Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Saints Sergius and Bacchus: Male couple martyred in ancient Rome

“Sergius and Bacchus” by Alessio Ciani

Saints Sergius and Bacchus. 7th Century icon from St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. Now in an art museum in Kiev, Ukraine. (Wikimedia Commons)

Saints Sergius and Bacchus were third-century Roman soldiers, Christian martyrs and men who loved each other. Their story is told here in words and pictures for their feast day today (Oct. 7).

The close bond between Sergius and Bacchus has been emphasized since the earliest accounts, and recent scholarship has revealed their homosexuality. The oldest record of their martyrdom describes them as erastai (Greek for “lovers”). Scholars believe that they may have been united in the rite of adelphopoiesis (brother-making), a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage.

New creative interpretations of Sergius and Bacchus include an icon by Italian artist Alessio Ciani, and the historical romance novel “The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus” by Los Angeles author David Reddish, and a sketch by Massachusetts artist Brandon Buehring.

A classic example of paired saints, Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking young officers. Sergius was primicerius (commander) and Bacchus was secundarius (subaltern officer). They were tortured to death around 303 in present-day Syria after they refused to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity.

The men were arrested and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them. Early accounts say that they responded by chanting that they were dressed as brides of Christ. They told their captors that women’s dress never stopped women from worshiping Christ, so it wouldn’t stop them, either. Then Sergius and Bacchus were separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died.

According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus appeared to Sergius that night with a face as radiant as an angel’s, dressed once again as a soldier. He urged Sergius not to give up because they would be reunited in heaven as lovers. His statement is unique in the history of martyrs. Usually the promised reward is union with God, not with a lover. Over the next days Sergius was tortured and eventually beheaded.

Their same-sex love story is set amid dramatic events of the Roman Empire events in the 2014 novel “The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus” by David Reddish. The explosive same-sex love story of the soldier-saints unfolds during the Roman Empire in the 2014 novel “The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus” by David Reddish. Sergius and Bacchus meet, fall in love, have a commitment ceremony, and face deadly threats in a novel based on historical and archeological discoveries. It dramatizes the final gasp of paganism, the politics of newborn Christianity, and the re-discovered rites of same-sex unions performed by the early church. From the forests of Gaul to the streets of Constantinople, from the secret Christian hideaways of the deaconess Macrina to the palace of the emperor, the novel provides adventure and romance while examining questions of sexuality, faith, sacrifice, patriotism and the nature of God. It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in the gay romance category.

A screenwriter as well as a novelist, Reddish has won awards for his political activism as well as pop culture acclaim for his fashion design work. He graduated with a degree in film from the University of Central Florida and resides in Los Angeles.

Sergius’ tomb became a famous shrine, and for nearly 1,000 years the couple was revered as the official patrons of the Byzantine army. Many early churches were named after Sergius, sometimes with Bacchus. They have been recognized as martyrs by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The pair was venerated through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America and among the Slavs.

Yale history professor John Boswell names Sergius and Bacchus as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church in his book “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe”. (The others are Polyeuct and Nearchus and Felicity and Perpetua.)

The Roman Catholic Church stripped Sergius and Bacchus from its liturgical calendar in 1969 -- the same year that New York’s Stonewall riots launched the modern gay liberation movement. Supposedly they were “de-canonized” due to lack of historical evidence, but some see it as an anti-gay action since they clearly had churches dedicated to them long before medieval times. Sergius and Bacchus continue to be popular saints with Christian Arabs and now among LGBT Christians and their allies.

From ancient times until today these “gay saints” have inspired some of the most beautiful art depicting the holiness of same-sex couples, sometimes in a homoerotic way. One of the newest is the 2013 icon at the top of this post, painted by Alessio Ciani of Italy. He has done a wide variety of LGBT illustrations and gay homoerotic art. His work has been exhibited in Milan and Perugia.

