Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent: From a closet fertilized by hope

“Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday” by Micha L. Rieser

Today marks the first day of Advent, a time of expectant waiting for Christ’s birth.

This Advent season a coalition of progressive Catholics has some great ideas for creating an “Equally Blessed Advent.” They invite people to wear a rainbow ribbon to church during Advent as a public symbol of support for LGBT youth.

Perhaps their most astonishing idea is to “adopt a bishop” for Advent! The adoption procedure is simple: “Make a contribution in his name to an LGBT rights organization and then send a letter to the bishop letting him know of your gift.” Hey, maybe a bishop will even donate to the Jesus in Love Blog!

Visit for the full list of Equally Blessed Advent ideas. Other groups in the coalition are Call To Action, Fortunate Families and New Ways Ministry. I love their picture of a dove with a rainbow beneath its wing.

We celebrate the first Sunday of Advent with an excerpt from “Rite for Advent” by Chris Glaser, published in Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations:

One: The closet may be a fertile place:
creativity bursts out of a lonely hell,
and from a closet fertilized with hope,
the spirit leaps from a monastic cell.

Many: Those born in darkness
have seen life.

One: Out of dark soil sprouts new life,
from darkness springs embodied hope.
Both stretch for the illumination
of the cosmic landscape.

Many: Those born in darkness
have seen life.

One: Dear God,

Many: We seek your Word embodied
in life rooted in fertile darkness.
In life stretching for illumination,
we await your transforming Word.

Chris Glaser is a gay Christian author and activist. His newest book, The Final Deadline: What Death Has Taught Me About Life, was released by Morehouse Publishing (New York) in September 2010.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Harvey Milk: Gay rights pioneer

Harvey Milk of San Francisco
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. Copyright 1987
Courtesy of (800.699.4482)

Pioneering gay rights activist Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978 (32 years ago today). Milk is the first and most famous openly gay male elected official in California, and perhaps the world. He became the public face of the LGBT rights movement, and his reputation has continued to grow since his death. He has been called a martyr for GLBT rights.

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country,” Milk said. Two bullets did enter his brain, and his vision of GLBT people living openly is also coming true.

Milk has received many honors for his visionary courage and commitment to equality. He is the only openly gay person in the United States to have an official state holiday in his name. Harvey Milk Day is celebrated in California on Milk’s birthday, May 22. The bill establishing Harvey Milk Day was signed in to law in fall 2009, and the holiday was celebrated for the first time this year. State employees still have to work on Harvey Milk Day, but California public schools are encouraged to teach suitable commemorative lessons about the gay rights activist.

In 2009 Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the California Hall of Fame. He was included in the Time “100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century” for being “a symbol of what gays can accomplish and the dangers they face in doing so.”

He is the subject of two Oscar-winning movies, “Milk” (2008) and “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984), as well as the book “The Mayor of Castro Street” by Randy Shilts.

Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 after three unsuccessful efforts to run for office. He served only 11 months before he was killed, but in that short time he was responsible for passing a tough gay-rights law.

Haunted by the sense that he would be killed for political reasons, Milk recorded tapes to be played in the event of his assassination. His message, recorded nine days before his death, included this powerful statement:

“I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that's what this is all about. It's not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it's about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.”

Shots fired by conservative fellow supervisor Dan White cut Milk’s life short. More than 30 years later, the hope and the movement for GLBT rights are more alive than ever.

The Harvey Milk icon painted by Robert Lentz (pictured above) was hailed as a “national gay treasure” by gay author/activist Toby Johnson. Milk holds a candle and wears an armband with a pink triangle, the Nazi symbol for gay men, expressing solidarity with all who were tortured or killed because of their sexuality.

It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 are now displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints 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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Friday, November 26, 2010

Gay and lesbian Nativity cards

Gay and lesbian Nativity scenes are on Christmas cards at the Jesus in Love Store (Photo by Kittredge Cherry)

What if the child of God was born to a lesbian or gay couple? Because, after all, LOVE makes a family, including the Holy Family.

Our popular gay and lesbian Nativity Scenes are now available as Christmas cards. See all 5 designs! Visit card shop.

