Torture, Jesus and those Damn Sodomites!

It’s been an interesting week news-wise in regards to torture. Earlier in the week President Obama stated in a press conference that “waterboarding” is indeed torture, and that some of the Bush-era practices do not fit in with the ideals and values we have as a nation. Therefore, he put an end to the practice a short while ago. He still has work to do on this issue, but he has made the strongest stand ever on torture.

This week CNN reports that, “The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists…” In an piece entitled, Survey: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful, CNN reports on a Pew Study survey among US church-goers,

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

I attend Quakers Meetings where there has been a strong movement against torture for some time, long before I heard a lot about it in the press. (And at the same time I have heard some pretty violent talk from peace-loving Quakers against Conservatives, talk that goes beyond critique of ideas to personal attacks and slander.)

Last night at the Courage meeting one of the women present mentioned how she attends a church cell-group (and here I was told that Al Qaeda were the only ones that had cell groups) and that a discussion of gay marriage came up. As part of an argument to oppose gay marriage one of the members of the group referred to the Sodom story in Genesis as evidence that God opposes gay unions.

If you have not done so yet, I suggest you read the Genesis 19 account to see what it does not say about two women or two men in a loving committed relationship that includes romance, intimacy, companionship and yes sex too. I do not believe anyone should get their ideas about family values and sex education from this story. This story has NOTHING to do with what happens in the happy homes of lesbian and gay couples and far more to do with what happened in the US-run Abu Ghraib prison with all the humiliating torture and prisoner abuse that American forces inflicted there.

Christianity can be a faith about love, forgiveness, understanding, charity, mercy and grace, and it can be taught in violent warlike manner that justifies all manner of violence in Jesus’ name.

Last night I led a Bibliodrama on Luke 7:36-50 in which Jesus gets invited to the home of the big-wig Simon, a rich religious man. At one point a prostitute comes in and weeps and weeps as she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and then massages his feet with expensive perfume. Very intimate and highly inappropriate for the setting and the circumstance. Yet Jesus doesn’t flinch.

Acting out the scene with the stuffy and judgmental teachers of the Law on one side and Jesus’ loving and graceful acknowledgment of the person at his feet (while his befuddled disciples watched on) brought us to a place of humility.

I think of the rude and judgmental ways that I see some non-trans gays and lesbians react towards transgender people in our own communities, ways that I had felt and acted towards trans people before I actually knew any. We have acted terribly towards transgender people even after years of suffering the same sort of treatment by straight people towards us for being gay and lesbian.

I have witnessed a reaction, a revulsion, by some religious straight folks who think they are loving the homosexual sinner and hating the “sin of Sodom” when in reality they are pushing a non-Biblical aversion and condemnation of their gay and lesbian and bisexual neighbors–going so far as to fight to remove rights and privileges given to same-gender couples.

I understand why some people I meet in the LGBT community wonder how on earth I can still call myself a Christian. After all of the violent, godless and outright ugly things that Christians have done, and still do, why would I be a follower of Jesus?

It is a good question. The reality is there are different types of Christians. We each think we have the right way, but even back as early as the First Century there were varying views of Jesus, his life, his teaching and what it all means.

In Luke 7 it states that the one who has been forgiven much loves much. What a challenge to live out of a heart of the forgiven–not an easy task. To treat others as I would have them treat me, like Jesus taught. To love my neighbor as I would love myself. To actually get to know my neighbor, get beyond my assumptions, my discomfort, to the actual person. To hear Jesus speaking to me–Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? Do you see this fellow human? Not an issue, but do you see this person? This takes hard work on all sides–essential work.


This post has 10 Comments

  1. Jane on May 2, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Peterson, without going into details this is where my own thinking and meditating has been for quite some time. I fall so short on seeing the person. I get caught up in seeing the actions rather than the person behind them. (This is not a love the sinner but hate the sin, it is look beyond any sin to see the child of God.) This is so hard; particularly when the actions hurt us. Honestly, I don’t want to, but the statement that it is necessary is true and good. I am beginning to think that it will not be until we can see individuals that we will see changes in the Church whole in our welcoming of ALL. We must first welcome those who are inside the walls. It’s HARD, and there are times when I would much rather render an edict that allows me to look with contempt on someone. The story in Luke 7 doesn’t show Jesus chastising or judging Simon — he teaches him gently with a story. I have so much to learn.

