The Bible presents us with a double answer: there was the sin of the men of Sodom as described in Genesis 19:1-11. But there are also all the previous sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, as the Lord said to Abraham: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave ..." (Genesis 18:20).
The prophet Ezekiel makes clear what the sin of Sodom was: They did not give any help to the poor and needy, especially foreigners. Ezekiel 16:49-50: "Now look at the guilt of your sister Sodom. It is this: she was proud, had plenty to eat, was prosperous enough. But they did not give any help to the poor and needy. Instead they were arrogant, and this was an abomination to me, and I removed them." The Book of Wisdom 19:14 confirms this: "For these [people of Sodom] would not receive foreigners." We can also see this in the prophet Isaiah, chapter 1: (9) The people of Israel have become like Sodom, we resemble Gomorrah ... (17) This is what I want [says the Lord}: learn to do good, make justice your aim, redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. ... (23) But the fatherless they do not defend, the widow's plea does not reach them."
The New Testament continues this theme. For example, in Matthew 10:5-15, Jesus says that the people who would give hospitality to his disciples are "worse than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah", implying again that the sin here is a refusal to be welcoming.
This is the main tradition of the Bible: the sin of Sodom was refusing to give hospitality, refusal to welcome foreigners, failure to help the poor, the needy, the widow and the orphan.
But there is a secondary tradition. Isaiah chapter one goes on to describe how Israel, "the new Sodom and Gomorrah" worshipped false gods. The prophet Jeremiah also combines these two sins: cheating the poor and worshiping false gods. They go together, say the prophets.
What about adultery? The prophets speak of the adultery of Sodom and Gomorrah, but they make it clear that this is a metaphor for worshipping false gods. What about rape? In Genesis chap. 19, the people of Sodom wanted to use rape as a violent crime against the three foreigners, as a way of murdering them. The Book of Judges chapter 19 tells a parallel story and makes it clear: the men wanted to rape someone to death, it was murder they desired, not any kind of sexual pleasure. What about homosexuality? The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis - and the whole Biblical tradition around it in both the Old and New Testaments - make no mention of homosexuality at all. In both Genesis and in Judges, the violent men just wanted to kill someone, anyone, male or female, thy didn't care - they just wanted to kill. In the Bible, the sin of sodomy is violence against foreigners and strangers.
So where does this "tradition" come from of equating sodomy with homosexuality? This is a very late tradition from modern times, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology from patristic times and from the Middle Ages knows nothing of it. In fact, the whole idea of equating "morality" with "sex" is a late modern and post-modern innovation of fundamentalist Protestants. I would go so far as to say that anyone who tries to reduce Catholic moral teaching to questions of sex is helping to eliminate the whole tradition of the Catholic Church.
So here are the results of our poll! 116 people answered at three Masses, online and by e-mail:
- Adultery - 32
- All of the above - 28
- Worshiping false gods - 26 - the Biblical answer
- Homosexuality - 25
- Sinning against the Holy Spirit - 25
- Greed - 22
- Not feeding the poor and hungry - 19 - the Biblical answer
- Refusing to accept foreigners - 15 - the Biblical answer
- Rape - 14
- Working on the sabbath - 9
- Eating forbidden foods - 7
- Abortion - 7
- Cruelty to animals - 3