Thursday, August 26, 2010

Queer disciples in the Bible?

Detail from “The Last Supper” by Becki Jayne Harrelson,

“Dandy Discipleship: A Queering of Mark’s Male Disciples” by New Zealand theologian Robert J. Myles was published recently in a scholarly journal.

The article appears in the June issue of “The Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality,” an online scholarly, peer-reviewed journal.

Myles, a graduate student in the School of Theology at the University of Auckland, challenges the assumption of heterosexuality in the Bible and tries to liberate the scriptures from sex-negative misinterpretations. He does this by purposely rereading three Gospel stories in sexual (and homosexual) ways.

For example, he gives a homoerotic twist to the call of the disciples (Mark 1:16-20): “While cruising the seashores of Galilee, Jesus began his ministry by fetching a number of seemingly attached men to join his cohort of male admirers….Upon enticing them, they immediately left their father and their livelihood, to elope with the alluring Jesus.”

The article also offers queer versions of two other stories. Myles reexamines the disciples’ argument about “who is greatest” (Mark 9:33-37) in light of the male obsession with penis size. Then he looks at the arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:43-52) by focusing on “the erotic texture of the betraying embrace” -- the scandalous kiss between two men, Judas and Jesus -- and the possibility that the mysterious naked youth in the story was a prostitute.

Myles is not trying to prove that the historical disciples were gay, but instead to present queer disciples as one valid possibility. “The ultimate goal is for the reconstruction of the biblical text in order that it is a redeeming text for all, rather than just redeeming for some,” he states in the conclusion. By liberating the scriptures with his queer approach, Myles hopes that the Bible may continue to liberate its readers.

Throughout the article, Myles uses a method of queer and gender criticism pioneered by theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, author of “The Queer God” and “Indecent Theology.”

Myles admits that “the queer imagination deliberately transgresses normalcy in order to destabilize.” But there’s a reason for it. He sums up the purpose -- and the human condition -- with eloquent clarity: “Normalcy, as an ideological means of control, obscures our perception of reality.”

The full article is available online at:

The image above is a detail from “The Last Supper” by Becki Jayne Harrelson, an Atlanta artist who challenges mainstream religious beliefs via art. The painting is a tribute to Da Vinci and Caravaggio, but Harrelson’s multiracial version includes a drag king in the background! All Harrelson’s models are LGBT people in real life.

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pennyjane said...

i have delayed making this comment for some time. i know my ideas aren't all that popular around here and, generally, if i feel i'm not going to make a point, i'd just as soon shut up.

i find this just plain offensive. i don't find anything enlightening or redeeming about the idea of Jesus "cruising" for male cohorts anymore enlightening than i'd find a representation of him slinking through the redlight district looking for a female whore to rent.

while i have no doubt that Jesus (the mortal) was every bit as homosexual as He was heterosexual, He was not in it for a quicky or any sort of sleezy sex relationships.

homosexuality, as you portay it here, is really no more than the bigots say....just rolling in the hay with like genders. i think i have much more respect for us all than that....homosexuality is about who one loves, not doing the dirty with same sex partner(s).

if you don't know any more about Jesus than that, then maybe you should just go back to reading and leave the writing to a future where perhaps you, yourself, have been at least a little enlightened.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thank you, pennyjane, for taking the time and taking the risk of expressing your opinion here. I’ve been missing your comments and wondering if you are all right. I value diversity of opinion and I believe that we can “agree to disagree” here, even though that may be uncomfortable at times.

I’m sorry that you were actually offended by this post on “Queer disciples in the Bible.” I don’t believe that Jesus (the mortal) was involved in “quicky or any sort of sleezy sex,” either. I’m NOT sure that’s what Robert Myles meant when he wrote about “Jesus cruising,” since he also writes about how it lead to long-term commitment between Jesus and the disciples.

To understand why I posted this piece, it helps to look at part of the Vision Statement for the Jesus in Love Blog:

“We believe that the creative process is sacred. We hope that the new visions, especially the gay Jesus, will free people to experience the divine in new ways and lead to a more just world.”

