The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Homosexuality

The Sin(s) of Sodom

Genesis 18-19 recounts the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God determined to destroy “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave” (Genesis 18.20). This verse makes it clear that these two cities were places of wickedness. The Bible doesn’t say much about Gomorrah specifically, but instead tends to focus on Sodom (cf. Genesis 13.12-13), probably because that was where Abraham’s nephew Lot decided to live with his family.

It may surprise you to learn that in recent years, the destruction of Sodom has become somewhat controversial because of its relation (or not) to the issue of homosexuality. In light of this, it is a worthwhile question to ask, “For what sin was the city of Sodom destroyed?”

The Traditional View

Under the traditional interpretation of the passage, the wickedness of Sodom is exemplified in the story of the two angels (who appeared as men) who came to visit Lot in Genesis 19. The men of the city of Sodom, both young and old, become aware of these visitors, surround Lot’s house, and demand that he send the visitors out to them so that they may have sex with them.

Lot tries to dissuade the men of Sodom from this course of action, instead offering his own virgin daughters to satisfy their carnal lusts, and ultimately the angels intercede, striking the men with blindness and then telling Lot and his family to evacuate the city before its imminent destruction.

In this understanding, the sin of Sodom was homosexual activity. This is the origin of the word sodomy, a word which isn’t used much anymore but is still used in legal codes in some countries.

The Revisionist View

In more recent times, as homosexual practice has become more widespread and there has been a push for the normalization of homosexuality as a lifestyle, there has been a corresponding effort in some circles to reinterpret portions of Scripture which apparently condemn it. Genesis 18-19 and the sin of Sodom is a prime example of this sort of revisionist interpretation.

Through this lens, it has been suggested that the sin for which Sodom was destroyed was a lack of hospitality. The angels visited the city intending to stay in the town square (Genesis 19.2). Instead, Lot invited them to stay in his house, but the men of the city prevented Lot’s efforts at hospitality and tried to rape the angelic visitors instead. Essentially, the men of Sodom violated sacred cultural values by being terrible hosts, and thus, deserved destruction.

Examining the Views

To interpret Scripture carefully and correctly, it is important to pay attention to context, and using this text as a test case, there are multiple types of context which need to be considered: the canonical context provided by the rest of Scripture, the material in surrounding chapters,  and the historical and cultural context of the incident in question:

  • The canonical context reveals that in several places in Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, the practice of homosexuality is condemned as sin. The story clearly reveals that the men of Sodom intend to commit this sin, and Lot’s insistence that the angelic visitors not stay in the public square perhaps suggests that this was habitual behavior on the part of his neighbors. It really does take an impressive display of interpretative gymnastics to argue that homosexuality was not at least part of the wickedness of Sodom for which it was condemned.
  • The context of the surrounding chapters as well as the historical and cultural context should cause us to pause before dismissing the lack-of-hospitality view as nonsense. We live in a society where people eat at restaurants and stay in hotels when they travel, and the concept of hospitality has been significantly minimized. In the Ancient Near East, however, the practice of hospitality was a major moral value. It was a significant part of the Law of Moses as well, as the Israelites were commanded to care for sojourners/travelers since they themselves had been sojourners in the Land of Egypt. In the immediate context, the hospitality of Abraham (Genesis 18.1-8) and of Lot (Genesis 19.1-3) to the angels is placed in sharp contrast to the inhospitality of the men of Sodom. That the travelers were not safe to stay in the city square, or even in the home of Lot, is an indictment against the entire city, and this sinful violation of a major cultural value was also part of the wickedness which led to Sodom’s destruction.

Removing the Safety of the Story

I think this case provides a good example of the problem that arises when we force either/or conclusions on a text that does not require them. Certainly there are texts with multiple possible but mutually exclusive interpretations where only one can be correct, but this is not one of them.

Rather than speaking of the sin of Sodom, it would be more precise to speak of the sins of Sodom, because based on the limited biblical information we have, there were many:

  • Homosexuality (the Traditional View)
  • Inhospitality (the Revisionist View)
  • Violence (trying to break into Lot’s house by force)
  • Rape (or at least attempted rape, but again, based on Lot’s behavior, this seems like repeated behavior)
  • Pride, Gluttony, and Neglect of the Poor and Needy (Ezekiel 16.49-50)

In other words, if you were taking a multiple choice quiz about the sins of Sodom, the answer would be “E. All of the Above”. It was a wicked place. No wonder God said that the outcry against it was very great.

