Does faith condone bigotry?
Biblical tales teach us to welcome those who are different
Mayor Pokorney’s and his supporters’ defense of his bigotry on Facebook have leaned heavily on the issues of faith, a so-called Christian interpretation of Genesis 19.
Notably lacking from these interpretations is any awareness of the famous (at least among Jews) preceding chapter; that is, the ethical subtleties of Genesis 18, in which Abraham takes God to task for threatening to act indiscriminately toward the wicked and unjustly toward the righteous. Abraham wins the argument.
Nor do the mayor and his supporters cite Judges 19.22-30, which tells a very similar and equally shocking story as Genesis 19.
Instead, the mayor and his supporters deploy the tired old homophobic opportunism that obscures a far more plausible reading of these biblical verses.
That this alternative interpretation was taught to us in Hebrew school suggests the vast gap between the moral universes of “orthodox” Christianity and mainstream Judaism.
Both Genesis 19 and Judges 19 retell a story common throughout the sacred and secular literatures of the Middle East from ancient times to the present; namely, the absolute moral obligation of the host to welcome strangers as guests in his home.
Yes, the biblical stories add elements of sexual violence, homosexual and heterosexual, but that is hardly the point. The gist of it is the same as in the older Greek myth of Baucis and Philemon.
Despite the consequences, when the vagrant, the traveler, the vulnerable stranger knocks, open the door because he may be an angel or god in disguise.
Judges 19 tells much the same story about respecting a taboo. It is very curious that the horrific fate of the poor girl who is gang raped in Judges and her corpse thrown on the doorstep of her master’s house never receives the same level of indignation by those who are quick to cite Genesis to condemn same-sex marriage.
Unless one believes violent rape defines marriage, none of these stories has anything to do with marriage. Each story admonishes us to be generous and welcoming to others, especially those different than us.
That, at least, is what our rabbis expected us to learn as children.
Well aware of how human beings behave, rabbi Gordon knew we would likely fail to practice the lessons of these stories.
And, like the rest of us, the mayor and his supporters are moral failures, though less inclined to admit it, hiding instead behind the defense of free speech and practice of faith.
The question is, what faith condones bigotry? Certainly not Judaism. And certainly not Christianity.
David Axelrod is a resident of La Grande.