Our “Sodomite-in-Chief’” lives in the White House

How can I use this label of contempt, “Sodomite,” against the President?

Here’s how:

The Bible tells the story of the city of Sodom, destroyed by a Flood of Fire for its sins. (Gen. 18-19) 

What was the sin of Sodom? Almost all Jewish commentary on the story makes clear that the sin of Sodom was not rampant homosexuality (as much of Christian tradition suggests) but rampant rage and violence toward foreigners, immigrants, and the poor.

That line of thought began with the Prophet Ezekiel (16:49-50) who said: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”  This understanding has continued in rabbinic thought for two thousand years, till our own day.

There is another strand in the story: what might be called the sin of Lot. He was Abraham’s nephew, an immigrant to Sodom who like his uncle held as a high value the welcoming of foreigners as guests.

 Faced with a mob of Sodomites enraged that Lot had made his home a nest of immigrants and refugees, Lot offered his own daughters to be raped by the mob, in order to calm their rage against his foreign guests.

At first and second and third reading of Lot’s offer to let the mob rape his daughters if they will leave his foreign guests unharmed. we are horrified. Horrified that in order to protect the foreigners he is willing to sacrifice and destroy his own family.

This is exactly Sodom turned upside down. The citizens of Sodom who surrounded Lot’s house and threatened to rape or kill him and his guests are so obsessed with protecting their own city, their own jobs, their own culture that they are willing to wreak havoc upon foreigners.

Lot,  on the other hand, is so obsessed with protecting his guests that he is willing to wreak havoc on his own family.

Neither of these is a just or sacred solution to the tensions that often erupt between some "natives" and some "immigrants."

According to the story, once it becomes clear that not even ten just and decent people live in this hate-filled town, the Divine Breath of Life, the Wind of Change,  becomes a Burning Hyper-Hurricane -- so incensed at Sodom’s hatred of outsiders that the city is destroyed.

 

 

Lot survives, but his lot is not so pleasant. His wife dies as collateral damage in the disaster. The daughters whom he had offered up as mere objects think that all the other men in the world have died in the Flood of Fire. So they turn Lot into an object – just as he had treated them --  by getting him drunk to make him father their children.  Another kind of rape!

In the midst of this ugly story, does the Torah have any suggestion as to what a decent outcome might have been?

It does, in the bargaining between God and Abraham over whether Sodom should be destroyed in the first place.

In the underlying argument over whether to protect one's own city and own family at the cost of shattering the lives of immigrants and outsiders, or to protect the outsiders at the cost of shattering one’s own city, one's own family – – the famous tension between "particularism" and "universalism" – – Abraham’s challenge to God hints at a resolution.

And this is exactly what the Torah says God has in mInd. For God begins the process by letting Abraham in on the secret plan to punish the crimes of Sodom -- wiping out the city.

Why has God singled out Abraham? According to the Torah, precisely because God sees Abraham as both the progenitor of a sacred people and the bearer of blessings to all peoples.

And Abraham responds! --  by validating God’s Calling on him to become a blessing to all the families, peoples, cultures of the world. Abraham tries to protect and defend even this nasty foreign city. "What about the decent, innocent folk who live in Sodom?  Should the innocent be punished with the guilty? Is that what justice means? Shall not the Judge of all the world do justice?"

The Abraham who is to be the progenitor of a “particular” community -- Yisrael, the "Godwrestling" folk, the Jewish people.  – is the same Abraham who tries to protect a foreign city from God’s wrath.  

This resolution does not call for a "balance" between the “particularism” of defending one’s own and the “universalism” of defending the others. Rather, it calls for a synthesis. The "particularist" hero becomes the  "universalist" prophet.  The  "universalist"  prophet becomes the  "particularist" hero.

Each role, taken on in full commitment, empowers and enriches the other role.   Or rather, they are one role, not two, not “other.”

Today, we face a White House that commits the “sodomite” sin of hating and subjugating foreigners, the poor, outsiders --  in order to benefit Ezekiel’s “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned.“ And this “sodomite” White House finds support from a social current that fears that “our city, “our jobs, “our culture,” “our family” will be shattered for the sake of Lot’s love of foreigners.

And we also house some who cannot listen to those who fear that our own home-grown family is being raped to nurture foreign guests.

How do we resolve this collision in the spirit of the Torah’s tale?

Two suggestions:

Open our ears to the pain at the heart of both positions.

And imagine a resolution that looks beyond collision. For example, our rich United States could invest in grass-roots prosperity creation in Mexico and Central America, through “maximum feasible decision-making” by Ezekiel’s “poor and needy” in making their own societies life-giving and abundant.  Making it  unnecessary for them to flee their own homes and neighbors and culture to the US  for the sake of calm neighborhoods, of decent schools, of honorable and well-rewarded  work.

Of course that will mean paying for these investments by increasing taxes on Ezekiel’s “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned” in the US.  Of course it will mean importing far fewer peons desperate to work on profit-hungry US corporate farms at despicable wages and working conditions.

And of course it will mean taking to heart that if we let our country  be consumed,  like Sodom, with fiery hatred of outsiders, we will bring fiery destruction on our own heads.

