Note: You have to read to the end to “get” this post. Sorry to you skimmers!
In Genesis 19, God decides to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Long before two male angels are threatened with gang-rape by a mob of men, God decides to destroy the two cities. Long before “sodomite” became synonymous with homosexuality, God declared that Sodom was inhospitable to strangers and was full of selfish bigoted people. The prophet Ezekiel tells us precisely why Sodom was destroyed:
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”
To be a Sodomite, then, is to be inhospitable. A Sodomite is not a homosexual; rather, a Sodomite is not hospitable (even violent!) to those who are different. To be a Sodomite is to believe it is okay to marginalize those who are different from you.
Let me tell you about the world’s greatest Sodomite.
It is in the news today that Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and the “God Hates F***” movement, is perhaps in his final days (update 3/20/14 – he passed away) and has been excommunicated by his own church, according to one of his sons:
“I’m not sure how I feel about this,” he said. “Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.”
Let me tell you about this inhospitable Sodomite.
The entire first chapter of Romans could be written about Fred Phelps.
- Paul condemns those who think they know the mind of God (v.21); Phelps believes that God hates people who are gay, soldiers, sell vacuums, and Apple executives.
- Paul condemns those who lost their minds so they could pursue the lusts of their hearts (v. 24); Phelps inflamed passions and has brought shame to Christians everywhere.
- Paul condemns those who favor the Created over the Creator (v.25); Phelps sold out their presumedly Creator-appointed duty of protesting in exchange for radio publicity.
- Paul condemns those who were given up to degrading passions (v. 26); By protesting the funerals of children shot at Newtown, Phelps has allowed his people’s passions to degrade beyond recognizable humanity.
- Finally, Paul condemns those who applaud and cheer on violating God’s commandments (v.32); Phelps became famous for cheering on the murder of Matthew Shepherd.
Let’s keep going. The condemnation concludes in Romans 2:1-5.
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
Oh, maybe I wasn’t being clear above. Sorry.
My prayer isn’t for Fred Phelps.
My prayer is for the greatest Sodomite, the one most inhospitable to others.
My prayer is likely for me.
Because all of what Paul says in Romans 2:1-5 is applicable to me when I consider Fred Phelps:
You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
As a Christian pastor, I am haunted by Romans 2.
- I know I have a hard heart towards Fred Phelps.
- I cannot stand that I share a title with him: Pastor.
- I cannot stand that Phelps represents Christianity to so many people, including children and youth.
- I hate that my friends, neighbors, youth and young adults have been done harm and been brought to self-harm by this “Christian.”
- I am grieved that I choose to use “quotes” around his title of “Christian.”
- I don’t believe that Phelps knows the same God that I know.
And in saying all of that, I might be the world’s greatest Sodomite because I am so completely inhospitable towards Phelps that I am denying him his full humanity just as he denied so many of their humanity.
I know in my head that God loves Fred Phelps and grieves at his wasted life twisted by hate more than I do. But if I know in my heart that I feel relief at imagining a world without the Westboro Baptist Church..If I hold judgment in my heart, my God is as small as the god Phelps proclaims.
If I have a hard time imagining “picketing Phelps’ imminent funeral with love” or “offering the Phelps family privacy to grieve” then I cannot offer the hospitality in my heart that God requires of me.
The greatest sodomite might be Fred Phelps.
…It might be me.
……It might be you, dear reader.
Whoever it is, here’s my prayer:
Before we die, may we all know a bigger God whose love is larger than we think possible.
May we know a bigger God than we know today and have our lives reflect God’s great love.
And may we make the world a better place where all are welcomed, differences are celebrated, and hatefulness reigns no more.
====Note to the reader: This post uses an identical argument style as Paul uses in Romans 1-2, which erroneously has been used to condemn homosexuality. In Romans 1, we get comfortable in our perceived position against the sinner as Paul lambasts the “other.” And yet Romans 2 forces the reader to look in a mirror and see how they are sinning themselves by judging (perhaps sinning the most!). Instead of breathing a sigh of relief at the possibility of Phelps’ church being gone, take this as an opportunity to think on our own missteps and perpetual shortcomings, and to seek peace in all things.