Monday, October 17, 2011

Fear, faith and gay Jesus: Interview with author Paul Hartman

Paul Hartman

Revelations that Jesus was gay lead to deeper spiritual insights -- and a deadly chase -- in “The Kairos,” a new suspense novel by Paul Hartman.

He discusses how and why he wrote “The Kairos” in the following in-depth interview with Kittredge Cherry, author of “Jesus in Love,” a novel about a bisexual Jesus. Based in Washington state, Hartman is a Presbyterian elder and retired PBS / NPR broadcast executive and on-air personality.

“The Kairos” addresses the timely issue of homosexuality and religion, but its underlying theme is timeless: Human fear and God’s reassuring response: “Fear not.”

Kittredge Cherry: Readers at Jesus in Love are interested in the idea of a gay Jesus. How does “The Kairos” explore that theme?

Paul Hartman: The Kairos (Greek for “a divine breakthrough into human time”) is a novel premised on seven Dead Sea Scrolls fragments having been hidden by two scholars for forty years.  The two had feared the carbon-dated evidence would explode the faith of a billion Christians worldwide.  Although the revelations were eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ teen years and why He was considered divine by contemporaries, they also stated that He and John, the Beloved Disciple, became intimate life-companions there in Qumran.

Wherever I have a chance, I’ll emphasize that this story is not really about a gay Jesus.  It’s about fear, and more importantly, God’s simple, loving words to us about that basic human emotion.  One “horrible fear” for some would be that the premise could have been true, that Jesus might have been not just sexual, but homosexual.  Two other, more-universal fears are of failure and of death.  These three threats drive the protagonist in The Kairos.  I trust that readers will remember by the end of the story that our loving Creator has addressed every kind of fear in the first divine words in almost every biblically-recorded kairos moment.  Those two words—just like the first two spoken by Bethlehem’s herald angels—are the theme of this novel.

KC: In your book the Vatican and the CIA try to stop the hero from revealing that Jesus was gay. Has anyone tried to stop you from writing the book or accused you of blasphemy yet?

PH: Only one person has tried to stop me from writing and publishing this story: my own fearful self.  Just like the protagonist, I have worried and prayed endlessly for decades that this be used to further God’s Kingdom, not to hurt people or (God forbid!) turn believers into atheists.  And just like God’s first kairos words in stories from Genesis to Revelation, the Divine has understood my fears and repeatedly, lovingly allayed them.  Even if (when!) there are accusations of blasphemy, I’ll keep looking back to our glimpse of Perfect Love and try to live like Him.

KC: Why did you decide to tackle this controversial subject? Is “The Kairos” related to your own coming-out process as a gay man?

PH: The story first came to me during a worship service at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, NY.  I wrote the first words—which survived all revisions and edits almost intact—on the bulletin.  I was in the closet then as I had been for over 30 years, and I remained in that dark fearful place for almost 20 more. Retirement has helped ease the fears, and then nine months ago I found the love of my life.  Even knowing that I should have found courage solely in my faith, being with Bruce has given it to me.  So both the book and I are coming out this year.  Praise God that recent trends in the world and the Church are making this less “courageous” than it would have been even a few years ago.  I’m so thankful to you, Kitt, for your pioneering, among others’.

KC: You’re a Presbyterian elder and lay preacher. What do you believe about Jesus’ sexuality? Was he attracted to other men? Did he have a male lover? What is the evidence or basis for your own beliefs?

PH: My lay preaching and coaching is in the area of stewardship (annual- and capital-campaigns), and I emphasize to fellow Christians that God is not needy but instead commands us to give because He loves us.  As a perfect Parent, God knows the “miser” in us makes us “miserable.”  (I welcome consulting inquiries from open and affirming congregations!  Ok, ok, end of commercial. :-)  )   It’s that same spirit that informs my understanding of Jesus’ entire earthly life, which confirms for me that everything, including our sexual orientation, is a gift to be celebrated and shared.

Do I believe Jesus was sexually active?  All I can say is He would still be my God if so, but of course I don’t know.  With a man or woman?  Same answer.  Two of my favorite chapters in The Kairos explore those questions, all of which hinge on whether we believe He was fully human.  (If we don’t, of course, we subscribe to the Gnostic heresy…the belief that all matter is evil, meaning Jesus wouldn’t have been human but only an apparition.)  Chapter 20 depicts a fundamentalist character’s reaction when she is asked various questions about His physical life.  In exasperation, she ends it exclaiming, “I don’t want to think about Jesus’ penis!”  Well I don’t know anyone who wants to, but if that’s symbolic of our rejection of our God-given physical bodies, then I can’t believe our Creator is happy about that.  He looked out over all that He had made and said it was very good.  Another favorite Kairos chapter, 33, presents one character’s mock debate with himself over the “clobber passage” issues attendant to these questions.

KC: One of the fascinating parts of your book is the “manuscript within a manuscript” -- the seven chapters that read like long-secret Dead Sea Scroll fragments on the sexuality of Jesus. What research did you do to ensure that these sound authentic?

PH: Just two of the seven broach the topic of sexuality; the other five introduce Him to the Qumran community and tell stories showing why the elders and youth alike were astounded at His gentleness, kindness, playfulness.  And His grace.  You might imagine that I approached writing each of these with some…well, fear!  The responsibility of sharing imagined words and actions of Jesus’ was almost crushing.  I felt an overwhelming need to stay close to the core of His life and message as best I know it.  So I spent a lot of time in the Synoptics during those writing periods.  I hope readers will hear echoes of gospel accounts in the words and actions I created, extensions of known sayings and behaviors more than anything brand new.  That is, except for the intimacy hinted at.  

