First off, to all those who I promised this blog post to a long time ago, I’m sorry its way late.
When my evening Bible Study crew was passing around the movie Cover I knew something was up.
Cover is about the Down-low culture. For those of you who don’t know what being on the Down-low (DL) is: Being on the DL is the phenomena of claiming to be straight, usually being in a relationship with a significant other of the opposite sex, often a wife or girlfriend, but then having sex with someone of the same sex.
“What? Isn’t that just being in the closet?” You might ask.
It may be that, but it is more than that. Being DL is more than being in the closet, it is also a rejection of (stereotypical) middle class white homosexuality by African American men.
Now, you might say, “sure, your parishioners were interested in this—its titillating… but how common is it? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know one of the places where DL hook-ups occur is Druid-Hill Park—sometimes known as “the meat market” which is just down the road from my church. Further, a friend of mine recently told me the DL culture is so prevalent that she and many other African American women deal with potential mates being on the DL so often that they ask point blank on a first date, “do you sleep with men?”
In order to think faithfully about people being on the DL I ended up breaking the phenomena up into the following constituent parts: Trust, Homosexuality, and Race.
I began the Bible Study by playing “the most disturbing scene” of the movie. This movie involved the main character sneaking into a hotel room, seeing her husband’s wedding ring on a table, and then catching her husband in the shower with another man. I pointed out that, viewing this scene from the ELCA’s statement on human sexuality, the disturbing thing wasn’t the homoeroticism but the wedding ring left on the table.
This is because our relationships—especially our sexual relationships—are there to build and protect trust. The sin isn’t boinking a man, the sin is breaking covenant with your wife. That’s because sin isn’t about breaking rules—even as our scripture does contain thou shalts and thou shalt nots. Sin is about turning away from God and neighbor and looking to ourselves.
Additionally, I used this scene to point out, point blank, that part of the reason this film was interesting to folk, and similarly that people are interested in one small part of the ELCA’s sexuality statement, is that it involves picking apart the sexuality of DL men and homosexuals. But in focusing on what two men are doing in a shower straight, non-DL-folk, don’t have to stop and think how our sexuality is or is not building and maintaining trust, and how the Sexuality statement bring up a lot of other things our society does that degrades our neighbors and our children. I quoted a professor who taught a class on sexuality and was constantly annoyed because her students kept referring to it as “the gay class.” It was as if hetrosexuals were assumed to be asexual beings—the class was not about them.
From there we moved to…
I began by pointing out what the ELCA’s statement actually said about homosexuality. It said that Lutherans within our tradition oppose all forms of harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. “It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their
families and to advocate for their legal protection.”
Additionally, it affirms that there is a wide variety of views on homosexual marriage within the church.
Some ELCAers, “On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law. They believe same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin. They therefore conclude that the neighbor and the community are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.”
On the other end of the spectrum, ELCAers such as myself, “On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer to live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They believe same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children and other dependents, and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships.”
From there we moved to what the Bible has to say about homosexuality… except that I cautioned that I believe the Bible speaks about homoeroticism, not homosexuality. That is because romantic love is a modern concept. The very idea that you would partner up with someone you are sexually attracted to was much less prominent when the testaments were written. Marriage, for example, was, and in some cases still is, more about economy than eros or any other kind of love.
We discussed both Hebrew Scripture—specifically Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.
I maintained that Genesis 19—the case of Sodom, was not talking about “Sodomy” in any contemporary sense, but instead about being inhospitable and exhibiting domination and ultimately attempting to rape, foreigners who were in fact messengers of God.
Then we looked at what the book of Leviticus was condemning as “an abomination” (Tobah in Hebrew) and looked at what other abominations were.
Here is a list:
Gen. 43:32 They set a place for him, a separate place for his brothers, and another for the Egyptians who were eating with him. (The Egyptians are not able to eat with Hebrews, for the Egyptians think it is disgusting to do so.)
Gen. 46:34 Tell him, ‘Your servants have taken care of cattle from our youth until now, both we and our fathers,’ so that you may live in the land of Goshen, for everyone who takes care of sheep is disgusting to the Egyptians.”
Ex. 8:26 But Moses said, “That would not be the right thing to do, for the sacrifices we make to the LORD our God would be an abomination to the Egyptians. If we make sacrifices that are an abomination to the Egyptians right before their eyes, will they not stone us?
Lev. 18:22 You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; it is a detestable act.
Lev. 18:26 You yourselves must obey my statutes and my regulations and must not do any of these abominations, both the native citizen and the resident foreigner in your midst,
Lev. 18:27 for the people who were in the land before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become unclean.
Lev. 18:29 For if anyone does any of these abominations, the persons who do them will be cut off from the midst of their people.
Lev. 20:13 If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.
Deut. 14:3 You must not eat any forbidden thing.
Deut. 18:12 Whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD and because of these detestable things the LORD your God is about to drive them out from before you.
Deut. 22:5 ¶ A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor should a man dress up in women’s clothing, for anyone who does this is offensive to the LORD your God.
Deut. 24:4 her first husband who divorced her is not permitted to remarry her after she has become ritually impure, for that is offensive to the LORD. You must not bring guilt on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Deut. 25:16 For anyone who acts dishonestly in these ways is abhorrent to the LORD your God.
From this list it seems clear that abominations can be cultural practices that separate one group from another. For example Egyptians eat differently than Hebrews do, the Hebrew way of eating in an abomination.
I also listed what some of the eatable “forbidden things” were—pork, crab, etc.
I talked a little about purity laws, and how most things considered impure or tobah were things that didn’t easily fit into one category. For example crabs, they are fish, but they have legs like non-fish. Or menstrual blood—its blood, a death liquid, coming out of the vagina, a hole from which comes new life.
From there we looked at several pieces of the New Testament, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,1 Timothy 1:9-10, and Jude 1:7.
I began this conversation by pointing out how Greek and Roman sexual mores are very different than our own. Greek men could have sex with boys and male Roman Citizens could have sex with pretty much any non-citizen. This explains why Paul advises people to have no sex what-so-ever (along with his assumption that the end of the world was neigh) —because sex in his society was always a question of power, a question of who is on top.
I noted that Romans 1 is a set up for Roman’s 2, “Therefor you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same thing. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?”—In other words “wow, those pagans even get so drunk they boink people they’re not attracted too… and you, in your own way… do the very same thing!”
From there I mentioned 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy may be talking about pimps, not people performing homoerotic acts, as the word Paul uses is a word he coins himself, not the typical Greek word for people performing homoerotic acts.
I also pointed out how Jude is referring back to Genesis 19, which we had already discussed.
Finally we closed by talking about how race might shape men’s decisions to be on the DL instead of coming out.
Here are a few quotes that I brought up to jumpstart our conversation:
Closeted or out?—“I’m only a homosexual when I’m having sex with a man.”
The African American Community—“It's like you've let down the whole black community, black women, black history, black pride. You don't hear black people say, 'Oh yeah, he's gay, but he's still a real man, and he still takes care of all his responsibilities.' What you hear is, 'Look at that sissy faggot.' ''
The Black Church— “coming out of the closet and pressing for rights in the Black church would be, I’d say, suicidal and destructive.”—Rev. Dr. Mozella G. Mitchell
Economics--“If you don’t have a job or a steady income, the thought of coming out may seem more like masochism than liberation.”-- Keith Boykin
The Gay Community--''The choice becomes, do I want to be discriminated against at home for my sexuality, or do I want to move away and be discriminated against for my skin color?''