Rebel TheologyThis is the sixth post in our series, The Gay Christian Question. If you missed the previous posts please go back and read them to get up to speed on how we are approaching this series…

The Gay Christian Question – A New Series

The Gay Christian Question – 3 Questions for You

The Gay Christian Question – Hermeneutics 101

The Gay Christian Question – Sodom and Gomorrah Part One

The Gay Christian Question – Sodom and Gomorrah Part Two

In the previous posts we looked at the arguments from Matthew Vines and James Hamilton Jr.’s on whether the primary sin assigned to Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexuality. This week we hear the arguments from Daniel A. Helminiak, Ph.D.

About Daniel A. Helminiak

Daniel Helminiak teaches psychology and spirituality at the State University of West Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston College and Andover Newton Theological School and a Ph.D. in educational psychology, with a specialization in human development, from The University of Texas at Austin, and he is certified as a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.  As a psychotherapist, social scientist and theologian, he is concerned to integrate religion and psychology and thus to suggest what wholesome living means in a pluralistic and secularized world. Said otherwise, his specialization is spirituality. His areas of special interest are post-childhood development and human sexuality.

His other books are The Same Jesus: A Contemporary Christology (Loyola University Press, 1986), Spiritual Development: An Interdisciplinary Study (Loyola University Press, 1987), The Human Core of Spirituality: Mind as Psyche and Spirit (State University of New York Press, 1996), Religion and the Human Sciences: An Approach via Spirituality (State University of New York Press, 1998), Meditation without Myth (Crossroad Publishing Co., 2005) Sex and the Sacred (Haworth Press, 2006), The Transcended Christian: Spiritual Lessons from Religious Outcasts (Alyson Books, 2007) and Spirituality for a Global Community: Religion, Pluralism, and Secular Society (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). (Taken from What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality (Kindle Locations 3451-3466). Alamo Square Press. Kindle)

Helminiak’s Foundation (The chapters before the one on Sodom and Gomorrah.)

It is tough to just jump in on Helminiak’s chapter on Sodom and Gomorrah without giving you some idea of the foundation he laid in his opening chapters.  Below is a quick synopsis of Helminiak’s foundation…

Chapter One – Introduction

Helminiak begins by exploring some of the history of the debate over homosexuality:

A millennium ago, Western society was rather indifferent to homosexuality and even supportive of it. A gay subculture thrived. Clerics and nuns wrote love letters and poetry to one another. All of Europe delighted in the romance of Richard the Lion-Hearted of England and Philip, the king of France. Students at the newly founded Christian universities regularly debated the pros and cons of straight versus gay love. And no law codes in Europe (except in Visigoth Spain) included prohibitions of homosexual acts. (Kindle Locations 262-266)

Helminiak goes on to state that views began to change in the middle of the 1100s when Peter Cantor campaigned for the condemnation of gay love affairs among clergy. As part of a growing intolerance to gay love across Europe, “Lateran III became the first ecumenical church council to require punishment for homosexual acts.” (Kindle Location 270) Helminiak mentions that John Boswell, the Yale historian who researched this history, also noted that the 20th century was the most anti-gay of all. Below are just a few incidents of severe persecution of the gay community:

  • Prior to World War II, “the Nazis destroyed Magnus Hirschfield’s Institute for Sex Research, along with its thousands of case studies and massive research, and began sending homosexuals to concentration camps.” (Kindle Locations 277-278)
  • The Metropolitan Community Church, now an international denomination, that ministers to the gay community has suffered 18 church burnings, including one in 1973 that killed 29 people.
  • January 1999 – June 1999 – Forty-three people murdered in anti-gay hate crimes in US.

On the other side of these atrocities, Helminiak notes that support for the gay community has increased over the past 50 or so years and many countries have put in to law protections against discriminating based on sexual orientation.

Helminiak moves on from history to the sciences, where he notes that “scientific study of sexuality, along with psychology, have been underway for barely a century.” (Kindle Location 308) Through the study of human sexuality scientists have learned that our sexuality plays an integral part in our sense of “who we are” and how we love others. Sexuality is not just a physical connection with another person. Sexuality affects our “capacity to feel affection to delight in someone else, to get emotionally close to another person, to be passionately committed to him or her.” (Kindle Locations 310-311)

If we take what we know about sexuality from science and combine that with the teaching that homosexuality is a sin, we end up with a devastating internal conflict that has resulted in suicide for many. “In a profound and important way, for people to have to choose between religion and sexuality is to have to choose between religion and themselves.” (Kindle Locations 324-325)