“Baccus and Sergius” by Brandon Buehring

Artist Brandon Buehring included Sergius and Bacchus in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” He uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The painting below is by California gay artist Rick Herold. “I over the years as a painter have been interested in the idea of the spirit and the flesh as one -- began by Tantric art influences and then using my Catholic background,” he told the Jesus in Love Blog. He paints with enamel on the reverse side of clear plexiglas.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Rick Herold (details below)

Herold has a bachelor of arts degree in art and theology from the Benedictine Monastic University of St. John in Minnesota and a master of fine arts degree from Otis Institute of Art in Los Angeles. His religious artwork included a Stations of the Cross commissioned by Bob Hope for a church in Ohio before a conflict over modern art with the Los Angeles cardinal led to disillusionment with the church. Herold came out as gay and turned to painting male nudes and homoerotica, which can be seen at RickHerold's website. (Warning: his home page has male nudity.)

“Sts. Sergius and Bacchus” by Plamen Petrov, St. Martha Church, Morton Grove, IL

One of the newest images of 3rd-century gay saints Sergius and Bacchus is a stained glass window donated in 2011 to an Illinois church by its LGBT parishioners. The new Sergius and Bacchus window (above) was dedicated in September 2011 at St. Martha’s Church in Morton Grove, Illinois, as a gift from its LGBT members. Rev. Dennis O’Neill, pastor, believes it is the first window dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus in any church in the United States. O’Neill is the author of Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People. The book includes a chapter retelling the love story of Sergius and Bacchus with historical detail.

The Sergius and Bacchus window is part of a project in which members of St. Martha’s diverse congregation were selecting and paying for a set of 20 windows of saints from their various homelands. LGBT members contributed the “friendship window” depicting Sergius and Bacchus. It is a companion to the “marriage window” which shows St. Elizabeth of Hungary and her husband, Blessed Ludwig of Thuringia.

Artist Plamen Petrov worked with Daprato Rigali Studios to design and create the stained glass windows. He was born in Sevlievo, Bulgaria in 1966 and currently lives in Chicago. He graduated from University St. Cyril and St Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s Faculty of Fine Art in 1995, with an M.F.A. in graphic art - printmaking and pedagogy of figurative arts. For more than a dozen years he specialized mostly in stained glass, but his creativity takes many forms, since he also works in mosaics, murals, oil, acrylic, photography and graphic design. His artwork may be seen across Chicago and Illinois, and in many countries all over the world.

“St. Bacchus and St. Sergius: Patrons of Same-Sex Couples by Maria Cristina

A banner saying “patrons of same sex couples” hangs above Bacchus and Sergius in a colorful icon by Maria Cristina, an artist based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Ray Avito

On the day that California artist Ray Avito first heard the story of Sergius and Bacchus, he sketched a  delightfully unpretentious portrait of the pair (pictured above).  He said it was based on “the suspicion that they may have been more than just comrades in arms.”

“Marriage of Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” (2013) by Tony de Carlo

“Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” by Tony de Carlo

Sergius and Bacchus are among the many saints painted by Georgia artist Tony de Carlo. Raised Catholic, he started painting saints to counteract the church’s demonization of LGBT people. For more info, see my article Tony De Carlo: Artist affirms gay love with saints, Adam and Steve, and marriage equality paintings.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Ryan Grant Long

Historical men who loved men, including Sergius and Bacchus, are painted by American artist Ryan Grant Long in his “Fairy Tales” series. Sergius and Bacchus are usually portrayed as static icons, side by side staring straight at the viewer. But Long catches them gazing into each other’s eyes during a private moment in their prison cell. For more info, see my article Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Long.

“Bacchus” and “Sergius” from the series “Five Saints” (2008) by Anthony Gayton. © Anthony Gayton /

Noted British photographer Anthony Gayton does stylized homoerotic photos based on the history of gay culture. He shows Sergius and Bacchus stripped and bound as prisoners in two separate photos. The images are intended to be shown together, but by design they can also be separated.

