Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality The True Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah

Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality The True Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of those Bible stories people have heard off, even if they’ve never read the Bible. Early in this project’s timeline, I was primed for what this story actually said, given how often anti-gay individuals trot it out to support their bias. I was looking for details that would dismantle the often-used argument against homosexuality: the Old Testament makes clear, as evidenced by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which was brought on by God’s supposed dissatisfaction with the men practicing sodomy, that homosexuality is wrong.

So I knew the people of S&G were apparently sexual hedonists who through their actions sodombrought about the destruction of their city. The details of this story are significant, however, for the wrath of God is brought about when the men of the city demand that Lot, who has been harboring two foreigners (angels, actually), send out the two men so they can have sex with them.

See, this is how gays act! And clearly God was having none of it—or so the way this story has been handled suggests.

However, reading it for the first time, I understood this lesson to be about rape, not helminiakcondemning homosexual acts. Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality chapter devoted to this Bible story clarifies: This famously misinterpreted Bible story is really about the sin of inhospitality.

Those who interpret this story as being clear evidence of anti-homosexual Bible content point to the language used by the village men as they demanded the visiting angels: they wanted “to know” them. Taken sexually, this term clearly points to wanting to have sex with these men. But they were not interested in romance, as Helminiak makes clear: they were interested in rape, and as such, this action was about humiliating the men by penetrating them as they would women—a popular and disturbing tactic used against conquered peoples.

This demonstrates the village’s wickedness, not the fact that they liked to have sex with men—nowhere does the story contain information about homosexual relationships as we understand them today. Therefore, the men were just jerks (to put it mildly). Furthermore, their sin is grounded in the context of where they lived: the harsh desert climate called for compassion to strangers passing through. Strangers needed shelter to protect against the harsh climate, as sleeping outdoors was dangerous. Since they were not showing compassion to strangers, this is the main problem. Helminiak mentions that Lot’s giving of his daughters was not being condemned (47), which further supports the issue is inhospitality and not sexual—they would have raped the daughter.

A version of this story also appears in Judges (book 19). In both, sexual assault highlights the “wickedness” so often mis-attributed to homosexuality (47). In the Judges version, there is no mention (or hint) of homosexuality, further supporting the idea that the lesson was so important it bore repeating: meanness, cruelty, abuse, and hard-heartedness (all couched in inhospitality) are the true sins here; therefore, the story should not be used to support anti-gay rhetoric (47).

Helminiak sees evidence elsewhere in the Bible to support his stance. Ezekiel—later in the Bible—mentions the heart of Sodom’s story: pride and not aiding needy travelers brought about their downfall (48). This is the “abomination” so often referred to, not homosexual sex. Even Jesus weighs in (Matthew 10:5-15): the lesson of S&G was the rejection of God’s messengers (49).

Bringing his point here to a close, he mentions several Bible references to Sodom and the associated sins (Isaiah 1:10-17; Jeremiah 23:14, Zephaniah 2:8-11): “injustice, oppression, partiality, adultery, lies, and encouraging evildoers” (49).

Helminiak mentions how none of these sins relate to sex (or even sexuality). For those that feel adultery relates, Helminiak clarifies: since women were considered property of their husbands, adultery with a married woman was considered an abuse of another man’s property (48). So again, our modern understanding of an issue—adultery—affects how we understand an ancient one.

As Helminiak’s book makes clear, the over-used version of Sodom and Gomorrah needs to be reconsidered. Ironically, those who choose to use the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to support their anti-gay agenda are actually committing the true sin of Sodom. People who disagree with homosexuality (as if it were something with which you could disagree) need to realize that a person who lives differently than they do needs compassion and attempts at understanding, not attacks.

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Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality A Different Approach to Understanding the Bible, Especially its “Gay” Content”

Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality A Different Approach to Understanding the Bible, Especially its “Gay” Content”

It’s easy to be critical of something in which you are not invested. When it comes to religion in general and Christianity specifically, people who are critical are often dismissed helminiakas being an enemy and therefore have their ideas discounted. For example, Reza Aslan, a scholar who happens to be Muslim, had his book about the life of Jesus criticized due to his apparent inability to investigate without a (negative) religious bias. To wrap up this blog project, then, I felt I chose wisely in selecting a book—Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality—written by a straight Roman Catholic author.

Although I can’t attest to how devout Helminiak is, I can state that his interesting and well-developed book has much to say. Most crucially: he believes what I have learned throughout this project: mistakes are routinely made in how the Bible is read, and as a result in how it is used (27).

To support his point, he provides several examples that focus on how readers interpret meaning (29). An interesting example is Jesus’ teaching about simplicity.

Three of the Gospels (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25) contain Jesus’ famous lesson about living a simple (i.e. non-rich, non-bogged down by material possessions) life: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Since passing through the literal eye of a needle would be impossible for even the smallest camel, this sends a strong message about eschewing the trappings of material wealth.

This example, however, is easy to mis-read. Helminiak mentions scholars who say that Jerusalem possessed “a very low and narrow gate through” its city wall, called the eye of the needle (31). When loaded camels approached the gate, they had to be unloaded and then the animal, crouching down, had to be led through the gate. Once on the other side, it was reloaded.

