Was the Sin of Sodom Multi-Level Marketing?

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It has only happened to me once, but it was devastating. I was invited to the home of someone I liked and respected. It was going to be a small gathering—just a few close friends—and I was honored to have made the cut. Against all of my better judgment, I even bought new clothes.

And it was lovely for a while. Good food. Good people. Interesting conversation. And then came the sales pitch. It began with the standard opening moves: What if you didn’t have to work full time to earn a living? What could you do for your family with gobs of extra money? Wouldn’t it be great to work for yourself? It was all on a video with through-the-roof production values.

And there were circles. I never did quite get the circles. But apparently, all of the rich people are in the big circles. And from what I could tell, we were all being asked to join one of the little ones. The big circles would come later, after we had done whatever it is the people in the little circles are supposed to do.

I was crushed. All of a sudden I was not a person with intrinsic value; I was a customer—and a potential circle dweller. What I had perceived as a human relationship had melted away, and in its place sat a commercial transaction. It was a very bad evening.

I think of this experience whenever I hear discussions about “the sin of Sodom,” as described in Genesis 19:

Before they had lain down to sleep, the men of Sodom, both young and old, everyone without exception, surrounded the house. They called to Lot: ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may have intercourse with them.’ Lot went out into the doorway to them, and, closing the door behind him, said, ‘No, my friends, do not do anything so wicked. Look, I have two daughters, virgins both of them; let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But do nothing to these men, because they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ (Genesis 19:4-8, REB)

For a gazillion years or so, these verses have been used to define homosexuality as “the Sin of Sodom,” since the men of Sodom wanted to have sex with other men (angels, really, but they thought they were other men). This is why homosexuality has been referred to as “sodomy” for most of Western history. But this common interpretation doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

In the first place, there are a lot of things going on here beyond someone acting on a same-gender attraction. The men of Sodom are using force to attack a household and commit rape. And then there is that whole thing with Lot offering up his young daughters to the mob. Arguably, both actions—forcible rape and pandering one’s own children—could be considered worse than a consensual homosexual relationship—and therefore, a more likely candidate for Sodom’s great sin.

Many modern commentators have argued that the real sin of Sodom was a sort of extreme inhospitality. According to this argument, the culture of the Ancient Near East was built on a sacred bond between a guest and a host—a bond that required a host to protect his guest at any cost—even to the detriment of his own family. In this reading of the story, Lot’s actions take on a heroic quality: he is willing to sacrifice his own children in order to fulfil his sacred duty to protect his guests.

But here’s a thought: what if the great sin of Sodom was the inability to see other people as intrinsically valuable and to see them instead as tools of personal gratification? The men of Sodom did not care who Lot’s guests were—men or angels—for they did not consider them individuals at all. They were merely instruments that could satisfy desires. Beneath the radical inhospitality of the men of Sodom lay a radical selfishness that made genuine human connection impossible. Under such a worldview, the only way to view other people is as extensions of our own desire for comfort and pleasure.

There has been no shortage of this kind of thinking since the days of Sodom. With some justice, it could be considered the root of human evil. Viewing other people instrumentally is at the heart of much of what has gone wrong in human history: slavery and war, colonialism and commercialism, gender inequality and racial prejudice—and in far too many cases, the preaching of gospels. The worldview of Sodom crops up in every culture we have ever observed in every epoch of human history.

The one place that this worldview cannot exist is called Zion. The Kingdom of God must be built by human beings having human relationships with each other. The only people who can build Zion are those who know how to see other people as God sees them—as imperfect, wonderful, complicated, broken, amazing, and divine individuals worthy of love and respect for who they are and not for what they do.

Elsewhere in the Bible, the prophet Ezekiel defines the sin of Sodom as having “the pride that goes with food in plenty, comfort, and ease, yet she never helped the poor in their need” (Ezekiel 16:49, REB). This goes hand in hand with what I am arguing here. From a purely transactional world view, the poor are those who can do nothing for us. They require our attention and our resources, but they cannot satisfy any of our desires.