  2. Sheria in South Africa on May 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Yes Peterson, there has been a gross violation of human rights by the Bush administration. People’s rights have been robbed, their dignity stolen… It is terrible that people are treated like this in the 21st centuary!! I am so glad that you bring up such issues on your blog so that people can TALK and correct the wrongs. The opressed need to be given back their dignity. Thanks for posting that video! Am sure president Obama will do a good job so that such ills are buried forever…

  3. Jennifer on May 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Yes, the Genesis story has nothing to do with “gay relationships” and actually only deals with “homosexual” sex in what amounts to gang rape in order to humilate guests to the city — which is why the New Testament identifies the sin of Sodom as “inhospitality” rather than in any verbage dealing with homosexuality.

    (We wouldn’t label the actions of a victorious army raping defeated soldiers as “homosexual sex,” we would call it “violence” as a means of dehumanizing and demoralizing the defeated troops… and this is the same thing sort of violence being described here.)

    Your comments about us transgedered really brought tears to my eyes when I read them. I have been fortunate enough to never feel neglected or put down by my gay friends, I am so much welcome and included in their circle; but I know that some of the ENDA conflict + what some people experience personally has been negative, so it means a lot to hear your heart on this matter.

    I grew up in the conversative church (I’m 40 now), had to finally stop attending church when I was 38 because I needed out for a bit, but I feel closer to God now than I ever had previously trying to fit within that subculture. And yes, it always frustrated and pained me to see all the attempts at “love” being subverted by the nefarious condemnations lurking under the surface. I don’t know of any way around it, though, except through the storm; people and institutions take time to change, and some of our religious brethren are just not open, as they cast themselves as the last defenders of truth. There’s not much to be done there except living a life of active love on our part and hoping eventually they might see what is alive in us.

  4. GreenEyedLilo on May 2, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    I gave up on Christianity, and yet in your words was a very different version of Christianity than what I had grown up on in the Assemblies of God and Southern Baptist churches. It really is a bigger tent than what some very vocal and public Christians would like everyone to believe. I often think that a church of 100 members actually contains 100 different religious beliefs, not one. Maybe it’s just that every human being has a different perspective.

    I don’t understand anti-trans hate, and I really don’t understand it from gay people. But bisexuals can get hatred from gay people, too. I guess ultimately it’s that there are some dark things in almost every human heart, and those feelings transcend sexual orientation, religion, etc.

    I wish someone who needed to read your interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah as Abu Ghraib would. But it could be that they are, and I don’t know it. I hope.

    Glad this post finds you well, even if the world is not.

  5. lower case paul on May 3, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I think few would dispute that you can find good in any religion and you can find bad in any religion. My guess is that’s because you can find good in pretty much any person and you can find bad. I know, that’s really simply put.

    I think that fundamentalism is often at the root of the blindness you imply, i.e., you cannot see the whole person if you have stone tablets blocking your vision. And, I am not here referring to just fundamentalist “Christians.” You can be a fundamentalist gay person. One of the prime precepts of fundamentalism is the effort to follow an unwavering rule or code. It seems to me that fundamentalism always results in the ethnocentricity that ends up dividing people.

    I think it seems easier to follow a code, a rule than to actually pay attention. It’s kind of like putting our brain on auto pilot. But I don’t think we can actually love unless we are paying attention. I think that is the most profound teaching that has ever been attributed to Jesus (i.e., love trumps all rules), because upon examination you realize that you cannot love who you cannot see. So, following the rule of love teaches us to pay attention (which is kind of like being alive).

    I think religious books, teachings, have a way of discerning our hearts, motives and thoughts. They expose us by what we choose to espouse at any given moment.

    One of the most sacred directives of Judaism is the Shema.

    “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.”

    Translated: “Hear Israel, the Lord God, the Lord is One.”

    Walk into any synagogue and listen to discussion on that one. It’s funny, it is used as Judaism’s argument against Christianity (which is polytheism to the Jewish faith and violates the Shema), and it is also used by some Christians to argue for the trinity (echad can be used to connote a plural “one” like a bunch of grapes). And on it goes… I have been in on these heated and passionate discussions. Yet, I think, both parties miss the first and most important part of that directive.


