Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saints of Stonewall launched LGBT rights movement

“It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard shows the Stonewall Rebellion
Oil on canvas, 24" x 36," 1999.

Queer people fought back against police harassment at New York City’s Stonewall Inn launching the modern LGBT liberation movement on June 28, 1969.

Their bold rebellion against government persecution of homosexuality is commemorated around the world during June as LGBT Pride Month. The Stonewall Uprising continues to inspire a variety of art that is featured here today.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Saints of Stonewall inspire LGBTQ justice -- and artists, authors and film makers

This year the site of the Stonewall Uprising was designated a national monument by President Obama. “I’m designating the Stonewall National Monument as the newest addition to America’s National Park System. Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights,” he said.

The White House also released a video about the Stonewall Uprising and how it sparked a movement for LGBT equality. The monument includes the Stonewall Inn and nearly eight acres around it in New York's Greenwich Village.

The LGBT people who resisted police at the Stonewall Rebellion (also known as the Stonewall Riots) are not saints in the traditional sense. But they are honored here as “saints of Stonewall” because they dared to battle an unjust system. They do not represent religious faith -- they stand for faith in ourselves as LGBT people. They performed the miracle of transforming self-hatred into pride. These “saints” began a process in which self-hating individuals were galvanized into a cohesive community. Their saintly courage inspired a justice movement that is still growing stronger after four decades.

Before Stonewall, homosexuality was illegal and police regularly raided gay bars, where customers submitted willingly to arrest. A couple of dozen acts of resistance pre-dated and paved the way for Stonewall, such as the 1967 demonstration at the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles.

A new but controversial effort to tell the story of the uprising is the 2015 film “Stonewall.” It is directed by Roland Emmerich, better known for directing the action movie “Independence Day.” The film is a drama, not a documentary, told through the eyes of a fictional young white man from Indiana. Many in the LGBT community objected that the film downplayed the importance of drag performers, trans and bi women, butch lesbians and people of color in the Stonewall rebellion. Boycotts were organized to protest the way the erasure of these real-life activists in favor of a fictional white man.

The Stonewall Inn catered to the poorest and most marginalized queer people: drag queens, transgender folk, hustlers and homeless youth. Witnesses disagree about who was the first to defy the police raid in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. It was either a drag queen or a butch lesbian. Soon the crowd was pelting the officers with coins, bottles, bricks and the like. The police, caught by surprise, used nightsticks to beat some people before taking refuge in the bar itself. News of the uprising spread quickly. Hundreds gathered on the street and a riot-control police unit arrived. Violence continued as some chanted, “Gay power!”

Drag queens started spontaneous kick lines facing the police with clubs and helmets. That dramatic moment is captured in the painting “It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard. The drag queens met violence with defiant humor by singing,

We are the Stonewall girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear no underwear
We show our pubic hair
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!

That night 13 people were arrested and some hospitalized. The streets were mostly cleared by 4 a.m., but a major confrontation with police happened again the next night, and protests continued on a smaller scale for a week.

A month later the Gay Liberation Front was formed, one of many LGBT rights organizations sparked by the saints of Stonewall. LGBT religious groups are indebted to the saints of Stonewall for our very existence.

“Gay Liberation” by George Segal commemorates the Stonewall rebellion (Photo by Wally Gobetz)

One of the most significant Stonewall artworks is also the world’s first piece of public art honoring the struggle for LGBTQ equality. “Gay Liberation” was created in 1979 by famed pop sculptor George Segal. It consists of four statues, a gay couple and a lesbian couple, cast in bronze and painted white in Segal’s typical style. The figures are arranged realistically in casual poses, evoking the power of love with their ghostly presence.

The idea for a public sculpture honoring the 10th anniversary of Stonewall came from LGBT activist Bruce Voeller. His vision inspired the Mildred Andrews Fund of Cleveland to commission Segal to create the sculpture. After much controversy, vandalism and alternate locations, the sculpture was installed permanently across the street from the Stonewall Inn at Christopher Park, which also holds two monuments to Civil War heroes.

Artists usually choose between two approaches when addressing the Stonewall Uprising. Some focus on the action in the past while others highlight the present-day Stonewall Inn, which is still in operation as a bar for the LGBT community.

Artists who recreate the past include Doug Blanchard, a gay New York artist who teaches art at City University of New York and is active in the Episcopal Church. “It was Beautiful” and other Stonewall paintings by Blanchard were shown at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center of New York in 1999. His series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” has been featured here at the Jesus in Love Blog and in a 2014 book with text by Kittredge Cherry.

“The Battle of Stonewall - 1969” by Sandow Birk

California artist Sandow Birk put Stonewall history into heroic context in a big way. The oil paintings in his Stonewall series measure up to 10 feet wide. The crown jewel of the series is “The Battle of Stonewall - 1969.” It updates the classic painting “The Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle - 1304” by 19th-century French artist Charles Philippe Lariviere. In both cases, the physically superior side attacked those who were considered weaker, but the underdogs won and gained their freedom. Birk replaces swords with police batons and turns national flags into “Gay Power” banners. The knight in shining armor is replaced by a drag queen in mascara and high heels. For more about Birk’s Stonewall series, see my previous post: Sandow Birk: Stonewall's LGBT history painted.

