Tag Archives: Gay Jesus

John, the (Queer) Evangelist.

The Gospel of John is of particular interest to queer people of faith for its repeated references to the “beloved disciple”, or to “the disciple that Jesus loved”. These references make clear that whoever he was, this disciple had a relationship with Jesus of particular intimacy. There’s the well-known scene from the Last Supper where he rests his head on Jesus’ breast (or lap), and at the crucifixion, he is the only man standing among the women at the foot of the cross. He is the one to whom Christ entrusts the care of his mother – rather as a surviving spouse in marriage would assume some responsibility for the care of a mother-in-law. The existence of this special relationship  provides much of the argument for the proposition that Jesus’ sexual orientation may have been what we call “gay”.

The beloved disciple is not explicitly named, but is often assumed to be John himself. I have written before on these lines, using “John, the Beloved Disciple” as a jumping off point for a reflection on the gay Jesus:

Continue reading John, the (Queer) Evangelist.

JESUS: NOT “GAY”, BUT GENDERQUEER.

So: according to Michael Ruse at the Guardian, there could be new evidence that Jesus was openly and unambiguously a gay man. So what?

When I wrote about this news item, it was already late (after midnight UK time) and I had been on the point of going to bed, so I omitted any attempt at serious comment of my own. Stimulated by the swift responses from some readers (see their thoughts and my response in the comments thread to yesterday’s post), I can now begin to offer some personal reflection and reaction.

The interesting thing about this story is that while it will take time to authenticate these codices and their reported content, it actually makes very little difference to the core statements in the report: all (except for the unspecified parable, and the alleged quarrel with Joseph about manliness) are already known to us from the existing Gospels.




The Sexuality of Jesus

The absence of any direct reference in the Gospels to Jesus’ love life,  sexual or emotional, has led to the unfortunate modern assumption that he did not have one, that he was in effect asexual. This is a bad mistake. We know that he was fully human, and do will also have had the full range of human bodily and emotional drives. We also know very little about his eating habits, hygiene practices or bowel movements – but this does not imply that he did not have any.  We may not know how Jesus responded to his sexual feelings, but we can be certain that he had them – just as we do.

The repeated references to a “beloved disciple” (whoever he is) are clear evidence of a special, even intimate,relationship. This evidence comes from the words used, but also from the privileged position given to him, physically and symbolically, at key points in the Gospel narrative (for example, at the last supper and at the crucifixion). It is widely assumed that the term applies to John the Evangelist, but this may not be so. Another candidate is Lazarus. Some scholars draw attention to a supposed Second Gospel of Mark, which supposedly tells that after raising a young man (Lazarus?) from the dead, Jesus spent the night in bed with him. There is also a peculiar story in Mark’s Gospel of a night-time encounter in the garden with a young man covered only in a linen cloth, who then ran away naked.  We do not know who this mysterious young mas was, or what they were doing in the garden, but it too could have been Lazarus – and what do you think they were doing, in the dark and with one at least almost naked?

Personally, I reject the idea that Jesus was gay in any modern sense – the word is totally anachronistic, and there is in any case comparable evidence of a relationship with Mary Magdalene, which would make him at least “bi-” (in modern terminology. Intriguing as the evidence is that he may have had same-sex attractions or involvements, this evidence is at best supportive, but not conclusive proof.

Jesus and Mary Magdalene (Rubens)

What can we say for certain?

Jesus Rejected Modern “Family” Values

Well, we know very clearly what he was not. At a time when there were enormous social pressures on all Jews to marry and raise a family, he did not. He also encouraged his followers to leave their own families, lived with a same-sex band of single men, and selected his closest friends from single people.  Other than the men of “the twelve”, his closest friends were the two women Mary and Martha, two unmarried women living together (again in clear defiance of social expectations), and their unmarried brother, Lazarus. Much as the religious conservatives try to paint the Gospels as supporting their (modern) conception of supposedly “traditional” family values, the values found in the texts themselves and not the fundie imagination, are decidedly queer: This was not a devoted, heterosexual, family man.

