Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins.
When I think about familiar Bible stories, the story Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind. However, like a movie I haven’t seen in a while, I can recall the major plot points but the details can escape me. I know that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God. Why? It has something to do with homosexuality right? Like they were gay and that made God mad so He destroyed the cities? Imagine my surprise when I revisited the story! It has NOTHING to do with homosexuality. So what was the real sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?
The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
Genesis 19 is where we find the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The book opens with two strangers approaching Sodom’s city gates. Immediately, Abraham’s nephew Lot (who was on guard that night) welcomed them into his home. Then, an angry mob appears demanding that Lot send the two strangers out so that they could have sex with them.
“Ha,” people say, “It’s right there! The mob was full of gay men who wanted to have gay sex!”
But there’s a couple of things to note. First, note that the mob is comprised of “men of the city of Sodom – from the youngest to the oldest.” It would stand to reason, therefore, that the entire crowd was not full of gay men. If they were, there would have only been older men and not younger ones.
Another thing to note here is that this story is not about two men in a loving, committed relationship with each other. It’s about a mob who wanted to forcibly rape two individuals. The detestable, vile thing that the men of Sodom wanted to do was gang rape.
In truth, however, it’s about what the gang rape represents: asserting power and dominance over someone less powerful.
Power Dynamics in Play
This should not be challenging to understand. Our culture is full of men who do not need to rape in order to have sex; from beloved TV dads to NFL superstars. However, this should be the first indication that rape is not about sex. Rape is about power. The perpetrator needs to feel more dominant than the victim. This was also the case in Sodom and Gomorrah.
In the ancient world, rape was a way to show your dominance over an outsider or an enemy. It wasn’t about being “gay”. It was about dishonoring them and stripping off their masculinity and (in the case of the patriarchal society) their humanity.
The Importance of Hospitality in the Bible
Hospitality is an extremely important theme in the Bible. While the love of neighbors and others feels distinctly New Testament, the truth is that the God of the Old Testament is just as concerned with showing love and kindness to foreigners.
To have an idea of what God considers to be true hospitality, just before the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, we find a very similar account of what happened when strangers encounter Abraham in Genesis 18. In Genesis 18, Abraham is sitting in his tent when he is approached by three strangers. Abraham bows before them, and invites them into his home for food and shelter.
God put this account just before the Sodom and Gomorrah story because it is supposed to draw our attention to just how deplorable the actions of the mob are.
What should you do? Welcome the stranger into your home.
What did they do? Tried to dehumanize, degrade, and destroy their guests.
This was the real sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Their refusal to show hospitality and love towards people who were vulnerable.
Confirmation in Other Scriptures
This interpretation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah seems to make sense when viewed with what the other Biblical writers had to say about it.
In Isaiah’s day, the people of Israel had stopped following God’s laws. This meant that they were no longer doing good: seeking justice, defending the oppressed, and tending to orphans and widows (the most vulnerable of society). Because of this, the prophet warns in Isaiah 1:9 “If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.”
Ezekiel gives an even clearer picture of the real sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s look at Ezekiel 16:49-50
Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen.
When God spoke through Ezekiel about the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, neither sex, sexual immorality, nor homosexuality was listed as a reason. The real reason? The most vulnerable of society needed help and hospitality and they offered none.
Finally, Jesus confirms this view as well in Matthew 10:14-15
If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.
Even Jesus relates the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah to a refusal to be welcoming and hospitable.
Lessons to Learn from Sodom and Gomorrah
In my opinion, what we can take from the story fo Sodom and Gomorrah is a call to return to hospitality in the church. To leave the comfort of our churches, cars, and homes. To hug and love on people who don’t look, act, think, or believe like us.
It can also be a warning. When we who are in positions of power try to gang-up on or take advantage of those who are less fortunate or vulnerable, it arouses the anger of God.
When we misuse this story as a way to unite against the LGBTQ community, we are technically the ones acting like a bunch of Sodomites.
P.S.: Have you heard someone call Christianity the white man’s religion? Click to check out last week’s post “Christianity is Not the White Man’s Religion.“