The actual Stonewall riots weren’t as white as Birk's paintings make it appear: “On the first night of the Stonewall riots, African Americans and Latinos likely were the largest percentage of the protestors, because we heavily frequented the bar,” scholar-activist Irene Monroe writes in  Dis-membering Stonewall, her chapter in the book Love, Christopher Street. “For homeless black and Latino LGBTQ youth and young adults who slept in nearby Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn was their stable domicile.”

“Stonewall Inn” by Trudie Barreras (Collection of Kittredge Cherry)

The location where history happened is emphasized in the colorful painting of the Stonewall Inn by Trudie Barreras, a long-time member of Metropolitan Community Churches. Her art and writing on queer religious themes have appeared frequently here at the Jesus in Love Blog. She also does personalized pet portraits as “donation incentives” for Jesus in Love.

“Prostrations at the Holy Places and Veneration to Our Martyrs (Stonewall Pilgrimage)” by Tony O’Connell

British artist Tony O’Connell paid homage to the power of Stonewall by photographing his own personal pilgrimage to the historic bar in New York City in 2013. He prayed with incense at the Stonewall Inn as part of his series on LGBT pilgrimages, which he does as performances recorded in photos. He travels to places of importance in LGBT history, treating the trip as a pilgrimage to the shrine of a saint. For more about O’Connell’s pilgrimages and other art, see my previous post Tony O’Connell reclaims sainthood: Gay artist finds holiness in LGBT people and places.

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem and the Stonewall Riots happen in Station 8 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button

Tennessee artist Mary Button weaves together the LGBT uprising at Stonewall with Christ’s journey to Calvary in Station 8 of her LGBT Stations of the Cross. She shows that a chain of oppression that stretches from the crucifixion of Christ to police harassment of LGBT people today, offering hope for resurrection. For more about Button’s Stations, see my previous post LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.

Despite the progress made, police raids of gay bars have continued in recent years, such as the notorious 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid in Forth Worth, Texas. June 28 is also the anniversary of the 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge, a newly opened gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas. Five customers were zip-tied and taken to jail, multiple others were arrested or detained, and one got a severe brain injury while in custody. The raid sparked an unprecedented public outcry that led to reforms.

The history of the Rainbow Lounge raid and reaction is told in the 2012 film “Raid of the Rainbow Lounge,” directed by Robert Camina. He says it has “haunting parallels” to Stonewall. Emmy-nominated actress Meredith Baxter narrates the documentary. A video trailer is posted online.

May the saints of Stonewall continue to inspire all who seek justice and equality!

Related links:

2015 book for teens: “Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights” by Ann Bausum

Book: “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution” by David Carter

Book: “Stonewall” by Martin Bauml Duberman

Video: “American Experience: Stonewall Uprising

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, 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.

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hands Around the God Box: Prayer and protest for LGBT religious rights

Kittredge Cherry speaks at Hands Around the God-Box, a prayer demonstration to end homophobia in the church. A rainbow ribbon stretches across the stage. MCC founder Troy Perry is clearly visible in a dark suit at the front of the crowd. Standing next to him is Otis Charles, Episcopal bishop who came out as gay in 1993.

Protests for LGBT rights in the church have been going on for years. Hands Around the God Box, an interfaith prayer demonstration to end religious homophobia, was held 17 years ago today (June 24, 1994) at the Interchurch Center in New York City. Let’s gain strength for today’s challenges by remembering our past and honoring those who helped us get this far.

More than 500 people from 15 lesbian and gay religious groups joined hands and were linked by a rainbow ribbon that completely encircled the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive. The box-shaped building housed the headquarters of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and many other religious agencies. We are highlighting this historic event here as part of our celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.

I will never forget the solemn power of our combined prayers as LGBT Christians and our allies joined hands at the God Box. The building is huge, covering an entire city block, and our group of 500 barely managed to surround it -- with help from a super-long rainbow ribbon. The need for churches to accept LGBT people is just as true now as in 1994. Our prayers for full inclusion continue.

The peaceful demonstration began at noon Fri., June 24, with a short worship service. “We are here to open people’s minds and hearts and let God out of the Box,” I told the crowd in opening remarks as one of the organizers of the event.

Another speaker was Rev. Nancy Wilson, chief ecumenical officer (and now moderator) of Metropolitan Community Churches. “Today 475 Riverside Drive is our Stonewall Inn. We need to turn the tables on the religious ‘police’ of our day, and fight back,” she said.

Demonstrators then joined hands around the building in silent prayer for full inclusion of lesbians and gays in religious life. NCC General Secretary Joan Campbell and many NCC staff members joined the demonstration, even through the NCC refused to grant membership or even observer status to MCC, which ministers primarily in the LGBT community.

The event concluded with tying a rainbow ribbon around the God Box to symbolize continuing prayers for the church to honor the diversity God created.