To conclude, I think it is appropriate to look at the story of the destruction of Sodom and in it see the condemnation of the practice of homosexuality, but it is inappropriate to use it as proof that homosexuality brings out a particular or special form of judgment from God. Instead, the message of the story of Sodom is straightforward: Eventually, God will bring judgment on sin.

And so here is my point: a lot of times I think we look at the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a story of judgment against “them”—wicked people who commit sins that, perhaps, are far removed from our own experiences. That makes it a “safe” story. But if we are honest with the full context, I think it requires that we look at our own lives a little more carefully.

In the context of our churches and our families, we may not be engaged in homosexuality or rape or violence, but what about the sins of inhospitality, pride, gluttony, and neglect of the poor? Are we equally innocent of these? Suddenly, the story cuts a little closer to home. It’s not as “safe” anymore. Because as the story of the Sin(s) of Sodom shows us, they all bring judgment from God.

Myths about Homosexuality, America, and the Kingdom of God

Introduction

It is with some hesitation that I share the following thoughts, because I am not really a very controversial guy and thus, like to avoid talking about hot-button topics. And homosexuality is certainly a hot-button topic in today’s society.

From a Christian perspective, I think homosexuality is a complicated issue, and part of the reason that it’s so complicated is because there are so many myths, so many false ideas floating around that confuse us and prevent us from making progress in any of this with people with whom we disagree.

So today, I want to look at several myths regarding homosexuality and to try to clarify our thinking on those, in the hopes that in the future, as we continue to deal with this issue (because it’s definitely not going away), we’ll be able to do so in a more productive and Biblically-accurate way.

Myth 1: The Bible Doesn’t Really Condemn Homosexuality.

Now, before we get into this one, I should note that there are a lot of people out there who don’t care what the Bible says, so with those folks, you’re going to have a lot of trouble finding common ground. But increasingly, there are people who call themselves Bible-believing Christians who will claim that the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexuality. That claim is false. It is a myth.

I could spend a long time on this, but as you’ll see, this is going to be a long post already, so briefly:

In Genesis 2.18-25 we have the beautiful account of the creation of Eve, and the clear, direct idea is that woman was created for companionship with man. Man was incomplete without her. This fact has strong implications, and we’ll return to it later, but for now, the idea is that God had a plan, God had a design, and that design was for man and woman to be together.

Later in Genesis 19 we have the destruction of the city of Sodom. Now, people who claim that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality will try to argue that the city of Sodom was destroyed because they showed a lack of hospitality toward the men/angels who visited Lot. And certainly that was true—it was not a hospitable place!—and I have no problem acknowledging that inhospitality was one of many sins that Sodom was destroyed for. Other sins include: violence, rape (or attempted rape), oppression of the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16.49), and, yes, homosexuality. If you were taking a multiple choice quiz about the sins of Sodom, the answer would be “E. All of the Above”. It was a wicked place.

Homosexuality is also explicitly condemned in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 18.22; 20.13).

Moving on to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul forcefully addresses the issue of homosexuality in Romans 1.18-32, and he also includes it in lists of sinful practices in 1 Corinthians 6.9-11 and 1 Timothy 1.8-10. Arguments that Paul is referring to some other practice in these texts and that he was unaware of consensual homosexual relationships like we have today are supported neither by the Greek text nor the testimony of history.

Sometimes you’ll hear people argue that Jesus never specifically condemned it, but even that is inaccurate. Jesus did condemn sexual immorality (Matthew 19.9) and fornication (Matthew 15.19), which would include any sexual intercourse outside of marriage…and Jesus defined marriage as being between one man and one woman (Matthew 19.4-6) just as God created it in the Garden of Eden and as it was described in Genesis 2.

If you study the Bible and are honest about what it says, you have to reach one of two conclusions: either homosexuality is wrong, or the Bible is wrong. You can’t claim that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality.

Myth 2: Homosexuality is the Chief of Sins.

Now, you might not actually hear someone say this, but if we’re honest about it, this is how we act sometimes. We sure get a lot more worked up about this sin than a lot of other sins.

Those sin lists that Paul makes where he includes homosexuality in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 8? They also include sins like adultery, greed, drunkenness, lying, gossip, envy…When was the last time you saw a bunch of Christians up in arms on Facebook because of gossip or greed or envy?

Or even if you just want to narrow it to sexual sins, there are a lot more heterosexuals than homosexuals in this country who are violating God’s laws about sexual behavior. We don’t seem to get as upset about that for some reason. Maybe because that’s a temptation that many of us understand better, or maybe because our culture has already compromised on that sin a long time ago!