I do have standards, and have decided against posting some “gay Jesus” material that seemed offensive to me. However, Robert Myles is a recognized theologian whose stated goal was to make the Bible accessible and redeeming for people who felt excluded.

I didn’t write about “Jesus cruising” myself, but I do think it’s worthwhile to provide a wide variety of queer images of Jesus. They can counteract the anti-LGBT discrimination done in Christ’s name and help some LGBT people connect or reconnect with God.

No image or story can ever fully express the full reality of Christ. All fall short of the glory of God.

pennyjane said...

i certainly am not into censoring anyone! i agree with your mission statement and have been intrigued with many things i have found on your blog.

standards are certainly subjective, and the standards here are yours. it's my own inerpretation of hearing about Jesus "cruising for seemingly attached male cohorts" that turns my stomach. i envision this person, and i don't know him, saying that Jesus was out looking for married men to recruit into the lurid and salacious life of homosexual those of sodom.

the homosexual Jesus, in my opinion, had nothing to do with was about love. nor do i believe that Jesus was subject to heterosexual lust.

stories like these, in my opinion, aren't going to open any eyes, aren't going to lift up Jesus or homosexuals....just leave a bad taste in the mouths of homosexual christians who stuggle against such lurid and lustful depictions of us.

i agree, no one image can ever even come close to depicting the whole of Jesus Christ....but some images can depict nothing of Him...for me, this is one of those.

Kittredge Cherry said...

You may be glad to know that I’m planning to do a series this fall on “sin and grace” based on Christological models for LGBTQ people developed by theologian Patrick Cheng. We need to discuss and figure out how to support queer sexuality without falling into the traps of “homosexual immorality” that you name.

Patrick has some excellent ideas. For example, in dealing with the erotic, he sees sin as exploitation and grace as mutuality. He writes, “For many LGBT people, sin in the context of the Erotic Christ takes the form of sexual practices in which one’s partner is treated merely as an object of gratification or as something less than a full person.”

Anyway, you are raising important issues of how to manage the God-given gift of sexuality that is inherent in our beings, and you are not alone in seeking such answers.

pennyjane said...

thank you, kitt....i really do think this is something that the homosexual community can use a lot of discussion about.

there is the stereotypical view of homosexuals out "cruising" for sex...that is just simply looking for some (body) to find sexual gratification with...often anonomyously....and the stereotype didn't just spring out of thin air, there is a solid foundation for it in reality.

it seems that often in our eagerness to not "judge" homosexual sex we often go too far; that is accept all homosexual sex as good and wholesome, or at least turn a blind eye to the differentiation between sex as an expression of love and sex for pure physical pleasure.

as homosexuals i don't think we are subject to "special rights", we are subject to the same rules as our heterosexual brothers and sisters...and just becasue there is an abundance of heterosexual immorality going on doesn't make homosexual immorality any less sinful.

as st paul says, "it is better to marry than to burn with passion." the key word here, i think, is "marry". just because society won't let us "marry" by legal standards doesn't free us from the admonition, no one can stop us from "marrying" in the eyes of God. God's law is far superior to man's law and in the final analysis, that's the law we will be judged by. anyone can make us criminals in the eyes of man's law, only we can make ourselves criminals in God's eyes.

if we want the same rights and responsibilities of our heterosexual peers then we need to hold ourselves to the same standards....the standards God has set for us all.

i've lately developed and interest in christology and all the teachings of bonhoeffer. i look forward to reading about the perspective you plan the share with us.

much love and hope. pj

Turtle Woman said...

Hey pennyjane-- we missed you! You've got a lot of good points.
I like Cheng's work very much, because he's a great writer, and he poses creative moral challenges for gays and lesbians.

Our community had a very hard time defining moral actions. I have long been suspicious of the sex saturated world that is the public urban face of gay men.

So we need to discuss how women would view a sexual ethics as well.
Gay male sexual radicalism gets in the way of discussion very real issues like sexual harassment, or inappropriate language, all of which I'm very sensitive to.

