'Sodomite' is the most accurate, loving word (part I)...
Brimstone calls to mind the foul odors of the flesh, as Sacred Scripture itself confirms when it speaks of the rain of fire and brimstone poured by the Lord upon Sodom. He had decided to punish in it the crimes of the flesh, and the very type of punishment emphasized the shame of that crime, since brimstone exhales stench and fire burns. It was, therefore, just that the sodomites, burning with perverse desires that originated from the foul odor of flesh, should perish at the same time by fire and brimstone so that through this just chastisement they might realize the evil perpetrated under the impulse of a perverse desire.
A seminary professor who's been a lifelong friend wrote taking issue with my use of the word 'sodomy' to refer to same-sex carnal knowledge:
I find your use of the word 'sodomites' a bit inaccurate, because the sin of Sodom was not solely homosexuality, but also (maybe primarily) lack of concern for the poor.Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)
I hear this objection frequently. One close friend told me several months ago that he thought my use of 'sodomy' and 'sodomites' made me look to our readers like I was a member of the lunatic fringe...I've thought carefully about it and I can't find another construction that is as helpful, spiritually, in referring to the practice of same-sex sexual intimacy. So if you're one of our readers who's inclined to hear us out, maybe I'll be able to convince you in this post that love must keep us from giving up this word?
Anyhow, what follows is my defense.
Growing up with an editor and writer as my father, I'm very sensitive to language and I want to say at the outset that my use of 'sodomy' is intentional. Until recently I never used the word...
Instead, I spoke of the unrepentant sodomite as "gay" and the repentant sodomite who had put his faith in Jesus Christ as someone "tempted by same-sex intimacy"--a very long construction, that last one.
I still refer to those "tempted by same-sex intimacy," but instead of 'gay' or 'homosexual' I now speak of 'sodomy' and 'sodomites'. Why?
First, the words 'gay' and 'homosexual' say things that aren't true.
'Gay' carries a connotation of someone taking pride in his sin and we ought not to join in the lie. Objectively speaking, the man who glories in his shame is in need of correction. To allow him to choose the language we use for his shame in such a way as to deny that shame is to join in his sin, even if we continue to condemn the practice we have allowed him to rename. So the word 'gay' must be repudiated. The word implies a whole host of things that are spiritually destructive and contrary to God's revelation, both natural and special.
But what about the word 'homosexual'--what's wrong with that?
'Homosexual' does not carry the heavy ideological baggage 'gay' does, but it does carry some baggage that's not good. If 'gay' is political, 'homosexual' is clinical. Some men have sex with the opposite sex and others with the same sex, hence hetero (different) and homo (same) sexual. To describe the practice clinically is not to speak about or to men's souls, nor is it to be faithful witnesses to our Lord and His Truth.
Scripture condemns sodomy over and over again. In our libidinous culture of sexual anarchy, it's critically important that we continue to use biblical language to confess the Faith. Thus we speak of "fornication" rather than "premarital sex" or "living together." We speak of "committing adultery" rather than "cheating" or "having an affair" or "going out on her husband."
Today there is a growing movement among adulterers to call themselves 'polyamorous'--literally 'many-loving'. "Polyamorous" men and women take their identity from their rejection of marital fidelity and, rather, giving themselves to many different sexual partners. They don't like the word 'adultery,' so they've replaced it with the word 'polyamory,'
The missing element should be obvious: there is no moral judgment. Rather these men and women take pride in their sinful perversion. They glory in their shame. 'Polyamory' is not simply an objective clinical description. It's a political ideology that carries with it the rejection of the God's Moral Law--specifically, the Seventh Commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
So it could be said that
'Gay' is to 'homosexual' is to 'sodomite'
'polyamorous' is to 'polygamist' is to 'adulterer.'
To give up the historic Christian term 'sodomy' is for us to bow our knees to Baal.
