Sodomy or the Sin of Sodom

So I read THIS article in the LA Times, it was reported elsewhere as well, that the Alabama Supreme Court effectively ended any potential challenges to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in the State of Alabama. However, that is not what this post is about.  This is about a specific comment made by Chief Justice Roy Moore in his opinion on the case. The Times article notes that Moore wrote “Sodomy has never been and never will be an act by which a marriage can be consummated.” I have to quote from there because I cannot find the original decision. Now, I find this interesting because it shows how individuals pick up on words that are attributed to some writing, in this case the Bible and the Book of Genesis in particular, and we use them in a way that is completely different from the original context. So, what does “sodomy” mean or what is the Sin of Sodom?

The traditional definition of sodomy is seen in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary and reads “Historically, the English term sodomy (derived from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen. 18-19) has referred to any kind of nonprocreative sexual act, although it is usually applied to homosexuality. (Citation) However, most modern commentaries do not agree with this assessment of what was sinful about Sodom. The current religious and legal definition of “sodomy” is likely rooted in Jude 1:5-7 that reads “Now I desire to remind you, though you were once for all fully informed, that he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomor′rah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”  However, modern commentators on the text are generally against the idea that the Sin of Sodom was some kind of deviant sexual behavior. 

The modern view is that the Sin of Sodom was the lack of hospitality for one’s neighbor or visitors. Terence E. Fretheim, writing in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary published in 1994, writes “This text (assigned to J [for definition of J, see Four-Source Hypothesis for the Torah]) is the most frequently cited Genesis passage in the rest of the Bible. Sodom and Gomorrah become a conventional image for heinous sins and severe disaster. Apparently these cities symbolize the worst that can be imagined. The nature of Sodom’s sins may vary, but the mistreatment of other human beings tops the list;  inhospitality lends itself to diverse development [emphasis mine] (Jer 23:14). Later texts recall Sodom’s judgment, even its specific form (see Ps 11:6Ezek 38:22Rev 21:8).” (Citation, subscription only. The quote is from Vol. 1 of the NIB) Fretheim goes on to write “So 19:1-11 develops an illustration of Sodom’s character; in view of this, readers should have little difficulty agreeing with the verdict—even Lot comes off as one whose righteous behavior we might question. The author develops this illustration in relationship to 18:1-15. Both chapters share the basic thematic link of hospitality, which should not be narrowly conceived, as if it were a matter of putting out a welcome mat. Hospitality involves a wide-ranging image, revealing fundamental relationships of well-being for individuals and society. Abraham shows hospitality in exemplary fashion. Lot follows suit to some extent, but he fails at a key juncture. The people of Sodom show no sign of what hospitality entails at all.” So, he clearly notes that the sin of sodom is not deviant sexual activity but that it is the lack of hospitality. This opinion is noted elsewhere as well.

Even if we go deeper into the text, as Fretheim does, the Biblical explanation still does not match Moore’s usage of the word as it is commonly used today. He writes “The author makes the depth of Sodom’s inhospitality immediately evident. Verse 4 (cf. v. 11) shows that every man (!) in the city was caught up in this threat of violence through homosexual activity (they even threaten Lot himself, v. 9). If the assault had succeeded, the result could only be described as gang rape, not a private act…Lot’s reply (v. 8) borders on the incredible. Interestingly, he thinks that the men of Sodom would be satisfied with heterosexual abuse…Threatened sexual abuse and violence, both homosexual and heterosexual, constitutes sufficient evidence to move forward with judgment.” This would define the deviant sexual behavior as abuse/rape. Certainly this is something we still view as criminal today. What this passage does not mention is sexual relations taking place in committed, married relationships. Now, this does not necessarily change the validity of Moore’s argument. Homosexual relations might well be a sin. I do not agree with that definition and the reasoning for that is partially spelled out in my seven part series on Theology of Inclusion, but not fully spelled out in writing. However, if we read the text that we have, we see clearly that consensual sexual relations, whether they diverge from the “standard” or not, is not the topic of this passage. No, this passage is about hospitality and abuse. The Sin of Sodom is not two men who choose to have a sexual relationship. The Sin of Sodom is when someone decides to be inhospitable and throw the lesbian couple out of Jesus Christ’s church.