A lot of times, if you hold to the biblical teaching on homosexuality—that it is a sin—you are branded as a hateful bigot. And that’s too bad. I don’t hate homosexuals; I don’t think most Christians do either. But when we use all of our moral outrage on this one issue, and we’re not consistent in the way we oppose other kinds of sin (including the ones like gossip and greed and lying that we tend to wink at), I can understand how some gay people could think that we hate them, because to them it seems like we only focus on their sin.

But homosexuality is not the chief of sins. It’s just one of many that we need to oppose.

Myth 3: There is No Difference between Homosexual Attraction and the Practice of Homosexuality.

This is a huge myth, because there is a huge difference: it’s the difference between temptation and sin. It’s the difference between orientation and behavior.

When you go back and look at those sin lists that Paul writes which we’ve already referred to a couple of times, he talks about practicing homosexuality, the physical act of it. That is a sin. We need to distinguish that practice from the temptation. Temptations are not sin. I know that because the Bible teaches that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, and yet was without sin (you can read about some of those temptations in Matthew 4). So it’s not sinful to be tempted; it’s sinful to give in to your temptations.

Sometimes in these discussions I think we get on shaky ground when we try to argue about whether or not people are born with a homosexual orientation. And honestly, if you keep up with this stuff, the science is still out on this. Scientists don’t know; they argue it both ways. We do know that our genetic makeup greatly influences our lives, but that also the environment in which we are raised greatly influences us.

But I’ll be honest with you, if science came out and definitively said that yes, some people are born with an inclination toward homosexual feelings, it really wouldn’t bother me, because my experience already leads me to believe that some people are naturally more inclined towards certain temptations than others.

For some who are reading this, the temptation for greed is so high. It’s so easy to find yourself thinking about how you can get more money, more possessions. For others, the temptation to gossip is so strong. When you find out information about someone—maybe a brother or sister in Christ—it is such a struggle to not gleefully pass that on. For others, the temptation of drunkenness or lust is a strong one, while others may never feel those temptations at all.

The point is, we’re different! Sins that are really tempting for me may not be tempting for you. Sins that are really tempting for you may not be tempting for me.

But we need to realize that homosexual attraction is a temptation. It’s giving in to that temptation that is sin. Christians who struggle with this temptation—like all temptations—need our sympathy, our compassion, and support, not our derision, or our judgment, or our cruel jokes.

Myth 4: America is a Christian Nation.

The United States was established on certain Christian principles, and there is a respect for the sovereignty of God and the teachings of Scripture that run deep within the heritage of our country. And if that’s what you mean in saying that America is a Christian nation, I get your point, and I agree.

However…

The United States of America is not a Christian nation, because as a nation, we don’t live according to the principles of Christ.

If America was a Christian nation, we wouldn’t have an economy based largely on greed where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. If America was a Christian nation, we wouldn’t legally permit the slaughter of nearly one million of our own unborn children each year and call it a medical procedure. And yes, if America was a Christian nation, we wouldn’t be debating about whether or not we can “re-define” marriage when God has already clearly defined it. And we could go on and on.

But at an even more basic level, America is not a Christian nation because “Christian nations” do not exist. 

God doesn’t have a country; He has a kingdom. And by the way, if you are a Christian, that is where your primary allegiance should lie—not the United States! God’s Kingdom—or God’s reign, His rule—will one day extend over all that is. But for now, the Bible teaches that Satan is the ruler of this world. Sure, God is ultimately in charge and the Bible teaches that He is involved in the rise and fall of kings and nations…but right now, God’s Kingdom, His reign and His rule, is seen primarily in the Church and in the lives of individual Christians and the light that they shine.

It is not seen in our government or our laws. The United States is not the Kingdom of God.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t be upset over the direction that our country is going. If you care about the US (as I do), then that’s a natural response. And we see in Luke 13 and Matthew 23 that Jesus lamented over the city of Jerusalem because of the way that it rejected prophets and was going to reject Him and the punishment that would come as a result—the city was leveled in AD 70 by the Romans. It’s okay to be sad when our country makes decisions that go against God’s laws and desires.

It also doesn’t mean that we can’t desire or use our political voice to try and reflect Kingdom values in our country. But I think it does mean that we should quit expecting our country to look like the Kingdom of God. Because it’s not that. I think as Christians, we need to quit being surprised when lost people act like they’re lost. How else are they going to act? We should expect the world to act like the world.

To me, that means that engaging in culture wars and arguing with people about gay marriage shouldn’t be our primary concern. Don’t misunderstand me: if someone asks me my opinion on gay marriage, you better believe that I’ll tell them. If I have the chance to vote on it, you can rest assured that I will use my vote to reflect the values of the Kingdom.

