The Sin of Sodom

Last Sunday there were two articles in the paper that caught my attention. The first was titled Valley Couple Enjoys Right to Wed. The second was titled Valley Holds History of Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage. What really caught my attention was the reference to sodomy in the latter story. You may know that the term sodomy comes from the story of the eventual destruction of the city of Sodom described in the Book of Genesis. And although the legal term sodomy does not exclusively target homosexual persons, it is often thought of that way. That’s because the story of Sodom allegedly refers to attempted homosexual acts that prompted God to respond by destroying the city, therefore, it is reasoned, God condemns homosexuality. The story is one of six in the Bible that are used to support anti-homosexual attitudes.

(As an aside, does the fact that the Bible mentions caring for the poor over two thousand times reveal what God truly cares about? From way the poor are typically treated apparently not.)

So let’s look at this story. It says (Genesis 19) God sent two messengers (or angels) to investigate the “cries of injustice from Sodom…” (18:21) Abraham’s nephew Lot spots them coming and invites them into his home, an act of hospitality. Then the passage says, “the men of the city—everyone from the youngest to the oldest—surrounded the house…” (19:4) They wanted the messengers to come out of the house so they could have sex with them. Because of this God destroys Sodom.(19:25)

Therefore, it is reasoned, God condemns homosexuality. To which I say, “Really?!”

You mean to tell me that the entire city of Sodom was homosexual? Well, at least ALL of the males in the city? Really? Does that even make sense?

Or was there another reason God destroyed the city, another sin that had nothing to do with homosexuals?

Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, he did speak about Sodom. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus sends out the Disciples to proclaim the Good News. In his concluding remarks he tells them, “If anyone refuses to welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or city. I assure you that it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than it will be for that city.” (Mt 10:14)

So what is the Sin of Sodom? It had nothing to do with homosexuality. The absence of hospitality was the Sin of Sodom.

“But,” you ask, “what about the Genesis story and its reference to the men wanting to have sex with the messengers?” That’s a good question. What was that all about if not about homosexuality?

It turns out that throughout antiquity sexual assault on both men and women took place commonly after a military victory. Sexual assault was a way of demonstrating power of another person, of demeaning and humiliating the other person, whether male or female. In that same sense rape is not about sexual attraction, but, rather, an exercise of violent power of one over another. For the men of Sodom this was an attempt at exercising violent power over the strangers.

Ultimately we each make choices about what we think and believe. We are, all of us, interpreters of our experiences. My hope is we will interpret well by thinking critically about what we believe, and acting hospitably toward all we meet along our way.

Don’t commit the sin of Sodom.