There’s a common misunderstanding of the Bible – taking all the verses about a subject out of context, and then believing they are connected, when they aren’t.
For example, the story of Sodom is about being inhospitable to strangers among you – as told in Genesis.
But, people obviously didn’t understand, and so then, later, the Lord explained what the story of Sodom means in Ezekiel 16:49, “49 “‘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.”
So, when Jesus references Sodom, nearly 600 years later, he’s talking about a town that doesn’t welcome the disciples, doesn’t welcome strangers.
14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” – Matt 10:14-15.
To think that the story of Sodom is about homosexuality or even rape, is like thinking the story of Noah is about drunkenness and passing out nude where your children can see you. (Look it up).
The Bible is the history of two groups of people – the Israelites, and then the Jesus followers.
So, when people want to apply the story of Sodom to homosexuality, what they really demonstrate is ignorance of the Bible.
When Christianists apply their particular understanding to the Sodom story and then use it as a weapon against LGBTQ individuals, they are practicing being inhospitable and therefore violating scripture.
Agreed. See also: “I see Sodomite people – and they are us.” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2014/03/mardis-gras-sodomy-us-the-sodomites-among-us-tend-to-be-us/
Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”
James Peck is right on the money. I would add that, later, when Moses tells the Israelites that converts from Ammon will not be allowed, the reason given is that “they did not greet you with bread and water” when you came out of Egypt (despite his assurances that they were “just passing through”).
We see from here the importance of hospitality and mercy, traits embodied in Abraham and Sarah. Sodom and Gomorrah embodied the opposite. In fact, the “sodomy” practiced there was hardly of love, rather just another form of cruelty. The Talmud relates the story of a girl who wanted to borrow some salt from a neighbor and she was killed for disobeying their “law of the jungle”.
The lessons of the Bible and the ancient world give me pause when I hear libertarians and conservatives today argue for Social Darwinism. Is it far-fetched to say that Donald Trump represents a resurgence of sodomite thinking?
Wow. Thanks for the affirmation Michael.
Apologies in advance for the long comment.
You’re right about the interpretation of the S&G story in Ezekiel and Matthew, about the story being about inhospitality to strangers, as well as neglect of the poor and needy, and being a consumption society rather than a sharing one. But I have to ask a more basic question about the S&G story: Why did the ancient Hebrew people include it in their collection of important stories to know?
The story arc actually begins with Genesis 18:1 when God appears to Abraham in the form of three men. After promising Abraham and Sarah they would have a son, the three men depart for S&G, to carry out God’s announced intent to destroy them. Abraham bargains with God until God agrees that if God can find ten righteous men in Sodom and Gomorrah, God will spare the cities.
The three men, who are angels in human form, arrive at Lot’s home, because Lot is a righteous man, as well as Abraham’s nephew and heir at this point. The demand of the townsmen that Lot send the men / angels out is made. Lot attempts to bargain with them by saying they can have / rape his two daughters instead. Actually in the whole scope of the story, the demand of the townsmen, while dramatic, is a relatively small aspect. God had decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah BEFORE the encounter at Lot’s front door.
The men / angels lead Lot and most of his family to escape. The two men engaged to his daughters do not go and are destroyed. Lot, his daughters, and his wife leave the city, although is wife looks back at the destruction and turns into a pillar of salt.
In Genesis 19:30 – 38, we find the only actual sexual activity that takes place in the S&G story arc. Living in a cave with their father, their fiances and their mother dead, Lot’s two daughters lament that they will never have husbands or children. Without children, their lives will have no meaning. So they conspire to get their father drunk and then they each have intercourse with him and become pregnant. The older daughter bore a son named Moab, the ancestor of the Moabites. The younger daughter bore a son named Ben-Ammi, the ancestor of the Ammonites. Both the Moabites and the Ammonites became enemies of the Israelites.
I think the purpose of the Sodom and Gomorrah story arc from Genesis 18 : 1 – 19:38 is to explain where the Moabites and the Ammonites came from: they came from an incestuous relationship between Lot’s daughters and their father. To the extent the S&G story is about sex, it is about incest. Its purpose in the Hebrew canon is to explain where these enemies come from.
Might also note that the New Testament book Jude has a reference in verse 7 to S&G being destroyed for sexual immorality and unnatural lust. The note in the NRSV says the Greek for “unnatural lust” is literally translated as “went after other flesh.” The visitors in Genesis 18 – 19 are angels appearing to be men — they are not human. So could it be the townsmen were punished for attempting to have sex with angels / other flesh? Appears that way to me, although I remind folks that God had decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah before the angels / men had even arrived at Lot’s house.
Sorry for the long reply. I’ve studied this story from every angle. It may just as easily be a fable / myth / pre-scientific explanation of how a particularly barren part of the land came to be! But I am certain it is not about same-sex relationships or homosexuality. The key to that view is this: God had decided to destroy the cities before the visitors entered the city. There is nothing in the text to suggest the townsmen were engaging in same-sex behavior prior to the destruction.
I am a United Church of Christ pastor in California, and I both love the Bible and I know what’s in it! Far too many people love it and don’t know what’s in it.
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Thanks for the thoughtful response. I assume your sermon was completed, before you took the time to write this.
Having not grown up in church, much of my initial exposure to the scripture was what I read on my own, shortly after becoming a Christian. Reading it on my own, I quickly saw that what I was reading, wasn’t what I was hearing on so-call Christian radio.
” To the extent the S&G story is about sex, it is about incest. Its purpose in the Hebrew canon is to explain where these enemies come from. ”
— spot on.
I think it’s at best disingenuous or simple ignorance when preachers find meaning where it isn’t, and ignore the seemingly obvious original intent of scripture.
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Hi Jim, yes, it was mostly ready!
I did grow up in the church, a nonfundamentalist Southern Baptist church. I learned to love and study the Bible there and in my family. What I learned was not to be afraid of it. It’s a gift, if not from God, then from humans who have struggled with all manner of experiences and questions long before I did. Like any ancient wisdom, it is worth reading. But if you come to it with your mind made up, whether made up that is is unchanging truth in every word or nonsense in every word, the Bible will not be every helpful to you.
When people ask me what I believe about the Bible, I say “The Bible is an inexhaustible resource for reflecting on our relationship with God and with each other.” Every time I open it and read it, I find something new.
With the S&G story, my seminary did not teach the “where these enemies come from” idea. The stories of the ancient Israelites in the Hebrew canon / Old Testament have to be read in their entirety. I got than insight from a drama professor who had written plays out of those stories. If you notice, they are largely dialog, with some narrative for continuity and transition. Imagine, then, they were first told as tribal stories around the campfire, from elders to young people, to answer a question.
Using that approach, what was the question that would have prompted the S&G story? It was most certainly not “Where do homosexuals come from?” If they had come from the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, there would be none — they were all destroyed. I imagine the question was either “Why is that part of the land so barren, with so much salt and sulfur? or “Where did our enemies, the Moabites and the Ammonites, come from? Did God make them too?” Plus, we must read the whole story of the angel’s / men’s visit to grasp the point of the story.
Anal penetration was a common practice in ancient civilizations. The object was to humiliate a vanquished enemy, or unwanted visitor. It wasn’t limited to Sodom and Gomorrah.
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