The ‘sin of Sodom’ is inhospitality.(1) Nowhere in scripture is the destruction of Sodom linked with same-sex activity of any kind. The story immediately preceding the account of the destruction of Sodom is of Abraham receiving the three strangers and being hospitable to them.(2) This is contrasted with the reaction of the men of Sodom who seek to gang-rape(3) the angel visitors(4) while Lot protects them under the auspice that they have accepted his hospitality.(5) Ezekiel, in listing the sins of Sodom lists pride, idleness, greed and inhospitality, but never mentions homosexuality.(6) Jesus himself cites this reason by analogy claiming that the towns which are inhospitable to his disciples will end up worse than Sodom or Gomorrah.(7) The association between Sodom and homosexuality is largely the fault of bad translation. The Hebrew word, [qadesh], meaning ‘temple-prostitute’ has often been mis-translated ‘sodomite’ though it bears no linguistic relationship to the city of Sodom.(8)
1. One need look no further than Merriam-Webster to find out how this false interpretation has been incredibly influential since Medieval times or earlier. In their definition, 'sodomy' includes anal and oral sex as well as sex with animals. Many states in the U.S. had sodomy laws on the books until the Supreme Court struck them all down as unconstitutional in 2003. Now an American can only be prosecuted for sodomy overseas or in the military under special circumstances.
2. Hospitality is a central value of near-eastern culture, and is continually lifted up as a central commandment of God in the Torah. In Genesis 18 Abraham is commended for his hospitality by the very angels which will later move on to Sodom and be received so rudely. For their hospitality Abraham and Sarah are promised a son who is the start of the nation of Israel. The contrast couldn't be more stark: the hospitable family becomes a nation. The inhospitable nation is destroyed apart from one family. The parallelism forms the context of the Sodom account.
3. They men of Sodom seek to 'know' the angels, which often has sexual connotations. The best explanation of the reason behind this is that Sodom had recently been at war and the strangers were likely regarded as spies. Male on male rape was a common way of humiliating enemies, and still occurs in places like prison today. This is no more an instance of homosexual behavior than is prison rape. This story is made even more horrific by the fact that Lot offers to allow them to gang-rape his daughter instead. Frankly, this is not a story from which we can draw much in the way of moral insight without a great deal of discernment. Lot's sexual behavior, including incest and offering his daughter to be raped by a crowd, is despicable by any modern standard, whether one approves of LGBTQ ordination or not.
4. The identity of the visitors as angels is another aspect of this story that speaks against it having anything to do with homosexuality. Whatever acts are contemplated here the gender of the persons involved is less significant than the difference in species. Jude mentions Sodom in passing, describing the inhabitants as "going after strange flesh". Had Jude meant to condemn homosexuality for violating the supposed "two-flesh rule" he would have said they were going after the same flesh. What Jude is instead doing is referring to a popular legend in his time that the women in Sodom had sex with angels. Jude is definitely familiar with this legend as he quotes from the Book of Enoch which tells the same legend about "the watchers" (angels) who seduced human women in violation of God's laws.
5. Given how despicable Lot's behavior is by our standards the only reasonable interpretation of why God saves his family is that his 'righteousness' is the same as Abraham's from the chapter before - he is hospitable to the strangers. It is what distinguishes him from the other men of Sodom. The entire story spins on this virtue.
6. When Ezekiel lists the sins of Sodom (in context) he goes beyond just inhospitality, and offers a litany of sins; none of which have anything to do with homosexual behavior. The oracle does use sexual language: God compares Jerusalem to an adulterous wife. But it is clear that the sins being metaphorically described in sexual terms are economic and political in nature. The problem, as always, is that Israel turned to their neighbors for support and defense instead of God. The problem is that Israel was idolatrous; a fact which matches well with the general trend in scripture of identifying "detestable" sexual acts with idolatry.
7. Jesus in mentioning Sodom has the perfect opportunity to tell us how horrible homosexuality is, but doesn't in either gospel in which this story appears. Again Jesus identifies the problem as inhospitality, specifically: rejecting God's messengers. Which he says is the same as rejecting him and the one who sent him. In other words, inhospitality to those who come from God is turning from God - idolatry.
8. In the story of Tamar, the word for prostitute [zonar] and for temple prostitute are used interchangeably, and 'temple prostitute' can appear with 'prostitute' in a parallelism; ex: Hosea 4:14. There were a number of cults in the ancient Near East which supposedly dealt in temple prostitution, though most of our sources on these cults are later, disapproving historians. Clearly the practice was widespread enough to warrant being mentioned consistently - as 'detestable' because it is idolatrous.
Not only is homosexuality not the 'sin of Sodom', it is Not A Sin. But that was the topic of another series.
In case you're wondering, there's a good chance that as far as the old definition of the word is concerned, almost everyone you know is a Sodomite.