There is a massive misunderstanding in the church about what the “sin of Sodom” actually was, but I will get to that later. (spoiler alert, it was more than one). I do want to talk about how it applies today though and how we should be accepting out part in it, and what we should be doing about it.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah can be found in Genesis 19 (the destruction anyway. The actual story starts the chapter before I believe with the angelic visitation to Abraham). The people were wicked, Lot was saved, God rained down fire and destroyed the cities on the plain. That is a very brief synopsis. A similar story of wickedness can be found in Judges 19 and the story of what occurred in a city named Gibeah. Many of the themes are the same between the two stories.
There is a violent sexual component (rape/dominance) to both of these stories and that can not and should not be ignored. Both of these cultures allowed for an ancient patriarchal tradition where the dominant male has the right to penetrate anyone subordinate to him–women, lower men, boys, and slaves. This lives on today in sub-sects of our culture, most notably in the prison system and in many gang initiations. It is not so much sexual as violent and a dominance play. (This is not to say that homosexual activity falls into this category, merely to say that in the situations described in this post, this is what was at play.) In Scripture these components are mentioned in the stories themselves and mentioned again briefly in Jude 7,8
Another component to these two narratives is the overwhelming lack of hospitality and charity to strangers and aliens by the general populace. In a nutshell, those who were in need the most were not properly taken care of. In scripture these components are mentioned in Ezekiel 16:49-50, and seemingly referenced by Christ in Matthew 10:5-15.
So we come to the over emphasis of the sexual aspect of the sin of Sodom which has more to do with patterned fornication (yes, I know we can and will disagree on what that can mean) at best and dominance and violence (rape) at worst. Interestingly enough, Sodom is not used in Leviticus where we begin to see prohibitions against homosexuality and in Jude where again fornication (yes we can and will quibble over what that is) is mentioned, but not specifically homosexuality. Philo of Alexandria was the first to overstate the sexual aspects of Sodom in an attempt to rationalize Jewish faith with stoic philosophy and was later popularized by Augustine and became the widespread and accepted “sin of Sodom” and the other, much more heavily emphasized sins dealing with a general lack of hospitality and compassion as a result of not following God were largely ignored. Even Thomas Aquinas falls into the trap of doing this. All were important Christian thinkers who fell into a common trap.
None of this is to say that we should ignore the sexual aspect of the story of Sodom, but rather that we have over emphasized it to the point that we have forgotten that those in the city were thoroughly wicked in every way. The destruction is not due to only, or even primarily, sexual sin, but because of the total nonredeemable depravity of the city in every imaginable way. We do a disservice when we talk about “the sin of Sodom” both to the scriptures, and also to those in the LGBTQ community as we unfairly burden them with the responsibility of the city’s destruction. It is fair to say that there was likely sex between those of the same gender in Sodom, but we should not be pointing that out absent the context that it is equally likely there was rampant adultery and orgies, not to mention the multitude of nonsexual sins such as the lack of hospitality, envious, etc. Sodom was a city of every vice, not a city of only one.
So we come to today. We become so polarized and fixated on homosexuality as the “sin of Sodom” and argue endlessly over it trying to justify ourselves, while all to often the totality of the sins of Sodom are ignored. We are not hospitable to our guests and to strangers. We do not talk enough and do enough about dominance plays and sexual violence, human trafficking, hunger, genuine need. We throw around hurtful words like “Sodomite” (yes I hear your argument fellow conservatives ‘it’s just a descriptive word’. No it’s not… It’s ugly, hurtful and meant to be so in today’s parlance) to separate ourselves from others and to somehow demonize them as being nonredeemable and the worst of all human ills. We dehumanize others while puffing ourselves up in the name of God. We make it the focus of all salvation instead of the redemptive nature of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (and we do it during Lent no less, shame on us). I am ok with talking about the sins of Sodom and even think it is important, but let’s talk about all of them, not the “sin of Sodom” popularized by a few and now taken as gospel by many. I know what ‘sodomite’ means, but shouldn’t it really mean “anyone who tries to dominate and/or humiliate another; anyone who fails to show proper hospitality to those who come across our path.” By that definition are’t we all sodomites? Maybe we are all in the same boat after all, people who screw up and don’t do all we can when we can. People who do not help enough. People who are more concerned with ourselves than others. People who are all guilty of the sins of Sodom. People who all should properly be called ‘Sodomites’.