We also know for certain that he rejected nobody. Inclusion for all was a hallmark of his ministry, to the extent of simply ignoring standard social taboos of all kinds. He freely engaged in religious discussions with women, he did not hesitate to go to the home of a Roman centurion to heal his servant and (probably) lover, he met with and healed lepers, and did not shrink from the menstruating woman. The example of the woman caught in adultery (and others) shows clearly that he was not particularly interested in peoples’ sexual acts – but only in the quality of their relationships (with others, and with God). This is also demonstrated by what he had to say on sex and sexuality : nothing at all.

Biological Sex and Gender Expression.

I was delighted by the timing of Michael Ruse’s Guardian report, which came just at the start of Trans in Faith week. The more I reflect on it, the more convinced I become that however one views Christ’s sexual orientation or practice, the most reliable descriptor that I can find is that he was/is very clearly, emphatically, genderqueer.

Consider first, the circumstances of his birth, and the implications if we are to accept the orthodox Catholic doctrine of Mary’s virginity. Then, without no human father, we must read his parentage as one human mother, with the Holy Spirit – often thought of as a feminine aspect of the Trinity. Two moms, then.

An observation by Susannah Cornwall in Trans/formations gives an even more radical view of the virgin birth. With no biological male parentage, he can have had no Y chromosomes, but only the female XX pattern. This will have made him externally male, but internally female – in other words, intersex.

Other writers in  Trans/formations draw attention to his gender bending behaviour: not only mixing socially with people from all backgrounds, reflecting sexual and gender diversity as well a ignoring class and ethnic divisions, but also reflected in his flouting of gender roles, freely engaging in many actions that were reserved to women in a highly gendered society.

Finally, as God and one person of the Trinity, he is clearly gender free, but also shares in theological descriptions which demonstrate extraordinary gender fluidity.

Welcome to God’s Queer Family

Michael Ruse concluded his post for the Guardian with the important words:

Finally, the most important news is that nothing in the newly discovered codices challenges in any way the essential message of Christianity. Jesus was the messiah; he died on the cross for our sins; and through his death and resurrection made possible our eternal salvation. Our overriding obligation is to love God and we do this by loving our neighbours as ourselves. Christianity will never be the same again. Christianity will go on completely unchanged.

That is, his sexuality and gender expression really do not matter. An response from a reader asked, if that is so, why bother to write about it at all?

But that is precisely the point. Biological sex, sexual orientation and gender expression clearly were of no concern to him, in his words and ministry. They really not be of any greater concern to us. As Bart put it his response here,

“Welcome to God’s queer family. All are invited”.

Books:

Althaus- Reid, Marcella & Isherwood, Lisa: Trans/formations (Scm Controversies in Contextual Theology Series)
Jennings, Theodore W: The Man Jesus Loved
Fiction:
Cherry, Kittredge: Jesus in Love

 

Related Posts at QTC

Related articles, elsewhere

WAS JESUS GAY? MARK, AND THE “NAKED YOUNG MAN”.

Discussion of the question “Was Jesus gay?” usually revolves around the references in the Gospel of John, to “The disciple Jesus loved.” These are well known, and have been widely discussed, here at QTC and elsewhere.  My reservations about these references are that they all come from the author of John’s Gospel, talking about himself as writer. I would be more easily convinced by the argument if there were corroborating evidence from the other Gospels:  if Matthew, or Luke, or Mark, also made the same references to one specific disciple who was “loved” in a way the others were not, and similarly noted how he rested his head on Jesus’ breast, or in his lap, and appeared to have inside information on Jesus thoughts and intentions – as John does.

Theodore Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved“, might just have some such corroborating evidence, from the Gospel of Mark, and from infuriatingly fragmentary evidence from what just might be a lost,  more extended version of that Gospel: something known as the “Secret Gospel” of Mark. In the first part of the book, Jennings offer an extensive examination of the evidence from John’s Gospel, and concludes that yes, the evidence is clear: there was indeed an unusually intimate relationship between Jesus and the author of that Gospel (whom he does not believe was in fact John). But then he continues, to look for further evidence from the other Gospels.

In Mark, he first draws our attention to a well-known passage which is seldom remarked on for homoerotic associations – the story of the “rich young man”, drawing attention to the words of the text,:

Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said….

Alone, this these words are not particularly remarkable, except that elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is not said to “love” specific individuals outside of the “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel. It becomes more interesting though, when read together with some other lines from Mark .  Jennings first discusses the curious matter of the “neaniskos“, or “naked young man”, in Jesus company in the Garden of Gethsemane:

And they all forsook him and fled.

