The Biblical writers had no concept of homosexuality – therefore all references are to behaviour, not orientation.
This story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is so well known that I don’t need to repeat it here. I will just point out that Sodom was first mentioned in the book of Genesis some time earlier: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” (Genesis 13:13) And God had already decided to judge them before they attempted to gang-rape Lot’s visitors.
So what was their terrible sin? The prophet Ezekiel tells us: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before Me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:49,50)
Arrogance, greed and selfishness are the primary sins for which Sodom was judged. Sexual sins did come into it as well (Jude v7), but must be seen in the overall context. Their readiness to do ‘detestable things’ was the final straw that made a catastrophic judgement inevitable.
But let’s not stop reading the Ezekiel passage too soon. In the very next verse, the prophet goes on to say to his own people, “You have done more detestable things than they.” Sodom and Gomorrah were indeed a ‘special case’ – but not that special. The story isn’t actually about Them. It’s about Us.
Paul makes a similar progression of thought in the early chapters of his letter to the Romans. He talks of “the wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Romans 1:18). In the rest of that first chapter, homosexual acts certainly feature prominently as manifestations of godlessness and wickedness, things that provoke God’s righteous anger. But note that godlessness begins with rejecting God in favour of idolatry (verses 19-23).
You see, sex is not actually the fundamental issue. The more basic question is this: who or what is my god? Is my life under the authority of the One who created me, so that it conforms to His intention and design? Or is it mine, to do with exactly as I please without any reference to God at all?
And so wickedness embraces far more than sexual immorality. In the rest of this chapter, envy, murder, disobedience to parents, slander and gossip are all seen to be part of the mixture. And then in chapters 2 & 3, just like Ezekiel, Paul points out that ‘religious’ people are just as bad. “Are we any better? Not at all!” (Romans 3:9) It’s not really about Them at all. It’s about Us.
The passages referred to so far have been about societies – pagan societies, at that – rather than individuals. But the Bible also has something to say to us on a personal level – not to people in general but to those of us who are believers, those who have been called out of the surrounding culture and are therefore expected to be different from the surrounding culture. In the book of Leviticus, a whole chapter of regulations on sexual behaviour begins: “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you.” (Leviticus 18:3) The Egyptians and the Canaanites are outsiders, and will carry on doing just as they please, but the Israelites belong to God and therefore they must be different. The same principle appears in the New Testament (I Corinthians 5:12,13): it isn’t the Church’s job to lay down the law for unbelievers.
Here is an example of what God’s Law says to God’s people: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, that is detestable.” (Leviticus 18:22) And the immediate conclusion we jump to is this: Homosexual behaviour is not just wrong but detestable, and therefore must be something especially wicked. Surely something that God detests, abhors, hates, and finds an abomination must be no ordinary sin, but something that we also should detest, condemn and have nothing to do with?
Are there any other sins that come into that category in the Old Testament? Quite a few, in fact…
Human sacrifice is “detestable” (Deuteronomy 12:31) – of course, how revolting.
Sacrificing anything less than a perfect animal to the LORD is “detestable” (Deuteronomy 17:1) – really?
(If this example seems a bit irrelevant to modern life, consider this: our church is often given second-hand gardening equipment for the maintenance of the churchyard. Someone’s lawnmower breaks down, so they buy themselves a new one and give the old broken one to the church – and sometimes they don’t even get it repaired first.)
Sorcery, witchcraft, consulting the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-12), and worshipping idols (Jeremiah 44:4) are “detestable practices” that God hates. We wouldn’t dream of doing such things, would we?
But God also says, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16) – now that’s getting a bit too close to home for some of us. That really is uncomfortable.
He also hates dishonest trading: “The LORD detests dishonest scales.” (Proverbs 11:1)
And telling lies: “The LORD detests lying lips.” (Proverbs 12:22)
Oh-oh. These are ordinary everyday things that most of us do.
The fact is, that every single one of us has done something detestable, something that God hates. It’s not about Them after all. It’s about Us.
I Corinthians 6:9-20
Rather than speak of ‘abominations’, the New Testament writers tend to use the language of exclusion. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” (I Corinthians 6:9) Paul’s list of ‘wicked things’ starts with sexual immorality, idolatry and homosexual behaviour – but continues with what we would probably classify as ‘lesser’ sins, such as stealing, drunkenness, and slander. And that’s not an exhaustive list by any means. In the letter to the Galatians he adds jealousy, discord, fits of rage, ambition and envy (Galatians 6:19-21). And sooner or later the Holy Spirit puts His finger on you and says, “That’s you”.
So homosexual behaviour is not in a special class of its own when it comes to sin.
It’s not about Them. It’s about Us. We are all in the same boat: we all stand on the receiving end of God’s wrath; we all deserve to be shut out of God’s Kingdom. Whether our behaviour is engrained in our DNA, or is the product of our circumstances, or results from our upbringing, it makes no difference: we are out of step with God’s design and we can’t change ourselves by our own efforts. No amount of resolve, counselling or medication is going to make any significant difference to our acceptability to God. By self-discipline and practice we may be able to avoid doing some of the things that we know are wrong – but we still can’t stop ourselves from thinking about them. And as Jesus said, the things that defile us come from within (Mark 7:20-23).