Nothing like an all-destructive act of divine carpet bombing to kindle the holiday spirit. I actually debated putting off the conversation to a less celebratory time, but time, it seems, is the one luxury which we currently lack. You see, it turns out (so I’m told, by people who really seem to know what they’re talking about) that God destroys societies that embrace and normalize homosexual relationships. Since we appear to be on the brink, as a civilization, of making precisely that mistake, I figured better safe than Sodom. So, let’s get to brass tacks: why did God destroy the cities on the plains, and what might it all portend for a society (ours) where the gay agenda is spreading and taking root like a crop of rainbow dandelions?
We’ll begin with a few caveats.
First, there are strong reasons for believing that the written stories in the Old Testament are highly revised versions of patchwork oral traditions that were passed down for many, many generations in multiple forms – stories reworked (very possibly during the times of ancient Israel’s apostasy) to convey morals and lessons about the legendary patriarchs and God’s dealings with them as well as to explain the state of affairs contemporary to the stories’ writing, bearing at best a distant and superficial relation to what we would call actual, factual history. The notion of accurate, objective history, reconstructed with clinical, scientific precision, is a modern idea. The compilers, redactors, writers, and editors who put together what we now call the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament seem to have been far more concerned with the literary effect of the texts they put together than whether or not they were taken by their readers as just-the-facts, textbook style history.
I would also hesitate to draw sweeping conclusions from this or any single OT story about God’s character or His past, present, or future relations with His human creations if only for the reason that the God portrayed therein (in particular the stories of late Exodus and Numbers) is not only vengeful and warlike but positively genocidal. The ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate and bloody slaughter (and, occasionally, rape and/or enslavement) visited on village after village, ostensibly at the Lord’s behest (and for no other reason than the inhabitants happen to live in a place promised to Abraham, who, it should be noted, was himself quite content to share the land with outsiders) is shocking beyond description, and reflects a highly problematic understanding of the character of God that, I think, we categorically reject based upon better and fuller subsequent treatments of the subject (the writings of the OT prophets, the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, and the teachings of modern Church leaders).
Still, even if it is to be argued that we can learn something about God’s relationship with humanity from the Genesis 18, there is simply no scriptural evidence that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their tolerance or acceptance of homosexual relationships.
The story is prefaced by the Lord’s statement to Abraham:
Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him? For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right, in order that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what He has promised (Gen. 18:7-9).
Though this is not the first time God has made promises to Abraham in the account, it is the first time that God’s promises have been made conditional on Abraham’s righteousness (or that of his posterity). This is a subtle but forceful critique of the fact that in the previous scene, Abraham and Sarah both expressed disbelief that the Lord would live up to His promises of fertility. Abraham’s earlier belief had been “accounted unto him for righteousness.” But what now? The Lord promised Abraham limitless offspring, followed by a demand that Abraham surrender a (painful) token of his procreative organ (through circumcision), in an act of reproductive submission to the Lord. Followed by more barrenness and prolonged descent into old age. Will Abraham’s evident lack of trust possibly thwart the fulfillment of the promised posterity? This statement is the first, implicitly threatening, indication that it might.
Abraham’s response is brazen and audacious. The Lord stands poised to destroy thousands as a demonstration of His power over life and death. Abraham “came forward” (as opposed to cowering or standing back) and with sarcastic flattery addresses the Lord’s introduction of righteousness as a condition for the promised blessings of posterity:
Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty: What if there should be 50 innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent 50 who are in it? Far be it from You [here Abraham’s hyper-politeness verges on insubordination] to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty…. Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? (Gen. 18:23-25)
Abraham still resents the heretofore broken promise of fertility, and shows blatant contempt for what seems like the Lord’s last minute introduction of conditions that will enable Him to go back on His promises. He appears to be accusing the Lord of manufacturing for Himself a loophole in the contract. It’s as if he’s saying, “Oh Great and Just One – you say you will bless me, but when it comes down to it, will you, really? And when you don’t, won’t your excuse be some imagined, technical defect in my righteousness?” Abraham is calling God to task, and in the ensuing action demonstrates that God will not stand for it. He will demonstrate His unwillingness to abide such faithless defiance.