 

And a youth (“neaniskos”) accompanied him, clothed in a linen cloth (“sindona”) over his nudity (“gumnos”).  And they seized him.  And he, leaving his linen cloth, fled nude (“gymnos”).

(Mark 14: 50 -52)

Who is this youth? What is he doing there? Why has he stayed behind, “accompanying” Jesus, after all the others have fled (at least until he is seized, and then flees, naked). Why is he so lightly clothed, that his garment can fall away so easily (the “sindoma” was not properly an item of clothing at all, but just a loose linen sheet)? And why use a word, “gymnos”  for nudity, which is strongly  associated with the homoeroticism of the Greek gymnasium – where young men exercised naked, and older men came to admire them?

But the most intriguing passage of all is found not in the standard Gospel of Mark, but in the so-called “Secret Mark”, supposedly found by Morton Smith in an eighteenth century copy of a previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria, found in 1958.  The authenticity is disputed,  but some scholars accept that it authentic, and is taken from an earlier, longer version of Mark’s Gospel than the one we use today.  I’m not going to get into the details of the origin or significance of this fragment  – see Jennings for that – but here is the bit that intrigues:

And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there.  and, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, “Son of David, have mercy upon me.”..But the disciples rebuked her.  And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb.  And going near Jesus rolled away a stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand nad raised him, seizing his hand.  But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him.  And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, and he was rich.  And and after six days Jesus told him what he wast to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.  And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And then, arising, he returned to the other side of Jordan.

This passage has two literary connections to the two earlier passages from canonical Mark: the verb used here for he youth “looking at “Jesus is the same (“emblepein“) as that  that used to describe Jesus when he “looked at” (and “loved”) the rich young man;  and here again, he is described as wearing just a linen cloth over his naked body.  (This is not on being raised from the dead, when such a cloth would have been expected, abut when he came to Jesus six days later.

Now, be honest:  if a young man came to you, “in the evening”, wearing “nothing but a linen cloth over his naked body”, what do you suppose he was after?  And if he came not to you, but to another man, and then stayed the night, what do you suppose your conclusion would be in the morning?

The fragment known as Secret Mark may not be authentic – but then, it may.  If so, the implications and connections to the other two passages, and to John are at least intriguing.  Is this the same rich young man who turned down the invitation to sell all and follow the Lord?  is he the same young man in a linen cloth who stayed with him after all others had fled? Is he, indeed, the “beloved disciple?”




LAZARUS, “THE MAN JESUS LOVED”

This morning’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, a familiar tale – too familiar, perhaps, as it contains much that should inspire us as queer Christians, but which we can easily overlook in its over – familiarity.

The Household of Martha and Mary.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair). (John  11: 1- 2)

These verses remind us of the nature of the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus – three unmarried people living together in one house. What we easily overlook in the twenty-first century, is how very odd, even transgressive, this would have been to the Jews of Jesus’ day. There was overwhelming pressure on all, women and men alike, to marry and produce children. For women, there was scarcely any choice in the matter: their lives were governed by their menfolk before marriage (either fathers or brothers), and their husbands after. It is true that after a man’s death, his brother was expected to take over the care and control of his widow(s), but this scarcely seems to fit what we know of this household. Lazarus is not married himself, and there is nothing anywhere in the text to suggest that he is in command of the household – quite the reverse. In this household, it is the women who run things.

Although they are described as siblings, several scholars have noted that this could well have been a euphemism, hiding a lesbian relationship between the women, and masking the true status of the single man living with them. Whatever the precise details of the relationships, this is undoubtedly a queer (i.e. unconventional) household, which we should bear in mind as we consider the particular relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, the focus of the story.

“The Man Jesus Loves”

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick. (John  11: 3).

The story is located in John’s Gospel, which is notable for its several references to the “beloved disciple”. Robert Goss notes that there is disagreement among scholars as to the precise identity of this person:

Scholars have long disputed whether the Beloved Disciple is John son of Zebedee, Thomas the Twin, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, or a symbol of the community. For some queer writers, the evidence points to Lazarus (WilliamsWilsonGoss). Jennings does not rule out the possibility of Lazarus, but maintains that the evidence is inconclusive. Elizabeth Stuartunderstands that the Beloved Disciple to be representing perfect intimacy with Jesus.

