Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cartoon: Jesus saves LGBT kids from jaws of clergy hat

“Life Savior” by Mr. Fish (clowncrack.com)

Carrying a gay child, Jesus walks on dangerous waters above the shark-like jaws of a clergy hat in a new cartoon by Mr. Fish.

Artist Dwayne Booth, who uses the pen name Mr. Fish, drew the cartoon to illustrate “The War on Gays” by Chris Hedges this week at truthdig.com. The article points out religious threats to LGBT youth through an extensive interview with Mel White, author of “Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tell Us to Deny Gay Equality.”

Detail from Life Savior
by Mr. Fish
The cartoon shows Jesus carrying a gay child, signified by the rainbow flag on the child’s shirt. Lurking in the water below them is a gigantic mitre -- the tall, pointy cap worn by Popes, bishops and other clergy. The hat has two shield-shaped halves that open like the toothy jaws of a shark. Will Jesus save the child, or will they both be swallowed up by the holy terror of anti-LGBT religious oppression?

Booth is a cartoonist and freelance writer whose work can be seen most regularly on Harpers.org and Truthdig.com. Over the last 20 years his work has been published by many of the nation’s most prestigious magazines and newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice and the Advocate. A debut volume of his collected cartoons titled Go Fish: How to Win Contempt and Influence People was published in 2011.

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Special thanks to Mr. Fish for permission to share his cartoon here at Jesus in Love. And thanks to Paul Hartman for alerting me to this powerful cartoon.
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Related links:
Jesus and Freddie Mercury: Marriage Made in Heaven cartoon supports equality

Cartoon shows Pope mad at nuns and Jesus for not condemning homosexuality

Cartoon shows GLBT religious rights on the cross

Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality by Mel White

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing warrior-saint

Saint Joan of Arc by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM trinitystores.com

Joan of Arc was a tough cross-dressing teenage warrior who led the medieval French army to victory when she was 17. She is a queer icon, girl-power hero and patron saint of France. Her feast day is today (May 30).

Smart and courageous, Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) had visions of saints and angels who told her to cut her hair, put on men’s clothes and go to war. At age 18 she helped crown a king and at 19 she was killed by the church that later made her a saint. She died for her God-given right to wear men’s clothing, the crime for which she was executed 581 years ago today.

Joan of Arc portrait, c. 1485
Wikimedia Commons
Contemporary LGBT people recognize a kindred spirit in her stubborn defiance of gender rules. Queer writers tend to downplay Joan’s Christian faith, while the church covers up the importance of her cross-dressing. In truth, Joan believed strongly in God AND in cross-dressing. She insisted that God wanted her to wear men’s clothes, making her what today is called “queer” or “transgender.” Cross-dressing was illegal, but what really upset the church authorities, then as now, was the audacity of someone being both proudly queer AND devoutly Christian. Her belief that God was the source of her gender-bending queerness makes her an especially inspiring role model for LGBT Christians and our allies.

Joan’s extraordinary life continues to fascinate all kinds of people. Many are eager to claim her as a symbol, from LGBT people and feminists to the Catholic Church and French nationalists. Joan is the subject of more than 10,000 books, plays, paintings and films, including recent works by transgender author Leslie Feinberg and lesbian playwright Carolyn Gage.

Gage’s one-woman show “The Second Coming of Joan of Arc” is an underground classic with Joan as “a cross-dressing, teenaged, runaway lesbian” confronting male-dominated institutions. Feinberg has a chapter on Joan as “a brilliant transgender peasant teenager leading an army of laborers into battle” in her history book “Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman.”

The extensive records of her trials by the Inquisition make Joan of Arc the best-documented person of 15th century. There are only hints that she may have been a lesbian, but the evidence is absolutely clear about her transgender expression as a cross-dresser.

Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d’Arc, was born to peasants in an obscure village in eastern France around 1412, toward the end of the Hundred Years War. Much of France was occupied by England, so that Charles, the heir to the French throne, did not dare to be crowned. When Joan was 13, she began hearing voices that told her to help France drive out the English.

The visions continued for years, becoming more detailed and frequent. Once or twice a week she had visions of Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret. They told her that God wanted her to meet Charles and lead an army to Reims for his coronation.

Joan’s family tried to convince her that her visions weren’t real, and her first attempt to visit the royal court was rejected. When she was 17 she put on male clothing and succeeded in meeting Charles. He agreed to outfit her as a knight and allowed her to lead a 5,000-man army against the English.

On Charles’ order, a full suit of armor was created to fit Joan. He had a banner made for her and assigned an entourage to help her: a squire, a page, two heralds, a chaplain and other servants.

Joan of Arc on Horseback, 1505
Wikimedia Commons
Joan’s appearance awed the soldiers and peasants when she traveled with the army. Mounted on a fine warhorse, she rode past cheering crowds in a suit of armor. Her hair was “cropped short and round in the fashion of young men.” She carried an ancient sword in one hand and her banner in the other. Her sword was found, as Joan predicted, buried at the church of St. Catherine at Fierbois. The banner showed Christ sitting on a rainbow against a background of white with gold lilies and the motto “Jhesus-Maria.” Legend says that white butterflies followed Joan wherever she rode with her banner unfurled.

With Joan leading the way, the army won the battle at Orleans and continued to defeat English and pro-English troops until they reached Reims. She proudly stood beside Charles VII at his coronation there on July 17, 1429.

Joan soon resumed leading military campaigns. Even during her lifetime the peasants adored her as a saint, flocking around her to touch her body or clothing. Her cross-dressing didn’t disturb them. In fact, they seemed to honor her for her transgender expression. Perhaps, as some scholars say, the peasants saw Joan as part of a tradition that linked transvestites and priests in pre-modern Europe.

One of the first modern writers to raise the possibility of Joan’s lesbianism was English author Vita Sackville-West. She implied that Joan was a lesbian in her 1936 biography “Saint Joan of Arc.” The primary source for this idea was the fact, documented in her trials, that Joan shared her bed with other girls and young women. She followed the medieval custom of lodging each night in a local home. Joan always slept with the hostess or the girls of the household instead of with the men.