Appropriate Bible quotes are on banners above them. For Bacchus: “But I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.” (Psalm 89:33). For Sergius: “All thy commandments are faithful, they persecute me wrongly; help thou me.” (Psalm 119: 86)

His Sergius and Bacchus photos belong to the series “Five Saints.” In addition to exploring saints, Gayton’s work uses historical themes inspired by such diverse sources as mythology, Renaissance and Baroque painting and early photography. Gayton's work is published in his book Sinners and Saints.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus
By Brother Robert Lentz OFM,

The Living Circle, an interfaith LGBT spirituality center founded by Dennis O’Neill, commissioned the above icon of the loving same-sex pair. It was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. “Saints Sergius and Bacchus” is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda. They caused such a stir that in order to keep the peace between his Franciscan province and the Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lentz temporarily gave away the copyright for the 10 controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. Lentz’ own moving spiritual journey and some of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry.

20th-century icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus from the courtyard of the Monastery of Mar Sarkis and Bakhos in Maaloula, Syria (Wikimedia Commons)
Related links:

Sergius and Bacchus art by Alfredo Müller of Bolivia (Warning: male nudity)

Many icons, statues, and churches dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus can be viewed at:

Sergius and Bacchus at Queer Saints and Martyrs (and Others)

Honoring (and Learning from) the Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus -- at The Wild Reed

St. Sergius and St. Bacchus at the Legacy Project

Santos Sergio y Baco: Una pareja masculina martirizada en la antigua Roma (Santos Queer)
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Icons of Sergius and Bacchus and many other saints are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

MCC 47th anniversary! Photos show LGBT church history

Kittredge Cherry celebrated communion in 1993 at Metropolitan Community Churches General Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

Happy birthday to Metropolitan Community Churches! And thanks for 47 years ministering in the LGBT community. MCC was founded 47 years ago today on Oct. 6, 1968.

Rev. Kittredge Cherry, 1988
Photos from MCC history are posted today for the first time in honor of the occasion, and as a tribute to all queer people of faith who dare to believe that God loves us just as we are.

The photos here show highlights from my own ministry in MCC during the 1990s. I had the privilege of working closely with Rev. Troy Perry, the openly gay man who founded MCC. He was incredibly brave and visionary to create a church for queer people back in 1968, when homosexuality was still considered a sin, a sickness and a crime. He describes the founding and early years of MCC in the book Don't Be Afraid Anymore: The Story of Reverend Troy Perry and the Metropolitan Community Churches by Troy D. Perry and Thomas Swicegood.

I joined MCC in 1985 and became an ordained minister. I served as program director at MCC San Francisco. Then I joined the denominational headquarters in Los Angeles, where I handled ecumenical and public relations, working with Troy and Rev. Nancy Wilson, who currently heads MCC as moderator.

I try to post some of my historic MCC photos every year on MCC’s anniversary. This year I am sharing many of Nancy and me doing ecumenical ministry together. The photos capture just a few moments from those memorable times.

Details about the photo at the top of this post: Pictured are, from left, unknown, Jay Neely, Sandy Williams (?), Kittredge Cherry, Rev. Elder Jean White, Rev. Elder Hong Tan, unknown, and Ravi Verma. This worship service was co-sponsored by the Department of Ecumenical Witness and Ministry and the Department of People of Color. I was ecumenical field director at the time.

My old IBM computer was HUGE and already outdated, but I was using it in 1994 when this photo was taken in my office at MCC headquarters in Los Angeles.

Women clergy having fun together in 1991. From left: Betty Pederson, Kittredge Cherry, Audrey, Jane Spahr and Coni Staff. Betty, Coni and I were all MCC clergy at the time. We were at my farewell party as I prepared to leave San Francisco to minister in Los Angeles. Janie has been an activist for since the 1970s as a Presbyterian minister, facing church trials for breaking church law to marry committed same-gender couples.

MCC San Francisco's 1986 All-Church Retreat, October 1986. Those were the days! Retreats were the highlight of the year at MCC-SF in the late 1980s.

Small groups for discussion and prayer were the heart of every MCC-SF retreat in the late 1980s. My small group at the 1986 retreat included,from left, Kittredge Cherry, George Voigt, Patrick Horay, Karen Miller, Charles West and Gordon Gross.

MCC San Francisco Retreat, October 1987. It was the height of the AIDS pandemic and we had a wonderful, spirit-filled time together. Some of those pictured have passed on to new life.

