Let’s all heave a big sigh, because Pastor Manning and his church sign are at it again.
This week the sign says, “When the homos bullied the poor and needy in Sodom like they do in Harlem, Jesus fire and brim-stoned them,” and then cites three Biblical passages: Ezekial 16:48-50, Leviticus 20:13, and Genesis 19:24-? – the last one is cut off, as it doesn’t quite fit into the lit up part of the sign.
The first thing to note about these Bible verses is that all of them are in the Old Testament, where Jesus does not appear, as he hadn’t been born yet, and is not the person speaking. One could argue that it might not have been the intent of the Pastor to imply that Jesus is being quoted in those verses, but given the context of why this sign is saying this particular message now (which I will get to), that argument is wrong. So, the first lie in the sign is the notion that Jesus said anything about homosexuals at all. Jesus did not at any point at all in the Bible.
So, what do those verses actually say?
First, let’s look at the passage from Ezekiel:
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Because people like Pastor Manning object to a lot of the newer translations, I’m sticking to the King James Version, which at least when I was growing up in Southern Baptist churches, was much beloved by those sorts of people. Anyway, notice that opening phrase the person speaking identifies himself as God, and specifically (depending on the translation) the Sovereign God, God the Father, Yahweh, et cetera. This is not one of the passages the revisionists have retconned as a reference to Jesus the Son of God, this is definitely the Big Guy Himself. And what does the passage say? Well, it says that the reason God destroyed Sodom and the surrounding area (“her daughters” being a reference to Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain) was because the people of Sodom failed to take care of the poor and the needy despite the fact that they were incredibly well off themselves, and therefore had much to spare.
This is a direct contradiction of the reason that most fundamentalists assert as to why Sodom was destroyed. They all insist it was because Sodom was full of sexual deviants and the like. But here, God Himself is speaking to the inhabitants of Judah, and explaining that the reason he wiped the people of Sodom out was because they didn’t take care of people to whom they had a moral obligation to take care of, such as the poor and needy. Right?
Okay, let’s move on to Leviticus 20:13:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
This is the classic go-to quote of the haters. Never mind that when we point out other parts of Leviticus which they ignore, their automatic response is to tell us that the cultural admonititions in Leviticus don’t apply because Jesus redeemed them; they still love this one. They love it so much, that they foam at the mouth if we suggest that maybe it belongs in the same category as the verse earlier in the same book the says that people who wear clothes made out of mixed cloth (you know, like a cotton polyester blend) should be put to death, or that people who eat shrimp should be put to death, or that a woman who isn’t a virgin on her wedding night should be put to death and if her own father isn’t the person who kills her, he should be put to death, too.
The thing is, this chapter very clearly identifies itself at the beginning as being commandments to the Israelites not to adopt any of the religious practices of their neighbors, the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Neither the Egyptians nor the Canaanites allowed gay people to live openly, by the way. Homosexuality as we understand it today was not an acceptable practice in either of those societies. They were just as eager to put what we today would call openly gay people to death for being who they were as the Israelites were. What the Canaanites did do was have an exception of sorts for a particular type of male temple prostitute who pretended to be a woman, and would perform sex acts as part of certain fertility rituals with men who had donated a fee to the temple. These acts were believed to convey specific blessings making the man successful and prosperous that year.
There is some evidence in other Hebrew writings that some of the Israelites at the time were participating in this particular ritual of going to the temple prostitute, and requesting one of these types of prostitutes not because they wanted to have sex with a man, per se, but because they believed that they would get the blessing on their business, and they believed that because the prostitute they were using wasn’t actually a woman, it didn’t count as cheating on their wife (adultery—for which Leviticus also had harsh punishments). Since this whole chapter is warning the Israelites not to be like the Egyptians and the Canaanites, and since those people didn’t allow committed same sex couples to live together, get married, et cetera, virtually all serious Biblical scholars agree that this verse is not talking about what we would, today, call a gay relationship.
And even the very few who don’t, will agree that this passage is certainly not about people failing to take care of the poor and needy, nor is it making any reference to Sodom.
The third passage, which in the sign is a little hard to read the closing verse, but to me it looks like Genesis 19:24-5, and since the nineteenth chapter of Genesis ends at verse 38, probably means version 24 and 25. And those verses are:
Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.
The very next sentence, verse 26, tells us about Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt because she looked back at the destruction, so I think it’s safe to say that Pastor Manning is just referring to verse 24-25. These verses tell us that God destroyed the cities, and yes, that he destroyed them with fire and brimstone, but they don’t tell us why. Fortunately, we’ve already read the passage in Ezekiel where God himself tells us that he destroyed the cities because they didn’t help the poor and needy. He doesn’t mention any other reason in that passage.
