The Fueling of Christian Hate

Arrogant and aggressive ignorance

When I gave up my ordination and left the ministry in 1977, I managed a successful transition to a business career. This was long before the existence of The Clergy Project, which today provides support for clergy who have become atheists and are trying to move on; I had to wing it reinventing myself. A couple of year before that I had also been divorced, after ten years of marriage. I had known since I was a teenager that I was gay, but in rural Indiana in the 1950s gay people did not exist. Well of course they did, but remained deeply closeted and out of sight. There were certainly no famous role models, such as Neil Patrick Harris, for example. Hence I had followed the script I was expected to follow—pretty perfectly too: I married a missionary’s daughter.



In 1978 I successfully transitioned to a new relationship as well; I moved to New York with the man I’ve lived with now for 42 years. We were legally married in 2008 in California, then in 2011 when marriage equality became law in New York. 


Of course, my PhD in Biblical Studies proved of no value whatever in my quest for a business career. But I wondered if I couldn’t still put this credential to good use. Back then the Methodist church prided itself—well, some of its members did—on fighting for civil rights, but was still in angst about gay rights. After all, wasn’t the Bible pretty clear that being gay was a sin? Maybe I could explain to church folks that the so-called Clobber Texts in the Bible—the basis for opposing gay rights—didn’t hold up to scrutiny. 


So, ex-clergy though I was, I gave lectures at churches; I was usually invited by more liberal clergy once I got the word out that my topic was the Bible and homosexuality. I kept it up for a while, but soon the frustration built. Always, and I do mean always, there were the folks in the audience who insisted that the Bible was clear—and they quoted Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” and Leviticus 20:13: ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Case closed. In response I asked how many of the other texts in Leviticus applied to modern life—and to their own lives. That didn’t seem to matter. 


I found that anti-gay prejudice was deeply imbedded. Gays and lesbians were “the other” the pious were justified in loathing—and the Bible backed them up. No matter that other clobber texts are found in Paul’s letters, and most Christians would swiftly dismiss Paul’s teachings on heterosexual relations. 


My interest—certainly my enthusiasm—for speaking to church groups faded. I kept hearing, “Well, we’ve got to study this some more”—as a way of deferring courageous decisions that would extend compassion to gay people. So, yes, I threw in the towel. Why was I spending so much time and energy trying to get Christians to be Christians—if that meant loving your neighbor? Even today, so many years later, I hear there’s danger of schism in the Methodist church over this very issue. It doesn’t need to be studied “some more”—it has been studied exhaustively, at great depth. What is required is doing the homework, and abandoning arrogant and aggressive ignorance. 


A good place for Christians to start would be the work of Matthew Vines, a young gay Christian who wrote God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Vines also founded The Reformation Project, committed to “advancing LGBTQ inclusion in the church.” Then move on to the classic study by C. A. Tripp The Homosexual Matrix; Daniel Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality; and Colby Martin, Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality


Yes, the issue has been studied sufficiently, yet the arrogant and aggressive ignorance still manifests. Here’s a headline from 2015: 


11-year-old girl shames ‘One Million Moms’ for attack on her gay dads: ‘This is none of your business’


The opening sentence of the article: “A Maryland family with two gay dads and four adopted black children is firing back after the conservative group One Million Moms condemned the ‘sinful nature’ of the fathers.” And, of course the Bible was cited by the One Million Moms: "Scripture says multiple times that homosexuality is wrong, and God will not tolerate this sinful nature.” Scripture is also clear that slavery is okay and that demons cause mental illness. How easy it seems to be: To know what God does or does not tolerate. Just open the Bible and there it is.


Arrogant and aggressive ignorance won’t accept—will block—the findings of careful study: NO, we’re going to shut our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears, and hum so that we won’t be bothered by disconfirming evidence. 


The famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the Clobber Texts; it shows unmistakably that God doesn’t tolerate homosexuality—or so has been said for centuries. He burned these cities to the ground as punishment for this particular sin. But fair warning, this is a case of don’t-go-there. In fact, if Christians turn to this story, I cheer them on: welcome to a quagmire of bad theology. What is the theological fallout from these two chapters, Genesis 18 & 19? 


The setup for this drama is found in Genesis 18:20-21, Yahweh conversing with Abraham:


“Then the Lord said, ‘How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.’”


Their “grave sin” is not specified, but Abraham then coaches Yahweh on how to be a better God! The theologian who created vv. 23-33 was bothered by wholesale slaughter, so he presents Abraham coaxing Yahweh not to destroy the wicked cities if even ten righteous people could be found; the bargaining had started at fifty. Abraham oozes flattery to get his way with this deity modeled after tribal chieftains, who has to send scouts to the cities to verify the wickedness.   


This is awkward: Point 1: are Christians today really okay with the God depicted here—in the Bible!—who has to be talked into not being so cruel?