My small group at the 1987 MCC-SF retreat included, from left, Bob Crocker, Dennis Edelman, Sylvia Perez, unknown, Kittedge Cherry, Paul (Holton?) and Lynn Jordan.

My life partner Audrey and I at the 1987 MCC-SF retreat.

See more of my MCC photos at these links:

Motorcycle blessing at 1980s gay leather bar remembered

Mel White stands for LGBTQ religious justice then and now

Happy birthday, MCC and Desmond Tutu!

See LGBT history in photos

Happy 40th birthday, MCC!

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Francis of Assisi’s queer side revealed

Francis of Assisi and the man he loved in “They Shelter in a Cave” by José Benlliure y Gil, 1926 (Wikimedia Commons)

Historical records reveal a queer side to Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the most beloved religious figures of all time. The 13th-century friar is celebrated for loving animals, hugging lepers, and praying for peace, but few know about his love for another man and his gender nonconformity. His feast day is today (Oct. 4).

Francis is “a uniquely gender-bending historic figure” according to Franciscan scholar Kevin Elphick He has spent years researching the queer side of Saint Francis, including travel to to the Italian town of Assisi. There he photographed artwork depicting the man he believes may have been the saint’s beloved soulmate: Brother Elias of Cortona.

Brother Elias (center) at the Baptismal font where St. Francis was christened in the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi, Italy. (Photo by Kevin Elphick)

When Francis (1181-1226) was a young man, he had an unnamed male companion whom he dearly loved -- and who was written out of history after the first biography. Other Franciscan friars referred to Francis as “Mother” during his lifetime. He encouraged his friars to be mothers to each other when in hermitage together, and used other gender-bending metaphors to describe the spiritual life. He experienced a vision of an all-female Trinity, who in turn saluted him as “Lady Poverty,” a title that he welcomed.

The earliest companion of Francis, a man whom Francis “loved more than any other because he was the same age” and because of “the great familiarity of their mutual affection” remains nameless. Elphick's research suggests that the unnamed soulmate of Saint Francis was Brother Elias of Cortona. Francis called Elias “Mother” and gave him a special blessing. Elias expressed much concern about Francis’ body and his health. Francis and Elias each describe the other in affectionate terms. However, very quickly after Francis died, Elias is written out of history and discredited. Elphick presents the scholarly evidence about their relationship in the detailed article at the Jesus in Love Blog: “Brother Elias: Soulmate to Saint Francis of Assisi?

Lady Jacoba
also known as
Brother Jacoba
(See full image below)

Francis allowed a widow to enter the male-only cloister, naming her “Brother Jacoba.” (Details about Jacoba are at the end of this article.) His partner in ministry was a woman, Clare of Assisi, and he cut her hair in a man’s tonsured style when she joined his male-only religious order.

Early evidence of these and other ways that Francis crossed gender boundaries are gathered in the ground-breaking unpublished master’s thesis “Gender Liminality in the Franciscan Sources” by Elphick, who is both a Franciscan scholar and a supervisor on a suicide prevention hotline in New York. He wrote the thesis for a master’s degree in Franciscan studies from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

Francis’ love for another man is described in his earliest biography, The First Life of St Francis of Assisi by Thomas of Celano, a follower of Francis who knew him personally. The biography was completed by 1230, just four years after Francis died. Celano says that when Francis was in his 20s, before embracing a life of poverty, he dearly loved a special male friend:

“Now there was a man in the city of Assisi whom Francis loved more than any other, and since they were of the same age and their constant association and ties of affection emboldened Francis to share his secret with him, he would often take this friend off to secluded spots where they could discuss private matters and tell him that he had chanced upon a great and precious treasure. His friend was delighted and, intrigued by what he had heard, he gladly accompanied Francis wherever he asked. There was a cave near Assisi where the two friends often went to talk about this treasure.”

In his thesis, Elphick points out, “Because homosexuality and ‘gay’ identities are modern constructs, it is impossible and inaccurate to attempt to read these modern categories into the personalities of historical figures.” Instead he uses the word “homoaffectional” to describe the relationship of Francis and his beloved companion.