The cards are true to the spirit of Christmas: God’s child conceived in an extraordinary way. They show two Marys and two Josephs at the manger with the baby Jesus -- like putting two brides or two grooms on top of a wedding cake! Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including the growing number of LGBT parents and their children.

For more about how and why I made these the queer manger scenes, see our previous post “Gay and lesbian nativity scenes show love makes a family.” You can see them on video too.

The Jesus in Love Store has also added lots of gifts, plus new LOW prices on our T-shirts. Our logo appears on mugs, hats, key chains, cards, buttons, stickers, tote bags, mouse pads, ties, even pet clothing!

Show your pride and faith! Wear the stylish logo, which includes a pink triangle as the “V” in the word “love.” You can also get a design with the face of Christ inside a pink triangle. Gay prisoners wore pink triangles in Nazi concentration camps. Following Christ’s example, joins queer people in transforming suffering into power.

I’m posting this announcement on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in America, when huge crowds of Christmas shoppers help retailers become profitable (“in the black”). I had to cover Black Friday every year when I was a newspaper reporter during the 1980-82 recession.

It was always the same: Local merchants boasted about how much they sold on the day after Thanksgiving, and predicted that this would be their best year ever. I wrote an accurate article with their rosy predictions. After Christmas, I was sent to interview them again, and it always turned out that their sales figures were dismal, far below expectations. Then they blamed ME! They claimed that if my articles had been more enthusiastic, then shoppers would have flooded into their stores.

Every year when I see news reports about Black Friday sales, I always feel grateful that it’s not me doing the reporting anymore. I hope you enjoy shopping at the Jesus in Love Store.

Update on 11/27/10: Terence Weldon at the Queering the Church Blog has posted “For a Queer Christmas – Send Gay / Lesbian Cards,” an excellent analysis of the gay and lesbian Nativity cards, including this expanded definition of procreation: “I would add the observation by the Catholic theologians Salzmann & Lawler, in “The Sexual Person”: procreation refers not only to the physical production of an infant, but also the the subsequent care and nurturing of the child. Procreation by same-sex couples is not nearly as far-fetched as some people would have us believe.”

Update on 11/28/10:
I hereby issue a general call for submissions: Hey, everybody, please send me your own photos of gay and lesbian Nativity scenes that you create. They will be posted here at the Jesus in Love Blog. Pictures showing the Holy Family as people of color are especially encouraged.

Update from August 2011:
Right-wing religious blogs attacked these cards, so you know that they must be good! See my post Conservatives attack our lesbian and gay Nativity scenes!

Related links:
Hate crime targets gay and lesbian Nativity scene at Claremont church

Gay Nativity scene in Columbia sparks outrage

This post is part of the LGBT Holidays series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Out Christ / Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People

“Sermon on the Mount” (from Ecce Homo) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

“Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today,” a liberating five-week series by Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng, continues today with “the Out Christ.”

[Update: A new book based on this series, “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ” by Patrick Cheng, was published in spring 2012.]

Every week Cheng will present one of five models that arise out of the experiences of LGBT people:
1) Erotic Christ (sin as exploitation; grace as mutuality)
2) Out Christ (sin as the closet; grace as coming out)
3) Liberator Christ (sin as apathy; grace as activism)
4) Transgressive Christ (sin as conformity; grace as deviance)
5) Hybrid Christ (sin as singularity; grace as hybridity)

Cheng, theology professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, adapted the series for the Jesus in Love Blog based on his essay in the new book “Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection (Second Edition),” edited by Marvin M. Ellison and Kelly Brown Douglas.

Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today[1]

Model Two: The Out Christ

By Patrick S. Cheng, Copyright © 2010

            The second christological model of sin and grace for LGBT people is the Out Christ.  The Out Christ arises out of the reality that God reveals Godself most fully in the person of Jesus Christ.  In other words, God “comes out of the closet” in the person of Jesus Christ; it is only through the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we understand the true nature of God (for example, God’s solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed).  Indeed, the notion of the Out Christ as the revelation of God is supported by Jesus Christ’s description in the Fourth Gospel as the logos or Word of God.