Unless our desire is to be like Christ, to consecrate our lives to the cause of Zion, or to build the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God, from everything I have heard, will not have any circles.

Comments

  1. By similar logic, Grug Hughes and his gang of six are committing the sin of Sodom by ensuring that Medicaid coverage in Utah will never expand under the banner of “Obamacare” while pretending to have good intentions. If that isn’t extreme inhospitality I don’t know what is.

    Good thing we think of ourselves as righteous by default. Heaven know what would happen if we had a modicum of introspection.

  2. I was hoping you would bring Ezekiel into the story. I never let a good discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah pass without adding it in. It’s a passage full of “sins” that we should all memorize and fight against in our own lives, in my opinion.

  3. That moment when you find out your hosts are the subjects of overlapping majesteria.

  4. Every member a multilevel marketer.

  5. “And then there is that whole thing with Lot offering up his young daughters to the mob. Arguably, both actions—forcible rape and pandering one’s own children—could be considered worse than a consensual homosexual relationship—and therefore, a more likely candidate for Sodom’s great sin.”

    Sodom was destroyed because Lot pandered his daughters?

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    My wife and I had a sneak MLM attack dinner like that when we were at BYU lo these many years ago. I share your feelings about the experience.

  7. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    Thank you, Michael, for creating an alternative (and eminently more deserving) class of people we may call sodomites.

  8. The Other Clark says:

    This is something to think deeply on, as I’ve been turning Moses 7:18 over in my head this week. “And they dwelt in righteousness, and there were no poor among them.” I’ve been thinking about it because of a certain General Conference speaker, who–along with his non-word–shall remain unnamed.

  9. romanticmind says:

    I had an upsetting interaction with a Mary Kay sales lady a few years ago who most definitely saw me as a little person in a little circle that would help her get to a bigger circle. Though I am opposed to judging others, I am sorely tempted to follow Dr_Doctorstein’s example and call her a sodomite.

  10. Note the JST for this section:

    JST, Genesis 19:9–15.

    9 And they said unto him, Stand back. And they were angry with him.

    10 And they said among themselves, This one man came in to sojourn among us, and he will needs now make himself to be a judge; now we will deal worse with him than with them.

    11 Wherefore they said unto the man, We will have the men, and thy daughters also; and we will do with them as seemeth us good. 12 Now this was after the wickedness of Sodom. 13 And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes;

    14 For God will not justify his servant in this thing; wherefore, let me plead with my brethren, this once only, that unto these men ye do nothing, that they may have peace in my house; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

    15 And they were angry with Lot and came near to break the door, but the angels of God, which were holy men, put forth their hand and pulled Lot into the house unto them, and shut the door.

  11. I assume sodom must have had the gospel in order to be so condemned. Perhaps the risk that a gospel based multilevel marketing scheme was too dangerous to risk spreading.

  12. JST FTW!

  13. But yeah, the sin of Sodom I think is what the OP said (which would obviously include rape of any kind).

  14. Wow!

  15. The sexual interpretation isn’t at odds with the hospitality interpretation; it’s part of it.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/benjaminthescribe/2014/02/lesson-08-genesis-13-141-2-8-24-1816-33-191-29/

    I do like taking shots at MLMs.

  16. Oh, and this is also a great expansion/application of the Master Mahan principle out of the Book of Moses, which is how you convert people into money.

  17. Good connections, Ben.

  18. Lot did NOT offer up his daughers, see the JST for crying out loud

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    Back when the old scripture-l e-mail list existed (remember e-mail lists?) I engaged in a lengthy debate with another list member (an excellent Mormon scholar) on whether the word “know” here countenanced the possibility of male rape. I took the position it did; he took the position it did not. By wanting to “know” the men, they just wanted to get to know these strangers to their city as a means of being proactive in defending the city from unknown outsiders. We both agreed about the hospitality context, but we disagreed on this detail, and neither of us ever succeeded in convincing the other. I continue to believe that “know” here is used in its occasional OT euphemistic sense for sexual relations.

