|Wed, Oct 01, 2014 02:16 PM
|Issue of September 24, 2014
Search continues for the dreaded 'sodomite'
Our readers write
April 25, 2007 | 09:39 AM
Thank you, The Corydon Democrat, for showing the courage to print Tonya Windell's editorial, "Marriage Ban Treats Others as Inferior, or Unequal" (April 4, 2007). Few of us were surprised when it evoked a response such as The Rev. Frederick C. Schuppert's the following week.
Particularly noteworthy is the Rev. Schuppert's insistence on referring to gay men not as gay men but as "sodomites." Even more interestingly, since he speaks of same-sex couples but does not limit his discussion to male-male couples, he even appears to refer to lesbians as "sodomites" — which is an unusual usage of the term.
On this point, note that there is no verse in the Bible that unambiguously mentions lesbianism, much less condemns it. Roman 1:26 mentions "unnatural" female sex, but it is not entirely clear whether heterosexual or homosexual or both.
I can only surmise he likes the word "sodomite" because (1) it is "Biblesounding" and (2) it is condemnatory and commonly shame-inducing. Perhaps he thinks that today's openly gay men and women are psychologically defenseless as little children, and we can be shamed into not standing up for ourselves and working to secure fair treatment that is duly ours.
But OK, since it appears to be the good pastor's preferred term, let's discuss the word "sodomite." Specifically, let's examine whether its use in the Christian tradition is valid and correct.
First, Genesis 19 tells us the story of the angels visiting Lot in Sodom, and the men of the city surrounding the house. While today's evangelicals like to claim that the "sin of Sodom" was modern-style homosexuality, the men of Sodom in the story intended male-on-male rape, not consensual gay relationships. Moreover, the scriptures themselves make clear that Sodom's godlessness was due to a long list of offenses such as pride, selfish affluence, inhospitality, hatred of strangers, injustice, lies, adultery, encouraging evildoers, oppression and callousness to the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49; Isaiah 1:10-17 and 3:9; Jeremiah 23:14; Zephaniah 2:8-11).
These verses don't mention male-male sex per se; thus, they indicate that regarding Sodom as a symbol for the intrinsic sinfulness of all forms of homosexuality is an over-generalization and a prejudicial fabrication. Seeing that evangelical Christians often treat gay men and women with rejection, callousness, inhospitality, insult and injustice, I am tempted to ask, "Will the real Sodomites please stand up?"
While the word "sodomite" occurs in various English translations, there is no directly corresponding word in the original Hebrew or Greek. In fact, of the book "The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology" by Mark D. Jordan, (Medieval Institute, Notre Dame Univ., 1998) one reviewer writes that "the view of sodomy as a form of sexual sin seems to have been invented in the 11th century by the Italian ascetic St. Peter Damian."
This agrees with the historical record that the first church council to call for the punishment of homosexual acts was Lateran III in the year 1179.
Apparently Christianity in general did not have an objection to consensual homosexuality between adults during its first millennium, although a few individual Christian leaders may have.
But notably, apparently not Jesus himself. Another reviewer observes, "One striking feature is that this tradition/discourse only began more than a thousand years after Christ, who is not recorded as having condemned sodomy or sodomites." Moreover, if Jesus were truly offended by consensual homosexuality, if avoiding it were essential for salvation, would he have remained silent on the matter?
As has often been noted, prohibitions in Leviticus were part of the Jewish "Mosaic Code" or "Holiness Code," and later Jesus stated that this Old Testament code no longer needs to be observed. Still, modern evangelicals like to cite Leviticus because it is so convenient to reinforce their anti-gay prejudices.
Similarly, the King James Bible mentions "sodomites" in Deuteronomy 23:17, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:47, and 2 Kings 23:7. The actual Hebrew word appearing in these passages is qadheshim, literally "sacred ones" or "dedicated ones," and ironically refers to male temple prostitutes available for pagan sexual rituals. Using the word "sodomites" here is simply a bad translation that communicates an inaccurate meaning.
Some English Bibles use the word "sodomites" in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. Here the original Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai are used in such a way that Bible scholars disagree on their exact meanings to this very day. Few scholars believe, however, that these words refer to modern-style gay couples.
In this small space, I cannot give a complete treatment of all alleged Biblical references to male homosexuality, whether accurate or false. But I have shown that both the word and concept of "sodomite" is a mistaken medieval European invention and an artifact of poor translations into English. Even modern law has largely dropped its use of the word "sodomy" for more objective phrases.
I am amused that the Rev. Schuppert mentions the sensibilities of Islamic-Americans.
Actually, I fear that theocracy-craving Americans such as the Rev. Schuppert threaten our Constitution and the freedom of religion it guarantees us far more than does the average Muslim-American, whether native-born or immigrant.
In summary, conservative thinkers such as the Rev. Schuppert may have a right to select a Biblical interpretation that they find most likely — but I, in turn, have that same right. The interpretation that the Rev. Schuppert might select does not give him the trump card in dictating to me how I must live; nor in a country with religious freedom does it give him a right to expect his religious views to be reflected in civil law; nor should his or anyone's religious views rightfully deny me equal access, treatment and protection of the law.
And we return to the matter that I am a gay American, not a resident of Sodom or a "Sodomite." And if the Rev. Schuppert will refrain from calling me a sodomite, I might resist my own temptation to refer to him as a Pharisee or a Philistine.