What Are Sodom and Gomorrah? Pete Buttigieg Faces Anti-gay Protests Citing Biblical Cities

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has faced anti-gay sentiment on the campaign trail, with hecklers invoking two biblical cities that became bywords for a dissolute lifestyle.

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has made his homosexuality, his marriage and his Episcopalian faith part of his pitch to voters, and he is enjoying a surge of popularity since he formally threw his hat in the ring for the 2020 race.

But when he appeared before voters in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, his religious faith was questioned by two protesters who yelled "Remember Sodom and Gomorrah" at different times during the event.

GettyImages-1143159507 (1)
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg hosts a town hall meeting at the Lions Den in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on April 16. He has been heckled on the campaign trail for his sexual orientation. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Sodom and Gomorrah are described in both the Old and New testaments as well as the Koran, but there is ambiguity over the text's interpretation, in particular with the cities' links with homosexual acts.

In the Book of Genesis, Abraham pleads with God to spare the lives of righteous people living in the two cities after he revealed that both are to be destroyed for their sins.

When God's angelic envoys arrive, they are confronted by an angry mob, which only confirms the Almighty's dim view of the denizens, so he destroys the cities with relish, and according to Scripture, with "sulfur and fire."

Abraham's nephew Lot and his wife are instructed to flee the carnage and not look back, but Lot's wife cannot resist and is turned to salt.

While "Sodom and Gomorrah" is often shorthand for immorality and divine retribution, there has been much debate over whether the biblical reference should be interpreted as prohibiting homosexual acts.

Lisa McClain, a professor of history and gender studies at Boise State University, noted in an article for The Conversation how the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria first mistakenly equated Sodom's sin with same-sex sexuality. It then took centuries for a Christian consensus on Philo's misinterpretation, and this is where the derogatory term sodomite emerged, McClain wrote.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Lot and his family in flight. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Modern scholarship, particularly in Judaism and parts of Christianity, suggests that in fact it was the people's lack of hospitality, not their homosexuality, that offended God, according to Brittanica.com. This appears to be reinforced by a passage in the Book of Ezekiel that criticizes the inhabitants' refusal to care for the poor despite their prosperity.

There may be proof that the supposed destruction of the cities had a celestial origin, but not the one that some believers might think.

A group of archaeologists said they have evidence that the region where the cities are believed to have existed was destroyed by a meteor that exploded in the sky above, raining down superheated matter, which would explain the cities' dramatic demise, according to Science News.

In any case, at the Iowa event Buttigieg took the reference with a pinch of the salt that Lot's wife was turned into, saying the hecklers had the right to voice their opinions.

He said the "good news is, the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa caucuses are up to you," CNN reported.

What Are Sodom and Gomorrah? Pete Buttigieg Faces Anti-gay Protests Citing Biblical Cities | U.S.