So Rev. Cheng is one of the few gay leaders who is doing creative work in this area, and he's done all the reading!! And I do mean all! Unlike most gay male ministers he is familiar with lesbian theology and feminism as well as Asian, gay male and a host of other theologies, and he summarizes brilliantly. Unlike most academics, he can write so well, that you are drawn in and invigorated by the moral commentary.

Anyway, great to have you writing here again. Just the other day, I was wonderful, "Geez, hope pennyjane is ok!"

pennyjane said...

hi turtle woman, thank you for the kind words. my perspective is by default, could be no other since i am, in fact...female.

when i am faced with transwomen who are obsessed with "looking like a woman", i can only reply..."i know i look like a woman, i know this because i look like me...and i am a woman."

this being said, i was captured by that tribe (the mantribe) as an infant and lived among them for many years. i was raised as one of them. i learned the secret handshake and had keys to the clubhouse. they were very accepting of me, they all treated me as one of them...without prejudice or even question. so, though i don't have a male perspective, i do have some deep rooted insight into that perspective....i've been around them when they suspected no female presence among them.

the typical male perspective, virtually universal male perspective, thinks sex first, all else later. gay men are men first, gay later. the stereotypical effeminate appearance is superficial...they think sex first, all other later.

that's not to say that all men think of nothing else but sex, but sex is always the first on the "what to do today" list. give them any reason to think about or engage in sex and that will immediatedly become a priority.

my personal "female perspective" thinks many other things first that might or might not lead to sex. i want an emotional connection far more than i want a sexual connection. i want to love and to be loved and then have sex express that love in the way that i feel it. if i'm not giving at least as much as i am getting then it's not good's not working right in my mind and body.

stereotypical? perhaps, but there's usually some truth behind the stereotype. male and female perspectives are based on stereotupes. not black and white, but generalities.

when a man is "cruising", his mind is on more sex. love, or any emotional connection, is not a part of that "cruising" picture. that's a male perspective....and i'm speaking from all that time i spent in the club among all manners of men. from the young soldier to the church leader there is only a slight difference in that's always there, always underlying every interaction with any potential partner.

when Jesus was in the wilderness the bible doesn't tell us that the devil "tried" to tempt says that He was tempted. His respnse was "get thee behind me satan!"

Jesus didn't "cruise"...not in my world.

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

Turtle Woman, thanks for your enthusiasm about our planned series on sin and grace for LGBTQ people by Patrick Cheng. I’m looking forward to it, too.

Pennyjane, thanks for sharing your unique experiences as a female who was accepted into the “mantribe.” I’m glad that you point out that you are not saying ALL men think only of sex.

I would be interested to hear what men have to say about this. Any men out there want to join this discussion?

As a woman and a lesbian, I feel that it’s too easy to point at men and blame them for their sexual excesses, when we have our own faults. Patrick Cheng writes about how gay men’s self-hatred and low self-esteem leads them into sex addiction and the sin of self gratification instead of the grace of mutuality. I want this to be a safe space of respect for all people of every sexual orientation and gender.

pennyjane said...

hi kitt.

the "blame game" is not something i'm ever interested in goes nowhere.

recognizing the truth and expressing it isn't about blame, it's about understanding. when i talk about "men" being very sexually oriented, compared to female sexuality, i'm not blaming them for anything myself...that's the way God made it, so, to me, blaming them would be blaming God...that's pretty silly in my book.

another, although not unique...unusual...perspective i have is having lived in the heterosexual married paradigm for 23 years. heterosexual men have the benefit of hearing and living with the accepted admonitions against immoral sex. it doesn't change their nature but it can, and often does, give them food for thought. more heterosexual men, i'm sure by percentage, live in committed relationships with their "spouse" then do homosexual men. i don't think this is because they are by mature more moral, or less sexually oriented than homosexual men, but because they are at least taught morality.

