Written by Da’Shaun Harrison
I believe that it is important to be clear that I no longer identify as a Christian and, thus, do not believe that any of The Holy Book is a literal interpretation/representation of the divine. However, for the purpose of this piece, I think that it is imperative to address this from a literal position, as it is often biblical literalists who use this story to justify their anti-queer bigotry.
I remember one of the very first times I heard about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah; how intensely the story imprinted my delicate mind. I was sitting in the pew of a small church as the pastor preached a message entitled, “Turn Away or God Will Destroy You.” As he offered his understanding of the Genesis story, he muttered the words, “homosexuals must turn from their sin as God demanded those men do or God will destroy America, too.” I was young then and had not yet grappled with my own sexuality, nor had I engaged the story on my own. But this would not be the last time I heard the story told in that way. For years, much of the anti-gay rhetoric spewed by Christian people was conjoined with this ominous interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah. At some point, I chose to engage the text and come to my own understanding. With the ahistorical belief that “homosexuality” originated in America, as many Christians seemingly believed, combined with my own studying of that text, I realized that my understanding of that story was vastly different from theirs.
Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities mentioned in Genesis, chapters 18 and 19. In this story, God talks to two angels about destroying the cities and debating whether or not He wanted to share this news with Abraham. Eventually, God does choose to share this information with Abraham. Abraham pleads with the Lord, asking Him to spare Sodom if he finds “righteous people” there. God responded by saying that He would spare the town if there are any righteous folks there. After that, He left. The beginning of chapter 19 starts with the two angels entering the city of Sodom. Upon their arrival, they meet a man named Lot who is attempting to turn them away, but they persist on their journey. And when the rest of the men in the town, both elder and youth, learn about the male visitors, they surround Lot’s house demanding the strangers’ release in order to rape them. Lot pleads with the townsmen, uttering, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” The story continues with the angels blinding the men and warning Lot and his family to flee the city before its destruction, alongside Gomorrah.
God had planned to destroy those cities far before there was any mention of a sexual encounter between men. Furthermore, it is clear that God, nor Lot, were committed to protecting girls from sexual predators, as they are offered up as a reasonable sacrifice in place of the visiting men. It is often taught within Christian spaces that a woman must present as modest to avoid harm, but here, God is somehow not around—an excuse many male bystanders use to avoid accountability—to stop this father from offering his two virgin daughters to be sexually violated. Additionally, the two angels never disrupted the father to reprimand him for making such an outrageous and disgusting offer on their behalf. This, to me, means that God is not anti-gay, at least not in this popular story. However, this would suggest that God is patriarchal and thinks of women as inessential, expiatory, non-agents. My assertion is bolstered by the fact that this is not the only time in the Bible that God condones rape or patriarchy.
In Luke, chapter 1, an angel named Gabriel visited a young girl named Mary to tell her that she would eventually bear the child of God. Gabriel is sent to this young girl, who is a virgin in this story, by God to relay a message. He calls her “favored” and “honored,” to which she responds with confusion. Since she was a virgin, she did not understand how she could possibly be pregnant. Gabriel continued. He told Mary that she was to be a mother and that she would have the “Son of God” because that is what God desired from her. This is a disturbing celebration story amongst Christians. For context, girls Mary’s age were often given to men, primarily, to bear their children. However, legality and culture are not always synonymous with morality and righteousness. This story indicates that God weaponized His power to convince Mary that she should feel honored to bear His offspring, but He actually never gave her a choice. In Delores Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness, she argues that it is not possible for a human to consent to a divine being. I would argue that this is especially true when that being has proven to have a history of a blatant disregard for women and girls.
Gabriel came and told Mary that she “was to bear” God’s child and that she “would have the Son of God,” which does not leave room for denial, or we certainly are not granted any implication of denial on her part. Beyond that, just as we have been witnessing with this current #MeToo movement, God—who is a seemingly masculine being—used His power and authority to convince a young girl that she should be okay with having His child. With our advanced understanding of sexual violence, this must be interpreted as rape. That is what led Wil Gafney to asking if Mary also said “#MeToo.”
My intent here is to point out how troublesome it is to follow a belief, or several beliefs, sans vital interrogation. If biblical literalists truly believe that these two stories are real, they must also believe that rape culture and patriarchy are worth ignoring for the sake of spirituality and worship. Said again, if the Bible is the infallible “Word of God,” and Christians are to follow its every word, they are willingly supporting a deity who is a patriarchal rapist and rape apologist, insofar as He doesn’t—via his angelic ambassadors—intervene in the possible rape of Lot’s daughters and He holds no council with Mary about her own uterus. To renege on the former is to evidence a flaw in the moral fabric of God; to renege on the latter is to forfeit the Christian tenet of “free will.” What is also true, though, is God never condemned “homosexuality” in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. That is not to say that this God is not anti-gay—as support of rape and misogyny is seldom divorced from anti-queerness—but it is to say that this particular story does not reinforce this claim. The conversation around the first story, in particular, should shift from anti-gay rhetoric to God’s lack of support for women, and Mary’s story should be used as a separate example of that position.
This matters because as a now-queer person, I could have skipped the years of internalized heterosexism and grown more comfortable with the idea of positioning myself in queerness earlier on. I imagine that the young child who knows that they are not straight would find hope in knowing that God does not wish for them to suffer eternally. For the overwhelming amount of queer and trans youth who live with mental disabilities due conversion therapy and “tarrying services,” knowing that righteousness was not antithetical to their marginalized sexualities and/or genders could save their lives. Queer youth could be afforded a life not filled with trauma from sexual violence at the hands of Christian men who live in fear of an eternal pit of fire. These stories matter because young girls who are shamed for not dressing modestly, for engaging in premarital sex, and for choosing to not invest in “purity culture” would not have to live with guilt for doing so.
What would be different for young girls if they were taught that this abrahamic God is not invested in protecting their humanity or their autonomy? What would be different for queer and trans people if we were taught, at an early age, that the divine is not always masculine and is not in opposition of our sexualities? Queering and gendering God’s beinghood—and thus exposing these patriarchal interpretations of God—is about much more than representation. It is about creating room for queer people and women to have a better chance at existing in a world without being suffocated by the damnation assigned to our lives through Christianity. Understanding God through a womanist lens, and Jesus through a queer theology, is salvation for many people who would otherwise be told they aren’t worthy of existing.