Archives For Sodom

12EVANGELICALsub-articleLargeThis past Sunday our scripture text was Romans 3.9-20, a passage that begins with Paul reiterating the Torah’s insistence that ‘no is righteous, not one.’

Like much of what Paul writes, that phrase is meant to be a breadcrumb trailing the reader back to a story in the Hebrew Bible. In this case, Genesis 18, the story of Abraham negotiating with God over the imminent destruction of Sodom.

In my children’s story, I retold the narrative of Abraham going back and forth with God, pleading with God to spare Sodom if only 50 righteous people could be found in it…only 45 righteous people could be found…and so forth until…zero, nada.

I left out of my children’s story the actual destruction of Sodom, even I have boundaries. I don’t mind telling kids violent stories as long as its not God doing the wielding.

I also left out, to one person’s mind who was leaving worship perturbed with me, the reason for Sodom’s destruction: homosexuality.

To conflate the issue of homosexuality with the destruction of Sodom is not only a gross adventure in misreading the text, it’s simply anachronistic. It’s true a sordid little confrontation happens in Sodom in the next chapter of Genesis, an encounter from which we now unfortunately derive the word ‘sodomy,’ but that’s actually quite irrelevant as God had already determined Sodom should be destroyed.

And why was Sodom on God’s s$%^ list?

The Book of Ezekiel provides the answer, making it all the more infuriating that people read homosexuality into the passage:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  

–  Ezekiel 16:49

Christians can (and do) debate homosexuality but the biblical passages that discuss homosexuality are few and, narratively, incidental.

By contrast, how God’s People relate to ‘the stranger in your land’ is a core confession of scripture.

God explicitly commands we extend compassion and care to the alien. What’s more this isn’t but one command among many but it’s rooted firmly in remembering our core identity. We love the alien in our land because once we were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Much like bread, wine, lamb and bitter herbs, our loving relationship with the immigrant recalls the Exodus story- the story of the Old Testament and the guiding metaphor in the New.

This year we kicked-off a new youth group experience for 4th and 5th graders I developed called Tribe Time, in which every session is playfully grounded in the Book of Leviticus.

While most adults shy away from it, Leviticus’ combination of gross, random imagery and moral stipulations makes it good fodder for training in the virtues.

You can check out the sessions outline for Tribe Time here: Tribe Time Sessions Outline

My point is that we have 80 kids in Tribe Time who all know that God commands us to welcome, love and respect the immigrants in our land because once we were in their shoes. And yet most church-going adults in America do not sense that immigration is in any way a theological or biblical concern.

One hears many warnings that welcoming immigrants will be the undoing of the American way of life. One does not hear many any warnings that failing to love the immigrant will be the undoing of our Christian way of life.

That this is so is but another indication, I think, that most of us are more truly formed not by the story of Israel/Christ but by the story called America.

Here’s a good, fair-minded piece from the NY TImes about how immigration is being rethought in many evangelical circles.

IMMIGRATION reform is not a liberal idea. It is good, old-fashioned conservative policy — at least that’s what its supporters want the Republican faithful to believe.

The Republican Party has “historically been pro-immigration,” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, said after the 2012 election. The conservative National Immigration Forum declaresthat America needs reform that “celebrates freedom and values hard work.”

Some of the most enthusiastic endorsements of the new immigration bill have come from traditional evangelicals, who insist that reform “respects the God-given dignity of every person.” Richard Land, a Southern Baptist leader who was among the 300 evangelicals who went to Washington last month for “a day of prayer and action for immigration reform,” said that once Republicans toned down their anti-immigrant rhetoric, Latino voters would follow.

“They’re social conservatives, hard-wired to be pro-family, religious and entrepreneurial,” he told me. Mr. Land pointed to Senator Marco Rubio as the face of this “new conservative coalition.”

“Let the Democrats be the party of dependency and ever lower expectations,” Mr. Land added. “The Republicans will be the party of aspiration and opportunity — and who better to lead the way than the son of Cuban immigrants?”

The Christian right may be too optimistic about any change in the political sympathies of Latinos. Increasing numbers tell pollsters they favor same-sex marriage, for example. But the real surprise is that evangelicals may be wrong about the unyielding conservatism of their own movement.

Evangelicals’ growing support for immigration reform suggests an important shift in how conservative Protestants — who policed the boundaries of our national identity for almost four centuries — think about what it means to be American. It may also point to the beginnings of real change in how evangelicals understand the problem of justice in a fallen world, and the challenge that Latino and other minority Christians pose to the assumptions of the culture wars.

