I’m sure you’ve heard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as told by the Evangelical church: Homosexuality was so rampant there that God burned it to the ground! I’m sure you’ve also heard the parallels the Evangelical church draws between that story and modern day: Homosexuality is so rampant in the US that God sends catastrophic weather events and also the general demise of culture to punish us and if we don’t hold the line, God will burn us to the ground, too!
This is, of course, hogwash. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah was never about homosexuality, or sex at all for that matter. The men of Sodom didn’t want to have sex with the travelers, they wanted to rape them. And rape is not about sex, it is about power. Sodom’s sin, according to the Bible, was that they had no love for their neighbors.
“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.” (Ezekiel 16:49 (NIV))
I was reminded the other day of these passages, and the Evangelical penchant for drawing parallels between them and modern-day life, and I thought I would try my hand at it. Ready?
Imagine, if you will, a small church in a medium sized town. The leaders, all white men of course, are mostly good people with mostly good intentions. There have been some changes recently, and change is frightening, but they think they can guide their community through the rough waters, if everyone stays in the boat and nobody rocks it. They really do see themselves as servant leaders, and might not notice that they treat the church as their kingdom.
One day one of the members of this kingdom, a woman, says, “Hey, I noticed that queer young people don’t seem to feel comfortable in our church, and I worry about them. I spent a lot of time studying and thinking and praying about this and I think we might have been wrong all this time. Also, I’m queer, too.” She doesn’t ask for a platform, doesn’t ask for policy changes, she just talks about her own journey, and she does this in her own spaces.
The leaders are concerned. They use words like ‘divisive’ and talk about how things might change one day but they cannot change now, not on their watch. The woman is clearly viewed as a threat to their kingdom (although she cannot figure out why), and they decide she must go. She asks how making someone leave isn’t divisive, but it is clear that to them, ‘divisive’ means ‘different.’ If they make the woman leave, nothing and no one will be different.
It does not seem to occur to them that to have harmony, music must have more than one note.
The woman leaves, broken, suffering. But she’s an outsider now, no longer their responsibility.
We know that Lot was not an evil person (although try telling that to his daughters). Have you ever wondered why he stayed in Sodom? He clearly knew how the town treated visitors, for he tried to rescue them before the danger was even apparent. But Sodom was wealthy, and if they stayed wealthy by mistreating their neighbors, well, that was the trade-off for a life of comfort. Lot tried to mitigate this when he could, but wasn’t willing to make himself uncomfortable to do so.
The woman rebuilds her life. She finds a new community. She is loved and she thrives. And a year later, she receives a report from the little church kingdom that exiled her: It is dying. The people have trickled away, taking their pocketbooks with them. “If people keep leaving, we’ll have no money to pay a pastor!” the leaders say. And then, “You must think carefully and pray hard before you decide to leave, too.” The woman ponders this announcement. She remembers how carefully she thought and how much she prayed. She remembers how little that meant to the leaders. She remembers how no outcome of thought and prayer mattered to them if it wasn’t the outcome they’d pre-determined to be acceptable.
She remembers how protecting their little kingdom was more important than loving their neighbors. More important than loving her.
I don’t know why so many people have left my former church. I have intentionally not kept in touch with the vast majority of the people there, and I haven’t asked questions of those people I do still talk to. But I am not surprised at this news. They are not heeding their calling to love their neighbors, and thus have become chaff. But I am also not gleeful about the situation. In fact, I would be overjoyed to see true repentance and a revival of love sweep through there. But if they cling as stubbornly to their dogma and the status quo as they did before, then metaphorical fire and brimstone and pillars of salt seem quite fitting.