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:
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.
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,
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?”
Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 10: 25 -37) tells us the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.
At his personal blog a few years ago, Fr Geoff Farrow published a post called Delivery “Salvation”, in which he describes an encounter with two young men who came to his door attempting to deliver some salvation, in the form of a pep talk on heaven and hell. We are all familiar with the scenario. How many of us though, have the presence of mind to reply as he did, by quoting from the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus was asked about the afterlife in the Luke 10: 23-37. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The question, by a lawyer, was prompted because there were 614 laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one law, was to break them all. In the rabbinic tradition of questioning/discussion this question was posited, “What does God expect of me?” “What is essential, or central?”
This question is applicable to contemporary people as well, regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), “What must I do to achieve my full potential, to be truly whole and at peace?”
In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with two other questions. “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” In addition, “How do you read it?” Incidentally, that second question is of critical importance, because our motive in reading any spiritual text, will determine its spiritual value/harm in our life.
The lawyer responded by citing a passage from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “Hear, Oh Israel!” that is prayed by observant Jewish people to this day, as Christians pray the “Our Father.” And Leviticus 19: 18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves the lawyer’s quotes and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”
Luke notes that the lawyer, “because he wished to justify himself” asked, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
Interestingly, Samaritans were regard as being beyond any hope of eternal life since they had comingled Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. Their theological beliefs and religious practices were seen as flawed, heretical and impious. Jesus deliberately selects a suspect minority group who were believed beyond hope of eternal life to illustrate what God expects from us. I suppose that if Jesus told this parable in the USA today, it would be the story of the Good Faggot.
He does not elaborate further on this idea of recasting the familiar Good Samaritan as a Good Faggot, but there is no need. It has been done before, for example by Richard Cleaver, in the introduction to his book “Know My Name“. I summarise his telling here:
Cleaver imagines a modern traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho, who is attacked by muggers and left for dead in the gutter. A bishop comes past in his Cadillac, which had been given to him by a car dealer, one of the most generous financial supporters of the diocese. Seeing the half-dead body at the roadside, he first thought it was just a pile of litter. Realizing it was a human body, he considered stopping, but decided against: he saw that the body was naked, and feared that taking a naked man into his car might cause a scandal. So, he drove on, consoling himself that these kinds of social services were better left to the professionals.
He then describes another traveller passing by, a prominent Catholic layman. He too thought of helping the man by the wayside, but then considered the implications. If the man was already dead, it was too late for help, and he would find himself caught up in endless bureaucratic red tape. If he was not dead and recovered, there was a danger that the injured man might find a reason to sue him for any mishap en route to the hospital. There was also the problem of the man’s nakedness – what had happened to his clothes? There was an assumption that the man obviously was not a man of god to be in that state, or must have done something to bring about his own misfortune. So he, too, went on his way.
Then a third traveller came past, a gay man returning home from his head office in Jerusalem, where he had just been fired, because someone had discovered he was gay, after his lover had beaten to death in a gay-bashing. When he saw the injured man, he immediately stopped, and was reminded of his lover’s beating and death. Realising the man was still just about alive, he applied what first aid he could, loaded him into the car and drove him to the nearest hospital.
“Later, the newspapers got hold of the story and came to interview him. The bishop read the story and called a press conference, at which he announced that the diocese was giving its Good Samaritan Award to the man who had helped the mugging victim he himself had driven past.
At the award banquet, held at the episcopal palace, the bishop stood with this arm around the good Samaritan and gave a little homily about showing mercy to the neighbour in distress. This act, he concluded, showed a true Christian spirit. He turned to the man and shook his hand, adding, “God will bless you abundantly for this.”
“Oh, I didn’t do it for religious reasons. It just seemed to me like the human thing to do. I haven’t been to church since my priest refused me absolution when I confessed I was in love with the redheaded guy who was captain of the football team.” The gay man smiled at the cameras.
The bishop was trying to figure out how to deal with the question he knew was coming next.”
At this time of year, Christians can do well to look back, Janus like, at the past year, and simultaneously to look ahead. We look back on the calendar year, and the great advances in secular marriage equality symbolized by the USA Supreme Court judgement and the Irish popular referendum success, and to the Catholic Bishops’ Synod Assembly on marriage and family. That synod did not do anything concrete to improve the position of lesbian and gay Catholics directly, but in what was not said, and in the tone of the discussions, it is clear that as we look ahead at the start of the calendar year, improvements in pastoral practice are clearly on the way, at least in some parts of the world. Those improvements in turn will spread, and in time lead to a continuing evolution in doctrine itself.
Against this background, the words from Isaiah for the first reading of the Christmas midnight Mass have profound relevance and resonance for us.