Nobody knows for sure whether Joan of Arc was sexually attracted to women or had lesbian encounters, but her abstinence from sex with men is well documented. Her physical virginity was confirmed by official examinations at least twice during her lifetime. Joan herself liked to be called La Pucelle, French for “the Maid,” a nickname that emphasized her virginity. Witnesses at her trial testified that Joan was chaste rather than sexually active.

Joan’s illustrious military career ended in May 1430. She was captured in battle by the Burgundians, the French allies of the English. During her captivity they called her “hommase,” a slur meaning “man-woman” or “masculine woman.”

In a stunning betrayal, Charles VII did nothing to rescue the warrior who helped win him the crown. It was normal to pay ransom for the release of knights and nobles caught in battle, but he abandoned Joan to her fate. Historians speculate that French aristocrats felt threatened by the peasant girl with such uncanny power to move the masses.

The Burgundians transferred Joan to the English, who then gave her to the Inquisition. She spent four torturous months in prison before her church trial began on Jan. 9, 1431 in Rouen, the seat of the English occupation government. She was charged with witchcraft and heresy.

The politically motivated church trial was rigged against her, and yet Joan was able to display her full intelligence as she answered the Inquisitors’ questions. Her subtle, witty answers and detailed memory even forced them to stop holding the trial in public.

Witchcraft was hard to prove, so the church dropped the charge. (Many of today’s Wiccans and pagans still honor Joan as one of their own.) The Inquisitors began to focus exclusively on the “heresy” of Joan’s claim that she was following God’s will when she dressed as a man. The judges told her that cross-dressing was “an abomination before God” according to church law and the Bible. (See Deuteronomy 22:5.)

They accused Joan of “leaving off the dress and clothing of the feminine sex, a thing contrary to divine law and abominable before God, and forbidden by all laws” and instead dressing in “clothing and armor such as is worn by man.”

Joan swore that God wanted her to wear men’s clothing. “For nothing in the world will I swear not to arm myself and put on a man’s dress; I must obey the orders of Our Lord,” she testified. She outraged the judges by continuing to appear in court wearing what they called “difformitate habitus” (“monstrous dress” or “degenerate apparel.”)

Today Joan’s conservative admirers claim that she wore men’s clothes only as way to avoid rape, but she said that it meant much more to her. Joan of Arc saw cross-dressing as a sacred duty.

The judges summarized Joan’s testimony by saying, “You have said that, by God’s command, you have continually worn man’s dress, wearing the short robe, doublet, and hose attached by points; that you have also worn your hair short, cut ‘en rond’ above your ears with nothing left that could show you to be a woman; and that on many occasions you received the Body of our Lord dressed in this fashion, although you have been frequently admonished to leave it off, which you have refused to do, saying that you would rather die than leave it off, save by God’s command.”

Joan refused to back down on the visions she received from God, and she was sentenced to death. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 in Rouen. Twenty five years later she was retried and her conviction was overturned. Joan was declared innocent.

Her armor, that “monstrous dress,” became an object of veneration, sought after like the Holy Grail with various churches claiming to possess her true armor. Joan of Arc was canonized as a saint in 1920. Famous writers and composers who have done works about her include Shakespeare, Voltaire, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Mark Twain, Bertolt Brecht and George Bernard Shaw. A stunning portrait of Joan kissing her sword (below) was painted by Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose sister Christina Rossetti is also part of the LGBT Saints series here.

“Joan of Arc Kisses the Sword of Liberation” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863 (WikiPaintings)

A widely used prayer to Saint Joan of Arc makes a powerful statement that can inspire those who believe in equality for LGBT people, despite rejection by religion and society:


“In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.”

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Click for more info:
Wikipedia article on Cross-dressing, sexuality, and gender identity of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc trial transcript online

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing martyr at Queering the Church Blog

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

Icons of Joan of Arc and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores




Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost: The Holy Spirit Arrives (Gay Passion of Christ series)

23. The Holy Spirit Arrives (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“There appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” -- Acts 2:3-4 (RSV)

A winged woman literally lights up a crowd in “The Holy Spirit Arrives” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. This is a modern version of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire to the disciples of Jesus. Pentecost is a major church holiday celebrated today (May 27) this year. It is also known as Whitsunday.

In Blanchard’s painting the Holy Spirit herself looks like a flame in her golden gown. She floats above the crowd at an intersection where darkened city streets meet at odd angles. The dusky sky and unlit buildings strike a mysterious mood, making miracles possible. The Holy Spirit carries flares in both hands. Tongues of fire literally flame up from the heads of the people on the streets. Many are arm in arm, forming a circle. Filled with the spirit, they make strange alliances. A soldier, a gangbanger, and a businessman wrap their arms around each other. An old woman and a young woman embrace. The person in the wheelchair appears to be the same hothead who demanded the death of Jesus in 10. Jesus Before the People. Looming behind them is a large building under construction.

The story of Pentecost is told in Acts 2 of the Bible. The apostles are sitting together indoors early one morning when they hear wind rushing and tongues of fire come to rest on each of them. They began speaking in other tongues and a crowd of devout people from all over the world gather to listen. Each one hears them praising God in their own native language. Some in the crowd scoff that they are drunk, so Peter explains that they are fulfilling God’s prophecy from the Book of Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Jesus also prophesied that the Holy Spirit would come after him to empower his disciples “to do even greater things” than he did.

Blanchard takes Pentecost out into the streets and humanizes it by presenting the Holy Spirit as a woman. His bold female Holy Spirit is one of the most unique features of this painting from an art historical perspective. Artists generally show the Holy Spirit as a dove in the Pentecost scene. In church tradition, the Holy Spirit is often presented as the female (and easily ignored) person of the Trinity. She is sometimes called Sophia, the embodiment of Wisdom. The word rendered as “Spirit” also means wind or breath. Jesus described the Holy Spirit with the Greek term paraclete, which means advocate, comforter, or teacher. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire believers in the present, especially in times of trouble or celebration. Progressive Christians attribute it to the work of the Spirit when churches begin to embrace LGBT members, bless same-sex marriages, ordain openly LGBT clergy, and teach queer theology.

