Correcting the old wrong ideas about Sodom, Gomorrah

Fundamentalists revel in the imagery of destruction in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, seeing it as a forecast of what's ahead for sinful nations. This image from the blog America's Last Days comes from the blog post "America is now Sodom and Gomorrah and will be destroyed by fire."
Fundamentalists revel in the imagery of destruction in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, seeing it as a forecast of what’s ahead for sinful nations. This image from the blog America’s Last Days comes from the blog post “America is now Sodom and Gomorrah and will be destroyed by fire.”

The activist religious organization Soulforce has published a free booklet seeking to de-fang the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, which for centuries has been routinely misinterpreted as a condemnation of homosexuality.

Titled “Breaking Open: Sodom and Gomorrah,” the publication “goes deep into one of the ‘clobber passages’ in the Bible, which are so named because they are the ammunition most often used to harm LGBTQI people through spiritual violence,” according to U.S.-based Soulforce, which works non-violently to end the political and religious oppression of LGBTI  people. The group adds:

“The story of Sodom & Gomorrah is weaponized against our people all across the Abrahamic traditions, making this resource applicable to multiple contexts. For this series, we specifically root ourselves in the Christian tradition, because Christianity is the language of power that we encounter most often and study most closely.”

Not about gay sex, but about power and violence

Cover of "Breaking Open: Sodom and Gomorrah" (Click on the image to register to receive a free electronic copy.)
Cover of “Breaking Open: Sodom and Gomorrah” (Click on the image to register to receive a free electronic copy.)

The booklet states:

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is the go-to Bible story to prove that “God hates gays,” but it is also one of  the clearest examples of mistaken identity in the Bible. …

Even a cursory look at the text reveals that this story is not about homosexuality at all. There are no depictions of men having consensual homosexual sex based in mutual desire. There are only two mentions of sex in the entire passage. They are both about rape. The first is the angry mob of all the men in the town demanding that the two foreigners who have just arrived in Sodom to come out in order to publicly gang-rape them. And the second is when Lot offers his two young daughters to the mob to “do to them as you please” (v.8). …

The text says that every single man in Sodom came to Lot’s house (v.4). This is not a mob of gay men in a sexual frenzy driven by homosexual lust. Surely, most of the men had not even seen the two visitors. This is about subjugation and domination and xenophobia. This is about power and violence and keeping foreigners in their vulnerable position.

How did Jesus understand the story of Sodom?

“Breaking Open: Sodom & Gomorrah” describes how Jesus referred to Sodom and Gomorrah — as a story about lack of hospitality:

In [Matthew 10] verses 14-15, Jesus pronounces that any town who
does not welcome the disciples with hospitality will receive judgement worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus is using Sodom and Gomorrah as shorthand for “The people of Israel have a moral obligation take care of you as part of their covenant with God. If they do not receive you and care for you with warm welcome and hospitality, God will be very displeased! Remember what happened to Sodom and
Gomorrah when they were inhospitable to strangers?”

If there is political commentary on Sodom and Gomorrah that applies to us today, it is about welcoming in the immigrants and refugees among us. It is about sharing our abundant resources with those who do not have enough because of systems of violence, injustice, and domination.

In other words, if we want to apply the lessons of Sodom and Gomorrah to our day and time, then we should use it in conversations about immigration reform and social services rather than issues of sexual freedom.

The booklet about Sodom and Gomorrah is free with registration at the Soulforce website. It is the first in the group’s planned “Breaking Open” series of Bible commentaries aimed at combating scripture-based oppression and the attitudes of Christian Supremacy that support systemic injustices like racism, homophobia, and classism.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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