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The Real Sin of Sodom

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

Genesis 18:1-8, 16-21

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.

Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

Then the men set out from there, and they looked towards Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.’ Then the Lord said, ‘How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.’

Ezekiel 16: 48-51

As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not behaved as badly as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and lived a life of ease, but did not aid the poor and needy when she easily could have. They were haughty and did horrible things; therefore, I removed them when I saw it. But Sodom has not committed half your sins; you have committed more atrocities than they and have made your Sodom appear righteous by all the horrible, selfish and greedy things that you have done.

The Flight From Sodom - The Nuremburg Chronicle, 1493 AD

Happy Pride Month! Given that this is the time of year we celebrate the advancements in equality that have been made in our country, and remember and reflect on all the work that is yet to be done, there seems to be no better time than now to talk about the infamous story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

If you have never heard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, or rather, if you have never heard the modified version of the story which is used to vilify the gay community, let me run you through it quickly. The Story begins when two angels in human form show up at the home of Lot, a cousin/nephew of Abraham, the guy after whom the Abrahamic religions are named.

The disguised angels settle in for the night when a crowd of men from the neighborhood show up demanding Lot allow them to sexually assault the two visitors. When Lot refuses, they try to break the door down, only to have the angels use their magical powers to blind the crowd and evacuate Lot and his family before the whole city is destroyed by brimstone and sulfur falling from the sky. This is the biblical explanation for the dead sea. Before the destruction of Sodom, the bible says the dead sea was actually quite alive, and the whole valley was beautiful, but the sulfur and brimstone poisoned the water, turning it into the desert you see today.

This telling of the story as I just did, is told the way it is because it is used to imply that people, specifically men, who experience same-sex attraction are rapists with no control of themselves and who’s presence that cause cataclysmic destruction from which the world is permanently scarred. You can find some far right Christians saying this every time there is a hurricane, a flood or a tornado. Somewhere on the internet, there is someone blaming the gay community for everything negative to ever happen.

To tell this story in the way that it so often has been however, is not telling the whole story, nor is it acknowledging so many things that are mentioned in the story that gives a lot of context to what is happening. So, we are going to retell this story, as it is told, and explore what this tale might actually mean for us today

First, we need to begin at the actual beginning, and that is the story that we heard in our first reading of Genesis 18. God, and two angels show up at Abraham’s doorstep, just as the angels will later to Lot. However, the way they are greeted is very different. Abraham runs out and welcomes the three men into his tent. He has bread baked, cheese made, and a calf slaughtered to be served. The travelers’ feet are washed and are invited to rest in the shade of the trees. It is a very peaceful image in many ways, the breeze moving through the oak leaves, I have been to Canaan where this story takes place. It is a beautiful, pastoral place that would have been even more beautiful and less touched by humankind at this point in history. Abraham has created a place of welcome and safety for these travelers who, for all he knew, had come from a faraway place and needed shelter and care.

The Hospitality of Abraham by Andrei Rublev - 1411 AD

The exact opposite is true when the men arrive in Sodom. The bible tells us that initially the men tell Lot that they intend to sleep in the town square, a practice often done by poor travelers without the resources or connections to have a place to lodge. Lot however insists the men stay with him, which in turn leads to a crowd forming outside his door, demanding the travelers be sent out to be assaulted. Lot refuses and one of the things that is often overlooked is the crowd saying, “This fellow came here as a foreigner and now he thinks he’s better than us. We should have dealt with you worse than we will with them” (Genesis 19:9)

This is an essential quote in understanding the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The men staying with Lot were not being attacked because the mob was gay, they were being attacked because they were foreigners and Lot had only been welcomed because he was wealthy. Earlier in the book of Genesis we are told of the wealth of Abraham. He and his family owned thousands of head of cattle, camels, sheep, goats and housed hundreds of slaves. We are even told that Abraham had his own army at the ready, 318 men trained and prepared for battle.

When Lot had come to Sodom, he would have bought much of this wealth with him. In Sodom, foreigners and immigrants were welcome but only when they had something to offer. To the sodomites, the two men that had come were nothing but free loaders, homeless travelers who would be an annoyance and a drain on society.

It is worth noting that our nation is no different. We allow immigration, but only if it is useful to us. Note that Governor DeSantis of Florida was very anti-immigrant until hurricane Ian came and no one wanted to clean up the damage. Now all at once that cheap, unregulated labor he hated so much is suddenly useful. We are the same with our homeless populations. We want them out of sight, out of mind and the general cultural consensus is that homeless people are homeless because they are lazy or bad people. The reality is that we are Sodom and the voice of Ezekiel is a charge at us when he says “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and lived a life of ease, but did not aid the poor and needy when she easily could have.”

So, the question that has to be asked is, if this is true, why does this story so often show up as ammo against marriage equality. Well, that’s simple. Scapegoating is always easier than changing, and in the case of King Henry the VIII of England, he had a lot of scapegoating to do. You see, when King Henry declared himself as supreme head of the Church of England, he effectively took a third of the nation's property from monasteries and churches. The total value of this take over is, by modern rates, about 240 billion dollars. Thousands upon thousands of foreigners, Catholics and sympathizers were evicted from their homes and forced out of the country. He would have also evicted the entire Jewish population as well, if his predecessor, Edward the 1st hadn't already expelled them all in 1290.

Henry was also having the bible translated into English, which when people read, they would realize how unchristian he was being and so, in 1533, King Henry passed the Buggery Act, the first law in English history to make same sex acts illegal, carried over into the law books of the USA. This is also when Sodomy is first used in in connection to gay behavior.

Six years later, the Great Bible would be produced, the first official bible in the English language and number of words in the New Testament especially would be mistranslated as “Homosexual” in place of “pedophile,” in order to solidify the laws that had been passed. These mistranslations would find their way into the King James bible which would be the official translation of the bible in almost all protestant churches until the 1960s.

So, with all this in mind, here is the true story of Sodom. Once there was a great wealthy city who hated foreigners and attacked homeless people, calling them lazy and throwing them out of the city when they appeared. One day, a man named Lot who knew that hospitality and care for the poor was important but did little to change the way the city ran. Then one day, he became the target of their hatred because as Martin Niemöller said when speaking of the holocaust, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The story ends with God destroying the lands and city of Sodom. Now, while I do not believe that we are going to get destroyed in some cataclysmic event sent by God, I am of the opinion that our constant need to scapegoat might be just as destructive. If we don’t stop seeing everyone as enemies, if we don’t change our attitudes and open our hearts to those around us who are poor, lonely, different, etc., we will continue to turn in on ourselves until there are none of us left.

May we be a people with open minds, open hands and open hearts and may we stand up for the wellbeing of all those around us, there are those around us who would have us turn our backs on our neighbors, who would villainize the poor, the immigrant, the people of color and those of us in the LGBTQ community, They would turn our nation into a cold and cruel land who puts our wealth before our neighbors and our prosperity before those in need. May we do better and be better. Amen

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