The Biblical idea of a fire burning on one’s head is scary as well as implausible, but Blanchard makes the miracle of Pentecost both appealing and natural in a contemporary context. The flames look friendly and tame. This is miraculous fire that doesn’t consume, like the burning bush of Moses. Sometimes Pentecost is called the birthday of the church, and these flames look like birthday candles.

The building under construction in the background can be interpreted as the foundation of the Christian church. The artist himself offered a more cynical view: “I prefer to think of it as a reference to the story of the Tower of Babel.” The Holy Spirit turns her back on the half-built structure that symbolizes ungodly human arrogance, destined to be toppled by God.

This is the only image in Blanchard’s Passion series in which Jesus does not appear. But wait, the face of the Holy Spirit has his features! This, Blanchard told me, is deliberate. By giving the same face to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, he emphasizes that they are one being. Jesus can switch easily between male and female forms because he is both. Another surprise is that everyone is enflamed -- not just the twelve apostles. Many of the previous paintings have a tight, sometimes claustrophobic focus. This painting is like a breath of fresh air that shows the big picture at last. The past comes into perspective and the viewer can see the neighborhood where Jesus lived and died.

Intersections with odd angles like this are common in New York. Blanchard says that he did not intend any particular location. One of the many places it resembles is the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where 146 garment workers died, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York history. That destructive fire contrasts with the Spirit’s holy flames.

Viewers may not expect to find Pentecost in a series on the Passion of Christ. Surprisingly artists do not always end the Passion narrative with the resurrection of Jesus or even with his ascension. Blanchard acknowledges that one of the inspirations for this series is Albrecht Durer’s Small Passion. Blanchard follows the Durer’s example by continuing the Passion for two more panels after the Ascension. This scene is traditionally called “The Descent of the Holy Spirit,” but Blanchard updates the hierarchical implications by titling it “The Holy Spirit Arrives.”

The Pentecost story is good news for LGBT people and other outsiders because the Holy Spirit comes to ALL people, regardless of age, gender, nationality, or any other differences -- including sexual orientation. In light of Pentecost, it may be significant that the most outrageously effeminate gay men have been disparaged as “flaming queens.” The bundles of sticks used to burn heretics were called “faggots,” now an insult for gay men. The Holy Spirit comes even to those who are called bulldykes or fairies, amazons or eunuchs, transfolk or genderqueer, two-spirit or third-gender. Every language has words for queer people: mariposa and marimacha in Spanish, schwuppe in German, finnochio in Italian, kuchu in East African languages, tongzhi in Chinese, tritiya-prakriti in Sanskrit, winkte in Sioux, to name but a few. We are the flaming friends of God. The story of Jesus has been translated into many, many languages. Now the gospel is available with a gay accent.



“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream dreams.” -- Acts 2:17  (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Jesus promised his friends that the Holy Spirit would come. They were all together in the city on Pentecost when suddenly they heard a strong windstorm blowing in the sky. Tongues of fire appeared and separated to land on each one of them. Jesus’ friends were flaming, on fire with the Holy Spirit! Soon the Spirit led them to speak in other languages. All the excitement drew a big crowd. Good people from every race and nation came from all over the city. They brought their beautiful selves like the colors of the rainbow, and each one was able to hear them talking about God in his or her own language.

Come, Holy Spirit, and inflame me with your love.


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Related links:
Pentecost comes alive with erotic Christ (excerpt from the novel “At the Cross”)

The queer day of Pentecost (BleakTheology.com)
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This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations are from the Inclusive Language Lectionary (Year C), copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Two new gay Jesus books published



Gay Jesus themes are discussed in two new books: “It Was Too Soon Before…” by Dirk Vanden and “Gay Jesus” by Steve Gillman.

Each author takes a dramatically different approach to the same subject. Vanden’s book is the autobiography of a gay pioneer, including his mystical/psychedelic visions of a gay Jesus. Gillman’s book is a set of 10 anti-authoritarian essays, with the title essay pointing out that a gay Jesus would reveal people’s prejudice.

“It Was Too Soon Before…” by Dirk Vanden
It Was Too Soon Before...” is aptly subtitled “The unlikely life, untimely death, and unexpected rebirth of Gay Pioneer, Dirk Vanden.” Born in 1932, Vanden was a novelist during the early development of the gay literary genre. His first books were published--augmented with sex scenes inserted by the publisher--as porn pulps. Seven of his erotic novels were released from 1969-73, when homosexuality was illegal and gay literature was banned.

Vanden is also a talented artist who did two paintings based on his gay Jesus vision, “Take Away the Cross” and “Ecce Homo (Behold the Homosexual),” also known as “Jumping Jesus.” Both appear in his new book as well as in our previous post “Gay Artist Does Inspiring Jesus Art.”

In his autobiography Vanden tells how he fell in love with Jesus, “meek and mild, loving and forgiving,” while growing up gay in a sexually repressive Mormon family. When he turned out to be irreversibly homosexual, he felt abandoned by Jesus for many years. Vanden’s journey includes California’s thriving gay counterculture of the 1960s, the AIDS death of his longtime partner, retirement into obscurity and a “rebirth” as his books have been rediscovered by modern gay literary scholars.

During an acid trip at a gay bathhouse in San Francisco in 1970, Vanden had a life-changing experience of seeing Jesus incarnated in every Gay man, including the author himself. This gay Jesus vision changed Vanden’s life and gave him a new sense of purpose. He also described the vision in fictionalized form in his 2010 novel “All of Me.” (See our previous post Gay Jesus vision appears in new mystery novel.)

In one of the final chapters Vanden expands on the vision by writing a creative, sex-positive gay gospel. The Bible does not record what Jesus did during his teen and young adult years, so Vanden fills in the gap, using clues from the Bible, the gnostic gospels and his own life as reference.