  20. There is a difference between won’t and shouldn’t. Crossing the line of civility isn’t a dare.
    I’ve been tricked into meeting with MLM-ers a couple of times, either by outright lies or crafty dissimulation. Either way, I’ve walked out on ’em all, leaving some sitting in restaurants (their favorite trapping place since ‘nobody walks out of a restaurant’).
    When someone’s love of money becomes so important that they are willing to deceive their own friends and family — and, yes, it is deceit — you should leave.
    Every so often, the dreaded MLM warning is read from the pulpit. It is dealing mostly with the Satanic Landmark and their ilk, but it also covers any git-rich scheme.
    “Wo unto them that love and tell the lie…”

  21. @BigMG how were you deceived?

  22. Intercourse “late Middle English (denoting communication or dealings): from Old French entrecours ‘exchange, commerce,’ from Latin intercursus, from intercurrere ‘intervene,’ from inter- ‘between’ + currere ‘run.’ The specifically sexual use arose in the late 18th century.”

  23. Connell O'Donovan says:

    “Arguably, both actions—forcible rape and pandering one’s own children—could be considered worse than a consensual homosexual relationship.” ARGUABLY and COULD?!! Are you f***ing kidding me?? You’re seriously comparing gang rape and rape with parental consent with Gay relationships that hurt no one??

  24. RockiesGma says:

    Jen, yes, intercourse means communications or dealings; thus, sexual intercourse means communication and dealings specific to and confined by sex. Business intercourse is specific to business. Family intercourse to communications and dealings within the family. Having been to the Amish hamlet of Intercourse, PA many times I’ve been taught these things by the locals who grow weary of the general public “always having their minds on sexual intercourse alone”. I learned a lot from those in a plain and simple place.

  25. Connell O'Donovan says:

    The sin of Sodom is treating Lesbians and Gays the way the LDS Church has for the past 50 years.

  26. How Kantian

  27. Clark Goble says:

    While I have grave problems with MLM as a business plan for even good products, I’m not sure I’d apply these scriptures to them.

  28. MLM is a mild symptom, perhaps an early form of light rash for what is being described in the story. If the greatest commandment is ‘Love God’ and the second is ‘love thy neighbor’ and both revolve around charity (the greatest of the virtues), then the story is illustrating the exact opposite of those two things. It’s about a godless and predatory treatment of one’s neighbor, guest, etc.

    MLM is sometimes naively and annoyingly used by members, but there are greater snakes among us engaged in affinity fraud (scamming saints for their entire livelihoods). You can add to this list queen-bee-ism, cliques, and in my opinion- those who hail “provident living” above charity and treat poverty as a spiritual defect and wealth as God’s blessing for righteous living.

  29. Let us not forget the role of Goji juice in the murder of the prophet Bill Henrickson.

  30. The medieval Book of Jasher covers a lot more information on the sins of Sodom. Beggars would come to town, and the people would give them gold, but refuse to sell them any food. The entire community would watch the beggars starve to death, all while clutching a purse of gold. After the beggars died, the people would go recover their gold. The details are given of one young girl who took pity on a man and fed him on the sly – the residents of Sodom got angry when the man didn’t starve to death, watched him, and then staked the young girl to an anthill.

    Seems like today’s MLM predators do just the same thing – hand over riches of laundry soap and nutritional snake oil, but with no means to ever buy food.

    Fortunately, it’s been a while since anyone was dumb enough to approach me with the line “I’ve got a business plan I’d like you to have a look at.” I’d firmly recommend against anyone going into a line of work where less than 1% of the participants ever break even.

  31. Michael so glad you pointed this out. Many people scoff when I bring up the book of Jasher because it is an apocryphal text. Amazingly they see D and C 91:1 as negative toward it instead of reading that “There are many things contained therein that are true,”. Amen to your comments.