From the anti-Catholic paranoia of the Know-Nothings in the 1850s to today’s Tea Party tirades about immigrants’ taking American jobs, each wave of nativist hysteria has had its own enthusiasms. But all have feared that newcomers would subvert democracy and sabotage citizens’ claim to the American dream. Racism often inflamed this anxiety (Benjamin Franklin worried about the influx of Germans settling in Pennsylvania and doubted that they could ever “acquire our Complexion”).

Yet the more basic fear — underlying warnings that Irish Catholics corrupted elections by voting in blocs or, more recently, that undocumented Mexicans and their “anchor babies” sponge off the welfare state — has always been this: These foreigners don’t respect our values and if we let them in, they will destroy us.

For much of American history, most white Protestants shared in the belief that immigrants were vectors of anti-democratic viruses like Catholicism, anarchism and Bolshevism. Although by the 1950s liberal mainline Protestants had come around to the idea of relaxing immigration restrictions, the conservative National Association of Evangelicals opposed the liberalizing reform act of 1965, fearing “infiltration by influences subversive of the American way of life.”

Today, the culture wars and the constant skirmishes over the size and scope of the welfare state have convinced conservatives that the country’s direst enemies are not “subversive” foreigners, but homegrown liberals.

International experience has connected more American evangelicals to Christians living in immigrant-sending countries, and they now view them as ideological allies. Organizations ranging from Focus on the Family to Anglican splinter churches have been building relationships in the global south for decades. They have come to see Latin Americans and Africans as defenders of traditional gender roles and Christian civilization.

“We have a very positive ‘immigration problem’ in this country, in that the Latino community coming in, both legally and illegally, generally possesses a value system that is compatible with America’s value system,” Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, told me.

It’s true that Latino Americans tend to be religious (according to Gallup, 54 percent are Catholic and 28 percent are Protestant). However, even those at the forefront of collaboration with white evangelicals stress that important differences remain. Jesse Miranda is a Pentecostal who founded a national organization for Latino Protestants, Alianza de Ministerios Evangélicos Nacionales (AMEN), in 1992. “We used the term ‘evangélico’ when I founded AMEN, and said we won’t use the word ‘evangelical’ so the media won’t identify us with our white brethren,” he said.

Most Latino evangelicals are recent converts to Protestantism with no stake in the battles between fundamentalists and modernists that divided white Protestants a hundred years ago, or in the more recent campaigns of the Christian right. They care more about education for their children than quarreling over the theory of evolution.

This difference is not just political, but theological, and has consequences for the fate of illegal immigrants. For a Christian, the question of whether an undocumented immigrant is a criminal or a victim trapped in an unjust system depends on how one thinks about sin and human responsibility.

A century ago, preachers of the “Social Gospel” argued that sin was not only a matter of personal depravity: it was also a social problem. Our society, built by flawed human beings, is full of institutionalized sin, of greed and cruelty cemented in the structures that govern our lives.

The theologian Walter Rauschenbusch lamented in 1913 that “as long as a man sees in our present society only a few inevitable abuses and recognizes no sin and evil deep-seated in the very constitution of the present order, he is still in a state of moral blindness.” He urged Christians “to see through the fictions of capitalism.”

Conservative evangelicals decried Social Gospelers as liberals who replaced soul-winning with social work — or worse, socialism. They stressed personal responsibility and argued that genuine social change could come only through converting one sinner at a time to Christ.

Latino Protestants may share the core doctrines of white evangelicals, but not the fusion of Christianity and libertarianism that has come to pervade the right, perhaps in part because they have intimate experience with the inequalities ingrained in American institutions.

They have left their forefathers’ faith, but they tend to retain the common Catholic conviction that being “pro-life” requires combating social injustice and reining in capitalism when necessary. In 2011 the polling organization Latino Decisions found that although Latinos are committed to the American ideal of self-sufficiency and hard work, most don’t believe the free market can solve all problems. “Minority citizens prefer a more energetic government, by large and statistically significant margins,” wrote the organization’s researchers Gary Segura and Shaun Bowler. In 2012, 71 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama.

Americans’ opinions on immigration have always been connected to their broader ideas about the role of government authority. The platform of 19th-century nativists contained more than racist invective. It also proposed strong states’ rights, a smaller standing army and tight limits on government expenses — all to preserve the American ideal of the independent yeoman free to defend his homestead from crowned tyrants and foreign invaders.

White evangelical leaders are loudly rejecting the xenophobia of their ancestors, though most still cherish that old libertarian creed. It