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Saturday, January 15, 2022

UCG Returns to Sodom

Darris McNeely of the United Church of God asks Are We Returning to Sodom? in an article posted ten days ago on their Beyond Today website. McNeely opens his piece with a reference to the archaeological dig at Tall el-Hammam (a nod to his colleague Peter Eddington's article titled What If Sodom Has Been Found?) which some folks have proposed as the site of the city of Sodom referenced in the book of Genesis. Laying aside the problems inherent in transforming the Bible into a historical textbook, both men acknowledge that even fellow Fundamentalists have problems with assigning these ancient ruins as the site of the biblical Sodom (see Biblical Problems with Identifying Tall el-Hammam as Sodom). Even so, whatever the merits of the speculation surrounding Tall el-Hammam, McNeely sees this as an opportunity to resurrect Sodom and use it as an example for modern America.

In the article, McNeely stated: "What the Bible tells us about the sins of these cities is a sobering indictment of the direction of modern culture, as today’s culture is much like that of Sodom. At issue in the culture wars that have spread through America and other nations is the intent of many to alter the essential fabric of the family and society as we have always known it. It’s critical that you understand what God’s Word teaches us about Sodom, its sins and the connection to our modern culture." Is McNeely right about that? Is America following in the footsteps of Sodom and Gomorrah?

To make his point, McNeely references the story found in the thirteenth and nineteenth chapters of the book of Genesis. Students of Scripture will remember that Abram and Lot decided to go their separate ways, and that "Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar," because "the whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah." (Verse 10) A little later, however, we are informed that "the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord." (Verse 13) So far, so good - many of us can see the similarity between the fertile, prosperous and sinful Sodom and modern America; but McNeely took an unfortunate detour at this point in his article which threatened to undermine his entire narrative.

Instead of following the biblical narrative, McNeely decided to introduce the notion that Sodom was all about homosexuality (which has been thoroughly discredited by serious biblical scholarship). However, before he proceeded to the events of the nineteenth chapter of Genesis, McNeely decided to interject a misleading portrait of modern America. He wrote: "Today more than half of Americans are accepting of same-sex marriage, made legal in all 50 states via a Supreme Court ruling in which five men and women overruled the holy Word of God." Horror of horrors - a majority of Americans and the Supreme Court believe that homosexuals should be able to settle down into monogamous relationships that enjoy the same protections and benefits afforded to heterosexual couples! Let's keep these depraved people in the bath houses and bars where they belong!

McNeely went on to cite a study conducted by the "Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University" which "found that over 30 percent of Millennials, and a shocking 39 percent of 'young Millennials' (aged 18-24), now <identify themselves> as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer or questioning.)" However, these findings that homosexuals are taking over the ranks of our young people are not supported by more reputable and scientific studies. In an article published in February of last year (LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate) by Gallup, we are informed that 9.1% of Millennials and 15.9% of Generation Z folks identify as LGBT. Moreover, this is consistent with broader findings that older adults are much less likely to identify as LGBT (could this have anything to do with the stigma and persecution experienced by older folks?). Now, while all of us should be willing to acknowledge that this is a significant group of people, we should also be willing to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of young people still identify as heterosexual. In short, America isn't gay!

After that little diversion, McNeely finally returned to the subject of Sodom. He went on to note that the whole society of the city was corrupt - that not even ten righteous people could be found therein. Although McNeely briefly hints at the fact that Sodom is the story of a host of sins (with being inhospitable to strangers as chief among them), he inevitably returns to the fact that the young and old men of the city wanted to gang rape the two angels. Like many before him, he seems completely oblivious to the fact that there NEVER has been an instance in the annals of human history where an entire population of people were homosexuals! Mr. McNeely also appears to be oblivious to the fact that rape has always been more about power and control than having anything to do with sex. Moreover, although he referenced the scripture earlier in his article, McNeely seems to ignore that Ezekiel characterized the iniquity of Sodom as being spoiled, not helping the poor and needy, being haughty and practicing "abominable deeds" before the Lord (see Ezekiel 16:49-50). And, for the record, most Bible scholars would characterize gang rape and being inhospitable to strangers as "abominable deeds."

For McNeely, however, Sodom is a story about sexual depravity - more particularly, a story about the wickedness of the LGBTQ community! In his article, he noted: "Western society is having a 'Sodom moment.' The cultural perversity against the natural order that is sodomy and homosexuality has recently expanded to include the gender identity war encapsulated in the LGBTQ label." He then proceeded to launch into a diatribe against those folks whose mental gender does not match their physical gender. Instead of demonstrating an awareness that human psychology and physiology are prone to experiencing anomalies from time to time and reflecting the empathy and compassion that one might expect, McNeely sees gender identity as just another instance of willful sexual perversion and sinfulness.

Now, while we can all agree that things like male prostitution, pedophilia and promiscuity could rightly be characterized as sinful behaviors, many of us would disagree with Mr. McNeely that all homosexual behavior is perverse and sinful. Many of us believe that all homosexuals who follow the biblical principle of fidelity to another individual (as embodied in one of the Ten Commandments and Christ's instruction to love one another) can be Christians and should NOT be accounted worthy of suffering the same fate as the Sodomites of long ago! Indeed, we believe that it is NOT good for any human to be alone, and we believe that marriage is an honorable estate that is appropriate for people everywhere.

Nevertheless, if we look at how materialistic American society has become over the course of our history as a nation, many of us can see similarities to the situation extant within the ancient city of Sodom. Likewise, if we look at the pride and widespread lack of empathy and compassion for other folks which currently permeates American society, we can definitely discern some parallels with the circumstances that existed in Sodom before its infamous fall. Finally, when we consider the dearth of hospitality that currently exists within many quarters of the United States, we can see why Americans might have some trepidation when we consider the fate of Sodom! However, by focusing on the LGBTQ community, Darris McNeely undermined his narrative that Sodom has much of anything to teach modern Americans. In other words, the story of Sodom probably does have some pertinent lessons for modern nations, but a blanket condemnation of homosexuality is NOT one of them!

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