Saturday, March 25, 2006

Why God Really Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

When Steven B. proposed language that welcomes gays and lesbians into the LDS Church without violating Mormon dogma on Open Sky Visions, some posters replied that God must hate gays. Why else, was the argument, would God cast fire and brimstone on the heads of homosexuals in Sodom and Gomorrah?

When one reads Genesis closely, however, it becomes clear that the Sodomites were not punished for homosexuality but for violating hospitality. Read for yourself:

4. Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter;
5. and they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them."
6. But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him,
7. and said, "Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly.
8. "Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof."
9. But they said, "Stand aside." Furthermore, they said, "This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them." So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door.
10. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door.
11. They struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway.
12. Then the two men said to Lot, "Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place;
13. for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it."

The locals demand from Lot that he turn over his guest to be raped. That's pretty bad. To avert that evil, Lot offers his daughters to the mob. That would not make sense if God were concerned about sexual sin. But when the locals decline the offer and threaten Lot, that's when the messengers of God declare that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has become imminent.

Genesis 19 is not about homosexuality. It's about hospitality.

Ironically, hospitality plays only a minor role in the theology of latter-day fundamentalists, a fact that should remind us that not everything in a three thousand year old book is relevant in our era.


Blogger Hiram Page said...

It is so interesting that most people readily bring up this story in connection with homosexuality, when God's punishment has nothing to do with homosexuality at all. It is, as you argue, a question of violating hospitality. Indeed, as this is the case, one wonders whether the story takes homosexuality for granted as a regular part of life.

Blogger DHBailey said...

With regards to the Bible and homosexuality, I personally think that it is pointless to argue alternative readings of the S&G story -- in my experience traditionalists don't buy such interpretations.

Besides, there are too many other passages like this. For example, Lev. 18:22 commands, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." In the New Testament, 1 Tim 9:10 includes those who "defile themselves with mankind" among the "ungodly and sinners", "murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers" and "whoremongers". In 1 Cor 6:9-10 Paul declares, "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God". In some cases there are good counters, but by and large the negative view is clear.

So I think that by far the best response to these biblical passages is simply to recognize that these were written long before the modern scientific era, and long before anyone had an inkling that a homosexual orientation is largely, if not exclusively, an inborn condition.

For example, I have in my library a textbook on human sexuality, written by professors at Stanford, which I bought when a student there 30 years ago. In a chapter on homosexuality, it ascribes homosexuality as possibly due to "distant fathers", etc. In other words, even as recently as 1976 the prevailing scientific view was that that homosexuality was due to family upbringing and/or social environment.

But today we don’t have a similar excuse. The scientific evidence that homosexuality is at least partly genetic is strong and well-known, and numerous other biological links have been found. What's more, attempts to "change" orientation have uniformly failed, except in some cases where the person had an ambiguous orientation to begin with. Thus while we may not agree on how best to integrate gays into society and the church, we can't say that they have "chosen" to be the way they are.


Blogger Rob Osborn said...

S&G was destroyed because of sinful acs which included sex immorality. Jude 1:7 states they were burned by fire and brimstone because they had given way to forication and going after strange flesh! Maybe there are other ways to interpret "strange flesh", but I believe that would be sex with someone other than a member of the opposite sex.

Blogger Rob Osborn said...


Homosexuality is a choice one makes. So is fornication. And so is adultery. If you give in to temptation and sin, don't try to pass it off that you werte just doing what you were born to do. What are we- Abunch of animals!

Blogger Hellmut said...

Since God created us as animals that cannot be all bad, Rob.

Blogger Hiram Page said...

"With regards to the Bible and homosexuality, I personally think that it is pointless to argue alternative readings of the S&G story -- in my experience traditionalists don't buy such interpretations."--DHB

"Jude 1:7 states they were burned by fire and brimstone because they had given way to forication and going after strange flesh! Maybe there are other ways to interpret "strange flesh", but I believe that would be sex with someone other than a member of the opposite sex."

Yes, yes. I have heard it all before. What you seem to be missing is that *I* am interested in the story itself. If anyone has anything further to say about the narrative Hellmut quoted, and not the entire Bible with its myriad inconsistencies, or what people may or may not be willing to buy ("science v. exegesis"), go for it.

