So when the Bible talks about what was the sin of Sodom, you can look throughout the Bible: over hundreds of centuries, it keeps referring back to Sodom and how bad Sodom was and how wicked Sodom was.
But what is it specifically that the Bible is talking about? Is it talking about same-sex partners, or is it talking about violence and violating people sexually?
There’s a part in the Bible, just a little bit further, in the book of Ezekiel, where it talks about what Sodom did that was so wrong. And it says in Ezekiel, “Now, this was the sin of your sister Sodom.” And it’s saying “sister” just in a metaphorical way. These cities are all in a location.
They’re sister cities. They refer to the population as daughters. But they’re talking about the city and its population. “Now, this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were overfed, arrogant and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”
So it seems this thing has become something that’s used to target a minority group, to say that this minority should be shunned and they should be punished, when it’s talking about how the people who are weakest among us, the people who need us the most, the most vulnerable people among us, are people that we need to be thinking about.
So when people look at the Bible, they need to think about all these different literary types: love songs, poems, different kinds of literature, people dealing with big life questions. There’s all different kinds of literature and genres.
And when we read something in the Bible, we need to put it in its literary context, we need to put it in its historical context, understand who these people are and what the time period was.
KRISTIN SAYLOR: So when we read the Bible in our own context, especially in light of the recent attention that issues of the LGBTQ community have received, it’s important to do two things.
And the first is exactly what we have been doing: to take the texts that do talk about homosexuality, few though they may be, and really dig into them and read them for ourselves and ask, “What do they really say and what do they really not say? And then, what does that mean?”
And the other thing we can do is read the Bible in context, as a whole, in all of its multiple and diverse voices, and ask, “What counter-voices could we lift up that might actually be queer-positive?”
Now, that’s different from saying that the Bible somehow has a hidden gay agenda, because it doesn’t. It really doesn’t have any agenda.
But there are different voices that stand in contrast to the ones that the media would have us lift up. One of the most powerful examples, I think, is from the book of Acts, which is basically the story of the earliest years of Christianity, in which people like Peter and Paul are going out into all the world, sharing what they’ve learned and been taught by Jesus and encountering on the way a whole lot of diverse and unexpected scenarios.
And one of those is when the apostle Philip is on a road, traveling somewhere, and he meets and Ethiopian eunuch.
Now, what is that? Well, Ethiopian, in this case, is just shorthand for anyone from Africa, south of the Sahara, with dark skin.
So there you go: an outsider on one count, because of the way he looks. And a eunuch is a man who worked on a royal court and had undergone ritual castration, so that he could serve the monarchy without posing the threat of producing male heirs who could usurp the throne.
Now, eunuchs, in Judaism of that day and age, were not full members of society. They were subject to all kinds of ritual prohibitions, they were excluded.
So again, you have a double outsider in this Ethiopian eunuch.
And what happens? Well, he and Philip get to talking, one thing leads to another.
Next thing you know, the eunuch is saying, “Hey, look! Here’s a pool of water on the side of the road. What is to prevent me from being baptized, from becoming a full member of this community, right here, right now?”
And Philip says, “Sure. Let’s do it.” He doesn’t interrogate him about his sexual practices. He doesn’t say, “Oh nah, you’re not qualified.” No! He just welcomes him on the spot.
And that story is a powerful counter-voice that values inclusion and acceptance of someone who, in today’s context, might have some parallels with the transgender community.
Another example that I’d like to leave you with — there are many — is from the letter to the Galatians, which is a very early piece of Christian correspondence in which Paul is describing what the afterlife is like. And he says, “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there’s neither slave nor free, and there’s neither male nor female.”
So he’s radically just erasing all the boundaries and distinctions that we put up among ourselves and saying, “In the end, none of that matters.”
So my question to you is: what does it mean to say that, in Christ, there’s neither male nor female, in a world where people are insisting that the Bible says, “No, actually there is male and female,” and that affects what kind of bathrooms we have and that affects what kind of marriage we have? And in reality, what the Bible says is much more complex than that.