For over two thousand years now, the Church has associated Sodom with same-sex carnal relations. In the face of the evil onslaught against God's Moral Law so pervasive in our culture, we ought to continue this usage, speaking of "sodomitical," "sodomy," and "sodomites," because these words are a biblical witness communicating the great shame and all-consuming wrath of God. This is true. This is good. This is helpful. This is loving.
Showing how ancient this usage is, here are two quotes from the time of Christ. First this description of Sodom's sin from the Jewish contemporary of Jesus, Philo of Alexandria:
As men, being unable to bear discreetly a satiety of these things, get restive like cattle, and become stiff-necked, and discard the laws of nature, pursuing a great and intemperate indulgence of gluttony, and drinking, and unlawful connections; for not only did they go mad after other women, and defile the marriage bed of others, but also those who were men lusted after one another, doing unseemly things, and not regarding or respecting their common nature, and though eager for children, they were convicted by having only an abortive offspring; but the conviction produced no advantage, since they were overcome by violent desire; and so by degrees, the men became accustomed to be treated like women, and in this way engendered among themselves the disease of females, and intolerable evil; for they not only, as to effeminacy and delicacy, became like women in their persons, but they also made their souls most ignoble, corrupting in this way the whole race of men, as far as depended on them...
But God ...detesting the unnatural and unlawful commerce/sexual intercourse of the people of Sodom, he extinguished it, and destroyed those who were inclined to these things.... (Works, v. 2.)
Also this from the Jewish historian Josephus born in 37 A.D.:
HOW GOD OVERTHREW THE NATION OF THE SODOMITES, OUT OF HIS WRATH AGAINST THEM FOR THEIR SINS.
About this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust towards men, and impious towards God, insomuch that they did not call to mind the advantages they received from him: they hated strangers, and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices. God was therefore much displeased at them, and determined to punish them for their pride, and to overthrow their city, and to lay waste their country, until there should neither plant nor fruit grow out of it.
...And the angels came to the city of the Sodomites, and Lot entreated them to accept of a lodging with him; for he was a very generous and hospitable man, and one that had learned to imitate the goodness of Abraham. Now when the Sodomites saw the young men to be of beautiful countenances, and this to an extraordinary degree, and that they took up their lodgings with Lot, they resolved themselves to enjoy these beautiful boys by force and violence... (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, chapter 11.)
Sadly, Christians today think the real shame should not be attached to sodomy and sodomites, but rather to those who have not updated their language and continue to refer to "sodomy" and "sodomites." And it is the modern conceit that those who continue in this ancient usage do so because they are intolerant, legalistic, censorious, homophobic, or maybe even latently homosexual.
But think for a second: are we really prepared to call Philo and Josephus "bigots?" Are we prepared to argue that Church fathers from the New Testament age on were stupid and insensitive? That they hated sodomites?
Were Jerome in the fourth century, the writers of the penitential literature of the sixth century, Theodore of Tarsus in the eighth century, a monk of the Carolingian abbeys in the ninth century, Regino of Prum in the tenth century, Bishop Burchard in the eleventh century, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, and so on down to our own time; were they all a bunch of bigots?
For thousands of years the overwhelming usage of the Church has been to refer to same-sex carnal knowledge as "sodomy" and those who practice this sexual perversion "sodomites." To refer to same-sex carnal knowledge as 'sodomy' has never been an abuse of the biblical account of the men of Sodom.
But today soft men are prepared to argue this point. And through their deceptive biblical scholarship they have succeeded in getting Christians to change our language.
In the past few decades a whole school of biblical interpretation has grown up around the effort to repeal the Church's biblical condemnation of sodomy and one of that school's principal tactics has been to deny the connection between God's destruction of the people of Sodom and the effort to engage in same-sex carnal knowledge by the men of Sodom just prior to their destruction. This school has used various tactics. Some have argued that the real sin of Sodom was not same-sex carnal knowledge but rape. Others have tried to turn the focus away from same-sex carnal knowledge to additional sins also mentioned in Scripture as typical of Sodom--particularly the sin of not being hospitable.
