Since moving worship services 100% online, thanks to Covid-19, I’ve taken liberties to be more creative, and hopefully more engaging. For example, in place of a traditional sermon, we recently asked worshippers to submit questions for a fully spontaneous “Pastor Q&A.” We didn’t know what questions would be asked, thus we intentionally did not have prepared answers. We answered every question, as best we could, from the heart.
Questions were chosen, more or less, randomly, leaving about a dozen unanswered questions when the time ran out. This week, we’ve responded to the remaining questions, in a variety of ways. The one remaining question is a bit more sensitive in nature than the rest. So, rather than responding in a newsletter article or a brief Facebook Live devotional, this feels like a more appropriate space.
The question is…
My whole life, I’ve been beat senseless with the “Sodom and Gomorrah” argument about being gay. I hear, however, that Pastor Vance has a very different take on it.
The question is obviously written by a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who is also a follower of Jesus and a member of the church I serve.
The “Sodom and Gomorrah” passage is found in the Old Testament book of Genesis, Chapter 19, verses 1-28. Let’s focus on verses 1-5…
The two messengers entered Sodom in the evening. Lot, who was sitting at the gate of Sodom, saw them, got up to greet them, and bowed low. He said, “Come to your servant’s house, spend the night, and wash your feet. Then you can get up early and go on your way.” But they said, “No, we will spend the night in the town square.” He pleaded earnestly with them, so they went with him and entered his house. He made a big meal for them, even baking unleavened bread, and they ate. Before they went to bed, the men of the city of Sodom—everyone from the youngest to the oldest—surrounded the house and called to Lot, “Where are the men who arrived tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may have sex with them.” (Genesis 19:1-5, CEB)
Two travelers arrive in the city of Sodom, as night approaches, without a place to stay. Concerned for their safety, a man named Lot extends hospitality to them, offering them both a place to stay, a hot meal, and protection.
This is important! We often overlook the importance placed on hospitality in the Bible. Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me…when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:35 & 40). Hebrews 13:2 says, “Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.”
In ancient times, travelers depended on the hospitality of strangers. Hospitality was a reciprocal arrangement; a host provided food, shelter and protection, and in exchange the guest provided news from their travels. It was also assumed if a host provided hospitality, someone would do the same if the host were ever the traveler.
Though the primary needs for a traveler were food, water, and shelter, a primary commitment of the host was a guarantee of personal protection. To invite someone into your home obligated you to protect them from harm, as long as they were under your roof.
Returning to the story, later in the evening, the men of Sodom came to Lot’s home, demanding the travelers be turned over; “Bring them out to us so that we may have sex with them.” (Genesis 19:5, CEB – also NIV, NLT) In my opinion, this is a woefully inadequate interpretation of their demand. Other English translations say…
- “Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” (ESV, KJV, NRSV)
- “Bring them out so we can have our sport with them!” (The Message)
- “Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.” (NASB)
All of these translations miss the mark, and dance around a more accurate, yet uncomfortable, word – RAPE. The verse should say, “Bring them out to us, so we may rape them.” Rape is defined by the World Health Organization as, “Physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object. The attempt to do so is known as attempted rape. Rape of a person by two or more perpetrators is known as gang rape.”
The men of Sodom wanted, by definition, to “gang rape” the travelers whom Lot was obliged to protect. There’s more to this story – a lot more! But, to answer our friend’s question, let’s keep our focus here.
It should be noted that soon after, in Genesis 19:23-25, God completely destroys Sodom and everything near it, as God had forecast in Genesis 18.
But, why? Why did God destroy Sodom?
As the question stated, “My whole life, I’ve been beat senseless with the “Sodom and Gomorrah” argument about being gay,” this passage has oft been mis-used as a condemnation of homosexuality. But, there is a clear difference between consensual sex and rape, regardless of whether the sexual contact is heterosexual or homosexual. “Homosexual” physical intimacy is between consenting persons of the same gender – NOT rape! The men of Sodom – regardless of their sexual orientation (Which is a topic the Bible never addresses! The Bible talks about same-gender sex, not orientation.) – were clearly not inviting Lot’s guests to participate in consensual sex. Their intent was rape.
One might ask, “If men want to rape men, isn’t that homosexual?” The answer is, “Not necessarily.” The rapist and the victim might be heterosexual or homosexual. That doesn’t matter. The issue is not sex. The issue is rape.
Besides, throughout history, there are countless examples of heterosexual men raping men. It happens in prisons. It happens in battle and armed conflict – even now. In fact, rape in armed conflicts, in any form, is considered an international war crime. As is always the case with rape, the point is violence. And, in the case of male rape, the violence is also emasculation, particularly in patriarchal, male-dominated cultures. To put it bluntly, in such cultures, a raped heterosexual man is no longer considered a man.
So, again, why did God destroy Sodom, if not for homosexuality? In Genesis 18:20, the Lord said, “The cries of injustice from Sodom and Gomorrah are countless, and their sin is very serious!” (CEB) No mention of homosexuality. But, rape would certainly be considered unjust and sinful. Ezekiel 16:49-50 says, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me.” (CEB) Again, no specific mention of homosexuality. Yet, rape is clearly “abominable,” as is pride and societal injustice. Only Jude 1:7 – a rather obscure passage – refers to the “sexual immorality” of Sodom, which certainly includes rape, but may or may not include same-gender sex.
Why did God destroy Sodom? Apparently for many reasons. But, there’s no indication the reason was homosexuality. Whether or not the Bible condemns or condones homosexuality is an entirely different conversation, which has absolutely nothing to do with Genesis 19. The sin of Sodom in Genesis 19 was the intent to do violence by rape to innocent guests, under the protection of Lot’s hospitality.
Violence. That’s what this passage is about. A very particular form of violence. Sodom was destroyed, in part, for violence. By the way, the story of Noah and the flood is also about God’s abhorrence of violence. The Lord told Noah, “The end has come for all creatures, since they have filled the earth with violence.” (Genesis 6:13, CEB)
God hates violence.
Again, our friend said, “My whole life, I’ve been beat senseless with the “Sodom and Gomorrah” argument about being gay.” Is this not also an act of abhorrent violence? Could we not also argue that using God’s Word to condemn another, thus causing psychological and emotional harm, is an act of violence? Even if homosexuality is deemed sinful by certain branches of Christianity, what right does anyone have to use any part of God’s good Word to do violence and harm? Aren’t we repeatedly told in Scripture, and by Jesus himself, not to judge, lest we be judged?
Is not mis-using God’s Word, in such an abusive way, the greater sin? I think it is!
To my friend who asked this question, I’m truly sorry for the ways you’ve been “beat senseless” by so-called Christians. To all my LGBTQ+ friends and siblings in Christ, who’ve also been “beat senseless,” by this passage, or other “clobber” passages, I’m truly sorry.
And, to the heterosexual Christian community, at large: the Bible is not a weapon of violence! Violence, of any kind, for Christians, is 100% UNACCEPTABLE! The Bible is a book of love; the love story of God creating, losing, and winning back his beloved creation. And, a piece of advice: the next time you feel compelled to use Scripture to judge and condemn another, make sure you know what you’re talking about, and make sure you’ve applied it to yourself first!
As I said, whether or not homosexuality is a sin is a conversation for a different time and place. But, even if you believe it is (I do NOT!), you might want to remember the words of Jesus, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” (John 8:7, CEB)