No discussion about Christianity and homosexuality can be complete without a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. Usually, the cities best known for God’s wrath are invoked to suggest that if America doesn’t change her ways, then God owes Sodom an apology. At the very least, Sodom is shown by our conservative and fundamentalist friends as a perfect example of what happens “when a society embraces aberration” or something of that sort. For the third part of this series, we’ll explore these oft-quoted passages in the light of Scripture. To better understand this passage, I recommend that you take a few moments and read Genesis chapter 19 in its entirety.
Like most of the “clobber” passages in Scripture, Genesis chapter 19 is often used as a pretext to show just how bad homosexuals are. The reference has even crept into our English language to commonly define “sodomy” as a form of sex between two men. I’ve even heard such wild ideas that all the men of Sodom were homosexual. If that were true, then God wouldn’t have to have done anything since the cities would have died out all by themselves.
And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where [are] the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them. (Genesis 19:5)
On the flip side, some of our GLBT or affirming ministers have suggested that the word translated as “to know” in verse 5 indicated that the men of Sodom just wanted to have coffee with their guests. When we look at the context of the passage, it becomes clear that this isn’t the case either. There is a great horror in the story of Sodom, but thank heaven, it wasn’t a Tupperware party. That truly would have been an abomination in its own right.
It might be surprising to know that Sodom wasn’t the only city that was destroyed by divine order. In Judges chapter 19, we learn of an entirely different city that has an eerily familiar tale: A weary traveler comes to the town of Gibeah and is taken into the home of another foreigner. The locals become irate and then demand that be given the visitors for sexual demands. The traveler’s hosts are horrified by the demands and offer one of his concubines instead.
It is at this point that the two stories differ. Instead of a blind rage, the mob agrees to the concubine. Scripture says that the woman was raped repeatedly and was dead by morning. Later, the Israelite army is gathered for one purpose: to wipe out Gibeah.
“Well,” one might say, “homosexuals of Sodom just wanted to rape the angels!” If they really were homosexual, and Lot would have known this… why would he have offered both of his daughters? Clearly, he wanted to appease the mob’s lust for… power.
That’s right. It’s basic psychology, my friends. Rape isn’t about sex or even lust. It’s about power and control. Put simply, the people of Sodom were interested in one thing: humiliating the people who dared come uninvited.
Sodom’s myth, or story, is that it is an example of God’s wrath. In modern times, we hear it almost always referred to when it comes time to condemn gay and lesbian people. But strangely enough, nearly every time it’s brought up, it’s in reference to their attitudes toward outsiders or for God’s judgment in general. Not convinced? Read on.
Isaiah 3:5-9 talks about Sodom as oppressors. Isaiah 13:17-19 says they were merciless. Jeremiah 23:14 calls them adulterers. Ezekiel 16 says Jerusalem was even more wicked than Sodom to the point that they sacrificed children to pagan deities, had rampant prostitution and were idolatrous bloodbaths.
And when Jesus talked about Sodom, he had a LOT to say. But it wasn’t what you might think it was:
And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matt 10:11-16)
When Jesus referred to Sodom in Matthew 10:11-16 (and Luke 10:8-12), he compared contemporary cities to Sodom when they refused the disciples. Matthew 11:20-24 indicates that the people of Sodom were unrepentant even with miracles… they were stubborn:
Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
“But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
“But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” (Matthew 11:20-24)
The popular doctrine is that God destroyed Sodom because of homosexuals. If we take the time to explore the Scriptures, we see more and more that this just isn’t true. When we hold true to the Biblical interpretation by using Scripture to interpret Scripture, even Jude verse 7 is not talking about homosexual sex, but rather the practice of humiliating outsiders by “putting them in their place.”
So why, then was Sodom destroyed? Quite simply, Sodom was destroyed because of their rejection of outsiders; and the overall wickedness of the city’s denizens:
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw [good]. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)
So, if I were to take a bit of liberty and redefine the word “sodomy” in this context, this is what it would be:
Sodomy – the act of a fat, lazy, and arrogant person or group which violently rejects, marginalizes or humiliates ‘outsiders,’ oppresses the poor, and consumed with lethargic religious impersonation.
Yikes. That cuts a little closer to home, doesn’t it? The reality is that Sodom was not destroyed for homosexuality at all. Instead, it was divine wrath poured out against a wicked and stiff-necked people who were the worst of the worst. So once again, we can cast aside the common yet wrong interpretation of Scripture that’s used against the gay and lesbian community.
Next time, we’ll explore Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Shrimp dinner afterwards.
Note: This is the introduction of a special series on The Bible and Homosexuality. The links below are other installments:
- Part 1: Can a person be gay and a Christian?
- Part 2: Exploring Romans 1:26-27
- Part 3: What was Sodom & Gomorrah all about?
- Part 4: All those abominations! Leviticus uncovered
- Part 5: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10…who inherits the Kingdom?
- Part 6: David & Jonathan
- Part 7: Other Biblical stories of note
- Part 8: How then shall we live?