When Christians, including Mormons, talk about the “threat” of homosexuality, they invariably fall back on the argument of Sodom and Gomorrah. They don’t want our society to face condemnation by encouraging the sin of homosexuality which led to the downfall of those cities. However, as I’ve noted before in a prior comment, the case for this interpretation is thin at best. The one incident leading to this conclusion, in which the men of Sodom call for Lot to send out the Lord’s messengers visiting him so that the men of Sodom could “know” them (Genesis 19:5) sounds more like prison rape—an act of violence to establish power and intimidation—than it does homosexuality.
From that one example most people assume a link between homosexuality and the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah. We can certainly assume that there was a percentage of the population which was attracted to and romantically pursued members of the same gender, just as there has been in every civilization in every age on the planet. But to make the claim that widespread homosexuality was the primary cause for the destruction of Sodom based on this one story is a bit dubious.
What then was the sin of Sodom? What stirred the wrath of God? Ezekial enumerates the sins of that city in condemning the same sins within Israel during the Babylonian Captivity.
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, 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 good. (Ezekial 16:49-50)
Sodom was proud, full of bread (materially wealthy? self-indulgent and concerned with self-gratification? Fat and sassy?), and unwilling to aid the poor and needy. Sexual sin may well have been widespread, but Ezekial asserts that it is was primarily due to selfishness, greed, arrogance, and lack of charity that the Lord eradicated Sodom and Gomorrah.
Among Jesus’ parables was that of the Sheep and the Goats, a metaphor for the final judgment at the end of this dispensation.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink.
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (Matthew 25:31-45)
The Savior does not list swearing, Word of Wisdom related problems, tattoos, number and location of jewelry, or sexually promiscuity—as grave a sin as it may be—as qualifications for goathood. No, it is our lack of charity and action toward our brothers and sisters in need which He claims will be the decisive factor in the final judgment. Why then do we as a culture get so wound up about the former sins, and so casual about the latter? What does it say about our moral priorities?
References to the importance of charity for the downtrodden and destitute are hardly obscure or isolated in the scriptures. Time and again the words of the prophets reiterate the importance of caring for the poor.
- And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:10)
- If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
- Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. (Psalms 41:1)
- He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. (Proverbs 14:21)
- He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse. (Proverbs 28:27)
- Is it [the purpose of fasting] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isaiah 58:7)
- Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity. (Daniel 4:27)
- Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. (Mark 10:21)
- The parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:30-35)
- But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:13-14)
- And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)
- And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given. (Mosiah 18:27)
- And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely. (Alma 1:27)
- And it came to pass in the commencement of the ninth year, Alma saw the wickedness of the church…some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were thirst, and those who were sick and afflicted. Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people, while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions… (Alma 4:11-13)
- Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you. And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men. (Alma 34:27-29)
- For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. (Mormon 8:37)
- Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor… (3 Nephi 13:1)
- Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not? (Mormon 8:39)
- Behold, I say unto you, that ye must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief, that they may be kept until all things may be done according to my law which ye have received. (D&C 44:6)
- And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple. (D&C 52:40)
- Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls… (D&C 56:16)
- Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them? (Alma 5:55)
This is just a small handful of the scriptures referring to our duty to come to the aid of the poor. Evangelical minister Jim Wallis insisted in his book,God’s Politics, that he and his fellow students found several thousand verses in the Bible regarding our duties to the poor (p. 212)—and we Mormons have a further two books in our canon beyond his filled with the same admonitions!
There are abundant historical and social reasons to battle poverty and its causes (the most self-interested being that poverty leads to rising crime and violence; if given the choice between paying more to help reduce poverty and paying more for police and security measures to fight rising crime, I choose the former), and plenty of scholarly writings to explain those secular justifications. But for me, the most important reason is simply because our Lord requires it of us; because if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27), we must sacrifice and serve them. It is not acceptable to try to separate ourselves from the poor, to remove them from our communities, ban them from our streets, and pretend they don’t exist. Just because they are economically segregated from those of us living in our suburban bedroom communities does not mean they aren’t there, and that we don’t have an obligation to help them. It is clear from the revelation that active effort to improve the social welfare of the less fortunate is not just a good idea, not just something nice to do if we can get around to it—it is a fundamental aspect of the Gospel of Jesus.
As Rob Miller, vice-chairman of the Utah Democratic Party has frequently quipped, the Lord promises to bless us liberally, not conservatively. (I like to note further in teasing my conservative friends that the scriptures abound in references to the word “liberal” in the context of describing God, his actions, and his people. The word “conservative” is not to be found therein). One of the definitions of the word “liberal,” the definition used in those scriptural references, is “characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts.” The Lord wants us to be liberal in our relationship to the poor. The modern Liberal ideology, with its embrace of social justice, addresses this responsibility. It recognizes, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, that “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little (1937 Presidential Inaugural Address).” The methods by which to fulfill this responsibility—from the diverse private and NGO program options to government programs such as public health care, public education, food, housing, and employment programs, unemployment support, minimum wage, legal protection of labor and the right to unionize, et al—all have their merits and defects, and are subject to debate. Our divinely appointed duty is not.
- Social Justice II: The Moral Conservative Criticism of Social Justice.
- Social Justice III: The Libertarian Criticism of Social Justice.
- Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ron Sider
- God’s Politics, Jim Wallis