Hands Around the God Box was coordinated by myself (Kittredge Cherry) as MCC national ecumenical officer and Kim Byham of Integrity. It was held as part of Stonewall 25, celebratingon the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion that launched the LGBT liberation movement.

The Washington Post covered Hands Around the God Box on June 25, 1994 with an article by Christopher Herlinger of the Religion News Service titled “Gays Returning to Religion, but Few Arms Open: Little Acceptance of Homosexuals 25 Years After Stonewall Uprising.” The article stated:

“A protest yesterday by a coalition of gay and lesbian Christians at the Interchurch Center here spotlighted what Wilson and other protesters called the ‘exclusion of lesbian and gay people from full participation in the life of the nation’s churches.’

The protest, a ‘human chain’ around the Interchurch Center, was called ‘Hands Around the God Box,’ -- a reference to the building’s popular nickname. The building, in upper Manhattan, is home to a number of denominational offices and the national headquarters of the National Council of Churches, the nation’s largest ecumenical organization.

The 32 member churches of the council are divided over the issue of homosexuality.”

The Christian Century magazine covered the event with an article titled “Gays and lesbians protest at church center” in the July 13-20, 1994 issue. They quoted NCC head Joan Campbell on why she attended the protest: “Our churches are very united on civil rights for gays and lesbians, and there are places we can be supportive. We don’t go as far as the MCC wants us to go, but there is a fair distance that we can go, and that needs to be made visible.”

Some said that Hands Around the God Box was the spiritual heart of the whole Stonewall 25 celebration in New York. Reaction to the God Box event was summed up later by Mary Hunt, cofounder of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and ritual, in her sermon the next day: “How about those Hands Around the God Box people? What a feat of religious athleticism: holding hands, singing, praying, protesting and talking to the press all at once ought to merit some sort of miraculous metal or actual grace!”

Hundreds of LGBT Christians circle New York’s Interchurch Center to protest religious exclusion in Hands Around the God Box. This photo was published in the Washington Post on June 25, 1994.

Demonstrators join hands around the God Box to pray for an end to religious homophobia. This photo by William Tom was published in the August 1994 issue of “Keeping in Touch: News and Notes from the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.”

The Washington Post covered Hands Around the God Box in an article titled “Gays Returning to Religion, but Few Arms Open” on June 25, 1994.

Online references:
More Light Update, a publication of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns. March 1994.

Voice of Integrity: the quarterly publication of Integrity, Inc., the lesbian and gay justice ministry of the Episcopal Church. Summer 1994.

The Christian Century magazine, July 13-20, 1994.
Gays and lesbians protest at church center

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Our Lady & Queer Saints art attacked as blasphemy - Show support now!

“Our Lady” by Alma Lopez

Conservative Catholics are attacking “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas (Saints),” an art show and speech by Latina lesbian artist Alma Lopez at University College Cork in Ireland June 23-25.

Encuentro (Encounter)
by Alma Lopez
They launched a censorship campaign asking the university to cancel the events. (Update June 24: They are also picketing the exhibit! More info at end of this post.) Join me in supporting this brave artist whose art embodies God’s all-inclusive love and heals the split between sexuality and spirituality.

The art exhibit includes the controversial “Our Lady,” which shows the Virgin of Guadalupe in a bikini made of roses, held up by a bare-breasted butterfly. Lopez will be in Ireland to talk about “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas” (Spanish for “saints”) and sign copies of her new book “Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez's 'Irreverent' Apparition” at the university’s conference on Chicano/a culture.

Death threats, censorship efforts, and violent protests brought international attention to “Our Lady” when it was first shown in 2001 -- and the right wing is at it again now.

Lupe and Sirena in Love
by Alma Lopez
They have organized a “Please Stop This blasphemy!” campaign, urging people to send the university a message that concludes: “In my opinion, these are blasphemous events that offend Our Lady’s spotless purity, insult Catholics and undermine God’s natural order. To avoid such grave blasphemy, offense and scandal, I respectfully urge you to cancel these events.”

This censorship campaign is all over the Internet. I say it’s time to show support for this brave artist who is re-envisioning the saints for us!

I urge you to join me in sending messages of support. Here is my open letter to University College Cork:
Dear University College Cork,

I am delighted and deeply grateful that your university is hosting “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas” by Latina lesbian artist Alma Lopez.

I am the founder of JesusInLove.org, which supports LGBT spirituality and the arts. I speak for many when I say thank you for showing the work of this brave artist who is re-envisioning the saints in life-giving new ways. Queer Christian images are needed now because conservatives are using religious rhetoric to justify discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Some denounce her art as blasphemy because it differs from traditional images. Others, myself included, experience it as a blessing that enhances Christian faith by embodying God’s wildly inclusive love for all. Lopez is healing the divide between sexuality and spirituality.

It’s important to imagine Our Lady and other Christian figures in new and different ways because it empowers people to grow in their relationship with each other and with God.

“Our Lady and Other Queer Santas” is a holy event that upholds Our Lady’s message of sacred empowerment, affirms LGBT Christians and embodies God’s love for all. In the name of religious and artistic freedom, please do not give in to critics who want you to cancel these events.

