The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities so beset by immorality that God saw fit to raze them with fire from Heaven, has been used by many Christians to justify their outrage and actions against gays. God’s intolerance of homosexuality was demonstrated on the fertile Jordan plain when He reduced those infamous bergs to cinders – the God-fearing should take the hint.
In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s ruling in Goodrich vs. Department of Public Health paved the way for the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriage. The ruling was decried by the Christian community in Massachusetts and across the country as a symptom of America’s moral decay.
The image of a smoldering Sodom and Gomorrah was evoked as many prominent evangelicals predicted a domino effect, calling the faithful to action. Legalized gay marriage would, they said, lead to increasingly depraved definitions of marriage, eventually resulting in bestial unions. Less hysterical were predictions that other states would follow suit, and that Massachusetts would be the first ripple in a hedonistic tidal wave that would eventually sweep the nation.
Recent policy decisions in California and New York suggest that the pro-gay marriage movement is indeed gaining momentum, but while many evangelicals will look to my home state with disdain and blame liberalism here for tainting the rest of the country, I suggest we look no further than the closest mirror when assigning culpability.
After all, what many in the religious community conveniently forget (or more likely don’t even know) is that buggery was not the reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. The prophet Ezekiel tells us it was pride.
Pride is insidious, manifesting itself in, among other things, the presence of overbearing religiosity within the church. Evangelicalism has enjoyed a privileged position in America since the earliest days of colonization and that privilege has bred complacency within the church which, as a whole, has lost its fire. There have been occasional, genuine revivals, and pockets of fervent belief have always existed, but for the most part the church has taken on an air of false piety that has poisoned our witness – our ability to speak about our faith in a way that brings others to share in God’s love.
Rather than looking to Christ as our exemplar and modeling our lives after His, we instead spend most of our time browbeating those we feel don’t measure up to our standards. Too many Christians follow the lead of individuals they perceive as somehow more worthy, those who occupy televised pulpits, wrapped in crisp suits and surrounded by impressive accoutrements, delivering slick motivational speeches punctuated with clever turns of phrase that tickle the ear, but are theologically empty.
One example, overused in the Church’s crusade against the homosexual community, is “love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s a phrase filled with good intent, but rarely followed in practice. If we truly “loved the sinner,” we’d be doing more than holding rallies on Beacon Hill showing the world that, while other sins (say, cheating on taxes, coveting our neighbor’s stuff, fibbing, or even heterosexual promiscuity) get a relative pass, homosexuality is deserving of our most zealous attention.
No other sin captures our attention to such a degree, but while the church today saves its harshest words for homosexuals, we should note that Christ saved His for the falsely pious.
When the adulterous woman was dragged into the street and brought before Jesus for judgment, he admonished her accusers by saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus didn’t excuse the woman’s actions, but he knew the wicked hearts of her accusers and wanted them to look inward at their own lives. We’re told that Jesus wrote in the sand while the scene unfolded; the Bible doesn’t record the words he wrote, but it is speculated that it may have been the sins the Pharisees themselves had committed in secret.
When the church looks back, it may identify Goodrich as the point at which the battle for the heart and soul of America was lost. But I’ll argue that the battle was lost long before. When religious pride eclipsed Christ-like humility as the church’s prevailing emotion, the rest of the world lost any reason to believe that there was a meaningful difference between it and Christianity.
The church should not change its view of sexual immorality, but it should re-evaluate its performance as a conduit for the truth of the Gospel. Living lives of faith and humility, demonstrating true love for our neighbors, and daily working to improve our own spiritual walk – instead of making suggestions to others – is the way to bring about real change in society.
Lost in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the example of Lot, Abraham’s nephew and the one righteous citizen of those doomed communities. So weak was the witness of Lot that no one took him seriously when he warned them of the coming judgment. His life’s witness was, apparently, void of any authenticity.
That same lack of authenticity – an ability to call people to our beliefs by our actions – is why evangelicalism is failing as a cultural force in America today.