Since gay marriage has become legal in America, I’ve been hearing the rise of a familiar saying: “America is becoming more and more like Sodom and Gomorrah.” Whether from a pulpit, a megaphone, or a Facebook post, there is a growing sentiment that America is becoming more and more immoral, quickly bringing it under God’s judgment and wrath. And I agree. America is becoming more and more immoral like Sodom and Gomorrah, but not for the same reasons as the people shouting into their Facebook posts.
So what were the real reasons God punished Sodom, and how is America becoming like it? Our introduction to the history of Sodom is so shocking that we can quickly jump to conclusions as to why it received God’s punishment. God told Abraham that He was sending two angels to Sodom because “the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know” (Gen 18:20-21 NASB). While God was looking to judge the sins of the city, He was also looking for a few good people to spare it from His wrath; “The LORD said, ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.’” (Gen 18:26 NASB)
But when the angels arrive at Lot’s house in Sodom, “all the men from every part of the city of Sodom–both young and old–surrounded the house. They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them’” (Gen 19:4-5). Then the angels blinded the mob, helped Lot and his family flee the city, and Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with raining brimstone and fire. From this initial reading, it’s easy to assume that Sodom was destroyed because the men there were inflamed with homosexual desires.
But the men (young and old) weren’t trying to engage in any sort of consensual homosexual sex; they were trying to forcibly rape these foreigners in their city. Now raping anyone, man or women, is a terrible crime, but why did the men of Sodom want to rape these strangers? Was it because they couldn’t resist their homosexual urges?
God actually explains Sodom’s sin to the Israelites. As the nation of Israel grew, God warned them that they were becoming more and more like their “sister” Sodom…and even worse. In Ezekiel 16:48-50, God tells the Israelites, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. Now this was the sin of your sister 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.”
It appears that the men of Sodom wanted to rape the strangers not because they couldn’t resist their homosexual urges, but rather because the strangers were…foreigners. When Lot tries to protect the visiting angels in his home, the mob replies, “Get out of our way. This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them” (Gen 19:9). The mob’s contempt for Lot is because he is a foreigner to their city, and they even threaten to harm him worse than the two foreigners he’s hiding in his house.
Raping foreigners was an act of extreme violence in a culture where it was the victims who were punished for being raped by being shamed, beaten, whipped, imprisoned, and kicked out from other cities. Rape was ultimately a slow death sentence to the victims, and a message to the other nations. The message the people of Sodom seem to be making is: “This is our city and our wealth. You poor, needy, foreigners aren’t welcome here. And we’ll rape you if you try to come and take anything that is ours.” This sin was detestable to God, and He made Sodom and Gomorrah an example of His wrath.
So when I hear people saying that America is becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah, I completely agree. But I find it very ironic that the people usually saying this are pointing to the sin of homosexuality in America…all the while actively lobbying for legislation that refuses healthcare for the sick, resources for the poor, and aid to foreigners.
But what I am saying is that God did not destroy Sodom simply because of homosexuality. God punished Sodom and Gomorrah as a warning to nations that are “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned” and “do not help the poor and needy”…and even resort to the immorality and perversion of rape to oppress those in need (Jude 1:7).
Now I’m sure that there were gay people in Sodom and Gomorrah (just as there has been in every nation for all of history), but God never once says that He punished Sodom for the personal sins of the few. He does, however, declare His judgment on the public sins of the nation.
So, may America stop becoming more and more immoral like Sodom and Gomorrah. May we not be quick to “look at the speck of sawdust in our brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in our own eye” (Matthew 7:3). And may God find righteous people in our nation who obey God’s commands to “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner, or the poor.” (Zechariah 7:9-10).
Joel Varner has served in ministry for the past 15 years. He is a pastor in Albany, Oregon equipping and training missional community leaders. Joel works with his wife Brenna, of 13 years, and their two daughters. You can find him on Facebook.