            Chris Glaser, the gay theologian and Metropolitan Community Church minister, has written about the Out Christ in his book Coming Out as Sacrament.  In that book, Glaser describes Jesus Christ as nothing less than God’s very own coming out to humanity:  “The story of the New Testament is that God comes out of the closet of heaven and out of the religious system of time to reveal Godself in the person of Jesus the Christ.”[2]

            For Glaser, God reveals God’s solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed of the world in Jesus Christ.  For example, God comes out as an infant who is born in “a strange town and in a land and culture dominated by a foreign power, the Roman Empire.”  God also comes out in solidarity with the oppressed through the ministry of Jesus, who “defends women and eunuchs and those of mixed race (Samaritans) and responds to other races (the Roman centurion, the Syrophoenician woman).”  In the crucifixion, God comes out by extending “an inclusive paradise to a crucified criminal.”  And finally, in the resurrection, God comes out as one who “lives despite human violence, a true survivor of human abuse and victimization.”[3]

Sin as the Closet

            If the Out Christ is understood as the One through whom God most fully reveals Godself to humanity, then sin – as what opposes the Out Christ – can be understood as the closet, or the refusal to reveal oneself fully to one’s families, friends, co-workers,  and other loved ones.  Not only does the closet prevent a person from truly connecting with others, but it has a corrosive effect on the self-esteem and well-being to the extent that she is constantly forced to keep her life a secret to others.

            Many LGBT people have written about experiencing the sin of the closet.  For many LGBT people of color, coming out to families and friends can be a particularly difficult process as a result of condemnation from theologically-conservative churches, cultural expectations of traditional gender roles, and the anxieties of bringing shame to their families and ethnic communities.  Furthermore, LGBT people of color often experience an additional closet – the ethnic closet – in trying to hide or downplay their minority status within the predominantly white LGBT community.

Grace as Coming Out

            By contrast, grace in the context of the Out Christ can be understood as the courage to come out of the closet, or sharing one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity with others.  For LGBT people, the process of coming out can be understood as grace, or a unmerited gift, on the part of God.  There is no one correct pattern or single path to coming out.  Some people come out very early in life; others wait until much later.  For some people it is a slow and private process.  For others, it is a fast and public announcement.

            Regardless of how one ultimately comes out, the act of coming out reflects the very nature of a God who is also constantly coming out and revealing Godself to us in the Out Christ.  Coming out is a gift that is accompanied by other gifts such as self-love, the love for others, and the overcoming of shame and internalized homophobia.  The grace of coming out is not something that can be “willed” or “earned”; it can only happen as an act of grace from God.

[1] Copyright © 2010 by Patrick S. Cheng.  All rights reserved.  The Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng is the Assistant Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This essay is adapted from his article, “Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today,” in the second edition of Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by Marvin M. Ellison and Kelly Brown Douglas.  For more information about Patrick, please see his website at 
[2] Chris Glaser, Coming Out As Sacrament (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 85.
[3] Glaser, Coming Out As Sacrament, 82-84.

Come back next week for Part 3: the Liberator Christ by Patrick S. Cheng.

Click here to see the whole series so far.

Editor’s note from Kittredge Cherry: The photo for this post, “Sermon on the Mount,” was taken in a famous cruising park in Stockholm with LGBT people from local leather clubs as models. “It was fantastic to walk with ‘Jesus’ to the photo spot. People were looking and a little shocked,” recalls photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin in my book “Art That Dares.”

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Religious threats to LGBT people exposed in Jerusalem photos

“The Holy Kiss” (from “Jerusalem”) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

Religion-based oppression of LGBT people is revealed with grim power in “Jerusalem,” a controversial photo exhibit by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin showing this month in Sweden.

Jerusalem is holy to three major religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- so Ohlson Wallin went there to photograph LGBT Israelis and Palestinians. Her photos draw attention to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim scriptures that threaten queer people. She photographed members of the local LGBT community, sometimes in iconic sacred settings with homophobic texts projected on or near their bodies.

The show is on display through Dec. 1 at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, Sweden. Each of the 17 photos appears with a Bible or Quran verse that has been used against queers, plus Ohlson Wallin’s written commentary. Among the most powerful images are:

* “The Holy Kiss” (above) shows two women kissing at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where many Christians believe that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The site has been venerated as an important pilgrimage destination since the 4th century. The words of Romans 1:26-27, which condemns women who “exchanged natural relations for unnatural,” are projected on the stone in front of the kissing women.

