Monday, November 9, 2009

[lgbt] "sodomy, it's between God and me"

The first lesson at Mass this morning the morning in June when I originally wrote most of this was part of Genesis 19. I would give you a more exact verse citation? But I was less paying attention than twitching in fear. I think we started with v. 24, "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfer and fire from the LORD out of heaven," and then Lot's wife turns into a pillar of salt and we didn't actually hear why it was that God destroyed Sodom, which as you and I and most of the delegates to the ELCA Central States Synod Assembly know was:
  • lack of hospitality

  • sexual violence

  • nothing at all to do with loving committed same-gender relationships

But though you know that and I know that, I didn't know if the priest knew that. His homily was about the Gospel reading. His prayer that began, "Since we read part of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah today, we pray for those suffering from..." ended with "natural disasters: floods, hurricanes, earthquakes..."

Did you tense up in the middle of that sentence? I would have, if I hadn't already been a ball of tension, ready to flee at the slightest hint of condemnation.

The description of Sodom's wickedness isn't in the lectionary. [Romans 1 is Epiphany 9A, should there be 9 weeks in the Epiphany.]

Which is possibly kind of a shame, because it means we don't get to reclaim it. Because "Sodom" is not shorthand for sexual violence against women or a lack of hospitality to strangers and I know that whenever I hear the word, which is why I spent five minutes at Mass this morning cringing.

I go to midday service at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal, and our gospel lesson was Luke 9:51-62. Vv 57-62 are difficult, troubling words about the costs of discipleship, but I was more struck by the first part:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

The LORD (Lord) rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire (do you want us to command fire) from the LORD out of heaven (to come down from heaven) and he overthrew those cities (and consume them?)

(But he turned and rebuked them.)


There are a lot of places I could go from here. One text. My (queer Christian woman) experience (fear) of one of them in a location (Kansas) in a context (early twenty-first century USA). Another text from another lectionary with unexpected parallels.

So what?

So I think it's more helpful to think of both stories as showcasing conflicting human impulses toward retribution and mercy. The destruction of Sodom is the occasion for Abraham's bargains with God for the salvation of Sodom for the sake of fifty forty-five forty [...] ten righteous inhabitants. Abraham and God, Jesus and James and John:

it is absolutely not about a New Testament God and an "Old Testament" God, any more than it's about merciful Hebrew patriarchs and hot-headed early Christians. It's a continuing conversation about judgment and mercy, turning and turning again: repentance.

Lot's wife turns to look back; Jesus turns to face his disciples. Turn and turn again. Repent.

Before we can follow Jesus, we need to acknowledge that the potent, powerful desire to rain fire on our enemies is part of us too.

In Sunday school several months ago I asked about praying the vengeful parts of the Psalms, and one of the answers I got was, pray those parts as confession. We wanted you to rain fire from heaven, God, to smite our enemies utterly and crush them underfoot, and we are most grievously sorry.

That's one answer. Justice fire mercy and judgment.

Or this:

I'm a sodomite.

It's terribly dangerous to identify ourselves myself with the sinners in the story, because the inhabitants of Sodom were sinful in ways that have nothing to do with queer sexuality. When we talk about welcoming and affirming glbt people into our congregations (and affirming ourselves as glbt people and beloved children of God), we have to be really clear that affirmation means, "Your queerness is not sinful. Your desires are not sinful. Your lifestyle is not sinful. Your partnership is not sinful."

So that's not what I'm saying when I say, "I'm a sodomite." It has nothing to do with my sinful nature -- it has to do with my location when I hear the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, with the historical and contemporary uses of that story, which doesn't and can't exist free of its homophobic history, not for me, probably not for many other queer people.

It means, when I hear that story, I don't identify with God or Lot or Lot's wife or Lot's daughters. I identify with the Sodomites, and that means that when I hear James and John asking for fire to come down and consume a village of Samaritans... I remember that I'm a sodomite, and this story feels viciously familiar.

And after spending a morning cringing in the margins, when I move to a place of privilege, when I am most easily identified as white, able-bodied, and young, when my queerness and femaleness are less relevant -- I take my margin experience with me and remember, and turn, and repent.

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