– Goss, in The Queer Bible Commentary

Whoever the unspecified “beloved disciple ” is though, this verse is explicit that if it is not Lazarus, then he can also be so described. The next question of particular interest for gay Christians could be, “What is the nature of this love? Is it intimate, or simply platonic?”.

I cannot think of the raising of Lazarus without recalling a remarkably similar story in the non-canonical fragment known as Mark II, said to have been quoted in an epistle of Clement of Alexandria. This also tells of the raising of a young man (unidentified) from the dead. If this young man is indeed Lazarus, and if there is any basis in fact for the story, then the relationship is anything but platonic. This description of what happened next is about as explicit as it gets, without becoming x-rated:

“And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.” (emphasis added)

Early Christian Writing

The Secret Gospel is non-canonical. We cannot evaluate its authenticity, but before dismissing it out of hand, we should also consider its similarity in referring to a naked young man wearing only a linen cloth, to the curious story in the canonical Gospel of Mark.

So, it is possible to read the passage as referring to an erotic relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, but even if we do not, there is an important message for us in the description of Lazarus as the one whom Jesus loved.  For if it refers only to a platonic intimacy, then that can be said to apply also to all of humanity. It is fundamental to the Christian faith that God loves all his creatures (including us queer creatures), and we known from the writers on spirituality, and also (if we are fortunate) from personal experience, that it is possible for us, 200 years later, also to develop through prayer a personal, deep relationship with him. We too, can experience what it is to be “the man Jesus loves”.

Defying the Persecutors

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

 

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?

It is easy to forget that in this passage, Jesus was not simply returning to the friends he had left behind.  This episode occurs just a short while before the Passion. As the disciples knew, in returning to Judea, he was returning to those who wanted him out of the way, placing himself (and his associates) at substantial risk.  As queer Christians, we are often persecuted by those in control of the churches, but this is not a reason for us to stay away.

It is not just we who have experienced death inside the church. By silencing or driving away some of its members, the Church itself has experienced a form of death. It is incumbent upon us too, to go where we are needed. This includes entering right into the belly of the beast, the institutional church, and restoring it to full, inclusive life.

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (v 25, 26)

Jesus’ promise of resurrection and life, so central to Christian faith, obviously refers to the resurrection after death – but also to more. It is also a promise of a fullness of life here on earth. Individually and collectively, gay men, lesbians and transmen and transwomen often feel that they have suffered a psychic death in the Church, ignored, silenced, and written out of the approved Church histories. However, by focussing our attention on Christ and the Gospels rather than on the man-made and disordered Vatican doctrines, we too can find a fullness of life that the Church attempts to deny us, a genuine human flourishing that is the real point of the concept of “natural law”.




“Come Out”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Many commentators have noted the resonance of these words for modern gay men and lesbians. The modern sense, of coming out publicly in open acknowledgement of our sexual orientation, is obviously not what Jesus’ words mean, in any literal sense. However, there is nevertheless a powerful image here that is indeed applicable. In coming out of the tomb, Lazarus is emerging from darkness and death to light and life – and as metaphor, this is precisely how so many of us experience coming out. (For those of us who have come out to friends and family, but not in Church, the process is incomplete. Coming out in Church can represent a further stage in this process of moving from death to life, from darkness to life).

Most interpretations of this as a message about coming out do so with a focus on Lazarus and its obvious connections to gay men. Robert Goss quotes Mona West, who offers an interpretation from a lesbian perspective, by focussing on Martha, and her coming out as a disciple of Jesus:

<em

>She (Martha) is invited to move beyond a mere confession of faith and to accept the radical fullness of Jesus’ grace. Her conversation with him thus not only forms the theological heart of the story; it is also at the theological heart of the coming out process for Christian lesbians and gay men.

Conclusion

I am left with three overriding commands that I take away from the story of Lazarus, and Jesus’ renowned raising of him from death. Recognizing that like Lazarus, we are all beloved disciples of Jesus, we must follow Martha in accepting and reciprocating that love and grace. Doing so will give us the strength and courage to come out publicly even in the Church, and to face down those who oppose us in the name of misguided religion. This will contribute to our own healing and resurrection in a fuller life – but will also contribute new life to the Church itself.