Chapter Two – Interpreting the Bible

In much the same way that we started this series, Helminiak spends a chapter discussing different ways to interpret the Bible. Because we covered interpretation in a previous post I will highlight just a few of Helminiak’s points:

  • Words Don’t Always Mean What They Say – The meaning of words change and the meaning of expressions become lost. We see evidence of that in our own lifetime:
    • gay – used to mean happy but is now mostly used to describe sexual orientation
    • “to be out in left field” – for many people in the US this phrase is understood to mean that someone is off in their own world, but to someone who is familiar with baseball but just learning English the assumption would be that someone is literally in left field
  • Alternative Interpretations – Helminiak points to Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25 where Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
    • Some scholars believe this is a reference to a low and narrow gate through the wall surrounding Jerusalem. Camels would have to be unloaded and led through the gate crouching down.
      • This interpretation appeals to God’s Providence and implies that God works through ordinary, everyday acts.
    • Others believe Jesus is teaching a real impossibility that can only be overcome by a miraculous work of God.
      • This interpretation appeals to miracles and implies that we should always trust God to do the impossible.
    • Because of the two interpretations we end up with two pictures of God, two pictures of Jesus, and two pictures of Christian faith. (Although, the answer might be somewhere in the middle.:)
  • The Literal Reading and the Historical-Critical Reading
    • Literal reading – claims to take the text simply for what it says and means what is understood by the reader
    • Historical Critical reading – claims that the text means whatever it meant to the original writer
  • Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Bible
    • Literal approach to inspiration – relies on miracles and assumes God “overwhelmed the human authors and the words just flowed from them” (Kindle Location 469)
    • Historical-critical approach to inspiration – assumes the writers were intelligent, free, creative, culture-bound humans that knew what they were writing and God used all of that to express divine wisdom
    • Literal approach to inerrancy – takes words to mean what they say. Genesis says God created everything in 7 days so the literal understanding is that God created everything in 7 actual days.
    • Historical-critical approach to inerrancy – asks the question what is the point of the passage and what did the author intend to say? In the Genesis case, the interpretation would be that the author was trying to say that “God created the universe with wisdom, care, and order.” (Kindle Location 490) The intent was a religious lesson and not a science lesson.
  • Pluses and Minuses of the Literal Approach
    • In most cases the literal approach is easier, appeals to common sense, and requires no detailed study.
    • Because of the lack of a detailed, uniform study method texts are frequently interpreted differently because “all can claim that the text means what it means to them.” (Kindle Location 504) Differences are usually settled by the popularity of a given meaning and then imposed by a pastor or group.
    • The literal approach also tends to emphasize texts at the exclusion of others. One example is emphasizing texts that appear to condemn homosexuality but overlooking texts that appear to condemn divorce, gluttony, and other sins.
    • One last disadvantage of the literal approach is that it is difficult to utilize this approach with new issues such as stem-cell research, nuclear energy, genetic engineering, etc. The Bible simply does not address these issues, at least not literally.
  • Pluses and Minuses of the Historical-Critical Approach
    • Because there can be an agreed upon detailed study method it is easier to come to an objective interpretation of texts. The agreed upon method can cross denominational and even religious lines so that all interpreters, no matter there religious affiliation, can agree upon an interpretation. This approach also takes history serious and looks for how God is working throughout the ages.
    • The primary disadvantage to this method is that it is not easy. It requires much study (archeology, history, ancient languages, anthropology) to understand the culture and customs in which a text was written in order to attempt to discern the author’s original meaning.
    • Another disadvantage is that we do not always have enough historical evidence to aid us in understanding the true meaning of ancient words or phrases. This means that some texts will remain “foggy” until evidence surfaces to help us make a clear and proper interpretation.

Helminiak concludes the second chapter by specifically addressing homosexuality in the Bible. He makes a distinction between what was understood in the Bible as homogenitality (same-sex acts) and modern-day homosexuality (a particular way of being human). Helminiak argues that the Biblical writers wrote about homogenitality and not homosexuality and that the references to same-sex behavior in the Bible should be understood within the context in which they were written.

Why must that be so? If the Bible condemned a particular act for whatever reason, shouldn’t that act still be avoided without any further discussion? If God’s word says it is wrong, isn’t it wrong, period? A thing is wrong for a reason. If the reason no longer holds and no other reason is given, how can a thing still be judged wrong? Simply that “God said it is wrong” is not a good enough answer, for the point remains even in the case of God: God also says things are wrong for reasons. That is to say, there is good sense, there is wisdom, in the morality that God requires. If there is not, then all morality is arbitrary, and God makes things right or wrong on divine whim. (Kindle Locations 577-583)

 The Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah

Helminiak acknowledges that since the 12th Century the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has most commonly been interpreted as God’s condemnation of homogenital, or same-sex, activity. But, he also points out that when the story is viewed clearly within in context and within the other mentions of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible that the sin was not homosexuality, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality, hardheartedness, and abuse.

