When I was a Christian/missionary, I made many attempts to read the Bible cover to cover. Several attempts bogged down in Leviticus, Numbers, or the minor prophets. A few attempts were completed. Aside from those attempts, I was a Bible teacher, I taught the story of Sodom and Gomorrah many times, to students of all ages. I thought I knew this story.
Sodom and Gomorrah is a lesson, so I was taught, in what happens when you disobey the Lord. And the sin of Sodom was… well… sodomy. Homosexuality to be precise. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because man lay with man.
And yet…reading through the Bible this time, with no agenda, trying to strip away what I think I know and actually read it as it is… I don’t see that same interpretation available to me.
Now. Before I get into what I see when I read this story now, let me be very clear. Until about ten years ago I believed, strongly, that homosexuality was wrong. That “gay marriage” would bring about the destruction of America and that homosexuals should be…discreet. Then I stopped attending the Southern Baptist church I had been a member of for the previous ten years and drifted on my own for awhile before I began attending a Lutheran church with a friend. Since I left the Southern Baptist church I have not read the Bible on my own, nor have I taught the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, even when I continued teaching in a Christian school.
My current context is…different. About three years ago I admitted for the first time that I am bisexual. I know strongly identify as a member of the LGBT community, I cheered when marriage equality passed and very much enjoy my relationships with women as well as men.
And so I went into reading this story…apprehensive. I wasn’t sure how I would feel reading this story that has always been an example of what God will bring upon communities that allow homosexuality.
I was quite surprised to find that nowhere in the story do I find homosexuality.
The story opens with the angels of the Lord arriving in Sodom to look for righteousness “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah [was] great and their sin [was] very grave,” and God had promised Abraham that he would not destroy the city of Sodom if ten righteous men could be found. (Gen 18:20b, 18:32b)
Lot calls the angels into his home to wash their feet, rest, and then continue on in the morning, but the angels say they will sleep in the town square. I assume this is to better test the righteousness of the people of Sodom, but that is not stated in the text. The men eat, and then, “before they lay down…all the people to the last man,” come to the house and call to him to bring the angels out so they “may know them.” Biblically speaking, to “know” someone, is to have sex with them. Lot offers instead his two virgin daughters, but the townsmen violently reject his offer and demand that he send the men out. (Gen 19:2-8).
The angels of the Lord rescue Lot and tell him that they will destroy Sodom and thus he should leave, and the rest of the story reads exactly as I remember it (Lot and his wife and daughters leave, Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and is turned to a pillar of salt, and then Lot and his daughters live in a cave.)
Upon rereading this story, coming to it not wanting it to mean anything in particular, I don’t see it as a sign of what will happen to a country that allows homosexuality to flourish. I don’t see homosexuality anywhere in this story. The attempt by the people of Sodom isn’t an attempt at consensual sex, and therefore is not homosexuality. Rather, what I see, is inhospitability. Look here, at this line that stuck out to me as I read, “Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (Gen 19:8b) It’s not “Do not lay with these men” nor is it a condemnation of man lying with man. It is instead “Do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” It is, by the virtue of having brought them into his home, Lot’s duty to protect and shelter these men, and the people of Sodom would harm them. Yes, through sex “that we may know them” makes that clear, but that doesn’t make the story of Sodom an indictment against homosexuality, rather one against mistreatment of the strangers among you.
In the interest of openness: As I thought about this, and went looking for extra-biblical evidence to either back me up or prove me wrong, I stumbled across this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-patrick-s-cheng-phd/what-was-the-real-sin-of_b_543996.html which is essentially a shorter and less rambling article that states what I found in this reading.