Wiley Bennett, pastor of Woodland Hill Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, welcomed Katrina evacuees into his community with these words on the message sign in front of his church: “The Big Easy is the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.”
It is standard practice to call up the image of the biblical city of Sodom as the epitome of evil. Wherever loose living goes on parade, the image of Sodom is invoked.
The story is well known. Angels of the Lord find their way to the city and are taken under the roof of Lot, the nephew of the biblical patriarch Abraham. A mob soon gathers at Lot’s door demanding that he produce his house guests so that the men of Sodom “may know them.”
Nearly everyone agrees that what the men of Sodom had in mind was homosexual rape. Lot refuses, the angels strike the mob blind, and soon thereafter fire and brimstone rain down from heaven and the city of Sodom is gone forever.
Many Bible interpreters believe that what really got God going was the homosexual element in the story. After all homosexual practices are called an “abomination,” in the book of Leviticus. But then, so is eating shrimp, so we have to wonder how far does an abomination go?
One way to answer that question is to observe how large the homosexual issue seems to be in the rest of the Bible. For instance, Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexual practices at all.
The Apostle Paul deals with it in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans. However, as soon as he makes his case he immediately concludes in the very next chapter that those who condemn such practices are really guilty of the same thing. Interestingly enough, Paul does not invoke Sodom at all.
Sodom is mentioned 26 times in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament combined. I’ll leave it to the concordance crowd to look up all the references, but when they do this is what they will find.
A few of the references are purely geographical. The ones that are theological clearly regard Sodom as a place of particular wickedness. But even when the emphasis is on Sodom’s shortcomings the homosexual element is not mentioned. Only the Epistle of Jude mentions sex at all in reference to Sodom.
In fact, the only real detailed accounting of Sodom’s sins comes from the prophetic traditions of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel. For Jeremiah, the sin that brought the wrath of God down on Sodom was the worship of other gods—idolatry. For Isaiah the failure that tipped God’s hand was oppression of the weak and vulnerable. Ezekiel continues this theme by accusing Sodom of having too much wealth and not enough concern for the poor.
So, Bennett may be right. The tragedy of the Big Easy may indeed represent a sort of modern day Sodom. There was certainly wealth and comfort jammed along side poverty and misery.
Although why single out New Orleans? There are many places where there is great disparity between the haves and the have-nots. And if we bring third world countries into the comparison, the whole of America might qualify for a Sodom-like condemnation.
Of course, it appears to me, at least since the appearance of Jesus, that God is more interested in forgiving our sins than in beating us up because of them. Besides, if God wiped out all the sinners, who would be left to take up the offering?
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.