The Importance of Hospitality

In the desert region where Sodom and Gomorrah were located the climate was much like it is now, hot during the day and cold at night. Travelers relied on the hospitality of others in order to find warm, safe places to lodge at night. Being hospitable was a traditional part of Lot’s society as well as Semitic and Arabic cultures. Hospitality was taken so seriously that even one’s enemy might be offered lodging!

Why Lot Offered His Daughters to the Mob

Once Lot offered lodging to the strangers (angels) they came under his protection and responsibility. Lot so felt this sense of responsibility that when the mob demanded they be handed over to be raped and abused Lot offered up his virgin daughters instead.

This is extremely tough for modern Western readers, including myself, to understand. But, to properly comprehend the story I have to try and understand it as if I was a member of the original audience for which it was intended.

And, whether we like it or not, in many ancient cultures (and even some modern ones) women were not viewed or treated the same as men. In this instance, Lot clearly felt that offering his daughters was the right thing to do to protect his guests.

The Meaning of Sex

Though it may seem foreign to modern people in most cultures during ancient wars it was common for the defeated soldiers to be raped by the winning soldiers. The idea was to demean the defeated soldiers by making them the passive “female” sex partner. According to Helminiak:

Throughout Western history, a main reason for opposition to male-male sex was that it supposedly makes a man act like a woman. Saint John Chrysostom in the East and Saint Augustine in the West in the Fifth Century and Peter Cantor in the 12th, outspoken Christian opponents of homogenitality, both raised that argument. Saint Augustine wrote, “The body of a man is as superior to that of a woman as the soul is to the body.”(Kindle Locations 660-663)

It seems that the main objection to male-male intercourse was that it made one of the participants effeminate.

The Actual Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah

When the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is studied without the preconceived conclusion of homosexuality it is clear that abuse and inhospitality are the actual sins. Though sex, or better put – rape, is within the story it is not the moral lesson of the story. If sex were the moral lesson of the story then what would Lot’s willingness to offer his daughters to be raped teach us?

Helminiak points out a parallel story in Judges 19 where a similar incident occurs. Once again, the issue is about inhospitality, abuse, and rape…not homosexuality. Helminiak states, “sexual orientation is not the point. In fact, neither is the sex. In both stories, the sexual assault only serves to highlight the wickedness of the townspeople.” (Kindle Locations 682-683)

How Does the Bible Interpret the Story of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Ezekiel 16:48-49 – “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Kindle Locations 690-691)

Helminiak notes that some people bring up the fact that Ezekiel uses the word abomination throughout this chapter and that it is referring back to Leviticua 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” Helminiak refutes this by stating that in “Hebrew Scriptures the word abomination is used to refer to many things. The abomination in question here is Jerusalem’s “adultery” and “harlotry,” and these words are being used symbolically.” (Kindle Locations 696-697)

Wisdom 19:13 – states that the sin of Sodom was a “bitter hatred of strangers” and “making slaves of guests who were benefactors.”

Matthew 10:5-15 – “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave…. If any one will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Here, Jesus refers to Sodom and is doing so in correlation to towns that do not welcome (are inhospitable towards) the disciples.

Isaiah 1:10-17; 3:9, Jeremiah 23:14, Zephaniah 2:8-11 – “The sins listed in those places are injustice, oppression, partiality, adultery, lies and encouraging evildoers.” (Kindle Location 715)

Summary

Helminiak closes his chapter on Sodom and Gomorrah with a sad irony.

People oppose and abuse homosexual men and women for being different, odd, strange or, as they say, “queer.” Lesbian women and gay men are just not allowed to fit in. They are made to be outsiders, foreigners in our society. They are disowned by their families, separated from their children, fired from their jobs, evicted from apartments and neighborhoods, insulted by public figures, denounced from the pulpit, vilified on religious radio and TV, and then beaten in the schools and killed on the streets and in the backwoods of our nation. All this is done in the name of religion and supposed Judeo-Christian morality.

Such wickedness is the very sin of which the people of Sodom were guilty. Such cruelty is what the Bible truly condemns over and over again. So those who oppress homosexuals because of the supposed “sin of Sodom” may themselves be the real “sodomites,” as the Bible understands it. (Kindle Locations 725-733)

Next time we will finish up our look at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah with Michael L. Brown’s thoughts.

 

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