Typical of such pro-sodomy biblical scholarship is The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (University of Chicago) by Mark D. Jordan. Kirkus Reviews describes Jordan's work:
A scholarly critique of how the term 'sodomy' arose in the Middle Ages and came to influence Roman Catholic moral discourse. Although the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is at least as old as the book of Genesis, the view of sodomy as a form of sexual sin seems to have been invented in the eleventh century by the Italian ascetic St. Peter Damian. Jordan (Medieval Institute/Notre Dame Univ.) restates the now generally accepted view that the sin leading to Sodom's destruction was transgression of the laws of hospitality rather than same-sex intercourse per se, and he gives some very relevant philosophical warnings about using centuries-old texts to find answers to modern questions.
It's now "generally accepted... that the sin leading to Sodom's destruction was transgression of the laws of hospitality rather than same-sex intercourse"?
Well there you have it! Two millennia of biblical scholarship and pastoral language has been thrown to the side and those who continue to refer to same-sex carnal knowledge as 'sodomy' are on the lunatic fringe. Care to join up? (Here's a helpful review of Jordan's soul-destroying lies.)
No student of Scripture has ever denied that Sodom was guilty of greed, pride, and inhospitality. Must I really write this down?
It's inhospitable to rape guests.
Jude 7 makes explicit what is implicit in Genesis 18 and 19: Sodom and Gomorrah "indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh (and) are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." Thus "gross immorality" and going after "strange flesh" will result in "the punishment of eternal fire."
Is this one of Christ's teachings that we ought to disseminate? Teach? Preach?
Should our language concerning the Sodomites "gross immorality" and going after "strange flesh" make the transfer into our discussion of same-sex carnal relations today so that God's warning will continue to live on in the consciences of men down through history? Or is this something men should only learn if they choose to come inside an evangelical church where private truths are "shared."
In the letters to the seven churches at the beginning of the book of Revelation, Jesus says this to the church of Laodicea:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. (Revelation 3:14-18)
Note that the Laodicean church was "neither hot nor cold." So across the centuries the Laodiceans have been known for being lukewarm, and therefore in danger of being spit out of the mouth of our Lord.
Thus it is that the word 'Laodicean' is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as "indifferent or lukewarm especially in matters of religion" and the Online Etymology Dictionary traces this usage back at least to 1564.
But note also that the Laodicean church was guilty of other sins, including presumption and complacency. They thought of themselves as rich and needing nothing when actually they were "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.
So if I were to call a lukewarm individual or church "Laodicean," would I be corrected? Would men feel constrained to remind me that the church of Laodicea was presumptuous and complacent, and that I ought not to use the word 'Laodicean' to refer only to those lacking spiritual zeal?
Of course not. There's no affirmative action for the lukewarm today. The New York Times is not using its oped pages to browbeat everyone into speaking of spiritual lukewarmness as a good thing. Indiana University has no advocacy office for the complacent.
So when it comes to Laodicea, our biblical language is not under assault.
But when it comes to calling those who go after strange flesh and engage in the gross immorality of same-sex carnal knowledge "sodomites," every soft man gasps and begins to gently admonish or rebuke those whose words are boringly normal across more than two millenia of history.
Can "Laodicean" be right and "sodomite" wrong?
Some among us might be prepared to accuse God of cruelty in making an example of the Sodomites by the awful judgment He meted out to them for going after "strange flesh" and indulging in "gross immorality. Those among us who are wise, though, should acknowledge that the language we use to speak of sodomy is the best indicator of whether we love sodomites. Do we present to them the warning God deposited in His Word? Or are we soft and mincing, conniving at their sin by speaking of "the gay lifestyle" and making that oh-so-very-helpful distinction between "identity" and "lifestyle?"
We can appear reasonable and refer to those going after strange flesh and indulging in gross immorality as "gay" and "homosexual."
But from love of those temtped by sodomy, let me call you, dear reader, to join the lunatic fringe and continue to use the biblical language we inherited from the Early Church.
(TB: this is an updated version of a 2006 post.)