i certainly don't think you can blame the ignorant for what they haven't been taught. unlike in the heterosexual community, the gay community isn't apt to put the brakes on when men get to bragging about sexual conquests. gay men, even among lesbians, are held in highter esteem for just that and no one, at least it seems to me, is ever willing to stand up and say, "that's certainly not something i can respect." the concepts of love and committment are lacking in the gay's male sexuality run amuck, unrestrained. we're so afraid of being judged "judgemental" that we turn a blind eye.

i'm not accusing anyone, i'm just accepting my own personal responsibility as a member of the homosexual community for lifting us recongnize a weakness of ours and pointing it out. i can't "fix" anything, only "we" can do that, and i think that ghandi pointed us in the right direction for doing that: "you have to BE the change you wish to see in the world."

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

pj, your comments are contributing to an important dialogue about sexual ethics in the LGBT community. You helped inspire Eric, another friend of this blog, to write a powerful in-depth reflection about sexuality and spirituality from a gay male Christian perspective at this blog “On and Off the Road.” You can read the whole essay at this link:

He tells how he also felt uncomfortable when he first read the passage about Jesus “cruising.” But, as Eric writes, “I WANT what I read about theology and spirituality to discomfort me, to cause my stomach to churn, to force my brain to think. I want it relevant and irreverent, theology should trouble, not soothe. For me, this is good, this makes me alive, forces me to consider God in ways that I never heretofore would have.”

He affirms the goodness of sexuality and says that mutuality is the basis of moral or good sexual behavior, concluding, “Whereas the commenter was offended to think of Jesus out cruising (a word with almost universal sexual connotation) I was struck by how (if I accept the writer’s portrayal) what might have started out as a ‘crass search for casual sex’ instead resulted in deep relationships, lasting a lifetime… and millennia.”

These are just a couple of tidbits from Eric’s lengthy and well reasoned discussion.

I’ve been continuing to ponder this whole debate about Jesus “cruising.” I want to highlight and respond to this part of one of PJ’s early comments:

“It’s my own interpretation of hearing about Jesus ‘cruising for seemingly attached male cohorts’ that turns my stomach. i envision this person, and i don't know him, saying that Jesus was out looking for married men to recruit into the lurid and salacious life of homosexual immorality.”

Myles (the New Zealand theologian) was mostly referring to the men leaving their jobs as fishermen and leaving the father who was their fishing partner. But the Bible also refers later to Peter’s wife… that means Peter left his wife to follow Jesus. I personally find it impossible to believe that Jesus would lure a married person into a sexual encounter. Jesus never talked about homosexuality in the Bible, but he did speak against adultery (while sternly warning others not to cast the first stone of condemnation). However, one of Jesus’ most challenging teachings was that people had to leave their families to follow God. What does it all mean?

I just want to point out that there are two separate issues here: 1) quick, casual sex and 2) sex with a married person. It seems to me that Jesus was much more concerned about adultery than about quick hook-ups between single people.

If we want to go deeper into LGBTQ sexual ethics, it may be helpful to read “Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth” by Daniel A Helminiak, an excellent gay theologian and psychologist. It includes chapters on “Sexual Ethics without Religion” and “The Right and Wrong of Sex, Queer or Otherwise.” Here's a link to it:

Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

pennyjane said...

maybe it's a flaw of my own, but i try not to read my own thoughts into what others have written.

as i read the post from new zealand, "Jesus was out cruising for seemingly 'attached' 'cohorts'" i just took it at face value, i figured he meant what he said. that Jesus was out along the galilee looking for "seemingly attached" men to have sex with. i guess it can be rationalized any way we wish....perhaps we all need to be a little careful with the language we use.

recently a person in another forum i go to said, "we'll just have to wait on the old people like pj to die off....and the sooner the better!"

i pointed out that maybe a death wish might be a little strong. this person was roundly seems that this wasn't a "death wish", the person was just saying that my old way of thinking should die off.

rationalization. of course, my old way of thinking will only die off when i die....and, according to the poster...."the sooner the better."

you can defend the position the person took, but changing the meaning of what was said is just simply rationalization and avoiding the issue at hand.

like eric said....his "cruising" led to a loving relationship...and this makes "cruising" a wonderful thing.

