The Destruction of Sodom
Cue the screams of pain from American dominionists* that the Supreme Court has declared marriage equality a right in all states. Comparisons will be made to Sodom. This comparison is made often. It’s also a really bad self-defeating argument. A simple search of what the Bible says about Sodom reveals this:
“‘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.
Ezekiel 16:49 NIV
Ummm… yeah, so even the Bible is pretty clear that Sodom wasn’t destroyed because men had sex with each other. Plus since America – and Canada, and most of the West – haven’t been destroyed by God for being arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned, which is definitely a problem, I have good reason to believe God isn’t in the business of slaughtering nations anyway. That’s aside from looking at Jesus, of course, who is the exact representation of God and yet I can’t imagine wiping out millions of people because two men had sex.
Even before we reach that text, though, let’s just look at the Sodom story. Some angels come to town and Lot, being a good Ancient Near Eastern man, offers to host them. Many other men of the town gather outside his door and threaten to rape them. Lot offers his daughters to be raped instead, but then the angels blind them and get away. Reading this story, I see at least 4 things I would be inclined to think would be more deserving of destruction than the fact that they were men.
But first, note the timeframe. The angels were coming to the town because it had already been condemned. They were just warning Lot to get out of there. So these events are possibly a good representation of why they were condemned – the Ezekiel passage suggests that is true – but obviously God wasn’t warning Lot to escape the condemnation that was caused by the gang rape that happened because God sent angels to warn Lot to escape the condemnation.
Perhaps the most obvious of all is the fact that they were attempting rape. Today, we generally see rape as up there with murder for worst things you can do to somebody else. And yet, when we look at this story, we assume the problem is that it was another man who they were attempting to rape, rather than the fact that they were attempting a gang rape. Even if you’re a traditionalist, that would be a skewed moral compass.
Lack of Hospitality
I think most who are more familiar with the context would see this as the real thrust of the story. The story starts with Lot’s hospitality, meeting them at the gate and offering them a place to stay. He had to plead with them to stay with him instead of out in the public square. He ordered a fine meal for them. This is all pretty standard Ancient Near Eastern hospitality standards.
Then the men of the town show up and demand they be brought out. They don’t care about the hospitality standards. They show this lack of concern for foreigners when they similarly dismiss Lot’s objections. Lot even offers his daughters to be raped instead, which seems like a terrible trade-off today but by Ancient Near Eastern standards, the protection of a guest was much more important than the protection of your daughters – sure you lost the ability to sell them to a good husband later, but that’s better than turning over your guests.
The Ezekiel passage emphasizes this one. These guests were the needy coming to the town, but other than Lot, Sodom was much more interested in themselves than taking care of them.
I think it’s fair to say that more Christians would see having sex with a couple dozen people at once is a problem than would say having sex with another man is a problem. Even if the angels consented, this would still rank higher on my list of assumptions for why Sodom deserved destruction.
Last one: these guests they wanted to gang rape outside all Ancient Near Eastern standards weren’t even human. This story comes in the same book of the Bible as possibly Scripture’s weirdest story:
1When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. 3Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.”4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
5The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6And theLord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
(Genesis 6:1-7 NRSV)
That’s how the story of Noah is introduced. If we take this at a literal reading – which I don’t really suggest for reasons I won’t get into here – the most direct cause of God wiping out the earth was the wickedness that came from angels having sex with humans. We could unpack why this was a problem, but it was worthy of destroying the entire world 13 chapters earlier. To me, that makes this much more likely to be a reason God would wipe out Sodom than the fact they happened to all be men.
*Note I use the word dominionists here, not simply those who are not affirming of same-sex marriage (aka “traditionalists”). Many traditionalists are still celebrating that their neighbours are one step closer to legal rights, while not having any intention to perform the marriages in their churches. They have that right. No religious freedoms have been lost here – arguably some has been gained for affirming Christians. All that has been lost has been the control over others, which is definitely not a right and does not look anything like Jesus.