to commit an act of violence by raping strangers among them – people who have no local allies and support and so can easily be mistreated. The text is as obvious an anti-rape text as one could want. And yet I cannot remember conservative Christians ever taking to the streets with placards mentioning Genesis 19 to stand against such acts of violence. Yet I have seen them with placards opposing the right of people to marry.

What conservatives add to Genesis 19 is disturbing. But their omission – the fact that they show little concern for what the story actually depicts – seems to me equally disturbing, if not indeed more so.


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  • David Evans

    “The text is as obvious an anti-rape text as one could want.” Unfortunately it’s specifically anti- the rape of two males. I feel many conservatives will be happy opposing that, it not being a sin to which they or their friends are likely to be tempted.

    • In that sense, it makes a nice pairing with Judges 19.

      • David Evans

        Ouch. Yes.

    • Yes, the conservatives might side with Lot, who apparently felt it less egregious to submit his daughters to rape in place of the angel guests.

      Lot’s family was dysfunctional long before the cave incest incident.

  • John MacDonald

    I remember having this discussion about the bible and homosexuality online a few years ago. My thoughts are that:

    (1) Homosexuality is one of the most important aspects of a gay person’s being, and is not a choice [obviously – is heterosexuality a choice?].

    (2) The New Testament seems to suggest that homosexuals [or maybe just homosexual males] will not inherit the Kingdom of God (see 1 Cor. 6:9).

    (3) Therefore: Either God is evil in his rejection of homosexuals, or else 1 Cor. 6:9 is just the individual prejudice of Paul, and so we have to throw out most of
    Paul’s writings as possibly arbitrary prejudices and musings, rather
    than being the inspired word of God. In many places, there would be no way to know when Paul is speaking for God, and when Paul is just communicating his own personal prejudices, biases, and subjective points of view. Even in places where Paul says he is speaking for Jesus or for God, he may just be lending authority to his opinions [analogous to what Parmenides seems to be doing in his didactic poem when he gives inspirational credit for his ideas to a goddess].

    • Bethany

      I think it depends on what you mean by “inspired by God”. From what I gather from accounts of primary religious experiences it’s not like God gives a Powerpoint presentation with key talking points. 😉 So even a genuine experience of God seems like the sort of thing that would inevitably be filtered and interpreted through our own experiences and cultural background (as are all of our perceptual experiences, really, but especially this particular kind of experience). So I don’t see “inspired by God” and “personal prejudices, biases, and subjective points of view” as necessarily being mutually exclusive.

      Also, even if Paul’s writings weren’t inspired by God in any way, shape, or form, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have no merit and need to be thrown out. I mean, most things we read and write aren’t inspired by God, but they can still be worth reading. 🙂

    • lrfcowper

      Or the modern conflation of whatever arsenokoites and malakos were with homosexuality is absolute bosh. Human sexuality was understood differently in Paul’s time because what position one had in the sexual arrangement was rarely one’s own choice and not based on love, but on power dynamics. You own a wife (which you probably acquired via a marriage arrangement with her father)? You get to penetrate her. You own a female servant? You get to penetrate her. You own a male servant? You get to penetrate him. There was simply no notable group of people who would be equivalent to a gay person today seeking a consensual, loving, committed, egalitarian romance. The majority of men having penetrative sex with males were basically committing socially-acceptable rape.

      Inserting our own cultural context into Paul’s writing is what creates the problems in the majority of instances. Which isn’t to say that Paul wasn’t a stubborn, opinionated, difficult man (see the number of fellow missionaries who abandoned him at various points) or that he was some sort of social justice warrior (his mission was to see that the infant church survived and thrived and he was more than willing to flaunt social convention when necessary, but to equally maintain the appearance of social convention when more expedient), but this is the guy that said in Christ there are no more divisions of male and female, slave and free, Jew and gentile, whose letters are full of the names of women he describes as equal co-laborers and leaders in the church.