“How many pious lesbians have knelt at this holy site?” Ohlson Wallin asks in her text. “But lesbian piety and lesbian love have never been valued by the church. The words of Paul in his letter to the Romans have echoed through the centuries, condemning lesbians to a life of self-denial and self-hatred. Even now.”

“The Kiss of Death” (from “Jerusalem”) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

* “The Kiss of Death” captures the naked embrace of two men lying in front of the old city wall near the Jaffa Gate. Projected on the wall above them is Leviticus 20:13, which orders the death penalty when “a man lies with a man as with a woman.”

“The word of God says that men who lie with men must be killed,” Ohlson Wallin says in her commentary. “That has been the argument in Christian countries that have used the death penalty for same-sex sexual acts.”

“Tranny” (from “Jerusalem”) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

* “The Tranny” is a portrait of a genuine drag queen from the heart of Jerusalem. The words projected on the wall behind her are Deuteronomy 22:5, saying that God “detests” women who wear men’s clothing and men who wear women’s clothing.

In her accompanying text, Ohlson describes transgenders as “these discomforting beings who challenge every notion of masculine and feminine. Even in the gay community, they are scorned. Yet it is among the trannies and transgender people that you will often find the greatest courage in the fight against injustice.”

Ohlson Wallin’s stated goal is to get people to talk about the responsibility of religion in supporting or opposing human rights. The photos, scriptures and accompanying texts set a somber tone, but Ohlson Walllin also points out the positive side. “The courage of the people who agreed to appear in these photographs bears witness to the fact that Israelis and Palestinians in the LGBT community help each other,” she writes in the exhibition catalog.

Ohlson Wallin takes these texts of terror personally. She is legally married to a woman and in the catalog she states that the verses pose a threat to her very existence, as well as endangering many others.

She is best known for her photo series “Ecce Homo,” which sparked death threats and vandalism, angered the Pope and won awards by showing Jesus in a contemporary LGBT context. Her story and photos from “Ecce Homo” are included in the book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry.

“Jerusalem” aroused debate over artistic and religious freedom even before it opened on Nov. 10. The Museum of World Culture helped fund Ohlson Wallin’s trip to Jerusalem, but the partnership broke down earlier this year when the museum didn’t want to display the Jerusalem photos as a solo show. The artist accused them of being afraid to upset religious conservatives. Eventually the artist and museum agreed to a three-week exhibition, shorter than usual due to the costs of extra security measures.

The Jerusalem exhibit does an excellent job of building upon and expanding the themes of another controversial work about religion’s role in injustice: “Submission,” a film written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and directed by Theo van Gogh. The 2004 film exposed religion-based abuse of women by showing misogynist verses from the Koran painted on women’s naked bodies.

LGBT people of faith have developed new ways of understanding the Biblical texts of terror or “clobber passages” highlighted by Ohlson Wallin. The following LGBT-affirming Biblical resources are available to understand these scriptures in context:

“What the Bible says and means about homosexuality”

“Homosexuality: Not a Sin, Not a Sickness”

“Gay and Christian”

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance Today

For a new version of this article, click
Transgender Day of Remembrance: Spiritual resources

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Erotic Christ / Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People

“Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today,” a liberating essay by Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng, is presented here as a five-week series starting now.

[Update: A new book based on this series, “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ” by Patrick Cheng, was published in spring 2012.]

Every week Cheng will present one of five models that arise out of the experiences of LGBT people:
1) Erotic Christ (sin as exploitation; grace as mutuality)
2) Out Christ (sin as the closet; grace as coming out)
3) Liberator Christ (sin as apathy; grace as activism)
4) Transgressive Christ (sin as conformity; grace as deviance)
5) Hybrid Christ (sin as singularity; grace as hybridity)

[Update: Cheng added two more models in his new book:]
6) Self-Loving Christ (sin as shame, grace as pride)
7) Interconnected Christ (sin as isolation, grace as interdependence)

Cheng is assistant professor of historical and systematic theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We are honored that this brilliant, up-and-coming gay scholar chose to share his work at the Jesus in Love Blog.

