Will the real Sodomites please stand up?

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (John Martin, 1789-1854)

When the word “Sodomites” is used, in most cases it’s by some Christians addressing what they perceive as perverted sexual activity. In a lot of cases, the word is used for LGBTQ people in the sense that these Christians believe homosexuality is a sin and that “Sodomite” is an appropriate label for LGBTQ people.

In this blog post, which was influenced and inspired by a Dutch article that came out last month, I want to explore the question of who ancient and modern-day Sodomites are.

Before we dive into the text in Genesis 19, I want to point out that this specific Scripture has a parallel in Judges 19 in the city of Gibeah. I will be addressing elements of both passages below.

Are LGBTQ people Sodomites?

Let’s start with the stories. In both Genesis and Judges, we see men visiting a city that is not their home. In both cases, the residents of the city demand to have sex with the visitors. This activity is refused and instead women are offered by the hosts instead. In Genesis, the inhabitant Lot offers his daughters (v. 8), but no rape takes place as there is a divine intervention (v. 11). In Judges, the host offers his virgin daughter and his visitor’s concubine (v. 24), and in the end, the concubine gets raped (v. 25) so badly that she dies (v. 27).

Both of these are obviously tremendously shocking stories.

Where did the link between Sodomites and LGBTQ people start? The only likeness I can find between the inhabitants of both stories’ cities and gay men specifically is that they — as men — want to have sex with people of the same gender. That is the only point of similarity, but there are many points of dissimilarity that have a much bigger gravity.

Probably the reference in Jude 7, where there’s mention of sexual immorality and unnatural desire, played a role it in, but just looking at both stories makes it easy to see that the sexual immorality and unnatural desire has nothing to do with being LGBTQ.

Non-consensual. First of all, in both stories, the sexual activity desired is clearly non-consensual sex. The visitors enter the city, and the inhabitants want to rape them. Not a single of my LGBTQ friends, colleagues and acquaintances would acquit this behaviour.

Non-gender-focused. The Sodomites and the Gibeans at first aren’t interested in the virgins that are offered to them, but the fact that both hosts thought this might calm them down — and it does distract the Gibeans in the end — shows that same-sex intercourse is not a problem described in both stories.

Non-relational. When we think of dating or relating, having a mob outside your house that wants to get down with you, is probably as far from romance as you can possibly imagine. The audacity to compare the behaviour of the Sodomites and their Gibean likes to a romantic, LGBTQ relationship is not just silly; it’s insulting.

Non-exclusive. There is nothing exclusive about the sex that the inhabitants in both stories demand. The prospect of both visitors is not a “mere” rape experience as if that wouldn’t have been bad enough; the prospect is that of a gang rape, nothing less.

Non-equal. There is no equality between both parties in these “relationships.” Clearly, the natives of the city are in a position of power and they are planning to abuse that power. If the visitors in Sodom didn’t experience a divine intervention, they would have been oppressed through sexual perversion. In Gibeah, the concubine becomes the innocent victim of the city’s violence. Tragically, the whole episode was started by her having to flee from her husband, although it’s not entirely clear what the direct reason was. So even on the victim side of the story, there is no equality: women are the disposable goods.

In sum, not a single LGBTQ person I know would read either of these stories and say “that sums me up pretty good.” On the contrary, the sheer idea of suggesting that LGBTQ relationships can be compared with the atrocities described in both of these stories is appalling. It’s utterly disgusting and discriminatory to suggest that being LGBTQ equals being a power-hungry gang rapist.

To use these stories in an argument against homosexuality shows of very poor exegesis and a horrible misunderstanding of what being gay is.

So who the hell are these stories addressing then? Who are those modern-day Sodomites?

You racist, you xenophobe, you Sodomite!

It’s quite easy as a sex-obsessed, Western society to view the sexual perversion of Sodom and Gibeah as the biggest problem in the stories. But that’s not the case; the sexual perversion of the gang rapes are mere symptoms of a deeper problem — a hostility towards foreigners combined with a hunger for power.

In Middle-Eastern cultures, hospitality is considered one of the most important virtues. And it is specifically this virtuous behaviour towards foreigners that the Sodomites lack. Rather than welcoming the visitors in their midst, they want to rape them. Their lack of hospitality is perverted to such an extent that they abuse their power of being the land-owners, natives and majority to sexually assault their guests.

This lack of hospitality is affirmed by Jewish historian Josephus around 100 CE:

About this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth: they became unjust towards men, and impious towards God, insomuch that they did not call to mind the advantages they received from him: they hated strangers, and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices.

Antiquities 1.11.1 (my emphasis)

When Jesus sends his disciples out on a preaching tour (Matthew 10:5-15), it suddenly becomes a lot more logical that Jesus tells them to not waste time at places where they aren’t welcomed properly as they should (v. 14), and even goes as far as to link those cities’ fate to Sodom’s (v. 15).

Or when Paul talks about God wanting to be invited by people, even Gentiles (Romans 9:24-28), that he there brings in the comparison to God’s judgment at Sodom. In this case, God is both the visitor and the judge, who upon being rejected as the visitor resorts to judgment.

In Genesis, the story focuses on the people of Sodom not welcoming foreigners into their midst. The whole of the Mosaic law shows the value that God puts on welcoming and accommodating foreigners and refugees (see for example Leviticus 19:33-34).

But it doesn’t just end with being hospitable towards foreigners. The book of Judges is a collection of downward spirals in which the Israelites rebel against God, they are conquered by a neighbouring nation, and the saved by a “judge”. Every cycle of these three events is exceedingly less and less hopeful. By the end of the book, there’s not even a need for a foreign nation to invade them; the events in Gibeah result in a civil war.

In both cases, the perpetrators are violating their power and abusing the situation. Women are the ultimate victim in the stories as they are at the bottom of the power-chain in these patriarchal societies.

And that is exactly what Sodom and Gibeah are; places where the foreigner is met with hostility, and the powerless are exploited and abused.

With the white supremacist movements in the United States, but also the xenophobia in South Africa, and the internal hate between races, it’s not difficult to understand who modern-day Sodomites are.

While our planet is flooded by refugees who’ve had to abandon their culture, their people, their family and their homes, we see a growing hostility towards these people who arrive in our nations with nothing but the clothes on their bodies. While many in Europe, South Africa, and the United States may not resort to sexual exploitation — although those cases do exist — many of the refugees and foreigners have experienced hate, or even worse, hate-crimes and other forms of exploitation. We might want to reason away our guilt in those cases, but if Sodom and Gibeah are clear about one thing, it’s that not welcoming the foreigner and abusing our power is an atrocity.

Sodomites are those who go so far in rejecting the virtue of hospitality that they are willing to pervert something that in a good relationship can be a virtue — like sex. Ironically, “Christian” right-wing movements who oppose LGBTQ relationships are often the ones that are vehemently trying to preserve their own culture and nation from foreign influences. Those who protest against Sodomites are at heart protesting against themselves. They are the true Sodomites.