The Bible has quite a few stories that would merit at least a PG-13 rating if told carefully but are really quite graphic, filled with sex and violence. We Americans are funny in our aversion to sex but acceptance of violence. That may be part of the reason why the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) strikes us as primarily about sex and not about violence. Perhaps if we were to take out the “ick factor” of homosexuality from the story we could better see the moral of the story.
Thankfully (OK, so it is not something to be thankful about) there is another story in the Bible that parallels this one. In it an unnamed Levite chases his concubine to her father’s house after she leaves him (wife beater you think?) and eventually convinces her to return with him but they start the journey too late in the day and are forced to stop in the town square in Gibeah awaiting hospitality. After a long wait, only one resident offers them a room. It is then that the townsfolk come with evil intent and the Levite offers up his concubine to them. The next morning one of the most heartless scenes imaginable is played out, the Levite finds her on the doorstep, just inches from safety, having been gang raped within an inch of her life. Coldly he tells her to get up so they may go home…where he cuts her into pieces! Don’t believe me that a story of such brutal violence is in scripture? It starts in Judges chapter 19.
Scholars may disagree about the meaning of the tale, but most would agree that it is being told much later as a way of justifying the slaughter of the tribe of Benjamin in the civil war that is described in subsequent chapters. The argument being that a tribe that had so forgotten the call to hospitality that it had deteriorated into mob violence surely deserved their fate. The readers would have heard echoes of the inhospitable town of Sodom, which God had destroyed in the other ancient tale. And why do I think that the first story and this sequel are at the core about the sin of neglecting hospitality rather than perverted sexual practice or even the violence? Because that is apparently what the prophets and even Jesus thought.
Now this was the sin of Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. —Ezekiel 16:49-50
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. —Matthew 10:14-15
So if the real sin of Sodom was arrogance, gluttony, unconcern and inhospitability then who are the real Sodomites today? Could it be that we have become like the residents of Gibeah and Sodom, who had grown so deaf to God’s call to hospitality, indeed a call to making an extravagant welcome, that they were capable of the exact opposite? It is terribly ironic that when we exclude gays with the label “Sodomite” that we are, in fact, repeating the sin of Sodom. The story is told in exaggerated strokes to make the point clear that we are called to care for the stranger in our midst. Some may not be ready to offer full inclusion, but surely we all can at least stand against the on-going verbal and physical violence directed at the LGBT community, particularly since it is almost exclusively based on beliefs founded on religious convictions. This is an issue about which we should not be so quick to suppose that we know upon whom divine judgment will fall. Perhaps we have mislabeled the sodomites.