  6. Sheria in SA on May 3, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Lower case Paul, very well said!! I admire your wealth of wisdom on many issues…Am learning a lot from your posts. I love what you say, “that’s because you can find good in pretty much any person and you can find bad. You cannot see the whole person if you have stone tablets blocking your vision. Upon examination you realize that you cannot love who you cannot see. I think religious books, teachings, have a way of discerning our hearts, motives and thoughts…”
    So so true Paul, you hit the nail on the head, well done…

  7. Jane on May 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    lower case paul, You hit it on the head for me also when you state, “Yet, I think, both parties miss the first and most important part of that directive. ‘Hear.'”

    That’s the hardest part for many of us. Thanks for the reminder

  8. Marti Abernathey on May 5, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    I think of the rude and judgmental ways that I see some non-trans gays and lesbians react towards transgender people in our own communities, ways that I had felt and acted towards trans people before I actually knew any. We have acted terribly towards transgender people even after years of suffering the same sort of treatment by straight people towards us for being gay and lesbian.

    Thanks for writing this. As an activist, I’ve butted up against a wall of hatred and bias in my own community. Even worse, in this culture I don’t ever think I’ll have a partner because I have same gender attraction as well as being trans. If you want to take the temp. of acceptance in a community, being gay or lesbian and trans is one way to do it.

    When thinking of Christ, I think of what he said were the two most important things, Love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love of God and love of others were said to be the two most important commandments. Yet how many of us are treated that way? I’ve met very few true Christian walking people in my life.

  9. Joe G. on May 5, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Frankly, I’m not surprised that it was amongst the evangelical Christians that the endorsement of torture was the highest (note how amongst the non-religious, and I assume this includes atheists/agnostics – the level of endorsement was the lowest). I mean, if you believe in a deity that will damn people to eternal suffering and essentially torture it doesn’t take much more to endorse the use of painful and life threatening techniques to “get” information.

    I also think the whole Sodom story is full of moral horrors – it’s often used to condemn homosexuality when it is more about sexual violence. Likewise, why isn’t any literalistic Christian ever horrified by the offer of Lot to give his daughters, where he emphasizes that they are virgins, to the rabid crowd in the visitors’ stead? Ugh!

  10. Anonymous on October 25, 2011 at 2:02 am

    It’s too bad that “everyone” misses the point of being “Christian.” We are a called out people, to turn our back on sin, and yet still sin. The Bible spells out what that/those sins are thoughout all 66 books. Its not for “our” will, but for Gods will. We are to decrease so He can increase in our lives., to do His plan for our lives and so give us “An expected end.”

    So what does it all mean, yes to love your neighbor as yourself, to love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and soul.To “stop” doing those things that displease the Lord. Smoking, unmarried sex, sex with the same sex, slander, cheating on your mate, beating your loved ones, murder, torture, cheating on your taxes, stealing, not doing a good job at work, revenge, unhelpfulness, not helping others that truely need it, rape, incest, unbelief, willfullness, selfishness, arrogance, com-snobbery,narcissism, rebellion, non-honoring, gossiping, attacking, belittleing, drugs and booze, drunkenness, gambling, lewd thoughts and actions, complaining, misunderstanding. Revealing clothing. The list is so….very….long and keeps getting larger as mankind finds more creatative ways to sin.

    The interesting part is that satan walks around like a “roaring loin” seeking who he may devour and he puts things in our way, much like when we play with a cat to get him to grab at a string. Thoughts come our way by what we see and hear, that are good and bad. We choose what we put in our mind, and thinking long on something, we act on it, then it can become sin.

    What each persons weakness to sin is, isn’t always the same as the next persons, and that is where the folks on this blog need to understand. I don’t like being mistreated by the folks in my church either, and so I am called to forgive, and boy that isn’t easy. But look at what Jesus our example did. He forgave and he said to forgive 7 x 70.

    Its only natural to be angry at what any one thinks is injustus, but we as people let them live in our head rent free because we can’t forgive them. Have you also thought about people that are getting Christians fired or Christian businesses being beoycotted because they don’t believe as others do.

    Yeah! its a shame you feel bad….but our bodies don’t belong to us after asking Jesus in, it none belongs to God.

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