I can recall sitting in church and hearing the pastor say that homosexuality was a sin. I know it was said because I have it in my journal with my sermon notes. I accepted it as truth because “God said it. We believe it. That settles it.” And I adapted the mindset of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” That was until I arrived at seminary. Part of the journey of seminary is learning to discern the voice of God from the voices of religious leaders of the past and of today. It’s realizing that the Bible is divinely inspired but written by men, meaning that there is a possibility that not everything in the Bible aligns with who God is.
I remember sitting in my Old Testament or Hebrew Bible course in the very first semester of my time at Candler and the professor saying that Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t actually about homosexuality. (I later learned that the word homosexuality wasn’t actually in the Bible until 1946.) In Genesis 19, the men of Sodom come to Lot’s house and request that he send out the two angels who they know is with him so that they may “know them.” “Know them” meaning rape them, and rape is an act of power. Lot says no and offers his daughters (which is also problematic if we’re reading it today but not so in the patriarchal days of the Bible). Then verse 9 reads: “But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them…” The point is that the men are strangers in this land, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are unwelcoming to strangers. This is also probably one of the reasons that Lot wouldn’t allow the angels to spend the night in the square but insisted they stay with him and his family. Also, in doing so, he offers them hospitality. We see this same example of hospitality with Abraham and the men who appear to him in Genesis 18. Thus, in my Old Testament course, I learned that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is the sin of inhospitality.
Furthermore, in speaking of Sodom and Gomorrah, Ezekiel 16:49-50 reads, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore, I removed them when I saw it.” Again, we see the mention of Sodom in relation to not only inhospitality but a failure to care for the poor and needy. They have failed to care for the least among them, the marginalized, often spoken of as the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. There are many more verses dedicated to the mandate to care for the stranger or foreigner than there are to support the belief that Sodom and Gomorrah is about “homosexuality.”
This was the beginning of my journey of unlearning and relearning what the Bible has to say about sexuality. If what I had been taught the Bible said about homosexuality was a poor interpretation, then what other poor interpretations might I have been taught? As such, I had a similar experience with really studying to learn what the Bible has to say about the word porneia, which is often interpreted as fornication and communicated to mean sex outside of marriage. I learned that there are many ways to interpret porneia, thus no one pastor or theological movement can make a definite or exact claim on its meaning. Still when taken into the Biblical context, porneia most likely refers to sexual acts that occur in the context of idol worship.
All in all, while the Bible is clear on some things, like the importance of caring for the poor and marginalized, the Bible is not clear as it relates to sexuality. Nevertheless, sexuality is one of the areas that I would say that the church as an institution has caused the most harm. I was very clear when I came to seminary that I understood my ministry call as promoting healing and wholeness in and through the Black Baptist Church. Seminary helped me to realize that there is a strong need for healing in the area of sexuality. This includes everything from discussing what it means to be an LGBTQ+ affirming space to unpacking purity culture to helping people navigate the ways religion and politics intersect around sexuality, such as that concerning the Dobbs case and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. This is the work to which I am called.