Thank you for your courage and vision.


Kittredge Cherry
Founder, JesusInLove.org
Author, Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More
You can email the university at: hispanicstudies@ucc.ie. Or use the forms set up by the conservatives and CHANGE their messages at:

American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP)

America Needs Fatima

Please leave copies of your messages here as comments, or email them to me.  Let our voices be heard!

The conservatives also picketed an exhibit of Lopez’ “Our Lady” last month in the “Contemporary Coda” show at the Oakland Museum of California.

The Irish show includes other prints and new paintings by Lopez, who was born in Mexico and raised in Los Angeles. She co-edited her new book with UCLA professor Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The two women were married in 2008, during the brief period when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

For more info about Lopez and the “Our Lady” protests, please check these links:

Artist’s website: almalopez.net

Our previous post: Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon

Special thanks to Alma Lopez for permission to share her art, and to Xochitl Alvizo for alerting me to the latest protests.

UPDATE 5 on July 5, 2011:
Thousands of negative emails compromised the university’s email system, but the conference went on as scheduled with 50 attendees. Alma Lopez is back from Ireland. All the supportive emails, including 5 from friends of the Jesus in Love Blog, are posted now on her website, almalopez.net. For a detailed update, see our new post: “Blasphemy update: Queer Our Lady artist thanks supporters.”

UPDATE 4 on June 27, 2011:
A long and eloquent statement by artist Alma Lopez was published in the Irish Examiner. She addressed many issues, including one that has been mostly ignored here -- the image as a symbol of Chicana/o pride and resistance to conquest. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a Mexican in 1531 (a decade after the Spanish conquistadors.)  Here are a few highlights:

"I’ve taken away the heavy robes that the traditional image wears because I wanted to show the miracle of the roses that were the proof of the Virgin’s apparition to Juan Diego... More than a religious icon, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a revolutionary image of indigenous resistance to colonisation and genocide.”

You can read her whole statement in this article:

Never intended to offend, says ‘Our Lady’ artist (Irish Examiner)

UPDATE 3 on June 24, 2011:
Counter-demonstrations are being planned by the atheists now. Once again a complex debate has been oversimplified into religion versus LGBT people. All people of faith get demonized, and the reality of LGBT Christians is ignored. I’m so glad that friends of this blog are voicing support from a spiritual and religious viewpoint. You can read the news report here.

Atheist Society to hold counter-demonstration against exhibition protesters (Cork Student News)

UPDATE 2 on June 23, 2011:
Protesters picket UCC as artist defends image (Irish Examiner)
The Irish Examiner reports that religious protestors picketed, the university said the art show will go on, the artist defended her work, saying “I love women, just as I love the Virgin of Guadalupe. Our Lady was my way of communicating my love and respect for all women, including the Holy Mother.”

You can see a photo of protesters picketing on this conservative blog:

UPDATE 1 on June 23, 2011: Today’s news reports say that an Irish bishop denounced the Alma Lopez exhibit by saying, “Respect for Mary, the mother of God, is bred in the bones of Irish people and entwined in their lives. It is regrettable and unacceptable that this exhibition seeks to portray the mother of God in such an offensive way.” For more info, click these news links:

Bishop's anger as portrait of Mary in a bikini goes on show at university (Herald)

Cork bishop criticises ‘offensive’ Mary image (Irish Examiner)

Related links:

Were some Catholic saints transgender? Berkeley show raises eyebrows (Religion News Service)

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reimagining God the Father

Did the artist intend to show a gay Father God? God’s halo is a pink triangle, an LGBT symbol, in “Heavenly Father,” a stained glass window at St. Virgil Church, Morris Plains, NJ. Photo by Loci B. Lenar © 2010. 

Reimagining God the Father may lift the spirits of some LGBT people and our allies today (June 19), which happens to be both Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday.

Can God the Father be as gentle and caring as a mother? Is He like a gay father? Do LGBT people have unique ways of redefining fatherhood that can enlighten others? I have no definite answers, but I share the following resources on alternative and even queer ways to re-envision God the Father.

Today, on Father’s Day, I dare to consider the fatherhood of God again -- by reimagining what it means to be God the Father. I seek a Father God who is as warm and nurturing as a mother… or a gay father. Trinity Sunday is also a good time to re-evaluate God the Father because it celebrates the doctrine of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or, in inclusive terms, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit.)

Many people, myself included, have turned away from the traditionally masculine Father God who is cold, distant, strict and domineering. The concept of God the Father may be hopelessly poisoned for some people who were abused by fathers or father figures. I honor the need to find other images to build a loving relationship with the divine… and the need to find empowering new models of sacred fatherhood.

I came to spiritual maturity at a time when “God the Father” was a dirty word in my church. We needed liberation from the old male-dominated, top-down religion that oppressed women and LGBT people. We read feminist theologians such as Mary Daly, who wrote in Beyond God the Father, “If God is male, then male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed to live on in the human imagination.”

At my church we took the offensive and cut out the Father God from our Bibles and hymnals. Instead we used “inclusive language.” Male words were replaced with neutral words, so “Father” became “Parent” or “Creator.” Once in a while we allowed “Father” to return, but only if He was balanced by “Mother.”