Vanden imagines the friendship between Jesus and Abdul, the son of a traveling merchant from Persia who sold rugs for the houses built by Jesus and his father. Abdul seduces the teenage Jesus.  In a reversal of the usual story, Vanden’s Jesus hitches a ride on Abdul’s caravan to follow his guiding star to meet the wise man Melchior. They make love and Melchior inducts him into spiritual mysteries. Over the next 10 years Joshua lives with and learns from three wise men before he returns to Galilee to start his public ministry.

“It Was Too Soon Before…” is nicely put together designed with two sections of photos, a list of wise aphorisms at the end, and a well designed cover with some of Vanden’s art. He painted the pastoral nude cover image for “It Was Too Soon Before…” as an ad for the bathhouse where his gay Jesus vision occurred, and it hung in the lounge there for many years.

Published by the widely respected Lethe Press, the book features an introduction by Toby Johnson, award-winning gay spirituality author. Johnson was mentored by comparative religion scholar Joseph Campbell. He uses mythology to put Vanden into the heroic framework of the quest for the Holy Grail.

As Johnson writes, “Vanden’s life story shows how Gay men necessarily transform their religious upbringing to create a kind of personal new vision of their own, based in personal experience and deep intuition, that fulfills their zeal to be good and contributing persons, offers them a life of adventure and discovery and, most importantly, that makes sense in the modern, scientific, post-mythological world.”

Some readers may find it a bit jarring to move from Johnson’s epic introduction to Vanden’s sometimes crude vocabulary. For example, the f-word appears as early as the table of contents. Others may relish reading a spiritual message and wrapped in earthy language.


“Gay Jesus” by Steve Gillman
“What if Jesus was gay?” is the provocative question explored in the title essay of “Gay Jesus” by Steve Gillman. He makes some witty and valid predictions about how conservative Christians would reveal their anti-gay prejudice. However, it seems like Gillman uses “gay Jesus” mostly as a gimmick to gain attention. The author, who is heterosexually married, is not educated about queer theology. Gillman takes it for granted that the Bible condemns homosexuality, ignoring LGBT-positive interpretations.

Still he does raise important questions in the book: “Why couldn’t Jesus be homosexual, and why should his sexual orientation have any bearing on the message in his teachings? Unless a person believes--or at least subconsciously feels--that there is something wrong with a man being attracted to others of the same gender, how could that person reject a gay Jesus?”

Born in Michigan in 1964, Gillman is an author and entrepreneur who writes about politics, travel, economics, backpacking, inventions, and ideas in general. He self-published “Gay Jesus” in e-book form only. Gillman doesn’t claim to be an authority on any subject--not even anti-authoritarianism. After a quick take on the gay Jesus, he moves on to cover a variety of topic ranging from glorification of the Bible to government intrusions on individual freedoms through the military, taxes, and jury duty.


“Holy Terror” by Mel White
Also of interest: Mel White’s new paperback “Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality” was published May 22 and is in stock now. White, the gay clergyman who founded Soulforce, used to be a ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. In “Holy Terror,” he exposes the origins of the Christian fundamentalist movement and how its virulent anti-gay agenda has led to right wing extremism. The book was originally published in hardcover under the title “Religion Gone Bad.”
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This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

LGBT altar given to Swedish cathedral by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin


Sweden’s first LGBT altar was donated this week to the 1,000-year-old cathedral in Skara by artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin -- but nobody showed up to accept it except the janitor.

Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin
“I want to test the church in Sweden to see if they are as LGBT-friendly as they say,” Ohlson Wallin explained. “I gave the church the altar as a gift. Now we are waiting for the church to accept the gift or no.”

The altarpiece was unveiled May 12 before television cameras and a crowd of 200 at the Church of Sweden cathedral in Skara, the artists’s hometown. On the same day it served as the backdrop for the first same-sex wedding in the cathedral’s 1000-year history. Two men were joined in a marriage ceremony performed by pastor Lars Gårdfeldt. It is the first LGBT altar in Sweden and perhaps the world. Although it has already been used for a cathedral wedding, it will not be officially accepted unless diocesan and county boards agree to it.

The altar shows the Garden of Eden from a queer perspective, including two Adams, two Eves and a transsexual instead of a serpent. It is based on a painting of Paradise by 15th-century German artist Lucas Cranach.

Ohlson Wallin told reporters that she wanted to place lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in paradise instead of condemning them to hell. She also created the altar to remind people of Martin Luther’s reassessment of sexuality as God’s gift, not a reason for punishment. The artist hopes that the altar will be rolled out for LGBT weddings, baptisms or funerals in the church.

Ohlson Wallin is best known for “Ecce Homo,” a series of 12 photos recreating the life of Jesus in a contemporary LGBT context. It became one of Europe’s most noticed and notorious art exhibits, even arousing the disapproval of Pope John Paul II—who reacted by canceling his planned audience with the Swedish archbishop. Her work is featured in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry.
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More info on Ohlson Wallin’s art:

Religious threats to LGBT people exposed in Jerusalem photos

Gay Jesus art sparks violence… and hope

Annunciation (from Ecce Homo) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

Photos courtesy of Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, www.ohlson.se

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ascension Day: Jesus Returns to God (Gay Passion of Christ series)

22. Jesus Returns to God (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” -- Acts 1:9 (RSV)

A winged man carries Jesus skyward in “Jesus Returns to God” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. The loving couple seems to dance in a mystical homoerotic union. Jesus, shirtless and wearing blue jeans, swoons in the arms of someone who appears to be an angel. But a close look reveals that they both have crucifixion wounds on their wrists. Jesus is embraced directly by God!

Detail from "Jesus Returns to God"
“Jesus Returns to God” is Blanchard’s vision of the Ascension, the transitional moment when the resurrected Jesus left earth and was taken up into heaven. Churches commemorate the event with the Feast of the Ascension, a major holiday that comes 40 days after Easter (May 17 this year). Christian tradition emphasizes that the resurrected Jesus ascends bodily -- in the flesh -- up into the clouds of heaven. Therefore it is appropriate for this image to have a physical, erotic component, even though many viewers find it disturbing.