Patrick S. Cheng
He adapted the following essay for the Jesus in Love Blog based on his article of the same title in the new book “Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection (Second Edition),” edited by Marvin M. Ellison and Kelly Brown Douglas. His book “Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology” will be published next spring by Seabury Books.

Cheng is an ordained minister with the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), an LGBT-affirming Christian denomination that is open to all people. He is also a contributor to the religion section of the Huffington Post. He will deliver the John E. Boswell Lecture at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California in April 2011. Patrick lives in Cambridge with his husband of nearly two decades, Michael.

For more information about Patrick, please visit his website at

Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today[1]

By Patrick S. Cheng, Copyright © 2010


            Sin is a difficult issue for many, if not most, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT” or “queer”) people of faith.  It is the primary reason why LGBT people are denied full participation in the life of the Church, including the denial of sacraments and rites such as same-sex marriage and ordination, as well as the denial of many secular rights such as civil marriage and anti-discrimination laws.  Sin also torments LGBT people starting from a young age.  That is, we are taught very early on that same-sex acts are sinful, and we will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell if we fail to repent and abstain from such acts.

            As a result, many LGBT people are unable to understand what grace – that is, the unmerited gift of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ – is all about.  If a central part of our identity (if not the central part), which is the ability to experience embodied love and pleasure with another human being, is understood as intrinsically sinful and in need of repentance and abstinence, then why should we care about God’s grace?  In fact, what kind of sadistic God would create people one way and then insist that they change who they are in order to attain salvation?  It is not surprising, then, that many LGBT people have turned away from the Church and organized religion.

The Traditional Legal Model of Sin and Grace

            The Church traditionally has talked about sin and grace in legal terms.  For example, same-sex acts are understood as sinful because they violate biblical law, natural law, and/or other divine prohibitions against such acts.  Although there are only a handful of biblical passages that discuss same-sex acts (for example, Gen 19:5, Lev 18:22 and 20:13, Rom 1:24-25, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10), they have been cited time and time again to “prove” the sinfulness of such acts.  Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church has relied upon natural law to argue that human sexuality must always be expressed in the context of procreation, and any delinking of sexual pleasure and procreation is a violation of God’s law.

            By contrast, grace under the traditional legal model is understood as God’s forgiveness of those who have engaged in same-sex acts (that is, justification) as well as God’s assistance in helping such people to abstain from such prohibited acts in the future (that is, sanctification).  In other words, to accept God’s grace is to refrain from having any non-procreative sex, including same-sex acts.

            There are a number of problems with this traditional legal model of sin and grace.  First, this model detracts from a central message of the New Testament, which is justification by grace alone.  By characterizing sin as the violation of God’s eternal laws, the focus inevitably shifts to who may or may not be violating such laws.  This in turn leads to an obsession with groups that are thought to be sinners (for example, LGBT people), as opposed to a focus on God’s unmerited grace, which is actually the only thing that can help any of us to overcome the bondage of original sin.

            Second, the traditional legal model results in an obsession with defining precisely what the rules for right and wrong behavior are.  Specifically, this takes the form of endless argumentation and prooftexting over what the Bible “actually” says about same-sex acts.  While I believe in the importance of biblical exegesis, I also think that a narrow focus on what God prohibits or allows in scripture takes away from the larger framework of original sin and the theological significance of Jesus Christ in salvation history.  That is, the Bible becomes simply a book of rules, as opposed to the revelation of God’s relationship with – and love for – humanity as the Word made flesh.

The Christological Model of Sin and Grace

            As an alternative to the traditional legal model, I propose a christological model of sin and grace.  Under such a model – which is suggested by the work of christocentric theologians such as Bonaventure and Karl Barth – Jesus Christ is the starting point for thinking about sin and grace.  That is, sin is defined as whatever is opposed to the grace of what God has done for humanity in Jesus Christ.  In other words, sin is defined in relational terms to Jesus Christ.  It cannot be reduced to a laundry list of commandments to obey.

            For example, one way of thinking about sin and grace from a christological perspective is to understand sin as pride and grace as condescension.  That is, to the extent that Jesus Christ is understood as the grace of God’s coming down from heaven for our salvation (that is, condescension), then sin is defined as humanity’s urge to raise itself up above God (that is, pride).  Liberation theologians have characterized this as the sin of economic and political subjugation of the marginalized.