This information casts a different light on Jesus’ point: he wasn’t saying rich people can’t get into heaven; rather, he was suggesting their entrance would be difficult, and that they might first have to unload their “material concerns” (31). So aside from being good news for the wealthy, this supports one of Helminiak’s main points: there are different ways to read the Bible. You can take what you read literally, perhaps ignoring any context, or use an historical-critical approach, one that places content in appropriate context in order to unlock the spirit of the ideas (33).

Why not take everything literally? Why would a reader need to “unlock” or “decode” the Bible’s pages? Helminiak points out that the Bible authors knew quite well what they were writing. They were also culture-bound human beings (35). He believes that if you want to understand what God means, you have to first understand what the human authors intended to say (35), and as authors today, their approach was not always straight forward (which means you can’t always take the content at face value; rather, you have to think about it).

For example, he discusses the Book of Genesis. According to the Bible’s first book, the world was created in a week. However, Helminiak suggests that we consider what the authors of Genesis (and God) intended with this first Bible book: they were imparting a religion not a science lesson. Therefore, the seven-day creation story is making a point, not stating a fact. The point? God created the universe with “wisdom, care, and order” (35). Science, however, has uncovered that the universe has evolved over millions of years. Rather than discounting what the Bible says, this understanding leads us closer to an understanding of God’s work, not as a way to refute that he created it. Basically: God created the universe with wisdom, care, and order over a long stretch of time. Although Helminiak doesn’t develop why, it appears that the lesson was developed in a way that would make sense to the audience—perhaps they could not fathom time stretching back millions of years?

The idea also suggests that our world is ever-changing, and so should our understanding of the Bible. From this as well as other examples, Helminiak stresses: God is guiding us through change in our world; therefore, his guidelines (part of which we read in the Bible) bend with shifts in our society (38).

How is one to know the difference, that a statement in the Bible is meant to be changed, reevaluated? Easy: when a thing is deemed wrong in the Bible, a reason is provided (40). He doesn’t go into details here, but one could easily see some of the prohibitions in Leviticus, where certain foods (like shellfish) are deemed bad because they are unclean—i.e. literally unhealthy, not morally bad. Understanding this reason then allows for an individual to understand if the law still applies in a different context. Today, since we now know how to clean, store, and cook seafood, the prohibition no longer need stand.

As Helminiak points out, the purported anti-gay content lacks this reasoning. The Bible authors lacked an understanding of modern homosexuality; therefore, they provided no guidance on the topic. Therefore, the “gay” content is often misunderstood or taken out of context, and as such, should not be taken to mean that our society—or our churches—should be advocating against the LGBT community on the basis of scripture. Times have evolved, and so too should be our understanding about what the Bible supposedly says about the love between two human beings, regardless of gender. It’s nice to have a straight Catholic point this out as well as Helminiak has in his book.

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Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality: Unfairly Attacking the Gay Community

Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality

For the purposes of this blog project, I read the Bible cold. This restricted me to what was said in its pages. This allowed me to avoid people imposing their own interpretation of what is said. However, I quickly learned (or perhaps realized) is that the English Bible, among other things, is a translation, meaning that God (regardless of your belief system) did not pass on this information in English; therefore, you can’t read the text in English and avoid interpretation.

So, once I finished the Old and New Testament (or Hebrew and Christian Testament, depending on your point of view), I sought out other texts to enrich my understanding of what I’d read. In order to get a wider picture of the era in which the Bible was written, I read works associated with but ultimately excluded from the Bible: The Apocrypha. I also read a series of books that shed light on how I should (or could) understand these ancient works, such as a scholarly examination of who wrote the four Gospels in the New Testament. Other books have helped me better understand the real reason behind this blog project: what the Bible really has to say about homosexuality.

Of these books, Daniel Helminiak’s What The Bible Really Says about Homosexuality has helminiakbeen the most helpful. This author, a scholar (and professor) of theology and spirituality, digs deep into specific sections of the Bible that have traditionally been used to support anti-gay reads of the Bible. His work in these pages comes with a useful endorsement: an Episcopal Bishop, John S. Spong wrote the foreward. If a leader in the Christian Church endorses what he has to say, that lends weight to what this book has to say about the Bible.

As I outlined the information I wanted to discuss in my posts about this book, I realized that a lot of what I was hoping to learn in this project is summed up well in these pages. I also realized that I needed to read a lot of background before engaging with this information. My project thus far, basically, has prepared me well. I found myself gathering my ideas and covering ground already discovered in previous posts on this blog—although much of what I have previously discussed merely scratched the surface, beneath which Helminiak digs deep. He also does such a thorough job, there doesn’t feel like there’s much more to say on this topic.

Therefore, I made an important choice: This series of posts will serve as a stopping point for this nearly-three-year-long project.

Over the course of these nine (or so) posts, I will discuss what he has to say and also wind down all I have learned. I have learned much about the Bible and developed an appreciation for what it contains. I also feel better equipped to engage in a conversation about its message. I also hope that what I’ve learned has proved useful to my readers and, if anything, some of this content has made an impact, however small, in the ongoing discussion about how the Bible is misused to justify an anti-homosexual agenda.

I’ll begin this series with Helminiak’s approach: understanding the different ways to approach the Bible.

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