The Bible tells us the sin of inhospitality is the sin of Sodom…so does that mean Christians that defy COVID-19 restrictions are denying their love of neighbor, and thus are the New Sodomites? Read on to find out.
What Sodom and Gomorrah were really about
In Genesis 19, God decides to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The timeline is important: Before two “male” angels are threatened with gang-rape by a mob of men, God decided to destroy the two cities. Long before “sodomite” became synonymous in the English with homosexuality, God declared that Sodom was inhospitable to strangers and was full of selfish bigoted people.
Though you might think it was because of sexual orientation or violation, the sixteenth chapter of prophet Ezekiel (the closest source in biblical chronology to the original story) 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.”Ezekiel 16:49-50
There are echoes elsewhere as the biblical prophets were truly concerned with Israel becoming as inhospitable as Sodom, referencing the same argument in Judges chapter 19 and Isaiah chapter 1. So hospitality and care for the marginalized were necessary to avoid the fate of Sodom.
Later in the New Testament, Jesus in Matthew 10 reaffirms what Ezekiel says about Sodom. Jesus instructs the Disciples to go subject themselves to other people’s hospitality. If other towns don’t offer welcome or care to the Disciple, then Jesus likens those town’s lack of hospitality to…you guessed it…Sodom and Gomorrah.
To be a Sodomite, then, in the Bible has nothing to do with sexual orientation: it is to be inhospitable. A Sodomite refuses hospitality (and even returns violence!) to those who are different or marginalized. To be a Sodomite in the Bible is to believe it is okay to marginalize those who are different from you and to act with careless harm.
The New Sodomites…
We see today that the New Sodomites are the same as the Sodomites of old: people who act with careless harm and marginalize those who are different.
And the new Sodomites? Christians.
Like small restaurants and the performing arts, churches and faith communities are struggling under COVID-19. With the sung or spoken word identified by science as a predictable super-spreader of COVID-19, it was imperative early on for churches to close their buildings and move their churches online or outside so that the risk of transmission was zero or decreased. My local church, 10 miles from the first USA outbreak, hasn’t worshipped indoors together for almost a year as of this writing. It sucks and it causes harm. But we are surviving–and thriving in some ways–as we preach in line with the science of the day.
But not all churches preach with the Gospel in one hand and public health/science in the other.
In a checkered fashion, churches complied with or complained about the requirements from regional authorities. Families have been torn apart when some members keep attending in-person church. And, outrageously, there is a sizable minority that outright defies the restrictions. Many kept racking up fines, or levying court challenges, or hustling lawmakers, to be able to worship inside, without masks, and singing to their heart’s content. Big megachurch pastors have openly defied such things, to the aghast communities that then have to deal with superspreader fallout. And some of those COVID-19 denier church pastors actually died of COVID …may they rest in the peace their preaching didn’t give.
Websites like The Friendly Atheist have worn themselves out by how often they report on pastors and churches that have opposed restrictions. Christians are a laughingstock and a source of intense ire by non-Christians for causing indiscriminate harm to the communities around us. We deserve every word of it.
…Confirmed by the Supreme Court
Now, the highest law in America has sided with the COVID-denying pastors, further enabling Christians to be Sodomites: inhospitable and harmful to their communities.
The Supreme Court ruled in November 2020 and February 2021 that, in particular cases, churches did not have to submit to restrictions imposed to all businesses and non-profits by state or local governments.
Supreme Court Justice Kagan decried the most recent decision, writing in her dissent that Supreme Court justices are not scientists or public health experts, and they should not be enabling pastors who are not scientists either:
Dr. James Watt, the Chief of Communicable Diseases at the California Department of Public Health, explained: “There is broad consensus among epidemiologists that transmission (and thus spread) of the novel coronavirus is more likely” at “[i]indoor public gatherings,” which “bring together [many] people from different households.” …Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, further elaborated on the point. He described the “increase” in risk when gatherings “are of an extended duration, and when there is a lot of verbal interaction, especially when there is group singing, chanting, or other loud vocalization” like speeches or sermons…That risk, of course, extends not only to the participants themselves, but to everyone they associate within a community.Kagan Dissent, 2021
Justice Kagan concludes with a reminder that the Christians on the Supreme Court are exempt from accountability and repercussions of their decisions (incidentally, both Jewish justices voted against lifting the restrictions):
The Court injects uncertainty into an area where uncertainty has human costs. All this from unelected actors, “not accountable to the people.” I fervently hope that the Court’s intervention will not worsen the Nation’s COVID crisis. But if this decision causes suffering, we will not pay. Our marble halls are now closed to the public, and our life tenure forever insulates us from responsibility for our errors.
Indeed. Like the pastors who can wash their hands of responsibility when their members get COVID-19, the justices and lawmakers can avoid responsibility of what their broken legal system does.
Pastoral Malpractice against the marginalized
Story after story reminds us that the weight of COVID-19 infections and restrictions are not felt equally, and pastors/churches that flaunt COVID-19 restrictions and extend the duration and intensity of the pandemic cause harm to communities of color, poverty, and women. According to Inequality.org:
Pre-existing inequalities in the United States and most countries around the world made ordinary people vulnerable to the dual blows of the current public health and economic crises. Flawed policy responses to the pandemic have contributed to a further widening of long-standing economic, racial, and gender divides.Source link
It’s flabbergasting to me that these churches, many of which have incredible resources and could sit unopened for a year or more on their reserves alone, deny they are doing harm. The Divine Healer that I believe in wouldn’t call them to this kind of ecclesial malpractice when it comes to a public health crisis.
Hashtag Not All Christians
One of the frustrating parts of being a pastor is that I share my title with other pastors, many of whose congregations are only on TV, who speak out against COVID-19 restrictions and flaunt public health accountability measures.
And yet those who don’t make the news are churches that accept these restrictions, that know they do not mean their church is closed. My local church was called for comment on the governor’s orders that affected religious communities. We sent back this:
First United Methodist Church of Seattle supports public health measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19. While we lament that we cannot meet to worship in person at this time, we believe we are called to protect the health and well-being of both our congregation and the wider Seattle community. We have been offering virtual worship services since the beginning of March 2020, and will continue to do so until King County reaches Phase 4, according to our reopening plan.
In this season we are especially thankful for the dedication of our music program leadership, and our choir members. We were early adopters of the “virtual choir” format where each singer records their part at home, and our music director and video producer edit together a virtual choir performance each week.
Not being able to gather in person is so, so difficult. But we preach the faith and follow public health guidelines so that when we can gather again, no one is missing.
Crickets in return and we didn’t make the local report, but a COVID-denying church did! So it’s a problem with the churches, but also with the media that doesn’t sell reasonability.
My hope is that we can speak out more clearly to our neighboring churches that are violating restrictions, that we can offer accountability before contagion claims us all. And that one day, Christians might again be known for hospitality and caring for the marginalized, accepting accountability when they sin, and be known as Sodomites no longer.
In short, Christians who deny or defy public health restrictions in worship do harm not only to their own members, but their families and communities. This is in direct violation of the Great Commandment, the Golden Rule, and Jesus-named love of neighbor. Their seemingly acts of hospitality to their members demands are actually acts of inhospitality to the wider community around them. The Bible is clear who Sodomites are, and to see them today, these churches have only to look in a mirror.
Thanks for reading, commenting, subscribing, and sharing on social media.