Is it mere magical thinking to imagine that hatred of foreigners could bring a Flood of Fire on our own country?

Not magic, not at all. For the President’s Sodomite effort to inflame fear, contempt, and hatred of immigrants is the same attitude that inflames fear, contempt, and hatred for the people of North Korea – and threatens to engulf them in “fire and fury.” Would this Fire stop there?

 

 

And if we take the story as a serious teaching, it is also warning us not to behave like Lot by subjecting “our own” family, our own community, to humiliation and despair for the sake of “others.” If we behave like Lot in that way, we are liable to suffer as he did when some of “our own” turn bitterly against us and against the immigrants they think we are lifting up above our “daughters.” . Only by reaching beyond this seeming contradiction can we calm the fury that shocked us in Charlottesville.

 

So as Jews, and as Christians, and as Muslims; as Hindus, Buddhists, and Indigenes; and as Americans, we must learn to embody in one body our inward hearts and outward eyes. 

Hear this, every people: your own unique way of breathing is a necessary part of the universal breath. The breath of many lives is the Breath of Life, and the Breath of Life is ONE.   


 

 

With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace, paz  -- Arthur

 

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4 Comments

Inflamitory title

The substance of your comments and the moral lessons to be learned are important, clear and sadly relevant to our world. But the title of your column contradicts the ethics you teach. I have no regard for President Trump, but he is a sad, lonely and hurting human being. Calling him a "Somomite-in-Chief" in todays poilitical climate is throwing gasoline on a fire. I did this 50 years ago with President Johnson and time has proven me wrong. I don't excuse the real pain that Trump is causing in people's lives, but imagine the world from his perspective. How grim his life must feel. We need to fight policy without reducting our opponents to objects. That's what the story of Sodom teaches and the title of your column --as eye-catching as it is-- fails this moral test.

About Sodom by Mark Mealing

Mark Mealing wrote me that he had difficulty posting this comment; so I am posting it on his on his behalf:

When rereading the Genesis account (18/22-33) quite a few years ago, I
tried to visualize the discussion between Abraham & our good Lord. It came
in the form of two friendly merchants bargaining in the marketplace.
Would you save it for 100? Aye, for 100, its a good deal? For
fifty? for 50, I can manage. & so for 20, would you do it? Well,
youre asking, but yes, for 20. & for 10? Nu, 10, its a pinch; but
for you, friend, for 10 it is: I will not destroy it. & Abraham
returned to his place.

& yet, & yet, I have the strongest feeling that the Lord is just waiting
for Abraham to say, Lord, would you save the city for one just man? &
the Lord would have smiled & said: Surely, for one just man I will save
the rest. But Abraham did not ask that, & it was a disappointment.

At this time of heightened awareness of sexual transgressions

<p><span style="font-size: medium;">My thoughts are broadly in line with Craig Oettinger: interesting/important commentary/associations. However the title is problematic. The common dictionary definition of "Sodomite" is "a person who engages in sodomy." That word has a long history of use in homophobic contexts. If President Trump were a homosexual that wouldn't be one of the things you would be criticizing him for. It's true that at the very beginning of your piece you bring forward an interpretation of what the sin of the residents of Sodom was which you intend to cast a wholly new light on the definition of Sodomite. But that word has such powerful associations anal intercourse and the persecution of gay men throughout the ages that it is a fraught enterprise to claim it, even if you are re-defining it.</span></p>

Sodomy & bigotry

<p><span style="font-size: medium;">Even before I wrote the essay, I thought about the challenges that Chaver Craig and Chaver Shai have raised.&nbsp; There is certainly value in their objections. But I went ahead for two reasons: About treating Mr. Trump as a sick human being. I agree that he is. AND his sickness is now endangering not only democracy in the US, but also the physical existence of the US and of the web of life in which the human species has been a part since its -- our -- emergence. Whatever were the factors -- genetic and/or familial -- that have led to his maturing into a cruel, egomaniacal, narcissistic, domineering. power-obsessed&nbsp; and lie-possessed person, he has allowed that aspect of himself to grow in him and he has learned to use it to ruin and endanger other people and the planet. He deserves to be called out in the clarity of his persona.&nbsp; Tshuvah -- repentance -- is in his hands, not mine.&nbsp;&nbsp; --&nbsp; Rabbi Arthur Waskow<br></span></p><p><span style="font-size: medium;">And the title of my essay was intended to challenge everyone who uses the "Sodomite" lablel to think about its real meaning. To make our readers swallow hard as their world turns upside down.&nbsp; I doubt that anyone who began the essay as a homophobe used to that slur walked away from the essay as well settled in his (or her) bigotry as when s/he came.</span></p><p><span style="font-size: medium;"><br></span></p><p><span style="font-size: medium;">About saving the city for the sake of one righteous resident: I think it's ancient midrash that it takes ten people to lift up a minority prophetic critique that MIGHT change a city. Fewer than that -- the city is doomed and the less-than-minyan better leave, as the angels warned Lot's family to do. </span></p><p><span style="font-size: medium;">Thanks, all, and shalom --&nbsp; Arthur</span></p>

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