            By contrast, another way of thinking about sin and grace from a christological model is to understand sin as sloth and grace as exaltation.  That is, to the extent that Jesus Christ is understood as the grace of God’s lifting up of humanity in the victory of the resurrection (that is, exaltation), then sin is humanity’s refusal to rise to the level of what God has called us to be (that is, sloth).  Feminist and womanist theologians have characterized this as the sin of hiding or the negation of the self.

            Building upon the christological model, I propose five christological models of sin and grace that arise out of the experiences of LGBT people: (1) the Erotic Christ; (2) the Out Christ; (3) the Liberator Christ; (4) the Transgressive Christ; and (5) the Hybrid Christ.  These five models use the experiences of LGBT people to illustrate how sin and grace manifest themselves within in a specific social context.  It is my hope that these models can lead to a more thoughtful discussion – as opposed to silence or avoidance – about what sin and grace mean to LGBT people today.

Model One: The Erotic Christ

            The first christological model of sin and grace for LGBT people is the Erotic Christ.  According to Audre Lorde, the Black feminist lesbian writer, the erotic is about relationality and desire for the other; it is the power that arises out of “sharing deeply” with another person.  The erotic is to “share our joy in the satisfying” of the other, rather than simply using other people as “objects of satisfaction.”[2]

Grace as mutuality
Detail from The Last Supper
by Becki Jayne Harrelson
The Erotic Christ arises out of the reality that Jesus Christ, as the Word made flesh, is the very embodiment of God’s deepest desires for us.  Jesus Christ came down from heaven not for God’s own self-gratification, but rather for us and for our salvation.  In the gospels, Jesus repeatedly shows his love and desire for all those who come into contact with him, including physical touch.  He uses touch as a way to cure people of disease and disabilities, as well as to bring them back to life.  He washes the feet of his disciples, and he even allows the Beloved Disciple to lie close to his breast at the last supper.

            Conversely, Jesus is touched physically by many of the people who come into contact with him.  He is touched by the bleeding woman who hoped that his powers could heal her.  He is bathed in expensive ointment by the woman at Bethany.  After his resurrection, Jesus allows Thomas to place his finger in the mark of the nails and also to place his hand in his side.  All of these physical interactions are manifestations of God’s love for us – and our reciprocal love for God – through the Erotic Christ.

Carter Heyward, the lesbian theologian and Episcopal priest, has written about the Erotic Christ in the context of the “radically mutual character” of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  For Heyward, the significance of Jesus Christ lies not only in the ways in which he touched others (both physically and otherwise), but also in the ways in which he was “healed, liberated, and transformed” by those who he encountered.  This power in mutual relation is not something that exists solely within the trinitarian relationship between God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit.  Rather, this power is present in all of us who have ever “loved, held, yearned, lost.”[3]

Sin as Exploitation

            So what is sin and grace in light of the Erotic Christ?  If the Erotic Christ is understood as God’s deepest desire to be in relationship with us, then sin – defined as what opposes the Erotic Christ – can be understood as exploitation, or the complete lack of mutuality or concern for the needs and desires, sexual or otherwise, of another person.

Sin as exploitation
“Judas Kiss” by Robert Recker
            For many people, sin in the context of the Erotic Christ takes the form of sexual practices in which one’s partner is treated as merely an object of gratification or something less than a full person (for example, sex arising out of addiction).  These people, particularly those who struggle with sex addiction and/or low self-esteem, have engaged in anonymous, unsafe, and/or drug-fueled hook-ups in which self-gratification is the primary if not only concern.  The sex addict’s partner or partners are reduced to objects for stimulation and not seen as human beings in themselves.  This is the sin of exploitation at work – using one’s partner as an object for stimulation and not as a fellow human being.

Grace as Mutuality

            By contrast, grace in the context of the Erotic Christ is mutuality, or the deep awareness of being-in-relationship with the other.  As Lorde describes it, grace can take the form of something as simple as “sharing deeply any pursuit with another person” such as dancing.[4]  For Heyward, the grace of the Erotic Christ necessarily takes the form of “justice-love” and sharing in “the earth and the resources vital to our survival and happiness as people and creatures.”[5]  The grace of mutuality is understanding that we are all connected deeply to each other and creation.  It requires a commitment to changing how we see and interact with the world, whether socially, politically, or sexually.  The grace of mutuality is a gift that allows us to feel an authentic connection with others and with God.

