Friday, April 27, 2012

Christina Rossetti: Queer writer of Christmas carols and lesbian poetry

Cover illustration for Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market and Other Poems” (1862) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

Portrait of Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti was a 19th-century English poet whose work ranged from Christmas carols to sensuous lesbian love poetry. A devout Christian who never married, she has been called a “queer virgin” and “gay mystic.” Her feast day is today (April 27) on the Episcopal and Church of England calendars.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Christina Rossetti: Queer writer of Christmas carols and lesbian poetry

Many consider her to be one of Britain’s greatest Victorian poets. Rossetti’s best-known works are the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Goblin Market,” a surprisingly erotic poem about the redemptive love between two sisters who overcome temptation by goblins. The homoeroticism is unmistakable in verses such as these:

She cried, “...Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me…”

She clung about her sister,
Kiss’d and kiss’d and kiss’d her…
She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth.

Some of these verses were set to music in a choral piece commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir: “Heartland” by Matthew Hindson.

There is no direct evidence that Rossetti was sexually involved with another woman, but historian Rictor Norton reports that her brother destroyed her love poems addressed to women when he edited her poetry for publication. Rossetti is included in “Essential Gay Mystics” by Andrew Harvey.  A comprehensive chapter titled “Christina Rossetti: The Female Queer Virgin” appears in “Same Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture” by Frederick S. Roden. Rossetti is also important to feminist scholars who reclaimed her in the 1980s and 1990s as they sought women’s voices hidden in the church’s patriarchal past.

Rossetti (Dec. 5, 1830 - Dec. 29, 1894) was born in London as the youngest child in an artistic family. Her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti became a famous Pre-Raphaelite poet and artist. Encouraged by her family, she began writing and dating her poems starting at age 12.

When Rossetti was 14 she started experiencing bouts of illness and depression and became deeply involved in the Anglo-Catholic Movement of the Church of England. The rest of her life would be shaped by prolonged illness and passionate religious devotion. She broke off marriage engagements with two different men on religious grounds. She stayed single, living with her mother and aunt for most of her life.

Christina posed
for this Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
During this period she served as the model for the Virgin Mary in a couple of her brother’s most famous paintings, including his 1850 vision of the Annunciation, “Ecce Ancilla Domini” (“Behold the Handmaid of God.”)

Starting in 1859, Rossetti worked for 10 years as a volunteer at the St. Mary Magdalene “house of charity” in Highgate, a shelter for unwed mothers and former prostitutes run by Anglican nuns. Some suggest that “Goblin Market” was inspired by and/or written for the “fallen women” she met there.

Goblin Market” was published in 1862, when Rossetti was 31. The poem is about Laura and Lizzie, two sisters who live alone together and share one bed. They sleep as a couple, in Rossetti’s vivid words:

Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Lock’d together in one nest.

But “goblin men” tempt them with luscious forbidden fruit and Laura succumbs. After one night of indulgence she can no longer find the goblins and begins wasting away. Desperate to help her sister, Lizzie tries to buy fruit from the goblins, but they refuse and try to make her eat the fruit. She resists even when they attack and try to force the fruit into her mouth. Lizzie, drenched in fruit juice and pulp, returns home and invites Laura to lick the juices from her in the verses quoted earlier. The juicy kisses revive Laura and the two sisters go on to lead long lives as wives and mothers.

“Goblin Market” can be read as an innocent childhood nursery rhyme, a warning about the dangers of sexuality, a feminist critique of marriage or a Christian allegory. Lizzie becomes a Christ figure who sacrifices to save her sister from sin and gives life with her Eucharistic invitation to “Eat me, drink me, love me…” The two sisters of “Goblin Market” are often interpreted as lesbian lovers, which means that Lizzie can justifiably be interpreted as a lesbian Christ.

In 1872 Rossetti was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an auto-immune thyroid disorder, which caused her to spend her last 15 years as a recluse in her home. She died of cancer on Dec. 29, 1894 at age 64.

She wrote the words to “In the Bleak Midwinter” in 1872 in response to a request from Scribner’s Magazine for a Christmas poem. It was published posthumously in 1904 and became a popular carol after composer Gustav Holst set it to music in 1906. Her poem “Love Came Down at Christmas” (1885) is also a well known carol.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” continues to be sung frequently in churches, by choirs, and on recordings by artists such as Julie Andrews (video below), Sarah McLaughlin, Loreena McKennitt and James Taylor. The haunting song includes these verses:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ....