After more than a decade of inclusive language, I find myself intrigued by God the Father for several reasons. First, the genderless Creator God has begun to seem cold and distant too. Female images of God or Goddess aren’t enough for me. And there are still plenty of flesh-and-blood fathers in need of spiritual role models.

Then there’s Jesus, my inspiration in so many ways. He often spoke of God as his father. When he prayed he called God “Abba,” an intimate, affectionate Aramaic word that is more like “Daddy” than “Father.” His loving father-son connection with God encourages me to look for new ways of understanding God the Father in hopes of deepening my own relationship with God.

Along the way I found the following materials that reimagine God the Father:
Family photos of gay fathers with their children
New Hymn: Warm Father God
Ancient Hymn: Milk of Father God
Native American Father Spirit art
and queer visions from literature, art and theology.

Gay fathers
Gay fathers are on the forefront of redefining fatherhood. I hope that their photos here will inspire people to see God the Father in liberating new ways.

I had a terrible time finding images to illustrate a nurturing God the Father. It proved to me the need to “reimagine” fatherhood itself, regardless of religious beliefs about God the Father. Finally I remembered the family photos of some loving gay fathers who are friends of the Jesus in Love Blog. They are two different a gay couples that adopted children. I contacted them and both families agreed to share their photos here.

A South African family with two dads! Michael Worsnip, left, and Leon Putzier are the fathers of Gabriel, 7, and Joshua, 9. They adopted their sons at the ages of 3 months and 5 months respectively. Michael has posted the story of their adoption on his blog Hell’s Teeth, where he also writes about LGBT religious art and much more.

Father-son bonding with Michael Worsnip, Gabriel and Joshua.

An Iowa family with two dads! Jon Trouten, back center, and his husband Mark Holbrook with their sons D’Angelo and Leslie. They are adoptive parents of one son and legal guardians of the other son. Jon writes about family life at Jon’s Blog. Among my favorite posts are:

Coming out to my son (This will make you laugh.)
Mother’s Day when you have no mother

Hymn: Warm Father God
Gender stereotypes about God are broken in “Bring Many Names,” a hymn by Brian Wren, one of the world’s best known contemporary hymn writers. This verse presents a fresh view of God the Father:

Warm father God, hugging every child,
Feeling all the strains of human living,
Caring and forgiving, till we’re reconciled:
Hail and Hosanna, warm father God!

Bonus: Other verses shatter age and gender stereotypes by singing the praises of “strong mother God” and my personal favorite, “old, aching God.” Click here for all the lyrics. Click here to hear it on video.

“Bring Many Names” appears in many modern hymnals. Wren is the author of “Hymns for Today.”

Hymn: Milk of Father God
God the Father is explicitly male AND female in a second-century hymn. Check out this mind-blowing excerpt from Ode 19 of the Odes to Solomon:

A cup of milk was offered to me,
and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness.
The Son is the cup,
and the Father is He who was milked;
and the Holy Spirit is She who milked him;
Because His breasts were full,
and it was undesirable that His milk should be ineffectually released.
The Holy Spirit opened Her bosom,
and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father…
The womb of the Virgin took it,
and she received conception and gave birth.

This appears in The Earliest Christian Hymnbook: The Odes of Solomon, translated by James Charlesworth, or online at this link.

Native American Great Father

The Trinity
by Father John Giuliani
What if God the Father is Native American, Black, Asian or Latino? If the Creator is going to be an old man, I’d rather see him as dark-skinned sometimes.

I especially like the Native American visions of the Creator as the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka, Keeper of the Sky, and so on. Somehow they bring out a wiser, gentler side of the Father.

Father John Giuliani unites indigenous American and Christian imagery in “The Trinity,” shown here by permission The Great Father appears with a full headdress of falcon feathers in a halo of light. His open hands deliver the Son, a Christ figure who is a Sioux warrior. The Holy Spirit hovers between them in the form of a falcon, completing the Trinity. The Father, with his long, white hair flowing, seems androgynous and humble… a much-needed vision for our time.

Giuliani is known for creating Christian icons with Native American symbols, expanding the concept of holiness and honoring Native American Indians as the original spiritual presence on this land. His work is a prophetic sign celebrating the reconciliation of native and Christian peoples. Giuliani is also a Catholic priest and founder of the Benedictine Grange, a contemplative monastic community in Connecticut.

Charles Frizzell is another artist who does Native American spiritual art, including a Father-God figure called “Keeper of the Sky.” Click here and scroll down to see it on his website.

Father as Twin
In my “Jesus in Love” novels, Jesus starts out perceiving God the Father as an old man, but as Jesus ages they become identical. Here is an excerpt from Jesus in Love: At the Cross in which Jesus describes his prayer time in Gethsemane, shortly before his arrest:

“I raised my head and saw my Father sitting on a nearby log. When I was a child I thought He looked ancient and care-worn. He didn’t change, but I did. I had grown to look just like Him. We looked more like twins than a father and son. I went over and knelt at His feet. He steadied me with his kind gaze, then handed me the now-familiar gold cup….”

