They were outsiders. It was easy to tell – the way they dressed, the way they acted. Strangers.
And the men of Sodom didn’t like it.
* * *
“After all, who knows what strangers might be up to, with all their outsider ideas, strange customs, and so forth. Who knows, they might even be criminals, fugitives, coming here to do us harm.
“We have to do something. We need to gather up the men and boys, and let these strangers know who is in charge around here, who has the power. And even if they stay at Lot’s house, that won’t matter, because Lot is an outsider himself. He’s lived here for a few years, but he isn’t from here, if you know what I mean.
“Yes, you’d best gather the men and boys together, so we can give these strangers a taste of what they might have thought about doing to our women and girls. That will show them what’s what, in a way they will never forget.”
* * *
I don’t know if that is what the men of Sodom might have thought when the two angels visited their town one night. It is clear from the story in Genesis 19 that when the strangers came into town, Lot offered them the protection of his home, insisting that they come with him even when the two strangers said that they would spend the night in the town square. With the hindsight that comes with knowing how the story unfolded, it is easy for me to believe that Lot knew enough about the town in which he was living to fear for the safety of the strangers who had entered the town.
Of course, we know that Lot’s worst fears came to pass, when the men of the town came to his house, and demanded that he turn over the strangers so they could be, in plain terms, gang raped by the men of the town.
The next verses of the story are perhaps the most disturbing of all, when Lot confronts the men, and says “My brothers, don’t do such an evil thing. I’ve got two daughters who are virgins. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them whatever you wish. But don’t do anything to these men because they are now under the protection of my roof.” (Genesis 19:7-8)
By this time, even the most insensitive reader will realize that on this night, thick with impending violence, there were no good options for Lot. And while offering his two daughters to protect the strangers is abhorrent to us, it says something about how important the obligations were when one offered hospitality.
Lot’s status as an outsider is confirmed in the next verse: “They said, ‘Get out of the way!’ And they continued, ‘Does this immigrant want to judge us? Now we will hurt you more than we will hurt them.” (Genesis 19:9)
Of course, the story ends “well.” The gang rape does not take place. Lot’s virgin daughters are unharmed. The strangers, who are actually angels, use their power to blind the men near the house, so that the immediate crisis is past.
In case my telling of this terrible story hasn’t made it clear, this is not a story about homosexuality, in any sense of the term. And to use this story to condemn homosexuality in any form, as we know it today, is to completely misread the story to justify our bigotry against LGBT persons.
In the rest of the Bible, Sodom is often used as a symbol of complete wickedness, and it is easy for us to project our (often anti-LGBT) biases into what we think the Bible is upset about.
But it isn’t about sex. It is about violence, injustice, cruelty. Ezekiel, one of the major prophets, says “This is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud, had plenty to eat, and enjoyed peace and prosperity; but she didn’t help the poor and the needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)
As I said in an earlier post, I wish it were possible to remove the Bible from the current discussions of homosexuality. Perhaps the story of Sodom is one of the most flagrant examples of misusing the Bible to justify bigotry. There is more to be said about the story, of course, but this should help to provide a framework for understanding it, and I’ll be happy to address any questions in the comments to this post.
“Wait,” some of you might be saying. “What about the other parts of the Bible in which it is clear that homosexuality is wrong? What about the NEW Testament, some of you might be saying. That’s where we will go next. More to come.