Beams of white light stream from God’s head in a sunburst so bright that it almost obliterates the blue sky. His wings look muscular, like God has to work hard to lift the dead weight of Jesus up from the earth. The wounds in Jesus’ wrists and feet were dark before, but now they glow like hot-pink jewels. This is the lightest painting in Blanchard’s series, dissolving into white at the top in stark contrast to the pitch-black panel of “Jesus Among the Dead.” Now the misty clouds even spill over the frame on the lower left. The position of their arms suggests a ballroom dance, perhaps a waltz, with God’s hand planted firmly on Jesus’ buttocks.

People tend to react strongly to this image. Some find it too sexual and are horrified by the thought of “God’s hand on my butt.” (At least God has no body below the waist here!) Others love the painting because it removes the shame of sexuality, showing same-sex love as holy. From this point on, Jesus is more visibly gay. He is also less natural and more supernatural.  With this image Blanchard’s series truly becomes a “gay vision” as the title proclaims. There is no longer any doubt about whether Jesus was simply a tolerant ally of queer people. The full revelation of his gay sexual orientation does not happen in his lifetime, but is disclosed in the afterlife by Blanchard. Some people wish the series stopped right before this image. Others would prefer it started here.

In Christian theology the Ascension serves to emphasize the reality of Jesus as both human and divine. It is seen as the consummation of God’s union with humanity. “Mystical marriage” is a separate Christian concept in which the love between God and people is compared to a human marriage, including the sexual ecstasy between bride and groom. Erotic union becomes a metaphor for union with God. Blanchard breaks new ground by combining the Ascension with the mystical marriage and a gay viewpoint, making this one of the most original paintings in the series.

God appears here for the first time in Blanchard’s series. He gives God some extraordinary attributes: He has wounds, wings, and the same face as Jesus. God with wounds is virtually unprecedented. It is rare to see a painting of God with wings, even though there are many Biblical references to humanity being protected or carried by God’s wings. Usually God and Jesus are shown as Father and Son, but Blanchard makes them look like gay lovers or the same person in two places, further emphasizing his theme of God in solidarity with humanity.

The mystical marriage and “Christ the Bridegroom” are rare subjects in art history, but the Ascension has been painted many times over the centuries.  Ascension images usually have two zones: a crowd of apostles watching from earth below and Jesus rising up into heaven above. Jesus is frequently shown with his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing. Sometimes just the feet of Jesus are shown as he disappears into the clouds. It is almost unprecedented to show only Jesus and God without the people below, as Blanchard does. A notable exception is “Ascension” by 20th-century surrealist Salvador Dali, which is dominated by the soles of Jesus’ feet as he flies upward.

“Jesus Returns to God” can stand alone as a gay-affirming vision of ecstatic union with God. The mixed response to this painting raises the issue of how artists can visually code Jesus as queer without being too literal. For some viewers, anything more than a subtle hint is too sexually explicit or reduces the mystery of Christ to a billboard. Others need a flagrantly out-and-proud Jesus to clearly say that God loves LGBT folk. Conservative Christians have made many LGBT people think of Jesus as their enemy. How far should an artist go to counteract the that? Blanchard strikes a balance here by showing Jesus as an ordinary man swept up in a homoerotic dance with God.


“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” -- Isaiah 62:5 (RSV)

We can only imagine the bliss that Jesus felt when he returned to God. No words or pictures can express all the joy of a soul’s union with the divine, but some have compared it to sexual ecstasy or marriage. Perhaps for Jesus, it was a same-sex marriage. Jesus drank in the nectar of God’s breath and surrendered to the divine embrace. They mixed male and female in ineffable ways. Jesus became both Lover and Beloved as everything in him found in God its complement, its reflection, its twin. When they kissed, Jesus let holy love flow through him to bless all beings throughout timeless time. Love and faith touched, justice and peace kissed. The boundaries between Jesus and God disappeared and they became whole: one Heart, one Breath, One. We are all part of Christ’s body in a wedding that welcomes everyone.

Jesus, congratulations on your wedding day! Thank you for inviting me!

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Bible background
Song of Songs: “O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!”

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This is part of the series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.”

The Passion series features 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. It is also available as a book and prints.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jesus Appears to His Friends (Gay Passion of Christ series)

21. Jesus Appears to His Friends (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard (Collection of Bill Carpenter)

“And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see.’” -- Luke 24:38-39 (RSV)

[Note: This month I am posting new text on the resurrection images from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard.]

Friends react with joy -- and some doubt -- to the return of the risen Christ in “Jesus Appears to His Friends.” Jesus allows himself to be embraced and examined by his diverse friendship group. He gets hugs from his Beloved Disciple and an elderly woman with a cane as a young black woman smiles beside him. Meanwhile a bald skeptic in a suit inspects his wounded wrist. Other disciples watch from behind. The red gash in Jesus’ side stands out against his handsome physique. The same room is pictured in Blanchard’s Last Supper, but here the mood is transformed from a dark-toned goodbye to a happy hello lit up with lavender and with warm flesh tones. Misty moonlight pours in from the back window in the shape of an ascending dove, hinting at the presence of the Holy Spirit.

As usual in Blanchard’s series, Jesus attracts a surprisingly varied group. The imagery and title emphasize that the people around Jesus were his friends, not just his disciples. As he told them at the Last Supper, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) Some of the faces are familiar from previous paintings: The young black woman looks like Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Appears to Mary.” The same Beloved Disciple wrapped a loving arm around Jesus in “The Last Supper.”

Blanchard’s progressive politics are evident in the way that Jesus focuses on those who are gay, black and disabled, while ignoring the old white guy. It’s almost humorous how everyone else is delighted to see Jesus, while the pragmatist in the tie and glasses is busy fact-checking. But Jesus doesn’t push him away. The Doubting Thomas figure is welcome to check the wounds scientifically. Many people, queer or otherwise, share the skeptic’s desire to make decisions based on direct experience and not get caught up in all the hoopla about Jesus. Thomas provides a positive role model of someone who is not going to fall for any religious trickery -- and yet Jesus still welcomes him into his circle of friends.