As a side note, however: if people are already more disposed to accepting scientific data over scriptural interpretation, as DHB suggests, then I don't get why so many people are balking at scientific views on the origins of the universe, evolution, the improbability of a worldwide flood, etc. At what point will they discover that science is superior to religion on many of these points and drop the ancient diatribes of Paul et al.? While you may be right, it seems like an odd inconsistency.

Anonymous Kim Siever said...


I believe you meant homosexual sex acts is a choice one makes. Homosexuality is more than simply having sex with someone of the same gender. One can be homosexual without actually sinning.

Blogger Rob Osborn said...


I thought that even our thoughts would condemn us. Wouldn't this include homosexual thoughts? And isn't any impure thought for that manner sin?

Blogger annegb said...

Hellmut, I like you, but you're out to lunch on this one.

Kim, If homosexuality isn't about sex, there would be no big deal because men could love other men. It's the sex that makes it different.

I read Brokeback Mountain (that's 30 minutes I'll never get back) and except for the sex, it would be just two men being friends and herding sheep.

Blogger Hiram Page said...

"Hellmut, I like you, but you're out to lunch on this one."

How exactly is he "out to lunch" on this one? Are you arguing that the Sodom story is primarily about homosexuality? Do you agree that homosexuality is the 'sin of Sodom' that caused its destruction? If so, what's your argument?

Blogger annegb said...

Yeah, that's what I think. Where's the spiritual law about hospitality?

Oh, no, that's not what I think.

Okay, let me start over. I think the sin of those guys who wanted to have sex--no, RAPE-- those other guys was a big sin, but I think Sodom was destroyed for more than that. And I don't think hospititality had anything to do with it.

Because it doesn't make sense, although the whole story doesn't make sense to me. First God has Abraham jump through all those hoops, then Lot's wife gets turned into salt for simply looking back at her children, then the surviving children have sex with their father....

and it goes on. Technically a lot of the Old Testament doesn't make sense. Although I enjoy reading it.

And as I read Hellmut's post again, it seems like he/your last two paragraphs contradict the rest of it.

And then I read yours again and no, I don't think it's primarily about homosexuality, it's about sin. Oh and no, I don't think homosexuality is the sin, I think it was a lot of sin and I don't think I have an argument.

Actually, I'm feeling extraordinarily senile this evening.

It's possible for men to rape other men, ie sodomize, them, without being homosexual, no?

I never thought about homosexuality primarily with this story until now. I only just realized that there is a moral struggle with Lot's wife in the salt thing, but never mind.

Blogger Steven B said...

This subject was
discussed recently at Times and Seasons. The concensus seemed to be that there was definitely a sexual element in the story, but that it was the lack of hospitality which was condemned. So I suppose that the T&S thread may be reflective of quite a number of LDS bloggers.

From what I have read, the interpretation of the "Sin of Sodom" as being homosexual activity didn't really start until the 4th century AD. That period, as I have said elsewhere, was the what the LDS often condemn as the "Great Apostasy."

I think, to be consistent, those who hold that this passage condemns homosexuals need to call for the death penalty, not just for gay people, but for women (but not men) who commit adultry. For that is also what the Bible appears to call for. The only people that are following this thing to its logical conclusion are the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons who see God's wrath against gay people in the 9/11 attacks, the tsunami, hurricane Katrina and even the bird flu. One US Senate candidate has already called for the death of Elton John and Mary Cheney for being homosexual.

Anonymous Mike Kessler said...

In the Jewish tradition, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality but with inhospitality, "being kind to the stranger in your midst." It's pretty clear when you read from Genesis chapter 18 and continue from there. Yes, the three emissaries from God were threatened by the Sodomites with homosexual rape, but that is not the only sin or the greatest sin they committed. As you can read from Lot's actions, and by Abraham's before him, when a stranger appeared, it was the custom to wash their feet, to clothe them in clean clothes, to seat them at the finest chair at the table and to feed them your finest food, after which you would offer them the finest bed in your home to spend the evening. But the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were cruel to each other and especially cruel to the stranger. The cities were not destroyed for the sin of homosexual rape (which God prevented the Sodomites from carrying out) but from their many sins which led up to that point. Just about every rabbi will give a sermon during the year in which he or she will say that the term "Sodomite" more rightfully refers to those who are inhospitable and unwelcoming to others.

Blogger Rob Osborn said...


You make it seem as if not housing and feeding your neighbor is a greater sin than homosexual rape. Am I wrong in this assumption?

Anonymous Mike Kessler said...

