Sodom and the sin of the Church

Is the church and America guilty of the sin of Sodom?

Wow! What a provocative question. Given the political culture in the USA right now, the mind automatically goes to issues like same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. But, that isn’t what I mean. Culturally, the church has latched onto what it finds most horrifying about Sodom and Gomorrah. But, I want to reorient us to what scripture says God found most disturbing about Sodom. Interestingly, in this passage in Ezekiel God is claiming that Israel is worse at this than Sodom and I cannot help but wonder if America is worse yet.

Ezekiel 16:48-50

As I live,” says the Lord God, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; 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 fit.”

Sodom in context

God wasn’t railing on sodomy. He was railing on greed, idleness, pride, and a failure to care for those in need. I can’t help but reflect on how much this sounds like the United States. But even more, I can’t help but notice how much this sounds like the church. This is especially poignant at a time when the political forces of the church are mobilizing against LGBTQ politics while failing to mobilize for those in need. There are so many in need today. I am concerned that the Church is missing the point. How often does the Church self-righteously support politics of greed or tacitly approve of it in our leaders, our churches, and our friends?

While issues of sexuality are addressed in scripture, it is only a few times. Greed, pride, and idolatry (which I would argue is a form of pride), on the other hand, are major themes addressed hundreds if not thousands of times in the clearest possible terms. Sodom was destroyed for them, Israel was exiled for them, the Pharisees were castigated by Christ himself for them, and God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead because of them. Yet, we are silent, or near-silent, about them. In some ways, we even praise and promote them. Maybe we need to rethink priorities. If we make our priorities God’s priorities, maybe we will be seen just a little less as hypocrites.

This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today or can be easily updated. This piece was first published on September 14, 2012, and has been lightly edited and updated.

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  • I do agree with pretty much everything that man says in the video, with one small objection. But I’ll get to that later. First, it’s story time!

    During my walking trip I was settling in one evening to sleep in my tent at a campground, when I heard some rustling in a nearby garbage can. I looked out and saw what appeared to be a homeless man digging through the garbage for cans. My instinctive reaction was “Oh shit, I hope this bum isn’t planning on hanging out here all night or trying to steal my stuff”. But after being on the road via my feet for so long, I had gained a lot of respect for homeless people and how tough it is out there when you’re trying to find somewhere to sleep or even just go to the bathroom. So I decided to set aside my fears and judgments and got up out of my tent, went to my cart and grabbed a small plastic shopping bag I had full of cans and approached the man. Gently and friendly I said “Hey bud, you looking for cans? I got a few right here you can have”. He said thanks but no thanks, cause he was actually just looking for food. And he started telling me where he walked from that day, and where he had been walking for the last several days. As it turns out, he had been walking the same exact highways and roads as I have all the way from CA into OR where he and I met! Amazing! So I offered him a Pepsi and asked him if he wanted to join me at the picnic table in my camp for some cigarettes and conversation. He was thrilled. It was my last Pepsi, but you know what, I’ll get another one. No big deal. Shared a bunch of smokes with him and we talked for about a half an hour. Well, he did most of the talking, telling me his life story haha. So eventually I told him I needed to get back to sleep and he was like “Ok, cool”. I offered him a pack of smokes (again, I’ll get more, no big deal) which he gladly accepted. I also offered him food. I had trail mix, energy bars, whatever he wanted, and he wasn’t interested. What I found remarkable was that although he appreciated the smokes and Pepsi, what he was really excited about and thankful for was the conversation. Human interaction with someone that wasn’t going to give him shit for looking for food in a garbage can and call the cops on him. I listened to him and engaged in his story. Now, the point of me telling you all this isn’t to toot my own horn; “Oh look at me and how wonderful I am and what a saint I am for being nice to the homeless man” blah blah blah. What I learned is that it’s really not that hard to be nice to people, even if you think lesser than them or whatever. And it also dawned upon me that sure, a lot of people do charitable things to/for strangers in need, but it seems like a lot of folks do it with some sort of ultimatum. Like “Ok, here’s a hamburger. Now you have to go to church, quit drinking, and turn your life around” blah blah blah. Why can’t you just give someone a hamburger and be like “here you go, man. Hope you have a nice day”, and just leave it at that? Even if it’s a smoke or even a beer? I know a smoke or a beer probably isn’t the best thing for someone that’s homeless and/or struggling, but you know what? It’s probably not the best thing anyway for anyone haha. The best thing you can do for someone in that position, I think, is to remind them that they are not invisible. That they do exist and that they are worthy of human interaction. And to me it doesn’t matter if it’s a beer or a hamburger or a bed or a shower. Just giving them that sense of being alive and not living through some surreal nightmare where no one can hear you or see you is probably the most fulfilling thing one human being can give to another. Done with rant!

    Anyway, in the video, right around the 3:50 mark, he says a lot of people aren’t upset about poverty and wealth distribution etc etc. Now, I know I’m kinda taking what he said out of context, here, but I think many people are up in arms about that. As in, they think the poor and welfare etc etc are to blame for America’s woes. It infuriates me when people go with that angle, and try to politicize poverty like that. As futile an effort it is, I try and explain to those people that welfare and the poor are NOT what is destroying this country (and the world for that matter), but greed. Plain and simple good old fashioned GREED! The world’s economy is in shambles because big giant corporations, banks, insurance companies, pharma, etc etc, gambled with their money, lost, but made the people and the government pay for it. I just don’t understand how people can not see that. I could go on all day….

  • Jim, That is a great story about connecting with another real human while on the road. Sadly, I think all of us forget at times that they poor are real people. Often hard working people. Even in a case like yours it is interesting to read about you realizing how hard of work it is to be homeless. Few of us think about that. I know I rarely have.

    As for the message. I think his context would agree with your point. I agree with you that for so many people they have the cause and effect mixed around. I tend to agree with you that our national problem is more greed than listlessness. I take very seriously what Jesus said about the LOVE of money being the root of all evil. I’m not against money…heck I’d like to have more of it than I do. But, when we love money, when it becomes an idol for us there are problems. So, when some politicians and people clang loudly about wanting values that line up with the Bible but much of their position seems rooted in the love of money it causes me great concern.

  • Have you noticed the verse being passed around the (mostly SBC) tea-party types?
    Grabbing text from Think Progress:
    …Psalm 109, which is a prayer for the death of a leader, became a popular conservative meme after Obama’s election. The “tongue-in-cheek” prayer for the president was seen on bumper stickers. The relevant part of the psalm reads:
    Let his days be few; and let another take his office
    May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
    May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.
    May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
    May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.
    O’Neal forwarded the prayer with his own message: “At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up — it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!”

    The ironic thing to me is that these conservatives seem to have no clue what the beginning of Psalm 109 says.
    1 Be not silent, O God of my praise!
    2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
    speaking against me with lying tongues.
    3 They encircle me with words of hate,
    and attack me without cause.
    4 In return for my love they accuse me,
    but I give myself to prayer.t
    5 So they reward me evil for good,
    and hatred for my love.

    WHO is the Psalmist saying should be such chastised?

    16 For he did not remember to show kindness,
    but pursued the poor and needy
    and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
    17 He loved to curse; let curses comet upon him!
    He did not delight in blessing; may it be fart from him!

  • I agree with you. I do believe the American Church has lost it’s way and that the Republican Party is exploiting it’s fears in order to control the vote.

  • You are right. The cultural wars distract us from aligning with God’s priorities. Politics and the media have latched onto this distraction for votes and computer clicks/ views.

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