The painting belongs to Bill Carpenter of Soulforce, a civil-rights group that works to free LGBT people from religious and political oppression. He picked out the painting when Blanchard’s Passion series was displayed at the 2007 National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in Taos, New Mexico. Carpenter was there to teach nonviolence resistance in preparation for anti-LGBT attacks which fortunately did not materialize.

He explains why he selected this painting from the series of 24 panels: “I chose ‘Jesus Appears To His Friends’ because, through it, I connected with the humanity of Jesus…He had friends! And, because Doug showed Jesus’ friends as a beautifully diverse collection of humanity…just like our world…and I felt that Jesus truly welcomed each and every soul into his world…with no qualification or judgment and I wanted to be reminded of that potential within me.”

The painting fits into the long artistic tradition of Doubting Thomas, a common subject at least since the sixth century. Formally known as the Incredulity of St. Thomas, the scene has been painted by famous artists from Caravaggio to Georges Roualt. The Bible says that the disciple Thomas rejected reports from others who saw the risen Christ. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe,” he insisted. His doubt turned to faith when Jesus returned and invited him to do just that. Modern dress and a contemporary cast of characters bring Blanchard’s version alive. LGBT people may appreciate the same-sex affection depicted between Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, which is Blanchard’s new contribution to the standard repertoire of Doubting Thomas iconography.


“The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’” -- John 20:26-27 (RSV)

Jesus’ friends were hiding together, afraid of the authorities who killed their beloved leader. The doors were shut, but somehow Jesus got inside and stood among them. They couldn’t believe it! He urged them to touch him, and even invited them to inspect the wounds from his crucifixion. As they felt his warm skin, their doubts and fears turned into joy. Jesus liked touch. He often touched people in order to heal them, and he let people touch him. He defied taboos and allowed himself to be touched by women and people with diseases. He understood human sexuality, befriending prostitutes and other sexual outcasts. LGBT sometimes hide themselves in closets of shame, but Jesus wasn’t like that. He was pleased with own human body, even after it was wounded.

Jesus, can I really touch you?


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This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Obama as black gay Jesus on Newsweek cover?


Gay holiness made the cover of Newsweek magazine today for a story on “The First Gay President.” Obama has a rainbow halo in the cover photo that some say looks like black gay Jesus.

The point is that Obama is being worshiped like a saint by the LGBT community now that he endorsed same-sex marriage last week

The queer-spirit cover image illustrates an article by gay political writer Andrew Sullivan about Obama’s bold stand for marriage equality -- and how his life as a biracial man mirrors LGBT experience. Thus Newsweek declares him to be the “first gay president” in the same sense that Bill Clinton was heralded as the “first black president” for his support of and identification with black people.

Blogs are buzzing with conservatives who make fun of Obama being shown as a “gay Jesus.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to give Obama a halo, but I’m happy to see an image of gay holiness in the mainstream media. Love that rainbow halo!

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The Obama cover uses religious iconography to make a political point. For truly spiritual visions of the gay Jesus, check out my Queer Christ series series. It gathers together reflections on the queer Christ artists, writers, theologians and others.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jesus Appears at Emmaus (Gay Passion of Christ series)

20. Jesus Appears at Emmaus (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” -- Luke 24:30-31 (RSV}

[Note: This month I am posting new text on the resurrection images from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard.]

Three travelers share a meal together in “Jesus Appears at Emmaus.” Jesus is hard to recognize with his hair hidden under a blue ski cap. He sits at a restaurant table with a man and a woman, breaking a loaf of bread as they touch in an attitude of blessing. The setting looks like a contemporary airport lounge with large windows and a table nicely set with a red rose and generic salt and pepper shakers. Suitcases in the foreground confirm that they are traveling.

It is an unremarkable scene of friends eating together, until the viewer recognizes Jesus. And that is the point. The painting illustrates the Biblical story of two disciples who meet the risen Christ, but don’t know it is him. They encounter a stranger on the road to Emmaus, a village seven miles from Jerusalem. They tell him about their sadness over Jesus’ crucifixion and the disappearance of his corpse, and the stranger uses scripture to explain what happened. Impressed, the disciples persuade him to join them for supper in Emmaus. When Jesus blesses and breaks the bread, they suddenly recognize him.

The Supper at Emmaus has been a popular subject in art history for centuries. Jesus is commonly shown in a hat to explain why his disciples fail to identify him. Artists of the past have assumed that both disciples were male, but Blanchard brings the scene into the present and makes one disciple female, subtly communicating that Jesus’ connection with people was not limited by gender.

The Emmaus story has intriguing parallels with queer experience. The disciples discover Jesus after they leave their spiritual community in Jerusalem, where the leaders of the Jesus movement are hiding in fear, refusing to believe in the resurrection. The disciples on the road are like LGBT people who turn their backs on institutional religion -- and then find God on the outside! In the Bible narrative  the disciples return immediately to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples that they met the living Jesus. Likewise, many LGBT Christians feel called to return to the church to proclaim their fresh understanding of the all-inclusive Christ.


“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem.” -- Luke 24:32-33 (RSV)

A couple of Jesus’ friends met a stranger on the way to a village called Emmaus. While they were traveling together, they told the stranger about Jesus: the hopes he stirred in them, his horrific execution, and Mary's unbelievable story that he was still alive. Their hearts burned as the stranger reframed it for them, revealing how all things can work together for good. They convinced him to stay and have dinner with them in Emmaus. As the meal began, he blessed the bread and gave it to them. It was one of those moments when you suddenly recognize the presence of God. The stranger was Jesus! He had been with them all along. Sometimes even devout Christians are unable to see God’s image in people who are strangers to them, such as LGBT people or others who have been marginalized. Sometimes people are blind to their own sacred worth as incarnations of the divine. But at any moment, the grace of an unexpected encounter may open our eyes.

God, help me to recognize you.


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This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jesus Appears to Mary (Gay Passion of Christ series)

19. Jesus Appears to Mary (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus…. Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended.” -- John 20:14, 17 (RSV)

[Note: This month I am posting new text on the resurrection images from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard.]