Queer Trinity?
The Trinity
by Douglas Blanchard
Jesus and God also appear to be the same age in “The Trinity” (at left) from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard.  Instead of Father and Son, they seem more like Lover and Beloved, which is another interpretation of the Trinity.  Click here for more about this painting.

The Trinity has inspired queer theologians to question God’s gender. The Holy Spirit is often presented as the female person of the Trinity, so that seems to make God into a transgender, omnigender or genderqueer -- not fitting the standard “male” and “female” duality. The following resources offer more queer theological reflections on the Trinity:

Celebrate the Feast of the (Queer) Holy Trinity at queeringthechurch.com

Gavin D’Costa’s chapter “The Queer Trinity” in Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body

The Queer God by Marcella Althaus-Reid.

The prayer formerly known as
“Our Father”
I close this reflection with a new version of the prayer that’s usually called the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father,” based on the first words of the standard translation. In inclusive language, we called it “the prayer that Jesus taught.” This refreshing version was written by Yvonne Aburrow (also known as Yewtree), a friend of the Jesus in Love Blog. She is a Unitarian and a Wiccan who blogs on spirituality at The Dance of the Elements.

O Genderless Engenderer,
Flame of life at the heart of all things,
Holy, holy, holy are your names.
Your republic of informed hearts is always within us and around us.
Your mysterious way unfolds before us
as matter and spirit dance together to create life.
May the finite tell its stories to the infinite
and may the infinite lend its everlasting peace to the finite.
May our hearts be open to forgiveness given and received,
and may we move accurately in harmony with all
and remain present in the now.
The republic of heaven on earth is all and each of us
reverberating with glory and power
in infinite space-time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

LGBT Christians to Pope: Stop homophobia! (plus photos of EuroPride & John McNeill)

LGBT Christians, including gay priest John McNeill, presented a letter to the Pope asking him to end homophobia, then marched with thousands through Rome the next day in the big EuroPride parade.

“We ask Your Holiness to condemn violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals and to ensure that criminal punishment for sexual relations between people of the same sex are lifted around the world,” the letter begins. Silence from the Vatican, the letter says, “could be interpreted as approval of the violence.” Click here for the whole letter.

The letter to Pope Benedict XVI is signed by co-presidents of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups on behalf of the 44 member groups from 23 countries in Europe. It was presented on June 10.

I honor these brave people for taking their call for justice to the very top the church hierarchy. Let’s celebrate with them by enjoying these photos of EuroPride.

Photos are © 2011 by Bill Wilson of SanFranciscoSentinel.com, unless noted otherwise. Visit his website, billwilsonphotos.com, for lots more photos of EuroPride. The Jesus in Love Blog warmly thanks Bill for generously agreeing to be our eyes in Rome!
For more info, see our previous posts:

Gay priest McNeill shakes up Rome with new moves and new movie

Update: Gay priest McNeill’s premiere succeeds despite rain in Rome at EuroPride

These heroes presented the letter asking the Pope to end homophobia! John McNeill is seated in the front. Photo by European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups.

The gate to Rome was lit with a rainbow for EuroPride.

John McNeill, seated, shares a EuroPride smile with film director Brendan Fay and clergywoman in rainbow stole: Rev. Hilde Raastad, Norway's first openly lesbian pastor, from Norwegian Lutheran Church in Oslo, Norway.

LGBT EuroPride crowd marches past the Coliseum in Rome. In 2000 the World Pride March was not allowed to circle the Coliseum, but this time they were! Photographer Bill Wilson reports, “It was a meaningful sight to walk down the Via Dei Fori Imperiali past the ancient Roman ruins.”

Italian lesbians! I mean Lesbiche! (Trasversali was not in my Italian-English dictionary. Maybe it means transgender?)

This EuroPride man puts the “glad” in gladiator, as in “Glad to see you,” notes photographer Bill Wilson.

John McNeill at EuroPride Rome with the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups.

Any excuse to wear a top hat!

EuroPride guys, we honor the love between men!

EuroPride brides, we celebrate the love between women!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost: Holy Spirit brings LGBT visions

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

Pentecost honors the Holy Spirit, an important aspect of God for LGBT people and our allies. We welcome the Spirit’s gender fluidity and ongoing work for change in the church. This year Pentecost is today (June 12). We celebrate here with queer art and literature, plus a rainbow call to action.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Pentecost: Holy Spirit brings LGBTQ visions

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians and our allies recognize the work of the Spirit when churches begin to embrace LGBT members, bless same-sex marriages, ordain openly LGBT clergy, and teach queer theology. We may also identify with the Spirit’s unusual mix of male and female.

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. But at other times She is referred to as “He.” Sounds rather queer, doesn’t it? And what kind of omnigendered or transgendered Trinity would include both female and male persons in Their Three-in-One identity?

