Friday, August 24, 2007
Gay Jesus art sparks violence… and hope
Art that shows Jesus as gay has sparked violence—most recently in Sweden last week.
The controversial images also appear in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. It has color images by 11 artists from the US and Europe, including Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.
A group of young people tried to set fire to a poster at the cultural center that was exhibiting her photos of a queer Christ. Staff intervened and as many as 30 people joined the fight, according to news reports.
The recent melee broke out over her Ecce Homo series, which recreates scenes from Christ’s life in a contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) context. The conflict occurred in the Swedish city of Jonkoping, known as a center of evangelical Christianity.
The violence in Sweden is the latest example of why the queer Christ is needed. Jesus taught love, but now Christian rhetoric is being used to justify hate and discrimination LGBT people.
People try to censor or destroy queer Christ images, so I compiled them into a book to ensure that they would be available. An online gallery of gay Jesus images, including Ohlson Wallin’s work, was recently added to my website, JesusInLove.org.
Ohlson Wallin’s Ecce Homo series has caused violence before. It toured Europe widely from 1998-2000, winning awards and breaking attendance records. More than 250,000 people viewed it, but a man with an ax destroyed two of the photos and Ohlson Wallin needed police protection after receiving death threats. The Pope cancelled a planned audience with the Swedish archbishop because Ecce Homo was shown at Uppsala’s National Cathedral.
Ohlson Wallin created Ecce Homo in the late 1990s after losing many friends to AIDS. She got mad when some Christians said that the disease was God’s punishment for being gay. Grief and anger became the motivation for her powerful, transformative images. “I wanted to show that love is for everyone,” she told me.
I’m a lesbian Christian author who believes that Christ represents everybody, including sexual outcasts. Two thousand years ago Jesus taught love and justice and was killed for it. One of the charges that led to his crucifixion was blasphemy—the same charge that is being leveled against me and the artists in my book.
My experiences as a minister and art historian have shown me that many people are longing for progressive spiritual images. They seek alternatives to the current conservative monopoly on Christian imagery.
Today queer people of faith are reclaiming our power and creating new images of the divine based on our own experiences. I am grateful to the artists who are pioneers on this sacred path.
I received a lot of email this week responding to news reports about the violence in Sweden. I was especially moved by an “ex-Christian, ex-Pentecostal” who wrote: “For all the hate this art will stir up, it was worth it because in the hearts of women and the LGBT community, it will bring love, healing, and an intense connection with Christianity that many of us have lost due to ignorance and hate.”