by Pamela Shaw (Grad. Dip. Theol; St Mark's College, Canberra)*
In recent years a lot has been said and written about homosexuals, though homosexual, as a word, did not exist until the 1890s. Indeed, society has moved on from this single focus to a much wider understanding of sexual complexities experienced by many in the community: as recognised in the now well-accepted phrase 'LGBTIQ'. At the end of 2017 as a result of the postal vote on equality of marriage, the right to marry was given to same sex couples. This was important because it showed that same sex relationships are now a normal part of society, recognised in law.
Since then Christianity has been badly damaged by the community reaction to Israel Folau who believed he was justifiably warning various sinners (including homosexuals) of God's wrath but who was seen as being engaged in 'hate speech'. Hatred has no place in Christianity: Christianity is a religion based on love , 'Love one another'.
Christians are now being seen as homophobic. An article in 2013 in Eternity mentioned that young heterosexuals were not accepting invitations from young Christians to their activities because of the Churches attitude to the LGBTIQ community. That situation has become worse.
This has not always been the case. There is no evidence that Jesus was homophobic.
There is a story in the Bible about Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis, 18-19) which had been known as a place of 'wicked great sinners against the Lord' and which was destroyed because of their wickedness. But why was Sodom destroyed? This is a story shared by both Jews and Christians but the interpretation of that story in Genesis by the two groups is not the same. Until at least the 11th century Jews stayed with Sodom and Gomorrah being 'portrayed as exploitation of the poor and abuse of strangers combined with the corruption of justice to favour the rich and powerful'. 'The Sodomites are haughty and because their land is rich and well provided for, they resolved—why should we suffer wayfarers, who come to us only to deplete our wealth...let us abolish the practice of travelling in our land' (Carden, 94).
There are four Gospels in the Bible. These were written by men who either knew the man, Jesus, or knew of him and his actions through another man. It is through the Gospels that we initially get to know the man, Jesus.
There are three references in the Gospels to Sodom and Gomorrah—none of them refer to sexual activity but all refer to lack of hospitality. Two of them refer to cities which did not welcome the disciples (Luke 10: 10–12; Matt.10: 14–15) and the third is to a city which rejected both Jesus and John, the Baptist (Matt. 11).
Sodom and Gomorrah were also mentioned in the Old Testament in six different books, in four (Isaiah 1, Jeremiah 23, Deuteronomy 29 and Amos 4), they are told to seek justice, correct oppression and to cease worshipping false Gods; in the last two Zephaniah 2; Ezekiel 16) they are accused of pride, but in none of these chapters is the homosexual act mentioned.
The Bible, both the Old and New Testament, does condemn man-on-man sex. It was said to be unnatural. This is true if you are heterosexual but if you were born homosexual it is quite normal.
Having realised that the Gospels, and therefore Jesus, did not condemn homosexuals I was surprised to find in the dictionary, that 'sodomy' was 'An unnatural form of sexual intercourse, especially that of one male with another' (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1950.)
It was Augustine (354–430) who decided that homosexuality, not lack of hospitality was the reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Carden, p146). Until then none of the Christian leaders believed that homosexuality was the reason for the towns' destruction. Even Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and a mentor of Augustine saw the reason as lack of hospitality or maltreatment of the poor. In the centuries following Augustine's writing Sodom developed a life of its own. Sodomy as a clearly homophobic word can be attributed to Peter Damian and his book, The Book of Gomorrah which was directed to Pope Leo (1048–1054), and was particularly on male-male sexuality.
If Christianity is to grow we must be able to invite people to our Churches. But we have to be able to show Christ's love for all. We have to be able to accept all LGBTI people into full participation in our Churches. We need to go back to what Jesus understood to be the reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That is we must return to saying that lack of hospitality, not homosexuality was the cause.
This is what Father Rod Bower (Rector of Gosford Anglican Church) meant on the sign outside his church, which said 'Dutton is a Sodomite'. He was referring to Minister Peter Dutton's lack of hospitality to asylum seekers. He was not saying that Dutton was gay.
There is a need for a rethink of what is taught by Christian leaders. Christ's message is sometimes being lost. Christianity is a religion based on love not hatred or fear.
Reference: Carden, Michael 2014, Sodomy: A History of a Christian Biblical Myth, Routledge, London and Taylor Group, Oxon & New York (Orig Publ 2004 by Equinox Ltd, an Imprint of Acumen)
* This is an updated, compressed version of a paper published under my name in Eremos, December 2017.