      Inserting the word “homosexual” or derivatives into the scripture is bad translation akin to inserting the germ theory, references to bipolar disorder, or molecules. Those all existed in Bible times, but the writers and their intended audience didn’t know any of those concepts.

  • Jan Hobbs

    I am not gay, although I am an LGBT Ally. I really appreciate what you wrote here, as the conservative rhetoric about homosexuality has been pushing me further and further away from the Christianity of my childhood. So thank you so very much.

  • Rev. Tom

    The text isn’t really about rape, it’s about hospitality. The threatened rape of the visitors is the most egregious breach of hospitality of which the writer could conceive. The offer of the daughters as substitution is the most far fetched exercise of hospitality of which the writer could conceive. Neither threatened rape nor proffered sacrifice are intended to be understood as realistic possibilities, they are literary hyperbole meant to suggest that those who would ally themselves with God are called to go to great lengths in the exercise of hospitality. It was supposed to be a fundamental distinction of the People of God. Sodom was destroyed because they were paranoid, self-centered, greedy, entitled, 1%ers, who met outsiders with cruelty and exclusion.

    • Kent

      This is reinforced by Jesus when he sends out his disciples; if people reject them the disciples are to wipe the dust from their feet; it will be worse for them than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement. Which means Jesus understood this story in terms of inhospitality. Which means we should too.

    • Tim

      Yes; and I find it deliciously ironic that if America is indeed being destroyed, it’s for the completely opposite reasons that most religious conservatives would give; and instead because of what you have outlined here.

  • Michael Wilson

    James, I read your earlier post on the topic, but I have to agree more with John MacDonald on this: the most likely reading of Paul presents him as a homophobe. From my own study of homosexuality in antiquity I think that ancient attitudes were far different from our own positions. Their doesn’t seem to be a notion of gays as a distinct gender but as an expression of sexual desire that a person could enjoy to varying degrees and one that might be unseemly if perused to exclusion. Caesar’s homosexuality was a matter of sham for him to judge from contemporary historians discussions of it for example. The homosexuality of the people Sodom seems to be there to underscore the peoples depravity, much like all the classic effeminate villans of cinema.

    If we, independent of the Bibles thoughts on homosexuality specifically, conclude that homosexuality is a natural, harmless variation of human sexuality and that persecuting homosexuals is arbitrary persecution, then if we posit that God is benevolent we have to conclude these gay hating passages of the Bible are not God’s handiwork. I don’t have a problem with the prospect that a Bible that is wrong on history and science is also wrong on morality. Its saving grace though is below the Bible’s the specific expressions of a sin is a guiding principle of sin, that which is revolting to sensibility. And one of the most primal sources of revulsion is unfairness. The Bible, in my opinion, maintains that homosexuality is wrong because its heterosexual authors unsurprisingly found homosexuality to not be their cup of tea. However they railed against the persecution and marginalization the shepards and poor farmers experienced at the hands of sophisticated city people in both Canaan and later in courts of the Hebrew kings, who probably felt as revolted by their presence as the Yahwhist did around homosexuals. I think the prophets do merely parrot the past, but extend the fundamental principles of righteousness to a wider domain of action while not dismissing the the good contributions of past prophets.

    • I am not persuaded that there is something in this passage that fits the label “homosexuality” in its modern sense. When men rape another man in prison, is it an expression of “homosexuality” or an act of violence intended to humiliate and dominate?

      • Dale

        Cannot it be both?

      • Michael Wilson

        Thanks James for responding. Your right sbout that, I’m not sure Paul would have understood that any one was homosexual in the way we now understand it. This contemporary idea was a pink unicorn for Paul, it did not exist befor the modern age. Foucault talks about it in his history of sex. Before then they were just men who were imagined as some what free in their sexual expression. People engaged in homosexual acts, but were not homosexuals. Paul then understands homosexuality the same way Fred Phelps does, not a orientation but a perversion that all men may be tempted to but only a few depraved types choose to exclusion. In that sense Phelps anti gay statements are not really aimed at homosexuals either. For he and Paul, prison rape us an expression of homosexuality the same as between a amorous gay couple.