At the opening of Chapter 19 we read that two angels arrive at Sodom and are prevailed upon by Lot to accept his hospitality for the night. Remember that Lot himself was a stranger in the city, and he welcomed other strangers to his home. Hence the trouble begins:

“…the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’” (Genesis 19:4-5)


What did they mean by know? The Hebrew word yada can mean sexual intercourse, as in the Adam and Eve story, but it more commonly means “to know” in the sense of acquiring knowledge. What is more likely, that “the men of Sodom, both young and old…to the last man” were homosexuals determined to rape Lot’s guests, or that these citizens were alarmed about unknown strangers in their town? It all hinges on what yada means here.


This is awkward: Point 2: If you’re going to insist that this story is about rampaging homosexuals—a whole town full of them—please explain how you know for sure that yada here means sex. 


What is Lot’s response? “Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” If the “men of Sodom” at his door were homosexuals, why would he offer them his daughters? Were there no male servants or slaves available? 


This is awkward: Point 3: Lot, the hero of the story, offers his virgin daughters to be raped, and faces no condemnation at all from the god who sent his angels to Sodom to check out its “very grave sin.” Hasn’t Lot himself committed a really big sin? In fact, the angels proceed to save Lot and his family from destruction, as Lot proclaims: “…your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life…” It’s probably not a good idea to use this story as an example of God’s moral outrage against gay people. 


This is awkward: Point 4:  Even if we could nail the meaning of yada, i.e., be sure that it’s a reference here to sexual violation, how in the world would an ancient story about mass rape have any bearing on our assessment of consensual gay relationships today? 


One of the most famous tidbits in this story is the fate of Lot’s wife. The angels had warned that no one should “look back” as they fled the city, but she couldn’t resist: “Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26)


This is awkward: Point 5: This is how God works: for the simple act of “looking back” Lot’s wife was killed. If anyone, it was Lot who deserved to be turned into salt. How is this not bad theology? 

The angels kept their word: 

·      Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” (Genesis 19:24-25)

·      “Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord;  and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the Plain and saw the smoke of the land going up like the smoke of a furnace.” (Genesis 19:27-28)

This is awkward: Point 6: Destroying everything—including “what grew on the ground”—can be called flame-thrower theology, which we find repeatedly in the Bible. God gets even; he takes revenge, killing in wide swaths. He set the precedent with the Noah flood genocide. It’s hard to argue that Jesus was an improvement; when he sent his disciples out to preach in towns and villages, he gave them this assurance: ”If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15) 


After their escape, Lot and his daughters took refuge in a cave, and the firstborn was worried that they were stranded without men. “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the world. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.” (Genesis 19:31-32) And, on successive nights, they did just that and both became pregnant by their father. Genesis 19 ends with this comment: “The firstborn bore a son, and named him Moab; he is the ancestor of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son and named him Ben-ammi; he is the ancestor of the Ammonites to this day.”


This is awkward: Point 7: Thus the Sodom story culminates with incest, with no hint of divine disapproval aimed at the drunk father or the pregnant daughters. This falls far short of being an inspiring Bible story; in fact, many readers would agree that we have reached a low point in the depiction of heterosexual morals.


This is awkward: Point 8: In fact we can see the point of this Bible version of soft porn. The Moabites and Ammonites were traditional enemies of Israel—so the author was indulging in ridicule, suggesting that these enemies were the products of incest. 


It’s hard to find redeeming features in Genesis 18-19, yet it remains one of the go-to Clobber Texts. The use of this story to slam gay people is sinful hypocrisy. 


But Bible-based homophobia is still going strong; just this week on Twitter I came across this: 


“Anyone who argues that the Bible—OT and NT—is not clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality is either very confused or deliberately dishonest about the structure of biblical theology and the clear meaning of the texts.” 


So says Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and of the Evangelical Theological Society. He has failed to do basic homework, and remains mired in his understanding of the “clear meaning on the texts.” This “moral” thought leader—who has 177,000 Twitter followers—prods his fans to keep it up against gay people.


This kind of arrogant and aggressive ignorance, maintained in other areas as well, has had devastating results. Hemant Mehta this week posted an article by Beth Stoneburner, who quoted Christian author Michael Brown:


“… We have become terribly disfigured in recent years, in many ways, the opposite of God’s intent. How on earth did this happen?

“If you don’t believe me, visit some of our personal, Bible-affirming, Jesus-believing, social media pages, where we savage each other and attack each other and spread hearsay and even lies about one another with reckless abandon. They are hate-filled pages, pages filled with venom and poison, yet pages that ultimately reflect what is in our own hearts. I ask again: how on earth did this happen?

“…Yet I see this every day. We are vile. We are vicious. We are mean-spirited. We treat each other with disrespect and disdain. There is little honor. Little humility. Little grace.”

“We are vile. We are vicious. We are mean-spirited.”


I wish they’d throw away their Bibles.



David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in 2016. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus.


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