This post also takes a Three-in-One approach to Pentecost, sometimes known as WhitSunday. It has three parts: 1) a reflection on the painting “The Holy Spirit Arrives” by Douglas Blanchard, from his series showing Jesus as a contemporary gay man, 2) an excerpt from the novel “At the Cross” by Kittredge Cherry, and 3) a call to action from the Rainbow Sash Alliance.

In the Bible account of Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit arrives as tongues of flame that land on Jesus’ disciples. Inspired by the Spirit, they speak in other tongues and a crowd gathers. People from all over the world are amazed to hear the mighty works of God in their own languages. But some scoff, so Peter explains by quoting the prophecy that begins the following reflection.

Pentecost in art
“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

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. The story of Jesus has been translated into many, many languages. Now the Gospel is also available with an LGBT accent.

Come, Holy Spirit, and inflame me with your love.
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. Click to view the whole series

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

Pentecost in literature
Pentecost is the final scene in “Jesus in Love: At the Cross,” a novel about an erotically alive Christ by lesbian Christian author Kittredge Cherry. Speaking in first person, Jesus blends male and female as he does humanity and divinity. The book includes a gay love story between Jesus and his disciple John. Here is an excerpt that imagines the Pentecost from the viewpoint of the risen Christ.

When the Holy Spirit loved me, our contact produced a ripple of energy similar to a heartbeat. She was ringing me like a bell, and the “sound” would roll on forever.

“It is without end, because it is without beginning,” She said. She rang me again, and this time when the edge of her heart crossed mine, the rapture made me lose control and we melted into One.

Our union was so powerful that the people there could actually see and hear Us, like tongues of fire and a whoosh of wind. Our appearance didn’t scare them because they had been expecting Us. Some of my disciples stopped singing long enough to exclaim, “It’s the Holy Spirit!”

We kissed everyone in the room, being careful to cool Our kisses to a comfortable temperature for humans. We licked them with Our flaming tongues. They welcomed Our electric kisses.
Click here for a longer excerpt.

A call to action on Pentecost
Each year on Pentecost Sunday, LGBT Roman Catholics and their friends in the United States, Australia and England wear a rainbow sash while attending Mass at their local cathedral. Through their public, prayerful presence at the Eucharist, they call the Church to conversion of heart around issues of human sexuality. For more info, visit Rainbow Sash Alliance USA and RainbowSash.com.

Happy Pentecost!

You might also like: Gender of the Holy Spirit at Wikipedia

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Update: Gay priest McNeill’s premiere moves crowds despite rain in Rome at EuroPride

John McNeill and his partner Charles Chiarelli meet Paola Concia, member of the Italian Parliament, at the June 6 premiere. Andrea Rubera translates.  Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011, photojournalist for SanFranciscoSentinel.com

Rain couldn’t dampen the spirit of the crowd that joined pioneering gay priest John McNeill at the world premiere of a film on his life at EuroPride in Rome June 6.

(Update: Click here for info on the U.S. premiere Sept. 24 in Woodstock, NY.)

Rain forced organizers to move the premiere of “Taking a Chance on God” from an outdoor location to a tented site in Europride Park at Rome’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, according to a news report in the San Francisco Sentinel.

Andrea Rubera, president of Nuova Proposta: Christian Homosexual Women and Men, and Paolo Patane, president of Arcigay, introduced and welcomed McNeill. They praised his courage in coming out and promoting LGBT rights in the church and society since the 1970s. McNeill’s work inspired queer people all over the world, but he was silenced by the Roman Catholic Church and expelled from the Jesuit order for expressing God’s love for LGBT people.

McNeill himself spoke before the screening of the documentary, which was directed by Brendan Fay. Diane Xuereb of Malta posted a moving first-person account on her blog “I am Gay and I am BLESSED.” Here are a few highlights:

I thought that I would get there to find that it was all over, however in true Italian fashion (practically always late ;)) it had only just started. It was 10.45pm. I arrived just in time to hear Fr. John introduce himself as well as the documentary.

The tent was packed, all the chairs were taken, there was barely a place to stand and everyone was listening attentively. Listening to this charismatic 85 year old legendary, gay Jesuit priest, hanging on to his every word….

I couldnt help but cry whilst watching the documentary and when I went to meet him I could see that he too was very emotional. I am grateful for having been able to meet this humble and whole man and for having been able to thank him personally for paving the way for the LGBT world and for making our life more possible.

While in Rome, McNeill will also advocate for LGBT justice at the Vatican -- leading to a possible showdown with his longtime opponent, who now serves as Pope. The order to silence McNeill for his LGBT activism was issued in Rome in 1977 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope Benedict XVI.  McNeill’s landmark 1976 book,  “The Church and the Homosexual,” had just been published.

Now McNeill plans to deliver a letter to the Vatican urging the Church to speak out against violence and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the world.

Simply delivering the pro-LGBT letter to the Vatican may prove to be a challenge, but as the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built (or unbuilt!) in a day.

(Update on June 15: Click here for photos and a report on McNeill and LGBT groups presenting the letter to the Pope asking him to end homophobia.)