Two friends meet at sunrise in “Jesus Appears to Mary.” They circle each other as Mary gestures with happy surprise at finding Jesus alive in the graveyard. The colors are suddenly much brighter. The morning star shines in a gorgeous blue sky while the first rays of dawn awaken the spring-green grass. The frame itself is green -- even the faux wood has sprung to life! A patch of sunlight catches the risen Christ, but Mary remains in shadow.

On the horizon are excavating machines and a body of water that separates them from the distant city skyline. Jesus and Mary are surrounded by numbered gravestones. The one behind Jesus is marked “124” -- the same number on the mysterious tag around Jesus’ neck in the first painting of this series. The artist confirmed that he chose “124” because it has no special meaning in Christianity. Jesus died as a human castoff, stripped of his name and labeled with a random number. The gravestones and setting look like Hart Island, a public cemetery for the unknown and indigent in New York City. Operated by prison labor, Hart Island is the world’s largest tax-funded cemetery with daily mass burials and more than 850,000 buried there.

The contrast and dynamic tension between the figures suggests that this is the moment known as “Noli me tangere,” the Latin version of Jesus words to Mary when she recognizes him after his resurrection. In the Bible story, Mary Magdalene goes to visit Jesus’ tomb before sunrise. She is distraught to discover that his corpse is missing -- until she sees the risen Christ. Overcome with emotion, she starts to hug him, but he stops her with a request that has multiple translations. The original Greek is best translated as “Stop clinging to me” or “Cease holding on to me.” But the Latin translation is embedded in cultural tradition: “Don’t touch me (noli me tangere) for I have not yet ascended.” The scene has been an iconographic standard for artists throughout the Christian world from late antiquity to the present.

Jesus made his first post-resurrection appearance to a woman in an era when women weren’t even allowed to testify at legal proceedings. And yet the risen Jesus chose a woman as his first witness. This is good news for all the disenfranchised, including today’s LGBT people. Mary Magdalene has an undeserved bad reputation. The church mistakenly labeled her as a prostitute for centuries, but the Bible does NOT say she committed sexual sins. Progressive theologians are reclaiming her as a role model. The Bible portrays Mary Magdalene as the most important woman follower of Jesus. She supported his ministry with her resources, traveled with him on his last journey to Jerusalem, witnessed his crucifixion, and hurried to his tomb before sunrise.


“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” -- Mark 16:9 (RSV)

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of her friend Jesus early on Sunday morning. It was empty! She started crying and someone came up to her. Mary thought he was the gardener until he spoke her name. Her heart leaped as she recognized Jesus! People had wondered about her relationship with Jesus from the start. The bond that springs up sometimes between a gay man and a woman is incomprehensible to most. They don’t understand how a man and a woman can love each other without being sexual. And why would Jesus, who had many powerful male followers, pay so much attention to a woman? Yet he chose Mary as the first witness to his resurrection.

Jesus, where are you now? Will you speak to me?


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This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Julian of Norwich: Celebrating Mother Jesus

“Julian of Norwich” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, TrinityStores.com

Julian of Norwich is a medieval English mystic who celebrated “Mother Jesus.” It’s not known if Julian herself was queer, but her ideas were. Julian is often listed with LGBT saints because of her genderbending visions of Jesus and God. Her feast day (May 8) always falls near Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is also a great time to honor mothers whose love for their LGBT children helped launch LGBT organizations, including: Jeanne Manford and Adele Starr, founders of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); and Edith “Mom” Perry of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC).

Her discussions of Jesus as a mother sound radical even now, more than 600 years later. In today’s understanding, Julian’s Jesus seems to be transgender! Her omnigendered vision of the Trinity fits with contemporary feminist and queer theology.


For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Julian of Norwich: Celebrating Mother Jesus

Julian (c.1342-1416) is the first woman to write a book in English. The book, “Revelations of Divine Love,” recounts a series of 16 visions that she experienced from May 8-13, 1373 during a severe illness when she was 30 years old. The book includes Julian’s most famous saying, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” -- words spoken to her by God in one of Julian’s visions.

Julian of Norwich
from Wikimedia Commons

Later Julian went on to become an anchoress, a type of recluse who lives in a cell attached to a church and does contemplative prayer. Her hermit’s cell was at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich. It had two windows, one opening to the church and the other opening to the street. She became known throughout England for the spiritual counseling that she gave there.

Julian is considered the first Catholic to write at length about God as mother. Her profound ideas speak powerfully today to women and queer people of faith. “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” Julian wrote.

Here are a few short quotes from Julian’s extensive writings about “Mother Jesus”:


“So Jesus Christ who sets good against evil is our real Mother. We owe our being to him--and this is the essence of motherhood! --and all the delightful, loving protection which ever follows. God is as really our Mother as he is our Father.“ (Chapter 59)

“So Jesus is our true Mother by nature at our first creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by taking on our created nature.” (Chapter 59)

“A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most courteously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament, which is the precious food of life itself… The mother can lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus, he can familiarly lead us to his blessed breast through his sweet open side….” (Chapter 60)


These quotes come from modern English translations of “Revelations of Divine Love” by Elizabeth Spearing and Clifton Wolters. Click here for some longer quotations.

The sacred feminine is just one of the many revelations that have endeared Julian to the public. She uses objects from ordinary life to illustrate God’s loving, forgiving nature. For example, in one vision God shows Julian a small object like a hazel-nut in the palm of her hand. Julian writes:


“I looked at it and thought, 'What can this be?' And the answer came to me, 'It is all that is made.' I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer in my mind was, 'It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and in the same way everything exists through the love of God'.” (Chapter 5)


In the icon at the top of this post, Julian looks out the window of her cell with her beloved cat. As an anchoress, she probably lived alone. The only other being said to share her room was a cat -- for the practical purpose of keeping it free from rats and mice. A longstanding legend tells of Julian’s friendship with her cat companion. The icon was painted by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar based in New York. Known for his innovative icons, he was rebuked by the church for painting LGBT saints and God as female.