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

The Episcopal Church devotes a feast day to Christina Rossetti on April 27 with this official prayer:

O God, whom heaven cannot hold, you inspired Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Rossetti herself may well have felt ambivalent about being honored by the church or outed as a queer. She shared her own thoughts for posterity in her poem “When I am dead, my dearest” (1862):

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Related links:

The Many Weird and Wonderful Illustrations for Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (Unpretentious Blabberings)

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gay Jesus makes news in the Guardian

“Queer Jesus” by Andrew Craig Williams

“Was Jesus gay? Probably,” a major article at the Guardian by an Anglican priest, is getting a lot of attention this week.

Paul Oestreicher, a chaplain at the University of Sussex in England, wrote that Jesus was most likely gay, based on his relationship with his disciple John.

Here’s a quote from the original article posted on April 20 at the Guardian, one of the most popular British news sites:

After much reflection and with certainly no wish to shock, I felt I was left with no option but to suggest, for the first time in half a century of my Anglican priesthood, that Jesus may well have been homosexual. Had he been devoid of sexuality, he would not have been truly human. To believe that would be heretical.

Heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual: Jesus could have been any of these. There can be no certainty which. The homosexual option simply seems the most likely. The intimate relationship with the beloved disciple points in that direction. It would be so interpreted in any person today.

Oestreicher goes on to say that Jesus’ sexual orientation doesn’t matter, except to remind the church to openly accept gay and lesbian Christians today.

I am glad to see one more important church leader acknowledging the likelihood that Jesus was homosexual. When more people welcome the possibility of a queer Christ, then more people will also be able to see the Christ within us queers.

Jesus appears as a silhouette on the cross against a fractured rainbow sky in “Queer Jesus,” the image at the top of this post. It was created by Andrew Craig Williams, a queer artist, writer and music maker based in Wales who blogs at

Special thanks to Colin and Paul Hartman for the tip about the Guardian article!
This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Jesus is not a homophobe" shirt speaks on Day of Silence for LGBT youth

Maverick Couch, second from left, with his mother, Tonya, and his friends Josh and Taylor at his April 3 press conference in Cincinnati (photo from Lambda Legal)

Photo from Lambda Legal
A gay teen in a T-shirt that says, “Jesus is not a homophobe” is among those taking a stand for LGBT youth today on the Day of Silence.

Today is the Day of Silence, a national student-led protest of anti-LGBT bullying in schools. On April 20 students from middle school through college take a vow of silence to emphasize the silencing effect of anti-LGBT harassment. During their silence, students explain their message with printed cards, buttons, stickers, T-shirts and such.

Today’s silent protestors include Maverick Couch, a 16-year-old gay Ohio student who won a legal fight this month for the right to wear a T-shirt that says: “Jesus was not a homophobe.”

Couch wore the shirt to his high school in Waynesville, Ohio, for the Day of Silence in 2011. The school principal ordered him to turn the shirt inside out because it “had to do with religion” and “religion and state have to be separate.” Later the school district defended the action by denouncing the shirt’s message as “sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting.”

On April 3 Lambda Legal filed suit against the Wayne Local School District on Maverick’s behalf, arguing that they violated Couch’s First Amendment right to free speech. The very next day a federal judge ruled that Couch can wear his T-shirt while the case proceeds -- but only on the Day of Silence.

Couch’s experience shows the power of combining LGBT and Christian messages. I have done so many projects about the queer Christ that it almost seems tame to wear a T-shirt saying “Jesus is not a homophobe.” But it sure made an impact!

Jesus himself never said anything directly about homosexuality in the Bible, but he often encouraged love for all, including outcasts and enemies. Surely he would agree that he is “not a homophobe.”

The Day of Silence feels like great progress to me when I remember my own high school years in the 1970s.  Back then every day was a type of  “day of silence” in which we queer kids were afraid to identify ourselves.

Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The first Day of Silence was organized at the University of Virginia in response to a class assignment on non-violent protest. More than 8,000 schools have participated in the event, which is held every year in April.
Related links: (official website)

Student Can Wear Pro-Gay Jesus T-shirt (Advocate)

Couch v. Wayne Local School District (Lambda Legal)

Teen wins right to wear 'Jesus Is Not a Homophobe' T-shirt to school (MSNBC)

Maverick Couch, Gay High School Student, Sues School Over Ban Of His 'Jesus Is Not A Homophobe' T-Shirt (Huffington Post)

This post is part of the LGBT Calendar 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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sor Juana de la Cruz: Nun who loved a countess in 17th-century Mexico City

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera, 1750 (Wikimedia Commons)

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a 17th-century Mexican nun whose critically acclaimed writings include lesbian love poetry. She is considered one of the greatest Latin American poets, an early advocate of women’s rights, and some say, North America's first lesbian feminist writer. Her feast day is today (April 17).