Paolo Patane, president of Arcigay, welcomes John McNeill at the premiere
Photo By Bill Wilson © 201l

Crowd watches the world premiere of “Taking a Chance on God” at EuroPride in Rome on June 6
Photo By Bill Wilson © 201l

Special thanks to Bill Wilson for permission to post his photos of the premiere. See lots more photos at:

For more info, go to:
UPDATE on Oct. 16:
John McNeill has posted his own personal thoughts on the U.S. film debut at this link:
Reflections on the playing of Taking a Chance on God at the Woodstock Film Festival

Gay priest McNeill film has U.S. premiere Sept. 24 in Woodstock, NY

NEW on June 15: LGBT Christians to Pope: Stop homophobia! (plus photos of EuroPride &  John McNeill) at the Jesus in Love Blog

Gay priest McNeill shakes up Rome with new moves and new movie at the Jesus in Love Blog

Taking a Chance on God at Europride Premiere - On Scene with Bill Wilson at SanFranciscoSentinel.com

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Queer Spirituality of Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga inside pink triangles, from “Born This Way” video

By Patrick S. Cheng

Lady Gaga, the global pop music sensation, is known for her strong lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) following. Whether it’s due to her fabulous wardrobe and makeup, her visually stunning music videos, her strong statements in support of LGBT rights, or her androgynous aesthetic, Gaga has cultivated a dedicated LGBT fan base over the last few years.

With the May 23 release of her most recent album, Born This Way, Lady Gaga has shown that she is much more than just a queer cultural icon. She is also a queer spiritual evangelist who refuses to shy away from controversial religious topics. Indeed, the provocative lyrics of several songs in Born This Way challenge, or “queer,” a number of deeply-held theological beliefs.

For example, in her title track “Born This Way” (see video below), Lady Gaga queers the classical Christian notion of original sin. Instead of understanding human beings as being fallen at birth, Gaga strongly affirms the intrinsic goodness of all persons. According to Gaga, we are “all born superstars” and that “God makes no mistakes.” In Gaga’s words, “Don’t be a drag – just be a queen.” Despite being “outcast, bullied, or teased” – as many LGBT children and youth are today – we are called to love ourselves unconditionally.

In “Black Jesus † Amen Fashion,” Lady Gaga uses the symbol of the Black Jesus to disrupt our conventional thought patterns, theological or otherwise. According to Gaga, this song is about her experiences of moving to downtown New York City at the age of 19 and experiencing an entirely new way of thinking. By lifting up the Black Jesus, Gaga challenges our deeply-held assumptions about faith, which is precisely what Black liberation theologians have done since the late 1960s. In this song, Gaga proclaims that “Jesus is the new black,” and calls on the Black Jesus to “Work it.” She challenges us to embrace a new way of seeing, which should be just like putting on new clothes and “fashion.”

In “Bloody Mary,” Lady Gaga lifts up the divine feminine, which parallels what feminist theologians have done for decades in the face of patriarchal religious oppression. According to an interview in the UK’s New Musical Express magazine, Gaga said that “Bloody Mary” is about exploring both the humanity and the divinity of the biblical figure of Mary Magdalene. Speaking in the voice of Mary Magdalene in the song, Gaga vows to be strong – to the point of being superhuman – in the face of Jesus’ crucifixion. She says that “I won’t cry for you,” despite the fact that she is afraid of dying alone (“J’ai peur mourir toute seule”).

Finally, in the provocative song “Judas” (see video below), Lady Gaga challenges the traditional demonization – or scapegoating – of Judas Iscariot. Although Judas is normally seen as the ultimate betrayer of Jesus Christ, Gaga sings “I’m in love with Judas” throughout the song. Although Jesus is Gaga’s “virtue,” Judas is the “demon” that she clings to. In the music video, Lady Gaga rides with the leader (that is, the Christ figure) of a 12-member motorcycle gang. However, Gaga is attracted to another biker, the Judas figure. Gaga has the chance to shoot Judas, but she does not do so. Instead, Gaga is stoned to death by those around her.

As I have written elsewhere, “Judas” reminds me of the second-century gnostic Gospel of Judas. According to that non-canonical gospel, Judas is actually the most loyal of the twelve apostles. He is the only apostle who truly understands Jesus’ mission. That is, Judas is simply following Jesus’ command by turning him over to the authorities. As such, Judas is the but-for cause of our salvation! For me, the song “Judas” challenges us to rethink our assumptions about salvation and to examine more closely the ways in which our faith traditions often scapegoat the “other,” including LGBT people.

In sum, Lady Gaga’s new album, Born This Way, is an exciting new expression of queer spirituality. Hopefully it will provoke much discussion among LGBT theological, religious, and spiritual enthusiasts in the weeks and months to come.

* * *

Patrick S. Cheng is the Assistant Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He writes for the religion section of the Huffington Post, and he is the author of Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology. For more information about Patrick, see his website at http://www.patrickcheng.net/index.html.

You might also enjoy:

Lady Gaga Walks the Weird Wall: Toby Johnson Reflects on the Goddess Mythology of BORN THIS WAY” by gay spirituality author Toby Johnson at the MyOutSpirit Gay Spirituality Blog

Erotic Christ / Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People” by Patrick Cheng

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