Yes, you are wrong. Any rape, homosexual or heterosexual, is worse than inhospitality. However, the homosexual rape that everyone gets incensed about in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah never occurred -- God prevented it from happening. God didn't destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for an act of rape that =didn't= occur, but for the many acts of rape, violence, inhospitality, uncharitableness, unkindness, torture, neglect, theft, lying, etc. that had gone on in Sodom and Gomorrah for many years. The destruction was brought about by God for the things that =did= happen, not for an event that God prevented from happening.

Blogger john f. said...

HL: this reading seems bootstrapped. Are you saying that God would eradicate a city because they were not hospitable to visitors? The idea that homosexuality and homosexual rape is an abomination to God serious enough to warrant destruction is more persuasive than the suggestion that God is willing to destroy an entire city based on inhospitality.

Blogger john f. said...

If you think the OT is nonsense, that's one thing, but to say that God destroys cities because they were inhospitable seems a forced reading.

I understand your motivation out of your political views about homosexuality to force this reading, but I find it curious that you would rather believe God destroys people for being inhospitable than for the sin of homosexuality.

Blogger Hellmut said...

John, in a society of credit cards and Motel 8s hospitality is no big deal. In the age of Abraham, hospitality was a matter of life and death.

The text of Genesis is fairly straightforward. I am bringing it up because some other people argued that God throwing fire and brimstone on homosexuals was proof of divine hate.

The latter interpretation cannot be sustained upon a close reading of the text.

Blogger john f. said...

The latter interpretation cannot be sustained upon a close reading of the text.

Well, this isn't true. And you have a high burden of proof to overcome the interpretation given to the Sodom episode given within the biblical text itself. It is not my incredulity with regard to inhospitality that is anachronistic, but rather your de-emphasizing the abomination of homosexuality in the eyes of the OT (and NT) god.

Now I could swallow all this if you were talking about Wotan destroying an entire hill-fort for inhospitality. Arguing that Jehova did this, however, is a much harder case.

Blogger Hellmut said...

John, if it were about sex, why did Lot offer his daughters for rape?

Blogger john f. said...

I don't know. Maybe it was an Abraham-like test for Lot. Putting your son on the alter with a knife to his throat isn't much stranger.

Anonymous Mike Kessler said...

In the story of Noah, the entire earth was destroyed for a lot less. And since homosexual rape had not yet occurred (and never did) before the destruction, certainly Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed for that. You can't look at the sin of inhospitality from the vantage point of an American today who serves milk and cookies -- that wasn't at all what hospitality meant hundreds of years ago -- or for that matter even today in most parts of the world which are desert or barren. Being inhospitable in such a place means condemning the stranger to great hardship or even death. Certainly Lot's daughters committed a horrendous sexual sin by getting their own father drunk -- twice! -- then having sex with him and bearing his children, when the verses before and after this event show that they knew there were other people in the world (having been to Zoar), and so they knew they were not doomed to living childless if they didn't rape their father, yet they, Lot and the daughter's children were not destroyed for these incredible acts of sexual depravity. And these are acts of sexual depravity that we know did occur, while the homosexual rape of the holy men who were taken in by Lot did not occur. There are other parts of the "Old Testament" that might be pointed to as condemning homosexuality, but the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is not one of them.

Anonymous Mike Kessler said...

On another blog, "anonymous" posted a quote:
Ezekiel 16:49-50: Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.

Blogger Rob Osborn said...

Just got done reading the JST on gen. 19. If one believes the JST then the correct interpretation has it that Lot actually pleaded for the men NOT to take his daughters or the holy men and "know" (have sexual relations) them!

Blogger Steven B said...

Rob, the JST shifts the offence from homosexual rape to rape-in-general. As such, it directs focus away from the traditional interpretation of homosexual rape. In the only other comment from Joseph Smith about this passage, of which I am aware, the sin of Sodom consists of rejecting the prophets. I don't quite know what to make out of it, but it is interesting that the prophet, in both instances, diverged from standard popular interpretation of homosexuality.

Blogger Machu Picchu said...

As Wilford Woodruff recorded, Joseph Smith taught that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not for homosexual acts, but "for rejecting the prophets".

Anonymous mahnahvu said...

One point not usually mentioned in discussions about S&G is that Jesus also seems to see a connection between inhospitality and Sodom & Gomorrah:

Matt. 10:14-15
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. (also Lk. 10:10-12)


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