But that's not what this post is about. I was thinking about the whole topic of Biblical stances against homosexuality earlier today, which got me thinking about Lot. You know, Abraham's nephew. I remember hearing the story of Lot and his family as a kid. In my church it went something like this:
Lot and his wife and daughters lived in Sodom and Gomorrah (I guess they lived in 2 towns??), which were very wicked (and not in the good way), so God was going to destroy them. At Abraham's request, God sent two angels, cleverly disguised as men, to warn Lot and his family. When they came to town all the wicked Sodomites and Gomorrahites pursued them, but Lot took the visitors to his home and then defended them against the mob at his door who wanted to sex them up. In the process of defending the angels against the mob (brace yourselves), Lot offered his daughters, whom he claimed were virgins, and told the mob that they could do anything they wanted to his daughters as long as they left the two visitors (whom he did not know were angels, mind you) untouched.
-I'm not making this up, you guys, it's right here-
So anyway, the angels manage to handle the crowd without handing over the two virgins (who later conceive children with their passed-out-drunk father) to the ravaging crowd and escort the family to safety while Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed with fire and brimstone. Except for Lot's wife, who violated the angels' command by turning around and looking back at the destruction, so she was turned into a pillar of salt.
Things that struck me about this story as a child:
- What is brimstone, anyway?
- Why salt?
- Why doesn't anyone notice or comment on the horrifying way in which Lot casually offers his daughters up to the crowd in place of these total strangers he just met?!?
- How is it that Lot's daughters (or anyone in that town) were still virgins to begin with?
So somehow Lot appears to retain his "righteous" status in spite of offering his daughters up for gang rape. On top of it, there's a little moral of the story thrown in about strict and absolute obedience, illustrated by the punishment of Lot's wife, which seems a bit extreme for a relatively minor infraction, but OK. It's all very confusing, given the fact that we're also told that God is loving and merciful.
But the larger point is... no doubt the Bible does say some pretty harsh things about homosexuality (and shellfish, and pork, and haircuts, and menstruation, and women wearing pants). But it also has passages in which it appears to be perfectly acceptable to offer your daughters up to a gang of frothy-mouthed rapists, so why exactly are we expecting a literal interpretation of the Old Testament to yield any kind of a foundation on which we can ground a modern society? The fact is, Christians are already picking and choosing which scriptures to follow and which to disregard. My understanding of the process is that 1) we're in new covenant (New Testament) times now, so scriptures about shellfish being an abomination no longer apply, and 2) a thoughtful Christian will think about God's nature and the spirit of the law behind the Bible and the contextual factors behind specific scriptural dictates, and will try to apply them to our social and historical context as effectively as possible. This means at times you will not follow specific scriptures to the letter (after all, nobody's out there sacrificing goats in the city square anymore) because they were intended for a different time and place.
But maybe that's just me. And I'm a backslider and a black sheep, so what do I know about Lot and his daughters?