Books:

Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary

Jennings, Theodore: the man jesus loved

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships

Williams, Robert: Just As I Am: A Practical Guide to Being Out, Proud, and Christian

Wilson, Nancy: Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible

Related Posts at QTC:

“Coming Out”: A Gospel Command

A Broken Church, and the Return From Emmaus

Rainbow Jesus Joins London Pride

Rainbow Jesus, at London Pride

 

The purple t-shirts are for “Christians Together at Pride”, with some for “Soho Masses”. The “Welcome” banner is for “LGBTCatholicsWestminster”, the successor to what were once known as the “Soho Masses”.

The next picture shows the old and new banners, for Soho Masses and LGBTCatholicsWestminster side by side. (“Soho Masses” have not been shut down – just moved):

All are welcome, Soho Masses

Also at London Pride this year were “Positive Catholics”, a mutual support group for Catholics living with HIV / AIDS.

Positive Catholics at Pride

(All pictures courtesy of Martin Pendergast)

Was Jesus Gay? (Elton John)

According to Sir Elton John, the answer is clearly yes.

Sir Elton John is facing a backlash from conservative Christian groups after stating in an interview that Jesus was a gay man.

The 62-year-old musician also opened up to US magazine Parade about the “life-threatening downside” of fame and his relationship with partner David Furnish.

But it’s the Rocket Man’s views on Jesus’s sexuality which have sparked headlines across the world.

In the interview, to be published in America on Saturday, Sir Elton said: “I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.

“On the cross, he forgave the people who crucified him. Jesus wanted us to be loving and forgiving. I don’t know what makes people so cruel. Try being a gay woman in the Middle East – you’re as good as dead.”

I don’t suppose Sir Elton has notable thological credentials for making this claim, but his fame alone will ensure that his remarks command wide attention.

This is welcome, because the subjeect deserves more consideration than the easy assumptions that usually underlie thinking and speking about Jesus the man. Simply by raising the issue, Sir Elton has ensured that there will be many voices raised in opposition and in support. Let us hope that some of these voices will offer some plain sense.

My own position here is simple.  I do not for a minute believe that Jesus was “gay”, certainly not in any sense of the word that is recognisable in the moedern world.  But I do believe he was undoubtedly “queer”, in that he emphatically did not conform to any usual expectations of sexual or gender conformity.

Let us begin with the obvious basics.  We know and accept as basic to theology, that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  The divinity does not concern us here, but the “human” part surely does.  As fully human, and specifically male, we know that he had a fully male physical body, and all that that entails. We must also accept that he had human emotions, human feelings – and those would certainly have included sexual feelings.

What he did about those, we do not know.  Did he act on them? Did he sublimate them? Some argue on scanty evidence for a sexual relationship with John the Evangelist, or with Mary Magdalene, or with Lazarus. All this is speculation.  We have no way of knowing for sure, although in thee absence of hard evidence, any of these are possible – as is complete celibacy.

So instead of complete celibacy, let us look at some basic facts, as we know them from Scripture and from history, starting with the latter.  The Pontifical Bible Commission recommends that the interpretation of Scripture includes some consideration of the historical context.  In first century Hebrew society, that would have included an overwhelming social expectation that all should marry and raise families, in a strictly hierarchical social structure. That society assumed an inferior position for women, who were not expected to join in religious discussion or leadership, assumed the place of slavery in human conduct, with extensive rights of slave owners over their “property”, and followed a complex set of purity regulations and taboos.

In his life and in his teaching, Jesus ignored all of these, and actively taught against some.  He never married (as far as we know), and exhorted his disciples to leave their own families to follow him. His closest friends outside the twelve were the household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus – also all unmarried, living in a household that would surely have shocked many Jewish social conformists. On several occasions, he actively engaged with women in religious discussions.  And in his dealings with social outcasts of all kinds, including prostitutes, lepers, slaves or menstruating women, he ignored the purity taboos.  Doing so undoubtedly contributed to his getting up the noses of the religious leaders of the day, just as gay men, lesbians and transsexuals today continue to upset self-righteous and self-appointed religious leaders.

Jesus Christ – possibly not “gay” – but undoubtedly queer.

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