For far too long people of faith have seen the destruction of Sodom as merely a cautionary tale against immorality, particularly in terms of homosexual relationships. Not only does this mindset create an “us-vs-them” mentality towards LGBTQ persons, it causes us to miss the true lesson: the sins of Sodom were many, and we all have need to repent of them.
The prophet Ezekiel, speaking for God, taught: "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" (Ezekiel 16:49-50, emphasis added).
Pride, idleness, failing to help the poor and the needy, haughtiness, and abomination. These sins are seldom mentioned when referencing the story of Sodom, yet they are ever-present in our society and, if we are not careful, in our own lives.
Alma taught: “Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life” (Alma 5:28).
President Benson explained that pride is enmity (opposition, hostility) towards God and towards our fellowmen. It is the pitting of our will against God’s. He explained that“the proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works” (Beware of Pride, April 1989 General Conference).
Do we publicly argue with and tear down the teachings of Christ’s prophets and apostles? Do we set ourselves up as having special insight into God’s true will? Do we oppose or hinder the progress of those around us? If so, we are guilty of one of the sins of Sodom.
“Thou shalt not be idle, for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:42).
There is certainly room in the gospel plan for recreation, fun, and relaxation. President Brigham Young taught: “The Lord never commanded me to dance, yet I have danced. . . . I do not know that he ever commanded the boys to go and play at ball, yet he permits it. I am not aware that he ever commanded us to build a theater, but he has permitted it, and I can give the reason why. Recreation and diversion are as necessary to our well-being as the more serious pursuits of life" (DBY, 238).
However, these things can be carried to excess when they distract us from the necessary pursuits of mortality. When we miss opportunities for connection, service, and growth, and when we fail to serve our neighbors and the Lord, we have slipped into idleness.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks warned: “Consider how we use our time . . . in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it… Some young people are amusing themselves to death—spiritual death” (Good, Better, Best, October 2007 General Conference).
Remember the counsel of President Gordon B. Hinckley: “I am suggesting that we spend a little less time in idleness, in the fruitless pursuit of watching some inane and empty television programs. Time so utilized can be put to better advantage, and the consequences will be wonderful. Of that I do not hesitate to assure you”(We Have a Work to Do, April 1995 General Conference).
Failing to Help the Poor and the Needy
Do we fail to pay generous fast offerings? Do we fail to give direct help to people in need in our communities? If so, we are guilty of one of the sins of Sodom and in danger of the judgment of God.
King Benjamin taught: “If ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth” (Mosiah 4:22). He also taught that helping the poor is necessary for “retaining a remission of sins” (Mosiah 4:26).
Let us never forget the example of our Savior, nor the priority He gave to helping, lifting, and serving the poor. Paying generous fast offerings and contributing to the Church’s welfare funds are a good start, but we would do well to “lift where we stand,” giving of our time and resources in our communities whenever possible.
Haughtiness is defined as being “arrogantly superior or disdainful.” Do we place ourselves above those who do not share our faith? Do we insult those whose politics differ from ours? Do we judge those who “sin differently than we do?” If so, we are guilty of one of the sins of Sodom.
We read in The Book of Mormon that Alma and other righteous priesthood leaders:
"Saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.
“And thus . . . there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God.
“And thus ended the eighth year of the reign of the judges; and the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress” (Alma 4:8-10).
Abomination is defined in the Bible Dictionary as “any… immoral practice.” Those who limit “abomination” to grievous sins others commit need to look in the mirror and expand their definition.
Abomination is any immoral practice. Any sin that we commit, any time we turn against God, is us committing a “sin of Sodom.” Abuse of any kind, lying, stealing, violence, substance abuse, pornography, masturbation, cheating on one’s spouse, and many more fall under this umbrella.
King Benjamin laid it on the line: “And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not” (Mosiah 4:29-30).
The Good News
Jesus Christ atoned for our sins. We do not need to suffer the fate of Sodom, literally or figuratively. We are still here, and would do well to follow the Savior’s invitation: “O all ye that are spared . . . will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me” (3 Nephi 9:13-14).
As was the case with the people of Sodom, Christ wants to redeem us. He wants to heal us. He wants to spare us. We need only recognize which of the sins of Sodom are present in ourselves, and enlist His assistance in repenting of them.
Lead image of The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin, 1852
Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. For more of his Gospel-based insights, or to ask him a question, join his Facebook group Ask a Mormon Therapist.