For my readers from conservative backgrounds who may not fully understand what an "urban legend" refers to...
urban legend: a modern story of obscure origin and with little or no supporting evidence that spreads spontaneously in varying forms and often has elements of humor, moralizing, or horror: "Are there alligators living in the New York City sewer system, or is that just an urban legend?"
...except in Christian culture there's little "humor" involved with them, but more in the way of moralizing, and in their own way, horror. My recent post about a guy I know coming out as a gay man is relevant. There are probably as many, if not more, urban legends within Christianity about homosexuality as any other subject.
The other day, a FB friend posted a video about Joel Osteen's interview with Oprah. This FB "friend" isn't necessarily a guy I know. He's probably someone who knew of me when I was on the road and made a friend request. No big deal. Lots of my FB "friends" are of the same variety, as I seldom deny a request. This guy's post caught my attention because of the EXCESS of ALL CAPS and the generous use of exclamation points!!!!!!!! When I see those kind of posts in my news feed, I know they're usually religious in nature, and I'll read them out of curiosity. There was a video clip attached (which I didn't watch) with the description saying "Joel Osteen says that homosexuality is a sin, but homosexuals will go to Heaven." To me, the guy posting this, and the people who commented, completely lost the real basis for criticism in what Osteen was saying/doing because they got all worked up into a fundamentalist frenzy.
The problem with what Osteen is/was doing there, from my perspective, is that he was being too political, trying to scratch everyone's back, trying to keep everyone happy - to the point that his point was meaningless - but, he doesn't want to interrupt the cash flow by angering any particular demographic. The fundamentalists are already down on him, so he doesn't worry about them too much, but he makes sure to appeal to the evangelical community (his personal piggybank) with the "homosexuality is a sin" angle, but softens it up with the "but they'll still go to heaven" angle for the sake of the not so evangelical community (his potential piggybank). Smart business, but when our moral compass becomes a dollar bill...ouch.
Those who commented on this guy's post, though, dear God. Some of them were practically foaming at the mouth. "Homosexuals are going to Hell!!!" "Being QUEER is a SIN! QUEER is the right word! Its the word my mama used! Repent! Repent!!! Its SIN!!! Pray Pray PRAY!!!" And of course, the old standard urban legend - "If being a QUEER ain't a sin, God has to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!"
You guys know from my recent writing that I've taken no moral position on the matter of homosexuality, neither condemning nor condoning. The only position I've taken is that it absolutely isn't a black and white issue. Most of the Christian community's views on homosexuality are based entirely on cultural preferences which are justified by urban legend and nourished by not knowing "God's Word", otherwise known as the bible. Here in my own home state, while I can't speak to current law, as of a decade or two ago, there were still "sodomy" laws on the books. If only people knew that the application and use of the term "sodomy" was the product of biblical ignorance and urban legend (an urban legend that might give fundamentalists a heart attack), it'd probably disappear from our vernacular.
Let's be clear - Sodom and Gomorrah weren't destroyed because of homosexuality. What was their sin? What reached God as a "shriek"?...
Ezekial 16:49 Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
And from the Message...
The sin of your sister Sodom was this: She lived with her daughters in the lap of luxury—proud, gluttonous, and lazy. They ignored the oppressed and the poor. They put on airs and lived obscene lives. And you know what happened: I did away with them.
Excess. Gluttony. Becoming proud, fat, and lazy in their excess and gluttony. Uncharitable.
I dove in the comment thread on this guy's wall, which by now was populated with several Holiness ministers joining in the "SIN!!!" and "GOING to HELL!!!" and "God destroyed the QUEERS!" mentality, and I made a simple comment that brought a quickly and heavily traveled conversation to almost a complete halt for several hours. My comment was...
"Why does the bible say Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed? It wasn't homosexuality, btw. You guys should read Ezekiel 16:49."
Things went silent for a while, and then one of the Holiness pastors chimed in with the Genesis 19 account of the people of Sodom wanting to "carnally know" the men in Lot's house - therefore, THAT, not gluttony, excess, and a lack of charity, was the sin of S and G. Geez. That account isn't about homosexuality. It's about perversion. What was going on outside of Lot's house would've been perverse whether gay or straight. Gluttony and excess always leads to perversion. What went on at Lot's house was nothing more than a by-product of gluttony and excess, the same way mud is a by-product of rain.
Then, someone chimed in with "God's word says it's an abomination!" I don't deny, according to the OT, that at least at one time, God called it an abomination for man to lie with man (Leviticus 20:13). But then again, there are many things called "abomination" in the OT which are called clean in the NT, so anyone taking Levitical Law literally and applying it rigidly is handling the text irresponsibly - and probably shouldn't be pastoring. Eating pork, for instance, was an "abomination" under the OT law. When I brought this up to one of the Holiness ministers, his response was "Anything I pray over I can eat, bro. You need to read the bible." Judging by his profile pic, he prays over a lot of stuff. He was also helping me make my point.
The conversation ended when I asked, "When's the last time you preached on gluttony? Have you ever preached on that?"
You wanna know where much of the urban legend about Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction being due to heinous homosexuality comes from?...
The Book of Jasher 19:
- And by desire of their four judges the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had beds erected in the streets of the cities, and if a man came to these places they laid hold of him and brought him to one of their beds, and by force made him to lie in them.
- And as he lay down, three men would stand at his head and three at his feet, and measure him by the length of the bed, and if the man was less than the bed these six men would stretch him at each end, and when he cried out to them they would not answer him.
- And if he was longer than the bed they would draw together the two sides of the bed at each end, until the man had reached the gates of death.
- And if he continued to cry out to them, they would answer him, saying, Thus shall it be done to a man that cometh into our land.
- And when men heard all these things that the people of the cities of Sodom did, they refrained from coming there.
Just so you know, this Book of Jasher has been proven fraudulent and a work of fiction. Any "belief" taken from it is false and is the genesis of an urban legend. Any teaching supported by it is false and is the genesis of an urban legend. There are no known surviving copies of the text of the Book of Jasher referred to in Joshua 10:13 or 2nd Samuel 1:18.
You know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that something has become a "pet sin" when urban legends are used to support it. It's why I believe we should continually examine to see if we're devoted to Christ, to Christianity, or to a particular conservative Christian culture. Those are all distinctly different things, and I think what we'll find often surprises us - but only if we look at it honestly, and most Christians aren't really willing to.
We should know why we believe what we believe - and it should have more depth than cliche or urban legend.