It Takes a(n Evil) Village

It Takes a(n Evil) Village

Allow me to tell you how a story in the Bible is a teaching moment for the current health-care reform “debate” occurring now.

Uninformed Christians (and that means all of them) are indoctrinated to believe that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19) is about the sin of homosexuality and general depravity, resulting in urban planning via fire and brimstone. Being scared into thinking there is nothing else to the story, generations of people have come to regard it as proof positive that God not only hates fags, but has no compunction destroying two entire cities because of it.

But homosexuality is not the sin at the core of the tale. The fundamental cornerstone of a society is the hospitality given to strangers, a concept not unique to the Middle East. (In Greece, Zeus was a protector of strangers as well.) In the biblical story, two angels visit Sodom and are greeted by Lot, the nephew of Abraham. He offers them a place to stay, urging them not to sleep in the public square. Taking him up, the two angels (appearing as ordinary men) go with him. But soon thereafter, young and old men come to Lot’s house, desiring to “know” the two strangers. Being protective of them, Lot refuses, but heroically offers his daughters in their place. “Do nothing to these men,” he says, “for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” And despite the best efforts of the crazed townsfolk, the two strangers are not handed over for abuse, but instead, are instruments of their destruction as Sodom and Gomorrah are razed.

So, what does this story have to do with health-care reform in 2009 CE, thousands of years after these events allegedly occurred? The sin of Sodom was not homosexual vice; that was merely a symptom of the true, rotten nature of that society. The moral fabric of Sodom had failed so miserably (for whatever reasons) that a basic aspect of civility and honor was ignored: the protection of strangers. Even Lot’s seemingly callous attitude about letting the crowd have his daughters demonstrates what lengths he was prepared to go in order to keep those strangers safe under his care. (Of course, his daughters were never handed over, unlike the unfortunate Levite concubine in an identical telling of this story in Judges 19.)

The ugly nature of these town hall meetings, ripe as they are with anger, frothing at the mouth and all manner of shouting down others, reminds me of this story. Is American society so depraved, so corrupt and immoral that an issue of national importance can be reduced to the vituperative rantings of an angry mob? While news media has found great mileage over these confrontations, there is a dangerous element here being ignored for the sake of fanning a “controversy” about a plan that no one seems to know much about. These screaming groups are like the men of Sodom: rushing to the door, demanding to have at the hapless senator who’s convened the proceedings and wanting to do anything short of tying him to a stake and lighting it on fire.

Even worse, the attitudes of these panicked know-nothings is being formed on a daily basis by the incessant shrieking of talk radio, with their mantra of “socialized medicine” and endless lies about “death panels.” What lie did the men of Sodom tell each other in their descent into madness where abusing a stranger should be the right way to act? Which of their elders egged on the younger men to get at a visitor, even if it meant bursting down the door of someone else? In similar vein, who is taking advantage of the gullibility of untold millions in order to viscerally hate the President of the United States, comparing him to Hitler and the entire issue of health-care reform to some evil plan to euthanize the elderly? Not only the sin of Sodom, but a constant, delighted breaking of the ninth commandment: bearing no false witness.1 Of course, making that law would shut down just about every radio station and newspaper in the country.

And why the silence of the clerical leaders in this nation? Why no Sunday sermons to highlight the deep shame of this evil—yes, evil—that has seemingly crippled the plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system? Is not one of the goals to bring health care to the uninsured? If these rabid dogs hate the idea of reform so much, what comfort do they bring to those who cannot afford basic coverage? I am marking the days off on my calendar for when I hear the first strains of calling the uninsured “welfare recipients” or mocking their inability for insurance as their own fault. Perhaps the lethargy of the Church would be lifted if someone were to suggest the reform package offers abortion on demand to anyone over the age of thirteen or supports gay marriage.

This is the state of our moral, Christian society. We have scores of people bursting at the doors, spittle flying from their lips, hatred burning in their hearts over an issue they know little about. All in a concerted desire to get to the men and women holding these town halls for every manner of abuse. This should not be confused with the right to free speech or the right to protest. But what we have here with this great display of uncivil behavior is just as alarming as threatening those two freedoms. A danger to the moral core of our society is not coming in the guise of an abortion doctor or two men wanting to get married: it’s coming in the guise of an angry mob.


1Of course, this depends on how your tradition numbers the Decalogue, hence the reason for spelling it out. And let’s face it, people will spoon-clang to have monuments to the Ten Commandments on federal courthouses, but few of them actually know what they all are.