Perspectives on Lesson 8 of Gospel Doctrine, Scheduled for February 16
by Duane Andersen and Robert A. Rees
Note: This is the second in a series of articles that will directly address upcoming 2014 Church curriculum lesson material that could unnecessarily lead to editorializing on homosexuality and same-sex marriage and be hurtful to members of our community. We recommend you prayerfully consider how you might share this article with others. Additional ideas are included at the links below.
» Ideas for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 8 on Sodom and Gomorrah (coming up this Sunday)
» Gospel Doctrine Class: Creating a Nourishing Environment (experiences by Judy Finch)
» Letter sample for teachers or church leaders, specifically addressing Lesson 8 (by Gina Crivello)
We know from modern revelation that the Bible has often been misinterpreted. Sometimes this is because misinterpretations are passed on from generation to generation. At other times it is because a lack of historical, cultural or scriptural evidence prevents us from making a definitive interpretation. It is therefore important as we study the Bible to understand that some scriptural interpretations accepted as true are actually a result of centuries and even millennia of ideas and traditions that have persisted in spite of what the scriptures actually say. One of the best example of this are the traditions surrounding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Many Christians, including many Mormons, believe that these ancient cities were destroyed because of the practice of homosexuality, and this bias is reflected in some of the study aids and footnotes provided with the LDS edition of the scriptures. However, not only is this point of view not supported in the scriptural texts themselves, it is actually contradicted by scripture.
The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is found in Genesis 18 and 19. Three strangers (seen variously as angels or prophets) visit Abraham before going on to Sodom and Gomorrah, telling him that God will destroy these cities because their “sin is very grievous.” Abraham famously negotiates with the visitors, hoping to save the cities from destruction. It is finally agreed that if Abraham can find ten righteous people in the cities, God will spare them.
When the three men arrive in Sodom and Gomorrah, they are greeted hospitably and given shelter by Abraham’s nephew, Lot. A group of ostensibly heterosexual men from the city try to break into Lot’s house with the objective of sexually assaulting the strangers—treating them “like women” and thus challenging their masculinity. Such inhospitable treatment of strangers was considered a grave social transgression in ancient Israel. When Lot refuses and the aggressors attempt to break into his house to brutalize his guests, his visitors blind them and tell Lot to take his family and leave the city. Once Lot and his daughters are safely outside the city, it is destroyed by fire.
Traditionally, readers of the bible have interpreted this episode as having to do with homosexuality, but homosexuality is never mentioned in this account. In fact, other biblical scriptures make clear what the transgressions of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were and why the Lord considered them serious enough to warrant the cities’ destruction. In Ezekiel 16, for example, the Lord threatens to destroy Jerusalem, suggesting that the sins of its inhabitants are worse than those of Sodom: “As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.” (Ez 16:48-50)
Thus, according to what the Lord tells Ezekiel, Sodom was destroyed because of pride and neglect of the poor. This accusation is reinforced by the prophet Isaiah, who adds the sin of blasphemy to the others: “The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves…. The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.” (3:9, 14-5). Again, Sodom’s sins are blasphemy, plundering, and persecuting the poor, not homosexual behavior.
The book of Jude in the New Testament adds one more sin to the catalog of transgressions of these ancient cities. Speaking of the Israelites, Jude says, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (1:7) It is important to note that the sexual immorality and perversion here are not specified as either hetero- or homosexual in nature.
It is important to remember that Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of many transgressions; nevertheless, in response to Abraham’s plea for mercy, God was willing to save them if ten righteous inhabitants could be found therein. In other words, both the great prophet Abraham and God himself were willing to save the city unless it was proven to be totally depraved, which it was. That depravity, as we have seen was a result of multiple sins, none of which is identified explicitly as homosexual.