Arguably, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the biblical story most often used to condemn homosexuality. Yet as popular as Genesis 19 is with religious zealots, this story is the weakest of all passages used against gays and lesbians. A close reading of the story, along with some simple research on the meaning of the words used proves this.
The word “Sodomite” today generally means a person who participates in anal sex. Yet at the time of this Biblical story it meant something entirely different. The Hebrew word which we translate as sodomite is “kudash” (plural kadeshim): it literally means hallowed or sacred and according to author John Boswell, “referred to prostitutes in pagan temples.” The sexual practices of the pagans were long considered to be idol worship because of the connection with the pagans’ religious rites.
Research shows most early theologians made no connection with homosexuality until after scripture was translated from Hebrew and Greek to English. For a more complete word study read Boswell’s book, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century.
Most preachers begin with Genesis 19, but to get the rest of the story, you must start in Genesis 18. In this chapter, the messengers are sent to Abraham to inform him of his impending fatherhood (yes, at the age of 90 or so) and to let him know about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham bargains with the messengers to save the cities. The point here is the fate of the cities is already sealed. Chapter 19 is nothing more than a report of how the inevitable destruction unfolded.
In Jewish tradition hospitality was of the utmost importance. Lot had an obligation to protect his guests when it became obvious the locals intended to harm them. Lot offers his daughters instead. No matter how one views homosexuality, this final act is about rape, a crime of violence.
So, what is the sin of Sodom? If you search the scriptures, there were many:
- Deuteronomy 29:22- 28 — serving false gods;
- Deuteronomy 32:15-19, 21-25 and 31-33 — apathy, sacrifice to demons, idolatry and gluttony;
- Isaiah 1:2-4, 9-10, 20 and 23-31 — forsaking God, showing contempt to God,
- Isaiah 3:8-11, 15 — oppression, discrimination.
Finally the New Testament’s description of Sodom’s sins has to do with the rejection of “the message” (Matthew 10:14-15, Matthew 11:23-24 and Mark 6:11).
Given the evidence, it’s easy to see the destruction of these cities, which for years has been conveniently blamed on homosexuals, was caused by much deeper issues than sexual orientation. God’s wrath was brought down on the cities because of cruelty, neglect, oppression, the persecution of the poor, and idol worship.
The “sin of Sodom” may be evident in today’s world, but the gay community is not to blame.
Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever and Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994, have been in a committed partnership since the early 1980s and have been legally married since 2015.