The earlier part of this chapter tells the story that led up to God destroying Sodom: angels visit Lot, a raucous crowd arrives at Lot’s front door and demands Lot turn the angels over to them so that they can know them, Lot goes out and offers to give his two unmarried daughters to the crowd instead to do with whatever they wish, the crowd refuse and begin to attack Lot, the angels rescue Lot from the crowd and then tell Lot to gather his family and flee the city because God is going to destroy it.
Most of the rightwing fundamentalists will tell you that I have already misrepresented the earlier passage, and will quote translations in which the crowd explicitly says they want to have sex with the angels. But that is not what the original Hebrew says. It is the interpretation that nearly everyone has jumped to, in part because Lot offers his two virgin daughters as substitutes. And certainly the word “know” has been used as a euphemism for sexual intimacy in English, but here’s the thing: the Hebrew Bible has a couple of words that every single scholar agrees means “to have sex with.” They are words that the authors of the Hebrew Bible never hesitated to use. One of the words meaning “to have sex” appears more than 30 times within the story of Samson alone, for goodness sake. But oddly, neither Hebrew word that everyone agrees means “to have sex” is used in the story of Sodom.
It’s possible that that word isn’t used there simply because the original text from which this story comes was less forthright than the original Samson stories, for instance. So we’re left to look at the rest of the context. I always found it interesting, long before I even knew that the Hebrew doesn’t actually have any direct references to sex in this chapter, that the angels seem to imply that if the crowd had been willing to take Lot’s virgin daughters “and do anything they want to them” instead of insisting that Lot surrender the angels, then god would never have decided to destroy the city.
Think about that one for a minute.
Even in Lot’s speech to the men, before he offers his daughters, and afterward when the crowd indicates it doesn’t want the daughters, reference is specifically made to the fact that the men are Lot’s guests, and therefore under his protection. In most ancient cultures, the law of hospitality was considered a powerful and unbreakable custom. Not treating guests with respect, protecting them, and providing for their needs was such a heinous crime that, in many legends and myths of many cultures, it resulted in far worse punishments than things like murder, incest, or even mass murder. Which is why many Biblical scholars point out that the judgment against Sodom seems to be about violating hospitality.
The passage from Ezekiel mentioned earlier references the same idea: Sodom didn’t take care of the poor or the needy. Note that poor people and needy people are referred to as separate categories. Needy is not simply a synonym for poor people. It apparently refers to the needs of people who aren’t poor. In Ezekiel God is saying that the sin Sodom committed was not taking care of people they were morally obligated to take care of. Guests are one of the types of people whose needs one is morally obligated to meet.
If I haven’t bored you and chased you off already, the point of Pastor Manning’s mashing these three passages together as proof that Jesus is going to rain fire and brimstone down on homosexuals is a clumsy attempt to counter arguments people have made about some of his previous assertions. When Manning said earlier that Jesus would kill gay people by stoning them, he took flak from some of his fellow Christians because Jesus never once talked about homosexuality, and because the only time Jesus had anything to do with stoning, he had saved a woman from being killed that way.
There’s also been a noticeable increase in the number of people who identify themselves as Christian, but who reject the assertion that all these Bible verses apply to committed gay couples. Several videos in which some of these Christians explain how many of those Biblical passages are being misinterpreted have gone viral. Many of them are also picking up on an argument that us homos have been making for years: the only thing about marriage that Jesus ever said was that divorce is always wrong. He specifically said that the Old Testament’s rule that divorce was allowed in the case of adultery no longer was valid. Since this is the only comment Jesus made about sexual matters at all, many of us have argued that his so-called followers should be more concerned with repealing divorce laws rather than trying to encode anti-gay discrimination into the law.
If they are going to insist on trying to make civil law conform to a literal interpretation of their holy book, that is.
So haters like Manning have to try to find new ways to assert that Jesus supports their bigotry. Though this particular attempt is laughable, at best.
That doesn’t even get into a bigger question: where is the proof that homosexual inhabitants of Harlem are failing to give to the poor? Seriously, Bible aside, where does that come in. Last time I saw any statistics, gay people were slightly more likely than straight people of the same economic status to donate to charitable causes. And when was the last time anyone saw Pastor Manning working in a soup kitchen?
Update: Oh, the very next day after I post this, things get worse!