Sodom Series, #16
We see from a study of the Scriptures—all the passages which mention Sodom—that the sins of the cities of the Plain are idolatry, pride, gluttony, violence, hatred of strangers, and inhospitality to outsiders—not same-sex coupling.
When we compare Genesis 19 with the Judges 19 account of Gibeah, we understand that rape—the dehumanization of one human being by another—is the ultimate expression of their hostility and violence toward strangers, whether male or female.
We must study the Scriptures thoroughly before forming doctrine
A thorough study of the Scriptures, as this series has provided, should suffice to determine what the sins of Sodom were. This is especially important when we use the Bible to form doctrine about Christian living while we ignorantly flirt with the danger of condemning entire classes of people.
Christian teaching should speak only what the Scriptures teach. It should conform its logic and argument to that contained in the Scriptures. Most importantly, it should remain silent when the Scriptures are silent. Mark Jordan asks:
Do we meet these tests when we invoke the history of Christian moral teaching to speak about what we call homosexuality? Our readings in medieval texts have suggested that we do not meet them. Indeed, we fail much lesser tests. We typically disregard the most basic rules of respectful reading when arguing about same-sex love. We rip words out of context; we magnify what is microscopic and ignore what is enormous; we refuse to examine the rifts that divide our languages, our discourses, from the patristic or medieval discourses we want to invoke. (The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, 160)
The Apostle Peter admits that some things in Scripture are hard to understand, “which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16b NKJV). We therefore must be diligent to correctly interpret and apply its teachings.
This wrenching of the Scriptures leads to the dangerous process of demonization.
Demonization of sodomy
The crimes of the destroyed ancient cities changed from the original scriptural understanding to focus solely on one type of sexual behavior. From there, the term sodomy was coined and abstracted to refer to homosexual behavior and then to homosexuality in general.
“The last thing we should do is to translate ‘Sodomy’ as ‘homosexuality.’ ‘Homosexuality’ is a term from late nineteenth-century forensic medicine, a diagnostic term for regulating the behavior of the patients or prisoners it presumes to classify. If you ask, What does medieval moral theology have to say about homosexuality? the only precise answer is, absolutely nothing. ‘Homosexuality’ is no more discussed by medieval theology than are phlogiston, Newton’s inertia, quarks or any of the other entities hypothesized by one or another modern science. ‘Sodomy’ is not ‘homosexuality’” (Jordan 161, emphasis mine).
“There are two separate mistakes here,” Jordan points out. “The first is to think that the story of Sodom is centrally about same-sex pleasure—or even a particular kind of same-sex copulation. It is not” (162). Yet, a great segment of the Church believes that all homosexuals are sodomites, worthy of a fiery death sentence.
The citizens of Sodom lumped together all outsiders as strangers, suspicious as a class and worthy to be abused and violated. They condemned visiting travelers to certain victimhood in every case. Just as nothing good could come from Nazareth, nothing good could come from outside the walls of Sodom.
Tom Horner discusses this process of demonization:
It is doubly unfortunate that a great portion of the public identifies all homosexuality with the conduct of the men of Sodom and says, “The men of Sodom were bad; therefore all homosexuality is bad.” Well, the men of Sodom were bad, but they were bad not because of their homosexuality but because they had allowed themselves to become so callous in their dealings with other human beings that they had turned themselves into brutes. (Jonathan Loved David, 47, emphasis mine)
Those who name Jesus Christ as their Savior and claim to live according to the Bible must see that such disregard and mistreatment of people, even if they’re considered “sinners,” is unquestionably unchristian and bring reproach upon not only the gospel message, but the Lord himself.
When we, in our own relationships, disregard other human beings as persons, we kill them little by little.
Who are the real sodomites?
It is ironic that for almost two thousand years in Western culture this is how people have been treated who’ve been honest enough with themselves to accept homosexuality as a given fact of their existence. They’ve been treated as less than human for no other reason than because they have expressed a sexual preference for members of their own sex.
If we would begin to judge people as individual persons, instead of prejudging them on the basis of their sexual prefer¬ence, maybe we would begin to see where the real propensity for violence and lawbreaking in our society lies. (Horner 57)
McNeill aptly states an irony: for 1000 years in the Christian West, homosexuals have been the recipients of inhospitable treatment. “Condemned by the Church, they have been the victims of persecution, torture, and even death” (Taking a Chance on God, 42).
There’s a sad irony about the story of Sodom when understood in its own historical setting. People oppose and abuse homosexual men and women for being different, odd, strange or, as they say, “queer.”
Lesbian women and gay men are simply not allowed to fit in. They are made to be outsiders, foreigners in their own society.
They are disowned by their families, separated from their children, fired from their jobs, evicted from apartments and neighborhoods, insulted by public figures, denounced from the pulpit, vilified on religious radio and TV, and then beaten in the schools and killed on the streets and in the backwoods of our “great,” “freedom-loving” nation. And all this is done in the name of Christ.
Such wickedness is the very sin of which the people of Sodom were guilty. Such cruelty is what the Bible truly condemns over and over again. So those who oppress homosexuals because of the supposed “sin of Sodom” may themselves be the real “sodomites,” as the Bible understands it. (Helminiak 49–50, emphasis mine)
Being gay is not the unpardonable sin
In some parts of the Church, there is neither mercy nor forgiveness for those who identify themselves as homosexual. “Sodomy,” says Jordan, “seems to be an unrepentable sin… an exception to divine grace…” (Jordan 162). However, there is only one unpardonable sin: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29; Luke 12:11).
Yet God’s promise to those who are hospitable to strangers, those who accept the outsider and the gospel messenger remains:
I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes along with theirs…
–Ezekiel 16:53 NRSV
What will you do?
Two final questions:
- What will you do to combat the ignorance and misinformation of the Church toward LGBTQ people?
- How will you treat the stranger in our midst?
The Judge of All the Earth awaits your answer. Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
To read the full story, get my book, The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain, for Kindle and in trade paperback.