[1] Copyright © 2010 by Patrick S. Cheng.  All rights reserved.  The Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng is the Assistant Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This essay is adapted from his article, “Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today,” in the second edition of Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by Marvin M. Ellison and Kelly Brown Douglas.  For more information about Patrick, please see his website at
[2] See Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” in Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection, ed. Marvin M. Ellison and Kelly Brown Douglas, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2010), 75, 77.
[3] See Carter Heyward, Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right: Rethinking What It Means to Be Christian (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 74.  See also Carter Heyward, Touching Our Strength: The Erotic As Power and the Love of God (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989).
[4] See Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic,” 75.
[5] See Heyward, Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right, 71.

Come back next week for Part 2: the Out Christ by Patrick S. Cheng.

Editor’s note from Kittredge Cherry: The artwork for this post was chosen to contrast the erotic mutuality of Ohlson Wallin's Crucifix at the top (where Jesus and his beloved together BECOME the biracial cross) with the erotic exploitation of Recker’s Judas kiss (where the exploitive biracial kiss sends Jesus to the cross alone).

Click here to see the whole series so far.

Related link:
Open Hands: Treasure in earthen Vessels: An Exploration of Sexual Ethics (Vol. 13 No. 4)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy 5th birthday, blog!

We’re celebrating our fifth anniversary as an online resource for LGBT spirituality and the arts on Nov. 17.

Christian rhetoric is often misused to justify hate and discrimination against LGBT people, so I founded to present a positive spiritual vision for queer people and our allies. God loves everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. That message is just as important today as it was five years ago.

In honor of our birthday, we will start a new series tomorrow on “Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today” by Patrick S. Cheng, theology professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. was launched on Nov. 17, 2005 with a news release titled “New Website Dares to Show Gay Jesus.” Since then has grown to serve more people in more different ways.

Our blog receives 30,000 visits per year and our e-newsletter recently surpassed 500 subscribers. We showcase a wider range of art and writing by more diverse contributors. Our content has also grown beyond the original emphasis on gay Jesus art, and now includes a popular series on queer saints.

We have won many honors for promoting religious and artistic freedom -- and we also get a lot of hate mail from conservative Christians. A typical negative comment is, “Gays are not wanted in the kingdom of Christ! They are cast into the lake of fire.”

The ongoing religious bigotry proves that is needed now as much as ever. Jesus loved everyone, including sexual outcasts. is a grassroots effort, with more than 99% of our funding coming from individuals, not institutions. This frees us to present controversial material and nurture each person’s unique spiritual journey.

If you want to give us a birthday gift, contact Kitt for more info. Thank you!

Image credits: Birthday cake from Wikimedia Commons. Birthday gift from

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Banned photo shows gay Christ figure

Cross Currents Fall 1972 cover with photo by Damon de Winters

A church magazine with a nude cover photo of a gay Christ figure with his friend was banned in 1972, but you can see it now at the Jesus in Love Blog. Almost 40 years later the photo is still risqué -- and beautiful.

The photo by Damon de Winters appeared on the cover of the fall 1972 issue of “Cross Currents,” the quarterly magazine of Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. The models, Todd and David Eric Charon, were positioned to discreetly hide any frontal nudity.

The photo seems to portray a gay Jesus with his Beloved Disciple. The bearded Christ figure offers a loving touch and a chalice of wine to his kneeling friend. Behind them stands a cross built from natural logs. The image echoes the Last Supper, when Jesus says, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:27-28).

The MCC-SF board of directors banned the magazine for release because they felt that the cover was “inappropriate for a church publication,” recalls Lynn Jordan, who served as editor-in-chief of Cross Currents. Jordan recently celebrated 40 years of membership at MCC-SF.

“Senior pastor Reverend Jim Sandmire received a lot of criticism over this issue of the magazine,” Jordan says.