Jesus having died on the cross led to my eternal salvation, but His dying on the cross was not a wonderful thing....i wish it could have been avoided.

"cruising", as i believe we can comfortably say, is associated with the search for sex, not love, and not meaningful relationships. the very use of that word, in reference to Jesus Christ, in my book, destroys the credibility of the the point of, at least in my case, not being even slightly interested in hearing any more from him.

that's just my opinion based on my values and understanding of Jesus. i would never want to censor what he says, but i certainly don't want to read any more of it either.

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

Pennyjane, stop visiting this blog if you are offended by the idea that Jesus may have had sex. One of the main purposes of this blog is to explore the idea of a gay Jesus -- including the possibility that Jesus may have been sexually active. I quote from our vision statement: “We hope that the new visions, especially the gay Jesus, will free people to experience the divine in new ways and lead to a more just world.”

Pennyjane, I actually agree with many of your opinions. The difference between us is that I don’t feel like I have to impose my personal beliefs on others. I believe that the LGBT community desperately needs images of a queer Christ, and so I will share a wide variety of gay Jesus ideas here, even if they are flawed or don’t match my own beliefs. I trust the living God to lead each individual on their own particular path of sexuality and spirituality.

Pennyjane, I’m sorry to hear about the attacks on you at another online forum. That will not be tolerated here. Neither will some of the repetitive, hostile comments that I allowed you to make here in the past.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I was only thinking of others when I said that it was worthwhile responding to negative comments here. I forgot to count the high cost to my own spirit, mind and body.

After a day away from this blog for renewal and prayer, I have decided to announce a new comments policy:

The Jesus in Love Blog encourages open, respectful discussion through comments. We maintain a safe, polite environment by moderating comments based on the following principles:

1. No personal attacks.
2. No attacks on groups (including claims that homosexuality is a sin).
3. No repetitive comments (same person repeating same idea multiple times on same post).
4. No spam.
5. Comments must be on topic.
6. I reserve the right not to approve any comments for any reason, including those that I find offensive or that create a hostile atmosphere.

CJ Barker said...

Despite the heat, an interesting discussion.

The idea of linking the tug of discipleship on one's life with the tug that comes with sex/romance/falling in love doesn't seem at all off to me. I've often thought that corporate worship- especially the kind of pentecostal worship I know and love- when it's really on and working and done right, has a quality of group love making about it (which actually makes some sense when you think about the metaphores we use for the church- "the body of Christ," "the bride of Christ".... well, if we're simultaneously both the body and the bride, just what does a bride *do* with a bridegroom's body, anyway? Surely more than just stare in chaste admiration, I would hope...... ??? :) )

I don't have any personal familiarity with the world of gay male cruising, but many of the things, and especially the promiscuous sexual things, that I did in my "bc" days pretty much horrify me at this point. No way I would celebrate any of that or choose it again.... nor would I want to see behavior like that attributed to Christ. But I'm not sure that's what this was doing.

This I know for sure, I can't imagine Jesus doing *anything* that would be at someone else's expense. And I just don't see how someone who's "fully human" and "fully god" could have sexual interaction with people who only have the human part and have that not, in a very profound, be at their expense. I understand if folks who don't share that theological perspective see it very differently, but it's not a place I can go. At all.

But sexual feelings- that's different, and in some ways, perplexing to me. Scripture says that Christ was tempted in *all* ways just as we are, but without sin. But then He himself says, that if you lust after someone, and you or they are married, then you've already committed adultery in your heart. So I've always wondered-how do you square that? What could it mean for Christ to be "tempted" but "without sin" if it doesn't mean looking at someone that way, but choosing not to do anything about it?

Again, I think it comes down to the matter of not doing things (and not just sexual things, either) where you benefit or seek gratification at someone else's expense. So I guess what I believe it that Jesus could know what it was to be tempted *to have desire* for things (again, not just sexual things) at other's expense, but had the ability to reject even the wanting. And that's pretty profound, if you think about it.