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Nun who loved a countess in 17th-century Mexico City

Sor Juana (Nov. 12, 1648 - April 17, 1695) was born out of wedlock near Mexico City in what was then New Spain. She was a witty, intellectually gifted girl who loved learning. Girls of her time were rarely educated, but she learned to read in her grandfather’s book-filled house.

When she was 16, she asked for her parents’ permission to disguise herself as a male student in order to attend university, which did not accept women. They refused, and instead she entered the convent in 1667. In her world, the convent was the only place where a woman could pursue education.

Sor Juana’s convent cell became Mexico City’s intellectual hub. Instead of an ascetic room, Sor Juana had a suite that was like a modern apartment. Her library contained an estimated 4,000 books, the largest collection in Mexico. The portrait from 1750 shows her in her amazing library, surrounded by her many books.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
By Lewis Williams, SFO

She turned her nun’s quarters into a salon, visited by the city’s intellectual elite. Among them was Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes, vicereine of Mexico. The two women became passionate friends. It’s unclear whether they were lesbians by today’s definition, but Maria Luisa inspired Sor Juana to write amorous love poems, such as:

That you’re a woman far away
is no hindrance to my love:
for the soul, as you well know,
distance and sex don’t count.

Click here for more of Sor Juana’s lesbian poems in English and Spanish.

The romance between Sor Juana and Maria Luisa has long been an inspiration for authors and film makers. Poet and Chicano studies scholar Alicia Gaspar de Alba writes about it vividly in her novel “Sor Juana’s Second Dream.” The novel became the basis for the play “The Nun and the Countess” by Odalys Nanín.

Gaspar de Alba also writes about Sor Juana in her new book “[Un]framing the ‘Bad Woman’: Sor Juana, Malinche, Coyolxauhqui, and Other Rebels with a Cause.” It was published in 2014 by the University of Texas.

María Luisa Bemberg, one of Latin America’s foremost female directors, explored the love between the nun and the countess in “I, the Worst of All” (Spanish: Yo, la peor de todas). The 1990 film was Argentina’s Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Language Film that year. The DVD cover uses a quote from the Boston Globe to describe the film: “Lesbian passion seething behind convent walls.” It includes woman-to-woman eroticism without objectifying the women. The movie is based on “Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith” by Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz of Mexico.

Production began in fall 2014 on a movie based on Gaspar de Alba's novel. Mexican actress Ana de La Reguera will play Sor Juana in "Juana de Asbaje," the film adaptation of Gaspar de Alba’s novel. She co-wrote the screenplay with the film's director, Rene Bueno.

Church authorities cracked down on Sor Juana, not because of her lesbian poetry, but for “La Respuesta,” her classic defense of women’s rights in response to opposition from the clergy. Threatened by the Inquisition, Sor Juana was silenced for the final three years of her life. At age 46, she died after taking care of her sisters in an outbreak of plague.

She is not recognized as a saint by the male-dominated church hierarchy that she criticized, but Sor Juana holds a place in the informal communion of saints honored by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith and our allies.  She is especially revered as a role model by Latina feminists.

The icon that appears with this post was painted by Colorado artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). Sor Juana sits between Mexico City’s two volcanoes, the male Popocatépetl and the female Iztaccíhuatl, symbolizing the conflict between men and women that she experienced in trying to get an education. She holds a book with a quote from her writings: “The most unforgivable crime is to place people’s stature in doubt.”

Related links:

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz at the Legacy Project

Sor Juana de la Cruz: La monja le encantó la Condesa en la Cidade do México en el siglo 17 (Santos Queer)

Related books:

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography” (2014) by Theresa A. Yugar with a foreword by Rosemary Radford Ruether

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works” (2015), translated by Edith Grossman with an introduction by Julia Alvarez

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Icons of Sor Juana de la Cruz and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Seminarian: Gay theology student looks for love in new DVD

The Seminarian,” a drama about a closeted gay seminarian’s search for love, was released on DVD this week.

Ryan, the title character, is completing a thesis on “The Divine Gift of Love” at an evangelical seminary while struggling in a relationship with a man who won’t commit. Questions of love, loneliness, faith and suffering are illuminated by Ryan’s interactions with his distant gay lover, two gay classmates, and the devout mother who doesn’t know about his sexual orientation.

Surprisingly, these evangelical seminarians apparently feel no conflict over being gay and Christian. The Bible passages used to condemn homosexuality are barely even mentioned. They don’t worry much about whether to stay in the closet either. Coming out issues do arise, but in true 21st-century style, these young gays show no paranoia about hiding their sexual orientation, even in a hostile seminary setting. They’re not even worried about using their degrees to get a job after graduation. Ryan focuses on a more universal question: How can love be a gift from God when it causes so much suffering?