        Now what is interesting is that for Paul, homosexuality was largey expressed in the prison rape way, or some other harmful context. In Hellenistic society gender norms meant that men of reputation could not be seen as womanly in a homosexual relations, hence the “bottom” in the relationship was frequently a disenfranchised individual, a slave, a boy, a prostitute. Men were expected by custom to marry despite their prefrence and so most gay men would gave married, (hence arguments for a gay Paul, even if true cannot point to his own singleness, since social pressure would still compelled him to marry) this means homosexuals relationships often brought chaos into ancient homes. Men competing with wives for support, affection, and so forth.

        Under these circumstances I don’t think it is shocking Paul did not imagine that homosexual relationships were beneficial. And as for natural, I don’t think homosexuality is wrong even if one chooses to have homosexual sex even if not homosexual, as does happen. Human sexuality has more fluidity than most people susspect, I feel.

        • Michael Wilson

          I should add that you’re right this gives us an out to understand Paul’s condemnation of male on male sex not as a condemnation of homosexuality in total, only the homosexuality of his imagination and limited observation. This is why I think the bible is not completely clear on homosexuality any more than it is on violence. With our understanding we can hope Paul would have agreed with us, and not Phelps((who’s opinions may be a self induced delusion, a rejection of the evidence whivh Paul lacked, against his own mistaken beliefs, none the less crucial for maintaining his security in his understanding of infallibility and the reality of God.)

      • John MacDonald

        Hi James.

        If we read further, 1 Cor. 6:11 may imply that once gays become saved, then they will no longer wish to engage in homosexual activities. They will presumably become heterosexuals.

        1 Cor. 6:9 seems to explicitly relates to homosexuality, or at least It has been understood that way in the Christian Church from the earliest era. ‘It’ [malakoi] can have a meaning that’s not carnal. But the way it’s used — it’s embedded in the same context with adultery — it’s pretty clear what the meaning is.

        • The separation of adulterers and fornicators, and robbers and thieves, makes it seem unwise to allow adjacent words to guide one’s understanding. Moreover, if you are going to look for a meaning other than “morally weak,” then a likely option is effeminate male rather than “homosexual” (the two are not synonymous). If you want to believe that Paul equated not being macho with stealing from other people, you are free to do so, but I don’t see why you would want to malign Paul in this way.

          • John MacDonald

            Hi James.

            1 Cor. 6:9 says something like “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with other men.”

            If you don’t want to include homosexuals under the category of “men who have sex with other men” because there is an ambiguity in the Greek, then clearly Paul would have included Homosexuals under the category of “sexually immoral.” Homosexuals would quite clearly be having sex outside of marriage, so they would be “sexually immoral” in Paul’s eyes.

            I’m an agnostic so I really don’t care how the issue gets decided, but it seems to me that is how the text should be read.

          • As a liberal Christian and a New Testament scholar, I have no desire to pretend that Paul’s views are ones that I do or could embrace in their entirety, and so I too am open to whatever the evidence points to. It certainly is conceivable that Paul would have included porneia as a form of marital infidelity – which, one might add, would suggest that same-sex relations within a same-sex marriage, while not on Paul’s radar in his time, might not be ruled out by what he wrote. Porneia strictly speaking denoted prostitution, and so same-sex acts that he lumped under that term may have been of a particular sort.

            Be that as it may, I find it striking that Paul doesn’t explicitly use the terms that were already in existence for same-sex relations and those who participated in them. I’m not sure why he doesn’t, but when I consider that, together with the fact that such relationships were normative in the Greek world, I find it hard to believe that Paul had cause to address something as rare as a man marrying his stepmother, but not something much more common, if he opposed it, or at least, if he opposed it with the vehemence that modern conservative Christians tend to.



          • John MacDonald

            Paul’s views on homosexuality will probably always be a difficult question. There are a number of possibilities, including:

            (a) Paul was a bigot who rejected homosexuals and said they would not inherit the kingdom of God.