Julian lived a long life. The date of her death is unknown, but records show that she was still alive at age 73 to receive an inheritance. She was never formally canonized, but Julian is considered a saint by popular devotion. The Episcopal and Lutheran Churches keep her feast day on May 8.

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Related links for Mother's Day:
Jeanne Manford: PFLAG founder loved her gay son

Adele Starr and others: Patron saints for straight allies of LGBT people

Edith “Mom” Perry, mother of Troy Perry and first heterosexual member of the Metropolitan Community Churches
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This post is part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.
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Icons of Julian of Norwich and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com





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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Ethiopian eunuch: Early church welcomed queers

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, detail from 11th-century illuminated manuscript (Wikimedia Commons)

A queer black man was the first non-Jewish convert to Christianity, according to progressive interpretations of the Ethiopian eunuch’s story in the Bible. The term translated as “eunuch” probably included a variety of sexual minorities that today would be called LGBT or queer. The account of the eunuch’s conversion in Acts 8:26-40 will be read in many churches this Sunday.

Billboard by
WouldJesusDiscriminate.org
The nameless Ethiopian eunuch was a triple outsider -- a gender-variant foreigner from a racial minority -- and his experience shows that the early Christians welcomed all kinds of outcasts, regardless of race, gender identity or other differences.

Divine intervention plays a big role in the eunuch’s story from the start. It begins when an angel gives some surprising advice to Philip the deacon. He is in the midst of a successful evangelistic campaign in Samaria, but the angel interrupts with an order to leave and take a lonely desert road through the wilderness from Jerusalem to Gaza.

On the road Philip meets a stranger in a chariot reading aloud from the Book of Isaiah on his way home from worshiping in Jerusalem. The man is described as an Ethiopian eunuch (“eunouchos” in Greek), an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch from the Menologion of Basil II, an 11th-century illuminated manuscript (Wikimedia Commons)

In contemporary usage a “eunuch” is a castrated man, but it had a broader definition in ancient times. Literally meaning “the keepers of the bed,” the eunuchs served and guarded the women in royal palaces and wealthy households. Their employers had to be certain that the eunuchs would not get sexually involved with the women they were supposed to protect, so many eunuchs were castrated men, homosexual men, and intersex folk. Many, but not all, were both castrated and homosexual. Eunuchs were trusted officials who often rose to senior posts in government.

Billboard by
WouldJesusDiscriminate.org
Jesus himself used eunuch as an ancient term for LGBTQ people when he declared in Matthew 19:12: “There are eunuchs who were born that way.” (The traditional interpretation of this scripture is that Jesus was speaking of voluntary celibacy.)

When Philip sees the eunuch on the road to Gaza, the Holy Spirit again takes the initiative, urging him to run to join him in his chariot. Soon the two men are absorbed in conversation about the scripture that the eunuch was reading: Isaiah 53:7-8. The passage describes the humiliation and injustice experienced by God’s suffering servant.

The eunuch probably chose this scripture because he had just faced rejection from religious leaders when he worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem. Eunuchs were sexual outcasts in Jewish religious society, much like LGBT people in the church today. First-century Jewish law condemned homosexual acts and forbid converting eunuchs to Judaism. Deuteronomy 23:1 says bluntly, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.”

Philip used the prophecy of God’s rejected servant to tell the eunuch about Jesus as they traveled together in the chariot. Maybe he pointed out Isaiah’s prophecy that comes a few chapters later:


  To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
  who choose what pleases me
  and hold fast to my covenant —
  to them I will give within my temple and its walls
  a memorial and a name
  better than sons and daughters;
  I will give them an everlasting name
  that will endure forever.
     --Isaiah 56-4-5


As the chariot passes by some water, the eunuch raises a question that LGBT people today ask as well: “What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

There was no reason to prevent the eunuch from receiving full membership rights in the church. Philip shows no concern about the eunuch’s sexual orientation or race. Philip simply replies, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

The pair goes down into the water and Philip baptizes the eunuch then and there. Mission accomplished, the Holy Spirit suddenly takes Philip away. The men did not see each other again after that, but the Bible reports that the eunuch “went on his way rejoicing.”

“The Baptism of the Eunuch” by Rembrandt, 1626 (Wikimedia Commons)

Many authors explore the implications of the Ethiopian eunuch for LGBT people today in books such as:

Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch: Strategies of Ambiguity in Acts” (book) by Sean D. Burke

Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God” by Megan K. DeFranza.

The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships by Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley

Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church by Jack Rogers

The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament by Theodore Jennings

Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures by Nancy Wilson

Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else by John McNeill

The Queer Bible Commentary by Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West and Thomas Bohache

A literary look at the life of a gay eunuch in Biblical times is provided in “The Persian Boy,” a historical novel by Mary Renault.

Over the centuries many artists, including Rembrandt, have painted the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion and baptism. The image of of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch at the top of this post is from the Menologion of Basil II, an 11th-century Byzantine illuminated calendar manuscript now in the Vatican library.  It presents a beautiful image of harmony between men of different races and sexual orientations. Unfortunately a lot of other historical paintings of the Ethiopian eunuch have an undertone of racism, showing the Ethiopian as exotic or childlike.

Philip, the deacon in the story, is often confused with the apostle Philip whose feast day falls on May 1 or May 3. However St. Philip the Deacon (sometimes called Protodeacon) is honored on Oct. 11 in the Catholic and Episcopal churches and on June 6 in the Orthodox Church. Whatever the day, his example of unlimited welcome for a queer black man is an inspiration for today.
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Related links:

The early church welcomed a gay man (WouldJesusDiscriminate.org)

The Ethiopian Eunuch - Did You Know God Saved A Gay Man In Acts 8:26-40? (GayChristian101)

A Reflection on the Story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts (John McNeill)

Queer Eye for the Lectionary on Acts 8:26-40 (Louie Crew)

Sermon on Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Queeremergent)

Can Size 14 Heels Keep You Out of Heaven? (Kathy Canyonwalker)

"Born Eunuchs": Homosexual Identity in the Ancient World (Faris Malik)
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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, 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.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts