Living in Sodom

by Tyler Connoley

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how similar my country is to Sodom. However, not for the reasons you might think.

We remember Sodom as the town that hated strangers so much they almost raped and killed two angels who came to visit. They also threatened Lot, Abraham’s nephew and a recent immigrant. In the Biblical narrative, the Sodomites are the ultimate xenophobes, intent on secure borders, threatening monstrous acts against those they should have been welcoming.

(Note: If you think the story of Sodom has to do with gay sex, please go and read Genesis 19. You can also read the book I coauthored with Jeff Miner about homosexuality and the Bible.

What we forget is why the Sodomites might have been so afraid of strangers. For that story, you have to go back to Genesis 14. In that story, we’re told the kings of Sodom were convinced to join a coalition of the willing, including neighbor Gomorrah and three other cities, in an attack on the cities of the north. However, the battle was actually a wild goose chase (or maybe a trap?). When the kings were away, the northern armies swept into Sodom and Gomorrah, ransacked the cities, raped women and children and men, and carried everyone off as slaves. Since this is our sacred Scripture, we mostly remember this as the time our hero Abraham saved the day by rescuing his nephew Lot — along with all the other Sodomites who were captured — and all ended well.

The happy ending, hides the trauma that preceded it. All of the people of Sodom found themselves carried off and brutalized. Who knows how many died? Who knows what they suffered? Who knows how they continued to carry the trauma of that event for years after?

Genesis 14 is the story of Sodom’s 9/11.

Now, we understand why the people of Sodom would act the way they did in Genesis 19, when two strangers came to their city and ended up staying at the house of that newcomer Lot. When we read the story, we see two angels and our hero Abraham’s nephew. The people of Sodom saw a possible spy ring or a potential terrorist cell. Knowing that, we can see how they thought they were justified in the way they treated these threatening strangers.

This is why I compare the United States to Sodom. Living in this country, I’m well-acquainted with an atmosphere of fear and trauma that leads people to condone terrible acts. The story of Sodom is a warning to us when we slam our doors to refugees, or condone extra-judicial drone strikes, or cheer on war, or yawn at the thought of Guantanamo Bay, or accept any manner of evil because we’re afraid of another 9/11 and think our government needs to keep us safe.

The Sodomites were not monsters. They were people like you and me. I’m sure they had lovely houses, and above-average children, but that’s not what we remember them for. We remember that they let their fear and trauma get the best of them, and they did monstrous things as a result. Let’s learn from their lesson, and not be Sodomites.