The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.
For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.
For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
and consumed by fire.
For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.
“I do not believe that the Church has the authority to stick its nose into family affairs. It would be good if a Church, which has taken more than two thousand years to admit that in marriage the couple’s love is also important besides the procreation of children, kept silent on questions for which it has received no mandate from Christ”.
Biblical scholar Alberto Maggi, in an interview with the “Pacem in Terris” blog at Quotidiano
The full Italian text may be read at the Quotidiano website. The interview was carried on his thoughts and expectations from the synod – and after. I offer here, courtesy of the community translation at Duolingo, some choice extracts from this notable interview,:
Expectations for the synod, and the Jubilee Year of Mercy to follow:
“I don’t expect much of the Synod”, but in the Jubilee Year of mercy called by the Pope, “I am hoping for concrete gestures in favour of the remarried, married priests and homosexuals” – three categories “humiliated and marginalised by the Church”.
On change in the Church:
Changes in the Church always come from the bottom, not from the top.Changes are rejected, hindered and opposed by the hierarchy.Then, after a long period of time, they are welcomed. When it is then too late”.
Christ, and the Church:
“In every situation, in every controversy you have always to keep in mind the behaviour of Christ. Every time he found himself having to choose between the obedience to Divine Law and the concrete good of man, without hesitating he always chose the latter.Doing right for man you are certain to do right by God.”.
The Bible and the patriarchal family :
What is the continuing thread that unites the Old and the New Testament on the family?
“There is no continuity and the message of Jesus is the least appropriate for sustaining the patriarchal family.Christ, rather than uniting families broke them up …”And Jesus invited people to free themselves, for his sake and that of the Gospel, even from the closest family ties, such as those between husband and wife, parents and children”.
Catholic Church family teaching and the Bible
“I do not believe that the Church has the authority to stick its nose into family affairs.It would be good if a Church, which has taken more than two thousand years to admit that in marriage the couple’s love is also important besides the procreation of children, kept silent on questions for which it has received no mandate from Christ”.
Denial of sacraments:
The contradiction is glaring between a Church which rightly claims the mandate of Christ to be able to pardon sinners, but then is incapable of giving pardon to one, who with the first marriage failed, attempts a new union.The Church absolves murderers but not divorced and remarried persons.I hope that in this year of mercy there will be concrete gestures in favour of three categories of people humiliated and marginalised by the Church – married priests, homosexuals, the divorced.It is not just a question of mercy, but of justice.
There is surely little need for further comment from me.
Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed our annual conference, “The Bible: Friend or Foe?”. I was stimulated by our keynote speaker, Keith Sharpe’s thoughts on the Bible and LGBT people, and moved by the personal testimony of out other guest speaker, Ruth Sharpe, chief executive of Stonewall, and her challenges in coming out as Catholic. I valued the social time, catching up with old friends, meeting new people, and getting to know in person some that I had previously known only on- line. I also thought that the strength and vigour of the organisation was amply demonstrated by the quality of discussion in the AGM, responses to the speakers, and in the report back on the Emmaus document on last year’s workshop.
Gay marriage was—surprise!—alive and well in Rome, celebrated even and especially by select emperors, a spin-off of the general cultural affirmation of Roman homosexuality. Gay marriage was, along with homosexuality, something the first Christians faced as part of the pagan moral darkness of their time.
What Christians are fighting against today, then, is not yet another sexual innovation peculiar to our “enlightened age,” but the return to pre-Christian, pagan sexual morality.
So, what was happening in ancient Rome? Homosexuality was just as widespread among the Romans as it was among the Greeks (a sign of which is that it was condoned even by the stolid Stoics). The Romans had adopted the pederasty of the Greeks (aimed, generally, at boys between the ages of 12 to 18). There was nothing shameful about such sexual relations among Romans, if the boy was not freeborn. Slaves, both male and female, were considered property, and that included sexual property.
But the Romans also extended homosexuality to adult men, even adult free men. And it is likely that this crossing of the line from child to adult, unfree to free—not homosexuality as such—was what affronted the more austere of the Roman moralists.
Wiker is of course, opposed to marriage equality, and so continues to quote Roman sources to prove that even they were disgusted by the practice. The examples he quotes deserve close attention, because there’s an important point he misses (or avoids), one which clarifies for me the real lesson behind the apparent condemnation of same – sex relationships in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
This passage, the third in the English bishops’ suggested texts for reflection on marriage as part of the consultation process for the Rome Family Synod 2015, is the familiar story of the Annunciation, Mary’s subsequent visit to Elizabeth, and her song of praise, the “Magnificat”. (The text may be read here, at Bible Gateway)