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About the biblical story of Sodom & Gomorrah in Genesis 19

Conclusions. Who are today's Sodomites?

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Conclusions:

Various Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups interpret Bible passages in totally different ways, and reach mutually exclusive conclusions:

bulletReligious conservatives:  Many believe that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, like passages elsewhere in the Bible, refers to homosexuality as a forbidden, detestable practice deserving of the most serious punishment -- not only death to those attempting the homosexual act but also a mini-genocide of the entire cities of Sodom and Gomorrah including adults, youths, children, and infants. God created the institution of heterosexual marriage as the only valid relationship for humans within which sexual activity can be performed without sin.

bullet Liberal Christians: Many believe that texts in Genesis and the rest of the Bible make it clear that Sodom was punished because of the violent, abusive, inhospitable, greedy, and unsympathetic behavior of its citizens towards visitors, widows, the poor and other disadvantaged persons. Liberals often interpret Genesis 19 as condemning homosexual rape simply because it is rape. It would then be consistent with passages like Deuteronomy 22:25-29 which condemns heterosexual rape.

Genesis 19 does not impact on consensual homosexual activities between consenting adults, and is totally unrelated to loving, committed, same-sex relationships, civil unions and marriages. Most religious liberals are are faced with the inescapable and rather surprising conclusion that the condemned activities in Sodom probably had nothing to do with sodomy -- i.e. anal sex. As one Christian editor wrote: "To suggest that Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexual sex is an analysis of about as much worth as suggesting that the story of Jonah and the whale is a treatise on fishing.1

There is ironic aspect to this passage that is rarely discussed: To judge by other biblical references to Sodom, God seems to condemn the citizens for insensitive treatment and harassment of others. But, this is the very passage that many conservative and some mainline Christian faith groups use to verbally attack gays and lesbians.

The real story of Sodom may well have involved a mob who mistook the angels for ordinary humans. Driven by fear, suspicion, and/or hatred there intent was to humiliate, by rape, what they assumed were strange people visiting their city. The Sodom situation has many parallels to gay-bashing today, with homophobes trying to assault gay and lesbian strangers. 4

Who, exactly, are today's sodomites?

To most religious and social conservatives, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexuality -- specifically men who wanted to engage in sexual behavior with other men. The term is widely used in conservative Christian circles as a derogatory term. In some cases, conservative Christians have even proposed the death penalty for "sodomites." Jim Rudd, a commentator who writes for The Covenant News, suggested in an article titled "Put Homosexuals to the Sword:"

"The word of God commands that sodomites are to be executed, and God gives our civil officials the sword to do the job. Until our civil officials turn from their wicked way by administering Justice, we can only be judged with the most depraved pagan nations in history." 11

However, there is another definition for "sodomite" that is being occasionally used by religious liberals and others. They interpret Genesis 19 and other biblical references to the city of Sodom as teaching that the true sin of the people of Sodom was maltreatment, rejection and lack of caring for the oppressed, exposed, poor and sick. The people of Sodom are criticized through the Bible for their treatment of strangers, widows, children, the poor, etc. If we consider homosexuals to be oppressed, then perhaps the term "sodomite" can legitimately be used to refer to their oppressors -- some religious and social conservatives.

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Inge Anderson, "Sins of Sodom," at: http://glow.cc/isa/sodom.htm
  2. Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?", Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13. The article was based on an earlier survey of religions opinion of 6 theologians and religious leaders covering the range from conservative to liberal thought:
    1. David Bartlett, professor at Yale Divinity School
    2. Rev. Timothy Crater of the National Association of Evangelicals
    3. Reuven Kimelman, professor of near Eastern and Judaic studies at Brandeis University.
    4. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Seminary
    5. The Rev. Jill Nelson, pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church
    6. Krister Stendahl, ex-dean of Harvard Divinity School.
  3. Sorry, the citation for this quote has been lost.
  4. "The sin of Sodom wasn't what you think," National Gay Pentecostal Alliance (NGPA), at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ The NGPA has since merged with the Apostolic Intercessory Ministry to create the Apostolic Restoration Mission at: http://www.apostolicrestorationmission.4t.com/
  5. Sorry, the citation for this quote has been lost.
  6. Reb Gershon Caudill, "A Heterosexual Jewish Rebbe's View on the (Supposedly) Homosexual Texts in the Hebrew Bible," at: http://www.affirmation.org/ecokosher.htm
  7. Father Basil Isaacs, "Proofx booklet", Fountain of Life Western Orthodox Church Catholic Mission. Available for $2.50 from 1928 E. Highland, Suite F104-142, Phoenix, AZ 85016.
  8. We refer to "the author of Jude" rather than use his name. This is because there is no consensus on the identity of the author. Conservative Christian theologians generally believe that the book was written by Jude, a brother of Jesus circa 67 to 73 CE. Liberal theologians generally believe that the author is unknown, and that the book was written some time after 100 CE.
  9. R.S. Truluck, "The six Bible passages used to condemn homosexuals," at: http://www.truluck.com/html/six_bible_passages.html
  10. Jack T. Chick, "Birds and the Bees," (2004), at: http://www.chick.com/
  11. Jim Rudd. "Put Homosexuals To The Sword," The Covenant News, 2006-JUN-07, at:  http://www.covenantnews.com/
  12. "Elaine," "Sodom and Gomorrah," Gay Church, at: http://www.gaychurch.org/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-FEB-29
Author: B.A. Robinson.

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