In response to the uproar, Rev. Sandmire wrote an open letter dated Nov. 15, 1972. “While I do not think the cover or other pictures of nudes are in any way obscene, I believe the nudity does not enhance the religious message intended, and may detract from it,” Rev. Sandmire wrote at the time..

A headline on the cover also brings up another subject that remains surprisingly contemporary: “Gay marriage.”

Thank you, Lynn Jordan, for providing this Cross Currents cover image so it can finally reach its audience. It is historically, spiritually and artistically significant.
P.S. I received this update today from Lynn Jordan: “I spoke with founding member Frank Howell (now 72) who said he thought the photo tried to convey that we bring with us both our sexuality and spirituality when we receive communion.”

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

See us on Top-50 list of “insightful blog posts on GLBTQ spirituality”

“Pray Together, Stay Together” by Joy A’Che

We’re at the top of a new list of “50 Very Insightful Blog Posts on GLBTQ Spirituality.”

Our post “Black lesbian prayers and art offered” heads the list, which was compiled by Theology Degrees Online.

“Almost the entirety of the Jesus in Love Blog could fill up this list, but one blog post offering up poetic prayers and art by Joy A’Che at Sexy Black Rainbows Entertainment stands out as a beautiful tribute to lesbian spirituality,” the list says.

The Top 50 list includes many of my favorite queer spirituality blogs as well as some new ones that I look forward to exploring. They cover a wide range of topics, from growing up gay to "the queerr and the Qur’an.”

Click here for the whole list of “50 Very Insightful Blog Posts on GLBTQ Spirituality.”

Click here to view our top-rated post on “Black lesbian prayers and art offered.”

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Protests end gay Jesus exhibit in Spain

“The Doubt of Thomas” (from “Circus Christi” series) by Fernando Bayona Gonzalez, 2009.

An exhibit of gay Jesus photos in Spain was closed recently after protests from Catholic groups.

“Circus Christi,” a series of gay Jesus photos by Fernando Bayona Gonzalez, sparked controversy and death threats when it was displayed at the University of Granada in Spain earlier this year. The university abruptly ended the exhibition early, citing concerns for the safety of exhibition viewers. The show opened on Feb. 11 and closed after less than a week, even though it was scheduled to run to March 5.

According to news reports, several Catholic groups and extremist organizations called for a ban on “Circus Christi,” and the artist received several death threats. “I knew it could have a significant impact, but I never imagined we would come to such extremes,” Gonzalez said in a press conference.

“Circus Christi” is a series of 14 large, elaborate photos depicting the life, death and resurrection of a contemporary gay (or bisexual) Jesus. The title is a play on the Latin phrase “corpus Christi,” meaning body of Christ. Its press kit describes the series as a “kitsch, ironic, poignant and subversive contemporary reversal of the Biblical story, a critical view of the New Testament, set in the 1970s and continuing to this day.”

In “Circus Christi,” Jesus is born in a hospital with medical assistance. He and his mother live in an urban world of strippers and prostitutes, leading to Jesus’ first sexual encounter -- with Mary Magdalene as his partner. He goes on to discover (and be betrayed by) homosexuality. His baptism by fire has homoerotic undertones and Jesus turns into a rock-n-roll Messiah. He and Judas enjoy a sensuous kiss in a tunnel where gay men cruise for sex. The next photo shows Jesus lying crucified on the streets, lit by the headlights of a car.

His resurrection occurs in the sterile, tomblike space of a modern hospital. In the final photo, a gay Jesus is reunited with his friends in an exceptionally beautiful version of doubting Thomas touching the wounds of the risen Christ.

Conservatives can find much more so-called “blasphemy” in “Circus Christi” than just the homosexuality of Jesus, but ultimately Gonzalez photos do convey the basic Christian story: Jesus overcame the world’s horrors and rose to live and love again.

Gonzalez lives and works in Granada, Spain and Milan, Italy. Born in 1980, he has a master’s degree in photography from NABA University in Milan. With permission from Gonzalez, some photos from “Circus Christi” are posted here.

“Baptism” (from “Circus Christi” series) by Fernando Bayona Gonzalez

“Kiss of Judas” (from “Circus Christi” series) by Fernando Bayona Gonzalez

“Crucifixion” (from “Circus Christi” series) by Fernando Bayona Gonzalez

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