Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Sin That Cries to Heaven For Vengeance

For a long time, I've been thoroughly irritated by those sanctimonious Catholics (and others) who tray to remind us (for our own good, they would claim) that homosexuality is "the" sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.  However, as I had never myself come across any such reference, I did not know the origin of the claim, and could not respond.  Finally, I got my act together and investigated. What I found was useful, and worth sharing.

First, as one might expect, there is not such thing as "the" sin that cries out, but several: depending on your source, there are four or five of them.  The claims for grouping these together come from old sources, and are based on a shared interpretation of Biblical verses.  Apart from the allegation that "homosexuality" is one of them, the others are:

Murder (not surprising):
And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Gn 4:10)
Oppression of Widows and Orphans
“You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.” (Ex 21-23)
Now, I would have thought that a failure to provide health care to widows and orphans counts as "oppression".
Cheating Laborers of Their Due

“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be a sin in you.” (Dt 24:14-15)
So, paying unfair low wages is  also a sin crying out to the Lord.

Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me.” (Gn 18:20-21) The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of homosexual activity. So far gone were they in this vice that the men of the town would not even accept heterosexual license with Lot’s daughters, both virgins, as a means of sating their lust (see 19:8-9).
Ah, there it is - the old canard that homosexuality is the sin of Sodom. It is not - as any actual reading of the Bible, and not the endless commentary that abuses it, makes clear. I will return to this below.

The four cases listed above are the four given at the  "Catholic Doors" website, which also warns us (ironically to interpret these carefully, free from cultural conditioning.  Yet their interpretation of the Sodom story is entirely based on cultural conditioning.  It is not Scripture, but popular prejudice that has associated the sin of Sodom with homoeroticism. History shows that religious opposition to same sex relationships has followed  popular bigotry, not led it.

Another source , the blogger Douglas Lawrence, adds to the above list a fifth, the "oppression" in Egypt:.
Q. 1. How many sins cry out to Heaven for vengeance?

A. There are five sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.

Q. 2. What are they?

A. Based on # 1867 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are:

(1) Wilful murder - the blood of Abel, [Gen. 4:10]

(2) The sin of the Sodomites, [Gen. 18:20; 19:13]

(3) The cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, [Ex. 3:7-10]

(4) The cry of the foreigner, the widow and the orphan, [Ex. 20:20-22] and

(5) Injustice to the wage earner. [Deut. 24:14-5; Jas. 5:4]

So, what is this "sin of Sodom"?  Canon Bailey, writing half a century and more ago, did extensive research in Scripture, in the Apocrypha, and in the Pseudepigrapha, and came up with some clear answers.
Genesis 19, which tells the story of Sodom's destruction, is remarkable vague on the subject of the precise sin that had brought down this dramatic penalty. I had read previously (in Boswell, and elsewhere) some of the texts from other books of the Hebrew scriptures that tell us more, but Bailey has an impressively long list. Gay men in particular,who have for so long been beaten over their heads for their supposed "sin of Sodom", would do well to absorb these, and understand just what the true sin is.
Jer 23:14
In the prophets of Jerusalem also I have seen a horrible thing; they commit adultery, and walk in lies, and they strengthen the hands of evil-doers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them become unto me as Sodom , and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.
Ez 16: 49-50
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fulness of bread, and prosperous ease.....; And they were haughty, and committed abomination (to ‘ēbhāh) before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
Wisd 19: 8
Whereas the men of Sodom received not the strangers when they came among them; the Egyptians made slaves of the guests who were their benefactors.
Ecclus 16: 8
God spared not those with whom Lot sojourned, whom he abhorred for their pride
3 Maccabees 2:5
"Thou didst burn up with fire and brimstone the men of Sodom, workers of arrogance, who had become known for all their crimes
Jubilees 13: 17
The Men of Sodom were sinners exceedingly
Jubilees 16: 5-6
The Lord executed his judgement on Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Zeboim, and all the regions of the Jordan ad he burned them with fire and brimstone, and destroyed them until this day, even as I have declared unto thee all their works, that they are wicked and sinners exceedingly, and that they defile themselves and commit fornication in their flesh...
Jubilees 13: 17
And Abraham told of the judgement of the giants and the judgement of the Sodomites, how they had been judged on account of their wickedness, and had died on account of their fornication,  and uncleanness.....
Josephus, Antiquities
About this time, the men of Sodom grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust toward me, and impious toward God...... they hated strangers
Josephus, Antiquities
Now when the Sodomites saw the young men [the angels] to be of beautiful countenance, and this to an extraordinary degree, they resolved themselves to enjoy these beautiful boys by force and violence.
Bailey has more, but I leave it there.  It is clear that only the last of the list refers to sex with men - and the emphasis there is not on gender, but on force and violence.  Otherwise, apart from some generic statements about "wickedness", or "fornication",  the sins specified are about pride, injustice, indolence, and hostility or lack of hospitality to strangers.

Now that we have a clearer understanding of the sin of Sodom, we can now return to the "sins crying to heaven".  In addition to murder, all the sins crying to heaven are about injustice and oppression.  Not one has anything at all to do with voluntary sexual relationships between men.

We as gay men are not the perpetrators of sins crying to heaven - we are their victims.


  1. Terence, I just came upon this post and I'm wondering how you think that having sex with a man is not fornication. Or do you?

    1. It's not at all clea what "fornication" means. The Latin root of the English word, which dates to 14th century, referred to sex with a prostitute. The Greek word in the Bible, "porneia", referred to "sexual immorality", or "lewdness", which begs the question.

      In modern usage, it sometimes refers to any sexual activity outside of marriage, but some usages (for example, when prohibited by law in some American states) it refers very specifically to "vaginal intercourse between a man and a woman" outside of marriage.

    2. An alternative usage, according to "The Bible Dictionary", is "idolatry" -

      But this word is more frequently used in a symbolical than in its ordinary sense. It frequently means a forsaking of God or a following after idols (Isa. 1:2; Jer. 2:20; Ezek. 16; Hos. 1:2; 2:1-5; Jer. 3:8,9).