            (b) Paul rejected homosexual behavior if it broke a moral code, like when a married man had a homosexual affair. This would be a form of adultery.


            (c) Paul could have simply had conservative views about human sexuality, and so rejected homosexual “behavior” because he rejected all sex acts that did not take place inside of marriage. For instance, Paul might have thought that two straight teenagers who were just dating were not allowed to have sex until they were married. In this case, for Paul, maybe sex was only supposed to be allowed between two people that were married. Any other sex was forbidden. If this was the case, Paul would have rejected all forms of homosexual sex for the same reason he would not allow two straight teens that were just dating to have sex: that sex was only permitted between two married people and the homosexuals of the time couldn’t marry.

          • And it must be considered a possibility that Paul’s view of same-sex relationships, if it was indeed a negative one, was shaped by a negative view of women, since in that time period men being the passive sexual partner was viewed as shameful because they were taking the inferior role which was considered to be the nature of women.

          • John MacDonald

            Another possibility is that God actually is misogynistic and homophobic, and Paul is just as evil as his creator.

  • Frank6548

    No one claims rape isn’t a sin.

  • Dale

    “…I cannot remember conservative Christians ever taking to the streets

    with placards mentioning Genesis 19 to stand against such acts of
    violence. Yet I have seen them with placards opposing the right of people to marry.”

    You must be kidding. Why would conservative Christians (or anyone else for that matter) take to the streets with placards to stand against anything that is already universally reviled and nobody is attempting to normalize? Gay marriage is divisive, hence the felt need for groups on both sides to march around waving signs.

    I’ll withhold any judgement on your reading of the Sodom story, but that was an unfair cheap-shot.

    • I would encourage you to talk to rape victims about whether our society in fact consistently protects, opposes, and punishes, and whether we as a society tend to blame victims, sweep matters under the carpet, and otherwise behave in ways that suggest marching with placards is still called for.

      • Michael Wilson

        James there is a point here. There isn’t much of a pro-rape movement so the focus of protest are not to argue that people ought not rape, but only that more be done to stop it. I don’t think the people that fought to have the death penalty abolished for rape were pro-rape, only that they didn’t think that punisment just for the crime. Pointing out that the bible doesn’t like rape doesn’t affect their case. No one talks about legalizing rape, we just doubt that rape occured, as in the lurid accusations against Bill Clinton or that the rapists value outweighs his crime, as when people work with renowned rapist, Norman Polanski. Again, how goes reminding people that the bible says rape is wrong in these cases? Nobody doubts its wrong.

        In ancient Israel, I don’t get the impression that their was any faction that advocated gay equality. They are non-entities in the Bible. This quite unlike greedy land lords and pagan cults, which the bible describes quite often. Paul never specifies a homosexual individual. Perhaps the centurians servent was his boy toy, though no ancient commenter on the gospels has taken it that way. I think instead that as rithier invisible members of the Jewish community or foreign erotica, Jesus found little reason to expound on the issue or for early christians to invent or preserve teachings from Jesus on the issue.

  • Timothy Weston

    When and how did Christians read homosexuality into the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?

    • Obviously, not all Christians read homosexuality into the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

      But you don’t have to look very hard to find the conservative Christians who do:

    • Dan

      I am not sure when it began, but I do like how Martin Luther begins this section in his commentary:

      “Moses proceeds with a description of a terrible sin. I for my part do not enjoy dealing with this passage, because so far the ears of the Germans are innocent of and uncontaminated by this monstrous depravity; for even though this disgrace, like other sins, has crept in through an ungodly soldier and a lewd merchant, still the rest of the people are unaware of what is being done in secret. The Carthusian monks deserve to be hated because they were the first to bring this terrible pollution into Germany from the monasteries of Italy Of course, they were trained and educated in such a praiseworthy manner at Rome.”

  • Brenda Volino

    Reading the story of the destruction of Sodom was that they thought the stranger had no friends, or allies, like all the other people they had raped. There were children there, most likely a bunch of snobby self-absorbed brats. Just like today.