Friday, October 31, 2008

Wanted: Art of baby Jesus and animals

Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks
I’ve been searching in vain for an image of the Christ child with animals to show the union of God and nature -- but all I can find are sentimental Christmas-card pictures. Hasn’t anybody created a serious image of the baby Jesus with animals since the famous “Peaceable Kingdom” by Edward Hicks way back in 1834? The movement for GLBT rights is deeply connected to honoring nature and the earth, because homophobia is part of a system of controlling and denying nature, including human nature. I want to include a contemporary artist’s take on the baby Jesus with animals in an alternative Christmas art series that will run here at the Jesus in Love Blog this December. A new post at the Iconia Blog talks about the challenge of preventing Christian art from becoming saccharine and soaked in sentimentalism. Max McLean, president of the Christian arts ministry, Fellowship for the Performing Arts, is quoted in an interview with World magazine. Please contact me if you have any suggestions for images of Jesus with the animals. I do like “Manger Scene with Jesus and Animals” by Karen Soleau, but it’s clip-art, and not in the same league as the other art that is already planned for the series.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

See gay Christian art on video

Controversial GLBT Christian photos from Sweden can now be seen online as a video slideshow. Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin has just put the images on YouTube as a slide show with Bible quotes in English -- the same way that it was shown at Sweden’s National Cathedral in Uppsala. That’s the show that made the Pope so angry that he canceled a visit to Sweden. It’s never been possible to see the gay Christian series this well online. The video is a huge improvement over previous versions on the Web. Ohlson Wallin’s photographs recreate scenes from Christ’s life in a contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) context. She calls it “Ecce Homo,” a pun meaning both “Behold the man” and “Behold the gay.” The award-winning photos sparked violence and death threats when they toured Europe. Ohlson Wallin tells the full story behind “Ecce Homo” in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. She describes her creative process and the violent reaction against her art. The book is packed with color images by 11 contemporary artists from the US and Europe. The attacks on Ohlson Wallin’s art is an example of why queer Christian images are needed. Jesus taught love, but now Christian rhetoric is being used to justify hate and discrimination LGBT people.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Matthew Shepard: A gay martyr remembered 10 years later

The Passion of Matthew Shepard © William Hart McNichols St. Andrei Rublev Icons

Matthew Shepard died 10 years ago today, bringing international attention to anti-gay hate crimes.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Matthew Shepard: Modern gay martyr and hate-crime victim

In his memory I post this icon by Father William Hart McNichols. The striking image is based on the report of the officer who found Matthew after he was beaten and left to die -- covered with blood except for where the tears ran down. Fr. McNichols dedicated his icon The Passion of Matthew Shepard to the 1,470 gay and lesbian youth of commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered.

Shepard was a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming at the time of his death. He was brutally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6-7, 1998 by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic” due to Shepard’s alleged sexual advances.

Now the Matthew Shepard Foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. Fr. McNichols’ own moving spiritual journey and two of his icons are included in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reflections on National Coming Out Day

Coming out the closet as a lesbian played a huge role in my life, so I celebrate National Coming Out Day today with a video, links and book except. I wrote about the process in depth in my book Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide, which was recently translated into Polish. I reflect on my own coming out process in the short video above. It’s my most popular video, with 2,383 views and counting. I made it for the Human Rights Campaign Fund’s video contest in 2007. This year HRC changed the rules. Only people aged 18 to 25 are allowed to submit videos, the theme is “come out and vote,” and the contest runs all the way to Oct. 20. I do look forward to seeing what the young people say now about coming out. My book Hide and Speak tells positive ways to come out to yourself, create a circle of supporters and deal with family, job and school. Each chapter includes real-life examples and tested, highly effective exercises that I used in coming-out workshops nationwide. Readers will learn how to live proud, free and balanced. I’ll close with an excerpt from Hide and Speak:
“Many people, myself included, assumed that LGBT visibility would make books like this obsolete. That day is still well in the future. The difficulties of coming out in the twenty-first century hit home for me recently when a younger relative finally told me he was gay. His big sister, a lesbian activist, had come out to the family twenty years before, but her example didn’t seem to make it any easier for her brother. “It was something I had to figure out and deal with on my own terms,” he explained to me. The newly visible LGBT community is no more appealing to him than the old stereotypes had been to me and my peers.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Happy 40th birthday, MCC!

Kittredge Cherry, left, shakes hands with Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning human rights activist from South Africa. They met at the World Council of Churches meeting in Johannesburg in 1994. She was part of the MCC delegation there.

I put together a set of photos to honor the 40th anniversary of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination that ministers primarily in the lesbian, gay, bi and trans community. The photos show highlights from my own ministry in MCC during the 1980s and 1990s.

An amazing affirmation happened when I went to the copy shop to scan these photos from my old photo albums for this blog tribute. I had been having some doubts about whether it was worth the cost and effort to post old photos of events that happened 15 or 20 years ago. When I got to Kinko’s, I needed a lot of technical assistance to work the scanning machine. The clerk was a young black guy who seemed understandably frustrated at having to go over the basics with an older white woman like me.