“The relationship is inescapably homoaffectional, describing a shared intimacy between two Medieval men. That this first companion disappears from the later tradition is cause for suspicion and further inquiry.... The tone in Celano’s earliest account captures the flavor and intimacy of this relationship, perhaps too much so for an increasingly homophobic church and society.”

Francis and his beloved friend are seldom depicted by artists, but they are shown together in the rare and hard-to-find image above: “They shelter in a cave” (Se cobijan en una cueva) by Spanish painter José Benlliure y Gil. It is the 8th in his series of 74 images from the life of Saint Francis. The series was published by Franciscans in Valencia, Spain, in 1926 in a book to mark the 700th anniversary of the saint’s death. A commentary in Spanish about the picture is available online.

Elphick finds many more examples of what he calls “gender liminality” in historical documents on Francis. He defines liminality as “crossing the threshold of gender, either symbolically, or by actions within a person’s life that breach the social boundaries of gender.”

Francis was born to a wealthy Italian family in 1181 or 1182. As a young man he renounced his wealth, even stripping off his clothes, and devoted himself to a life of poverty in the service of Christ. He connected with nature, calling all animals “brother” and “sister” and celebrating them in his famous Canticle of the Sun.

“St. Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree”
By William Hart McNichols ©
He saw the face of Christ in lepers, the most reviled outcasts of his time, and nursed them with compassion.  William Hart McNichols puts Francis’ ministry into a contemporary context by showing him embracing a gay Jesus with AIDS in “St. Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree,” pictured here. Words on the cross proclaim that Christ is an “AIDS leper” as well as a “drug user” and “homosexual,” outcast groups at high risk for getting AIDS. The two men gaze intently at each other with unspeakable love as Francis hugs the wounded Christ. It was commissioned in 1991 by a New Jersey doctor who worked with AIDS patients, and is discussed in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry.

McNichols created the icon in his own style based on a 1668 painting by Spanish painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo, which was surely inspired by the more passionate 1620 version of fellow Spaniard Francisco Ribalta. In Ribalta’s work (pictured below), Christ responds to St. Francis’ ecstatic kiss by giving the saint his crown of thorns, the symbol of suffering that leads to divine union.

“Saint Francis Embracing Christ” by Francisco Ribalta (Wikimedia Commons)

“St. Francis and the Sultan”
by Brother Robert Lentz,
A famous peace prayer is attributed to St. Francis. It begins, “God, make me an instrument of your peace.” Late in his life Francis embodied this message through man-to-man Christian-Muslim dialogue in the Mideast, a region where people are still at war.

In 1219 Francis went to Damietta, Egypt, with the European armies during the Fifth Crusade. He hoped to discuss religion peacefully with the Muslims. He tried to prevent Crusaders from attacking Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, but he failed. Francis was captured and taken to the sultan Malek al-Kamil. At first they tried to convert each other, but each man soon recognized that the other already knew and loved God. They remained together, discussing spirituality, for about three weeks between Sept. 1 and Sept. 26. Robert Lentz celebrates their meeting as a model of interfaith dialogue in the icon “St. Francis and the Sultan,” pictured here.

“St Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata”
by Kevin Raye Larson © 1991
In 1224, when Francis was in his 40s, he received the stigmata -- marks like the crucifixion wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. California artist Kevin Raye Larson emphasizes the sensuality of the ecstatic moment in “St Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata,” pictured here. The painting has appeared on the cover of the spirituality issue of “Frontiers,” the Los Angeles gay lifestyle magazine.

Along with the stigmata came other health problems. When Francis sensed death approaching, he called for Jacoba de Settesoli, a Roman noblewoman devoted to him and his teachings. Francis stayed in her house when in Rome.  Celano’s 13th-century account in the “Treatise on the Miracles of Blessed Francis” reports that Francis greeted the news of her arrival at the male-only cloister with a decidedly queer statement that breaks gender rules::

“Blessed be God, who has guided the Lady Jacoba, our brother, to us. Open the door and bring her in, for our Brother Jacoba does not have to observe the decree against women.”