This is a sweet, slow-paced film with no gratuitous sex. It would probably qualify for an R rating based on brief male frontal nudity and some low-key sex scenes. The film grows out of first-hand experiences at a conservative seminary. Writer-director Joshua Lim recently attended Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where the movie was shot. Lim was born in Malaysia and raised in Singapore.

Viewers with seminary degrees will get a kick out of the film’s valiant efforts to show the drama within such intellectual labors as library research and writing a master’s thesis in theology. Many may find understated inspiration here.
Related link:
Trailer for The Seminarian

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Our 25th anniversary is today!

Kittredge Cherry, right, and Audrey are united in Holy Union on April 11, 1987 (photo by Lisa Wigoda)

A gift received at our Holy Union
My beloved Audrey and I were joined in a Holy Union ceremony 25 years ago today on April 11, 1987 at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. Today on our 25th anniversary, we invite you to share our joy!

Our wedding was so long ago that nobody even dared to use the term “wedding” for the blessing of our same-sex relationship. Domestic partnerships and civil unions were still at least a dozen years away from becoming law. Marriage equality was non-existent as a concept. It wasn’t even at the stage of being an impossible dream. Many of the guests that we invited didn’t even understand what we were inviting them to witness.

Public opinion was so universally against us that nobody had even bothered yet to take a poll about it. The first Gallup poll on “marriages between homosexuals” was in 1996, with 68 percent against and 27 percent in favor. We became part of the rising tide that turned public opinion around. By 2011, 53 percent favored same-sex marriage.

But nothing could stop us from pledging our love to each other before God and community. After blessing us, the pastor declared, “Let no one -- let no church, let no state -- put asunder that which God has joined together!”

And we are still together 25 years later!

Kittredge Cherry, right, and Audrey -- 25 years after our Holy Union. Love kept us together.
Related links:

Marriage Between Homosexuals Is Nothing New for Some in S.F. (1989 Los Angeles Times article about our Holy Union)

Public opinion of same-sex marriage (Wikipedia)

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter from Jesus In Love and Kittredge Cherry!

Queer Resurrection (Atgyfodiad Queer) by Andrew Craig Williams

Christ is risen!  Rejoice!

Easter is a promise that God renews every spring. May this holy day call you to new life and remind you that nothing can destroy your dreams.

A rainbow greets the risen Christ as he leaves his tomb in “Queer Resurrection” by Andrew Craig Williams. The title in Welsh is “Atgyfodiad Queer.” Williams is a queer artist, writer and music maker based in Wales who blogs at The Bible quote comes from John 11:25, when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  He created the image this year specifically for Jesus in Love's Easter greeting.  Thanks, Andy!

Here is an Easter basket of other treats for you to enjoy. New this year:

Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision with art by Douglas Blanchard and new text by Kittredge Cherry.  Please comment!

Highlights from years past at the Jesus in Love Blog:

Rainbow cross lights the way for all

Holy Week series with excerpts from "Jesus in Love: At the Cross" by Kittredge Cherry

"Easter Day: Foreplay to Eternity prayer" by James Koenig

Kitt’s Easter message with wild mustard flowers

Day 8: Jesus rises, appears to Mary and friends, and more (Gay Passion of Christ series)

18. Jesus Rises (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“I am the resurrection and the life.” -- John 11:25 (RSV)

A handsome young Christ in blue jeans leads a joyous jailbreak in “Jesus Rises” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. He takes the hand of a prisoner as he leads the group to freedom. Jesus still bears the wounds of his crucifixion, but he glows with life and health. His inner light illuminates the grey crowd behind him.

For the first time in this series, Jesus also has a halo. Beams of light shoot from his head in four directions, forming a diagonal cross behind him. One prisoner raises a fist in victory, a broken chain dangling from his shackled wrist. Another waves his hat in celebration. Even the picture frame cannot hold back the risen Christ. Blanchard has painted it to look like the frame is cracking open at the top, letting light shine through.

This uprising is not just the resurrection of Jesus as a unique individual. All humanity rises up along with Christ. God is in solidarity with humanity in this natural yet supernatural scene. It can be read as “gay” because Jesus holds hands with another man.

The prison can stand for any kind of limitation, including the closets of shame where LGBT people hide. Viewers of this series know from the previous painting that these particular “prisoners” are the dead. Jesus overcomes death itself in this updated vision of the first Easter. Artistically Blanchard drew inspiration for some of his resurrection and post-resurrection imagery from English Romantic artist William Blake.