Regarding my research in situ, I spent about 22 days in the Holy Land region in the year 2000, including about four days in Jerusalem and Qumran.  I was a docent at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in 2006 at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center.  That gave me numerous opportunities for close-up examination of scroll fragments and other artifacts.  And I’ve read pretty extensively and watched almost every documentary produced.  The Dead Sea Scrolls absolutely fascinate me.  To see the tetragrammaton in two-millennia-old handwriting …it’s breath-taking.

KC: How has your own spiritual journey been affected by the process of writing “The Kairos”?

PH: I’m probably one of the most progressive “born-again” Christians you’ll ever meet, and have been blessed with a deep faith ever since the day of that spiritual birth.  (Mine was the real-life experience written up as the Eskimo pastor’s in Chapter 51.)  Writing it prompted me to finally make the Trip of A Lifetime to the Holy Land (which is detailed on my website  And deciding to finally publish it has been a leap of faith both financially and in coming out.  Here’s a germane anecdote: I had long thought that I would have to use a nom-de-plume if I published it, to avoid direct questions from the media about my own orientation.  But I finally realized, Duh!?  A book whose theme is “fear not”…written by an author who’s afraid to put his name on it?  How self-contradictory can a guy get?

KC: Without spoiling the surprise, can you offer any words of wisdom for those who will be shocked by the conclusion?

PH: You know, if a story’s conclusion has a powerful effect on a reader—whether leaving them in a flight to joy or a descent to sadness—it means s/he has solidly connected with the protagonist and that character’s driving motivation.  One reader finished this novel and immediately wrote, “You know you have reached people when they have an emotional reaction—lump in throat kind—at the end.”  Those of us who believe in a death-conquering Deity understand that His repeated kairos words are not shallow, whistling-in-the-dark encouragements.  When we embrace them—as the protagonist finally does—they can become truly powerful in our own lives.

By the way, I strongly encourage readers to share their personal reactions after finishing The Kairos.  I’ll send each person who emails me (in the “Contact Us” section of “Sharing Ideas” at a few words that early readers have found helpful…but which I know wouldn’t be appropriate to print following its conclusion.


Trudie said...

Fabulous interview. I'm hoping against hope that the Amazon Vine will give me a chance to review this book, but even if it doesn't, I'm looking forward to reading it VERY SOON.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Trudie, I will be interested to know what you think of “The Kairos.” I know that Paul concentrated a lot of effort on making a big debut at Amazon. His novel rose to #798 on their bestseller list that day and a dozen positive reviews were posted. I look forward to seeing your among them.

eric said...

I'm not very good at writing reviews, but I can't imagine anyone not liking it! I bought it the day your story broke here, Kitt, and couldn't put it down.

The only weakness I found in the story is that the ending is predictable from virtually the outset of the book. But even knowing what is coming, I couldn't set it aside. I'd totally recognize it to anyone of my friends!

Trudie said...

If Amazon already has that many reviews, my chances of getting it via the Vine are probably slim. But we will see. Thanks anyway for tipping us off!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Eric, I’m glad that you liked “The Kairos.” The only negative comment I’ve seen was from a conservative who objected to the gay Jesus idea as “filth and garbage.” It’s being debated on the author’s blog at

I was surprised by the ending of the book… but maybe I was expecting a final twist that never happened.

Trudie said...

Well, no luck with the Vine, so I went ahead and bought the book, which arrived Monday. I'm almost done reading it, and will be posting my review later today. I'll be sure to copy it both to you and to Hartman's website.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Trudie, I just read your review on Amazon and clicked to let them know it was “helpful.” I’m intrigued by your statement, “Hartman's book could neither have been written nor published a generation ago.” I do believe that a movement of the Spirit is causing writers, artists and other creative minds to consider the queer Christ now… my own “Jesus in Love” novels being an example. I started documenting these works through this blog -- and there is no end in sight!

I like your concluding line, “Evil will always try to snuff out love, and will always fail, because for every act of cruelty and atrocity, one more gust of courage and love will in fact be released into the Cosmos. The messengers may be martyred, but the Message will continue to bloom.”

Amen, sister!

To help others find it, here’s the DIRECT LINK to Trudie’s review.

Trudie said...

Kitt, thanks for your complimentary comments on my review. I heartily agree that the movement of the Spirit is what accounts for the increasing understanding of the implications of the Incarnation as encompassing all the possible nuances of Eros as part of Divine Love. You already know that I am profoundly convinced that your "Jesus in Love" novels have portrayed the "truth", even if they aren't factual. Hartman's book is in the same category.

Paul Hartman said...

Thank you, all three!

I'm deeply grateful to you, Kitt, for this opportunity and the excellent questions. The same to Trudie and Eric for their wonderful comments.

Trudie, you know how grateful I am for that great review (and the error-cathing).

Eric, you're more perceptive than many who express surprise at the ending. To those who have pleaded for a different one, I ask them to handwrite this below the final words on page 312: "YAH...[infinity symbol]"

Grace and peace to all three of you! --Paul

Paul said...

How ironic my comment above is. I meant, of course, to write "error catching."

Kittredge Cherry said...

It’s always great to hear from the author personally through the comments. Welcome, Paul! We all need a little help with “error catching.” ;-)

I’m glad that Trudie and Eric really enjoyed wrestling with the issues raised in your book. Eric actually had even more perceptive insights that he emailed to me directly so as not to spoil the surprise ending for others.

For me it also helps to keep on reading after the “ending” to the “Acknowledgements” with your life-affirming litany of gratitude.