The widow called “Brother Jacoba” by Francis kneels near the dying Francis of Assisi in “48. Jacoba of Settesoli is associated with the mourning” (Jacoba de Settesoli se asocia al duelo) by José Benlliure y Gil, 1926 (Wikimedia Commons)

Francis died a few days later on Oct. 3, 1226. Two years after Francis’ death, Pope Gregory IX declared him a saint and commissioned Celano’s biography, the one that includes the love between Francis and his male companion.

Elphick adds an intriguing footnote about how the queer side of Francis has manifested outside official Christianity. Francis is venerated in the Yoruba religion of Africa as Orunmila, the orisha of wisdom, patron of animals and a transgendered deity who engages in same-sex eroticism.

At the end of his thesis, Elphick concludes that breaking gender rules is an extraordinary God-given power or “charism” that Franciscans offer to the church and the world.

“What are the lives of figures like Mother Francis, Brother Jacoba and Mother Juana de la Cruz revealing to us in our own day? I think that the Franciscan charism of gender liminality has much to teach our Church and fellow community of humans in our day. In a church divided over issues of ordination of women, inclusive language, and sexual orientation, I believe that the Franciscan tradition has important figures to hold up and from whom to learn. For issues which we have not even yet begun to explore theologically in authentic ways, issues such as hermaphroditism, transsexuality, genderedness and sexual orientation, I believe the Franciscan voice can be prophetic.”

“Saint Francis in Ecstasy” by Caravaggio (Wikimedia Commons)
Related links:
"The Message of St. Francis" by Kevin C. A. Elphick (The Empty Closet)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
San Francisco de Asís: La evidencia histórica revela su lado gay

Animal blessing events are happening all over the world this month for the Feast of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals. Click here for animal blessing prayer by Kittredge Cherry.

This profile is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Innovative icons of St. Francis and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

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Friday, October 02, 2015

New LGBTQ Christian books: Oct. 2015: "Courage to be Queer" and "My Exodus"

Queer theology and a former ex-gay leader’s story are new LGBT Christian books this month: “The Courage to Be Queer” by Jeff Hood and “My Exodus” by Alan Chambers.


The Courage to be Queerby Jeff Hood.

A theology of God the Queer who speaks to everyone through the queerness of each individual context is revealed by a queer pastor/theologian/activist. He shakes the demons out of the Bible and leaves only love, making advanced queer theological concepts accessible with sound Biblical references. Ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention, he recently concluded a doctorate in queer theology at Texas Christian University. Published by Wipf & Stock with 39 endorsements!

Memoir and biography

My Exodus: From Fear to Graceby Alan Chambers.

Author Alan Chambers, the final president of huge ex-gay group Exodus International, shocked the world when he repudiated its mission and closed the organization with a public apology to the LGBT community in 2013. Still a committed believer in Christ, he now seeks to create welcoming communities. Here he tells his powerful personal life story and faith journey of same-sex attraction and deepening understanding of God.

Related links:

New LGBTQ Christian books: Sept 2015

New LGBTQ Christian books: Aug 2015

New LGBTQ Christian books: July 2015

New LGBTQ Christian books: June 2015

New LGBTQ Christian books: May 2015

New LGBTQ Christian books: March 2015

New LGBTQ Christian books: Feb 2015

Top 25 LGBTQ Christian books of 2014 named (Jesus in Love)

Top 20 Gay Jesus books (from Jesus in Love)

Queer Theology book list (from Patrick Cheng)

Queering the Church book list

Jesus in Love Bookstore (includes LGBT Christian classics)

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rumi: Poet and Sufi mystic inspired by same-sex love

Rumi and Shams together in a detail from “Dervish Whirl” by Shahriar Shahriari (

Rumi is a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic whose love for another man inspired some of the world’s best poems and led to the creation of a new religious order, the whirling dervishes. His birthday is today (Sept. 30).

With sensuous beauty and deep spiritual insight, Rumi writes about the sacred presence in ordinary experiences. His poetry is widely admired around the world and he is one of the most popular poets in America. One of his often-quoted poems begins:

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,
Like this.*

The homoeroticism of Rumi is hidden in plain sight. It is well known that his poems were inspired by his love for another man, but the queer implications are seldom discussed. There is no proof that Rumi and his beloved Shams of Tabriz had a sexual relationship, but the intensity of their same-sex love is undeniable.