Then he saw the photo of me shaking hands with anti-apartheid activist Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Suddenly we connected. We had a fascinating discussion about religion, politics and Barack Obama while he happily scanned all my photos. It was a holy moment, and a reminder that the events of the past do still have meaning and power. What we did matters, and our actions live on to make an impact in the future.

MCC was founded in 1968 in Los Angeles by Troy Perry, a Pentecostal minister who was defrocked for being gay. He was incredibly brave and visionary to create a church where gays and lesbians were welcome back in 1968, when homosexuality was still considered a sin, a sickness and a crime. He put an ad in the local gay newspaper and held the first worship service in his living room on Oct. 6, 1968. Twelve people attended. Now it has grown to almost 300 churches in more than 30 countries.

I joined MCC in 1985 and became an ordained minister. I served as program director at MCC San Francisco, then joined the denominational headquarters in Los Angeles, where I had the privilege of working closely with Troy and current MCC Moderator Nancy Wilson.

I was part of many historic GLBT events, such as the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Rights. These photos capture just a few moments from those memorable times.

I believe it’s important to preserve our history. In searching the Web for images from MCC, I noticed that there are a few classic photos from the 1960s to the early 1970s, and many recent photos, but almost none from the years in between. Therefore I post these images from MCC in the 1980s and 1990s as a tribute to MCC and to all GLBT people of faith who dare to believe that God loves us just as we are.

So here are the photos and the stories behind the pictures.

Protesters for gay and lesbian rights in the church picketed a National Council of Churches “Faith and Order” meeting in Berkeley, California, on March 19, 1993. The “Faith and Disorder” protest was led by Rev. Kittredge Cherry, MCC’s National Ecumenical Officer. Signs say: “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re going to church,” “Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David, me and my girlfriend,” “Thank God I’m gay” and “We’re everywhere.” People in the photo are, from left, Brian Cross (New Life MCC Berkeley member), unknown protester, Bill Pugh of MCC-SF, Kittredge Cherry, Leslie Addison of MCC-SF, and Beth Downey.

“Sometimes faith in God’s order calls all Christians to act in ways that may seem disorderly because they disrupt the social order established by human society,” Rev. Cherry said in opening remarks at the Faith and Disorder worship service held afterward in the Pacific School of Religion chapel. About half the NCC members present, including NCC General Secretary Joan Campbell, attended the service. Nearly 150 people filled the chapel. Photo by Audrey.

Kittredge Cherry speaks at Hands Around the God-Box, a prayer demonstration to end homophobia in the church. Kitt organized it as MCC's national ecumenical director. It was held at the National Council of Churches headquarters in New York City in 1994 on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. MCC founder Troy Perry is clearly visible in the crowd.

MCC founder Troy Perry, center, joins Kittredge Cherry, right, and her life partner, Audrey, in 1993, at the MCC General Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

Women’s retreats were the highlight of the year at MCC San Francisco in the late 1980s. Women at the 1989 MCC-SF Women’s Retreat had fun sewing a patchwork quilt. Retreat leaders holding the quilt include Kittredge Cherry, left, who organized the retreats as MCC-SF program director.

MCC’s delegation to the World Council of Churches 1994 meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, consisted of, from left, Kittredge Cherry, MCC ecumenical director; Sylvanus Maduka, head of MCC in Nigeria; and Nancy Wilson, MCC ecumenical officer (before she was moderator). We shocked many WCC leaders by urging them to stand up against homophobia in the church, and got a warm welcome from South African GLBT Christians.

Kittredge Cherry preached at MCC of North London in February 1994.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Queer artist warns of god politics

“Beware of the god” projection by Deborah Kelly of GBK Gallery
As the U.S. election nears, it’s time to consider a queer artist’s warning against mixing religion and politics. Words appear in the sky as if written by God, but their creator is actually a queer feminist activist/artist in a major international art show in Singapore now. “Beware of the god” is projected into the clouds by Australian artist Deborah Kelly. Her stated goal is to warn against the influence of religion on politics. The words were projected over the Singapore Harbor recently as part of the Singapore Biennale 2008, a big exhibition of international contemporary art. The show lasts from Sept. 11 to Nov. 16, although Kelly’s projection ran only for the first week. In recent years, Kelly has worked the same magic in the skies above Sydney where she lives. As a lesbian Christian, I find Kelly’s light projection to be a beautiful and mysterious reminder of God’s presence and our unfortunate human tendency to turn God (capital G) into our own many gods (small g) -- idols that express and feed human ego. When I visited Kelly’s website,, I was surprised to find that some of her work is a much bolder -- a direct attack on homophobia and misogyny in the church (and outside the church, too). Sometimes she may go too far. But we need our warriors, too. Her “Beware of the god” series includes sticker postcards that are free for the asking. Her own explanation is on the back. It begins, “ Pop the sticker somewhere that’s plagued by holy rollers, God botherers, or bearded blokes wielding vengeful-deity theories…” Click here for the full text and more info.
“Beware of the god” sticker postcard by Deborah Kelly of GBK Gallery