But what I’m not going to do is obsess over the fact that the U.S. doesn’t look like the Kingdom of God, because why would it? It’s not that.

Instead, I need to focus on making and maturing disciples to be like Jesus Christ! That’s what my mission is. That’s how I expand the borders of God’s Kingdom; not by arguing with people on Facebook.

Myth 5: The Direction in which America is Heading is Bad for the Church.

Related somewhat to the last idea, I think there is a general feeling that the direction our country is headed—a direction away from the teachings of God and Scripture—is a bad thing for the church.But I’m not sure that’s true. Hear me out…

I expect that as time goes on, the policies and laws of our nation will increasingly stray from the teachings of Scripture. I expect that to happen. As a result, I think our country will increasingly become a hostile environment for Christians.

And I firmly believe that God will bless us in that environment.

For one thing, it says that in Scripture. Jesus says in Matthew 5.11: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

But also, this idea is borne out in history.

Starting in the Book of Acts we see that when the church was persecuted, it didn’t put an end to the church—it just enabled the church to spread! What began as a movement in Jerusalem spread throughout Judea, Samaria, Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and beyond when Saul of Tarsus and others like him began to persecute the church.

That continued later on. Emperors like Nero and Domitian persecuted Christianity and tried to stamp it out—they had Christians beheaded and burned at the stake—but the church continued to grow. Tertullian, a Christian of the 2nd century, said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” When the church is persecuted, fair-weather lukewarm Christians are weeded out, and those who remain do great things!

But keeping our gaze on the past, we also see the reverse is true.

In 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity all across the Roman Empire—no longer would Christians be persecuted—and soon thereafter, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire. And that sounds like a good thing to us, but really it wasn’t a healthy thing for the church at all! Christianity became trendy and popular; it was something that people signed up for like a social club.

Lukewarm faith, questionable motives, and pagan backgrounds combined to produce a lot of practices which led people away from the truth of Scripture. Christianity was a name they wore, but not a cross they carried daily.

Fast forward hundreds and hundreds of years…when I look around at our culture, our so-called “Christian nation”, that’s what I see; a nation of lukewarm Christianity filled with people who claim the name of Christ but don’t really follow Him. People who instead worship money, or success, or a flag.

An American government that has largely been friendly to the values and ideas of Christianity for the last couple of hundred years hasn’t really been great for the church; it’s just made it easy for Christians to get comfortable living in this world and to forget that we are supposed to be citizens of another.

If our country continues to turn away from God’s commandments and teachings, I think it will become increasingly hostile toward Christians. And maybe that’s exactly what we need to wake us up!

If what we care about is our comfort, then the direction in which our country is headed is certainly troubling. But if we care about the health and growth of the church, then I think we need to look to the future with a bold confidence in what lies ahead.

Conclusion

We’ve been talking about myths:

  • Is it true that the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexuality? No, the Bible does condemn it. As Christians, we need to know this truth and be able to share it.
  • Is it true that homosexuality is the chief of sins? No, it isn’t. And if we want to have a witness that the world will listen to, we have got to be consistent. We have to speak out against all sins, not just this one.
  • Is it true that there is no difference between homosexual attraction and the practice of homosexuality? No, there’s a huge difference: the difference between temptation and sin. People who struggle with this temptation need our support and our prayer, not our condemnation and our disdain.
  • Is it true that America is a Christian nation? No, God has a Kingdom, not a country. The fact that our country doesn’t look like the Kingdom of God shouldn’t surprise us; it should make us seek to spread the borders of the Kingdom and look eagerly for our home with God.
  • Is it true that the direction in which America is heading is bad for the church? I don’t think so. The Bible teaches and history bears witness that when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, the church is blessed. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, or comfortable, but it should fill us with courage and purpose.

This post has talked extensively about the Kingdom of God; it’s God’s mission to save the world through His Son Jesus, and as Christians—as citizens of God’s Kingdom—we join with Him on that mission. Inherently, that means that we don’t live hidden and cut off from our culture, but rather, actively engaged in it. I know this is a complicated and emotionally-charged issue, but I think it is incredibly important that we get the truth about these myths straight in our minds if we are going to be salt and light and engage our world in the proper tone and from the right perspective.