“Rumi of Persia”
by Robert Lentz
Rumi was born Sept. 30, 1207 in Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian Empire. His father, a Muslim scholar and mystic, moved the family to Roman Anatolia (present-day Turkey) to escape Mongol invaders when Rumi was a child. Rumi lived most of his life in this region and used it as the basis of his chosen name, which means “Roman.” His full name is Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi.

His father died when Rumi was 25 and he inherited a position as teacher at a madrassa (Islamic school). He continued studying Shariah (Islamic law), eventually issuing his own fatwas (legal opinions) and giving sermons in the local mosques. Rumi also practiced the basics of Sufi mysticism in a community of dervishes, who are Muslim ascetics similar to mendicant friars in Christianity.

On Nov. 15, 1244 Rumi met the man who would change his life: a wandering dervish named Shams of Tabriz (Shams-e-Tabrizi or Shams al-Din Muhammad). He came from the city of Tabriz in present-day Iranian Azerbaijan. It is said that Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East asking Allah to help him find a friend who could “endure” his companionship. A voice in a vision sent him to the place where Rumi lived.

Meeting of Rumi and Shams
16th-17th century folio
(Wikimedia Commons)
Rumi, a respected scholar in his thirties, was riding a donkey home from work when an elderly stranger in ragged clothes approached. It was Shams. He grasped the reins and started a theological debate. Some say that Rumi was so overwhelmed that he fainted and fell off the donkey.

Rumi and Shams soon became inseparable. They spent months together, lost in a kind of ecstatic mystical communion known as “sobhet” -- conversing and gazing at each other until a deeper conversation occurred without words. They forgot about human needs and ignored Rumi’s students, who became jealous. When conflict arose in the community, Shams disappeared as unexpectedly as he had arrived.

Rumi’s loneliness at their separation led him to begin the activities for which he is still remembered. He poured out his soul in poetry and mystical whirling dances of the spirit.

Eventually Rumi found out that Shams had gone to Damascus. He wrote letters begging Shams to return. Legends tell of a dramatic reunion. The two sages fell at each other’s feet. In the past they were like a disciple and teacher, but now they loved each other as equals. One account says, “No one knew who was lover and who the beloved.” Both men were married to women, but they resumed their intense relationship with each other, merged in mystic communion. Jealousies arose again and some men began plotting to get rid of Shams.

One winter night, when he was with Rumi, Shams answered a knock at the back door. He disappeared and was never seen again. Many believe that he was murdered.

Rumi grieved deeply. He searched in vain for his friend and lost himself in whirling dances of mourning. One of his poems hints at the his emotions:

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

Rumi danced, mourned and wrote poems until the pressure forged a new consciousness. “The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” he once wrote. His soul fused with his beloved. They became One: Rumi, Shams and God. He wrote:

Why should I seek? I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.

After this breakthrough, waves of profound poetry flowed out of Rumi. He attributed more and more of his writings to Shams. His literary classic is a vast collection of poems called “The Works of Shams of Tabriz.” The Turkish government refused to help with translation of the last volume, which was finally published in 2006 as The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication. It was forbidden both because of its homoerotic content and because it promotes the “blasphemy” that one must go beyond religion in order to experience God.

Rumi went on to live and love again, dedicating poems to other beloved men. His second great love was the goldsmith Saladin Zarkub. After the goldsmith’s death, Rumi’s scribe Husan Chelebi became Rumi’s beloved companion for the rest of his life. Rumi died at age 66 after an illness on Dec. 17, 1273. Soon his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, known as the whirling dervishes because of the dances they do in devotion to God.

Related links:
Rumi and Shams: A Love of Another Kind (Wild Reed)

Ramesh Bjonnes on Rumi and Shams as Gay Lovers (Wild Reed)

Another Male's Love Inspired Persia's Mystic Muse (

Love Poems of Rumi at

Rumi quotes at

5 Queer Couples in Islamic History (

*“Like This” is quoted from The Essential Rumi, which has translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. For the whole poem, visit

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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