From there Abraham accompanies “the men” – the Lord is now described as two men (JST makes the headcount of divine visitors three) and the narrative is decidedly vague as to the nature of the relationship – to Sodom. The three will call on Lot in Sodom as three earlier visitors had called on Abraham. And they are met with equal hospitality. After evening falls, the scene sours, as the cities inhabitants – “to the last man” (an allusion to the earlier bargaining scene) – show up and demand that Lot turn over the visitors, “that we may know them.” That the men are not homosexuals is evidenced by Lots attempt to appease them by offering his daughters – a gesture for which he will later pay in spades (the JST here indemnifies Lot by having the men demand his daughters at the outset). The threatened gang-rape could not stand in starker contrast to the hospitality extended the visitors by Lot. The would-be rapists advance their aggression by attempting to break down the door. The Lord (men) strikes them blind, and, later, utterly destroys their city.
This is not meant to argue that the Bible is neutral on the question of homosexuality. Indeed, it would require a ridiculous, contrived political correctness to pretend that, for example, the God of the book of Leviticus is indifferent to homosexual relations (at least of the male/male variety). But that is not the point of this particular story. The men of Sodom have demanded access to God’s genitals just as God has, through the circumcision pact, demanded access to Abraham’s. They have arrogated to themselves an authority over reproductive autonomy that belongs only to the Lord. What counts in this episode is not the difference between same-sex and opposite-sex relations, but the difference between God and man.
Control over human sexual autonomy has from the beginning been an overriding concern for God. He created man, in His image, and commanded him to create. Control over the enactment of that command, the circumscribing of Godly power in the hands of human agents, dominates the early narratives of Genesis. But here, in Sodom, human sexual autonomy actually directly threatens God’s power over human reproductive capacity, manifested in the form of a violent sexual attack directed at God (or God’s representatives). God forcefully reclaims a power that humans sought aggressively to seize; and while Abraham watches in stunned horror, his penis is still healing from the wound of his recent circumcision. His genital submission could not be more pointedly unlike the genital aggression of the men of Sodom, and he has learned that his total submission and fealty to the Lord is a necessary precondition to the promise of offspring. God’s demonstration of power is both frightening but also, for Abraham, reassuring. Surely a being with such unmatched power over death also has the power to fulfill his promises of life.
Nowhere in the scriptures do we find homosexuality as an explanation for the destruction of Sodom. The reasons are only explicitly addressed once, in Ezekiel 16:49-50:
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness 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.
Homosexuality could fall under the broad category of “abomination,” but so could many things. Jewish and Midrashic traditions hold that the sin of Sodom was a lack of hospitality, a pointed euphemism for the threatened gang-rape. They were a society saturated with wickedness, and their attempted maltreatment of the heavenly visitor(s) was barely the tip of the iceberg. The vision of a city inhabited solely by gay men, willfully and brazenly rebelling against God, is a modern fiction forcibly and awkwardly read into a very different narrative. It was an interpretation that was alive and well during Joseph Smith’s time, yet the only comment he ever made on the fate of Sodom was that it came as a result of their “rejection of the prophets.” It should also be noted that at no point in the scriptural account leading up to the Sodom story has God ever prohibited homosexual relations. The first recorded such prohibition comes in the book of Leviticus, so there is no textual evidence that homosexuality would constitute a “rejection of the prophets.”
Again, none of this is meant as an argument that homosexuality is not described in the Bible a sin, just an argument against viewing it as a kind of super-sin, capable by itself of sparking the destructive rage of a capricious and angry God or of single-handedly bringing down an entire civilization. And, regardless of any wider lessons about homosexuality we might wish to draw from the Bible, the fact remains that the argument that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because the inhabitants tolerated or accepted or participated in homosexual relationships is not remotely consistent with the Biblical account.