Christians and the Sanctity of Marriage

A Chick-fil-A in Huntsville, Alabama on August 1. Photo by Glenn Baeske/AP Photo
So a couple of weeks ago there was a pretty big political/cultural/religious firestorm concerning gay marriage and Chick-fil-A. Perhaps you heard something about it.
I didn’t write anything about it at the time because (a) I was traveling, (b) Everybody in the world seemed to be writing something about it, and (c) When it comes to emotionally-charged issues, I think it is sometimes less helpful to talk about them when we are so fired up. So I have waited until now to post a brief thought for reflection.
I have no problem with a company executive expressing his views on marriage. I happened to agree with his views, but even if I didn’t, I support his freedom to express what he believes—that’s one of the neat things about our country. And speaking of freedom, I also support the freedom of those who disagree with him to boycott his company, and the freedom of those who agree with him to Eat (even) Mor Chikin than usual to show their support.
But here is what I wonder: in a society plagued by divorce, where Christians don’t do that much better than non-Christians at staying married,1 what is the most effective way for Christians to protect the sanctity of marriage? Is it by eating at Chick-fil-A (or getting in debates on the internet, or holding up picket signs), or by actively cultivating healthy, God-glorifying marriages with our spouses?
Of course, it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision—you can affirm the value of biblical marriage by working hard to make yours conform to those standards and at the same time, you can also use your political and economic voice to support it as well. Unfortunately, I think that the tendency is for a lot of people to follow the latter options (which, admittedly require less effort and less sacrifice) instead of the former rather than in addition to it.
By all means, let’s protect the sanctity of marriage—but let’s also admit that homosexuals aren’t the only ones who are bringing damage upon it.

• • •
1This article talks about how the oft-quoted fact of Christians divorcing at the same rate as non-Christians is a myth. However, even this article puts the divorce rate among American Christians at about 42%, while that of non-religious Americans is about 50%. As Christians, are we really going to pat ourselves on the back about that level of difference?

Double Standards

Double Standards are, by definition, unfair, which I suppose is why most people don’t like them.

I, too, dislike double standards, though I’ll admit that sometimes, my ire towards injustice is slow to awaken when I belong to the party that is benefitting from it. For example, when I was at Harding, I was never too concerned about violating curfew, because I knew that since I was a guy, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Had I been a girl, it would’ve been a different story; I would’ve been in trouble.

That was a double standard, but since I was a guy, it didn’t bother me too much.

Former NBA star Tim Hardaway’s statements this past week have made me think about a couple of double standards concerning homosexuality. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Hardaway’s comments, he said the following during a radio interview after being asked how he would deal with a gay teammate:

“First of all I wouldn’t want him on my team. Second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him because I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think he should be in the locker room when we’re in the locker room.”

When the interviewer was critical of Hardaway’s remarks, and referred to them as bigoted and homophobic, Hardaway responded:

“Well, you know, I hate gay people. I let it be known I don’t like gay people. I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic.”

The fallout following Hardaway’s words has been considerable: he was removed from All-Star Weekend activities, barred from future NBA appearances, and fired from his job as the Chief Basketball Operations Advisor of the CBA Indiana Alleycats. And he’s been publicly condemned by just about everyone.

First off, let me start of by saying that I don’t condone Hardaway’s words. While I can understand his concerns about undressing and showering around homosexuals in the locker room, he was way overboard in saying that he hates them. Even if his hatred stems from a belief that homosexuality is wrong, the Bible is pretty clear that we’re not supposed to hate anyone.

That being said, the degree of the outcry against Hardaway serves as evidence of the politically correct culture that we live in.

What I mean is this: if he had made basically the same statement, but about Christians instead of homosexuals, do you think he would face the same consequences? No way.

The truth is, there are some things in our society that are okay to publicly criticize without fear of serious repercussions, while other things like homosexuality (or Islam, or whatever is politically correct at the time) are completely taboo.

That’s a double standard, and I don’t like it.

The second double standard hits a little closer to home for me.

As a Christian, I absolutely believe that homosexuality is wrong, but the Tim Hardaway interview reminds me that sometimes we (Christians) tend to look at it from a skewed perspective.

From the way many Christians talk and act, you would think that homosexuality is some sort of unforgivable sin and that gay people are a group to whom we owe nothing. Some people who claim to follow Christ even seem to believe that His command to love our neighbors doesn’t apply to homosexuals, and live their lives in ways that could be summed up by Hardaway’s comments.

We’re understanding with people who lie, or are greedy, or even steal or commit adultery, but we treat gay people as if they are irreedemable, as if there is no hope for them.

That’s also a double standard, and I don’t like it either.

The truth is that all forms of sin—including homosexuality, but also including things like lying, gossiping and adultery—separate us from God, and make us deserving of death.

Thankfully, Christ was willing to experience death in our stead, and bridge the gulf that our sins had created between us and God. That death gives the hope of redemption to liars, gossips, thieves and adulterers. Homosexuals too.

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