“Jesus Rises” will always have a special place in my heart because it is the painting that introduced me to artist Doug Blanchard back in 2005. I needed queer Christian images for the website, which was still in the design stage. It was hard to find any kind of LGBT-oriented Christ figures, but the rarest of all was the queer resurrection. I was delighted when Internet searches finally led me to Blanchard’s “Jesus Rises.”

Doug sounded discouraged when I called him on the phone. He reported that nobody cared much about his Passion series when it was exhibited as a work in progress in 2004 by the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation in New York. Later he admitted that he had expected the daring Passion series to be a “career killer.” Eventually he agreed to let me share “Jesus Rises” on my website. People loved his Passsion series there, and in my book “Art That Dares,” and at a 2007 exhibit that I helped organize at JHS Gallery in Taos. Many paintings from the series sold and are now scattered all across the country. Images from the series have appeared in magazines and on numerous blogs (both admirers and detractors). Now Blanchard considers his most successful project ever.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.” -- Isaiah 60:1 (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Christ lives! Nobody knows exactly how it happened, but on the third day Jesus rose to new life. The mystery of resurrection replaced the law of cause and effect with a new reality: the law of love. Jesus lives in our hearts now. Just as he promised, he freed people from every form of bondage. Captives are released from every prison. LGBT people are liberated from every closet of shame. Christ glows with the colors of all beings. People of all kinds -- queer and straight, old and young, male and female and everything in between, of every race and age and ability -- together we are the body of Christ.

Jesus, you are alive! Alleluia!

19. Jesus Appears to Mary (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” -- Mark 16:9 (RSV)

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of her friend Jesus early on Sunday morning. It was empty! She started crying and someone came up to her. Mary thought he was the gardener until he spoke her name. Her heart leaped as she recognized Jesus! People had wondered about her relationship with Jesus from the start. The bond that springs up sometimes between a gay man and a woman is incomprehensible to most. They don’t understand how a man and a woman can love each other without being sexual. And why would Jesus, who had many powerful male followers, pay so much attention to a woman? Yet he chose Mary as the first witness to his resurrection.

Jesus, where are you now? Will you speak to me?

20. Jesus Appears at Emmaus (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” -- Luke 24:30-31 (RSV)

A couple of Jesus’ friends met a stranger on the way to a village called Emmaus. While they were traveling together, they told the stranger about Jesus: the hopes he stirred in them, his horrific execution, and Mary's unbelievable story that he was still alive. Their hearts burned as the stranger reframed it for them, revealing how all things can work together for good. They convinced him to stay and have dinner with them in Emmaus. As the meal began, he blessed the bread and gave it to them. It was one of those moments when you suddenly recognize the presence of God. The stranger was Jesus! He had been with them all along. Sometimes even devout Christians are unable to see God’s image in people who are strangers to them, such as LGBT people or others who have been marginalized. Sometimes people are blind to their own sacred worth as incarnations of the divine. But at any moment, the grace of an unexpected encounter may open our eyes.

God, help me to recognize you.

21. Jesus Appears to His Friends (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see.’” -- Luke 24:38-39 (RSV)

Jesus’ friends were hiding together, afraid of the authorities who killed their beloved leader. The doors were shut, but somehow Jesus got inside and stood among them. They couldn’t believe it! He urged them to touch him, and even invited them to inspect the wounds from his crucifixion. As they felt his warm skin, their doubts and fears turned into joy. Jesus liked touch. He often touched people in order to heal them, and he let people touch him. He defied taboos and allowed himself to be touched by women and people with diseases. He understood human sexuality, befriending prostitutes and other sexual outcasts. LGBT sometimes hide themselves in closets of shame, but Jesus wasn’t like that. He was pleased with own human body, even after it was wounded.

Jesus, can I really touch you?

22. Jesus Returns to God (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” -- Isaiah 62:5 (RSV)

We can only imagine the bliss that Jesus felt when he returned to God. No words or pictures can express all the joy of a soul’s union with the divine, but some have compared it to sexual ecstasy or marriage. Perhaps for Jesus, it was a same-sex marriage. Jesus drank in the nectar of God’s breath and surrendered to the divine embrace. They mixed male and female in ineffable ways. Jesus became both Lover and Beloved as everything in him found in God its complement, its reflection, its twin. When they kissed, Jesus let holy love flow through him to bless all beings throughout timeless time. Love and faith touched, justice and peace kissed. The boundaries between Jesus and God disappeared and they became whole: one Heart, one Breath, One. We are all part of Christ’s body in a wedding that welcomes everyone.

Jesus, congratulations on your wedding day! Thank you for inviting me!

Bible background
Song of Songs: “O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!”

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

“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  (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

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.

24. The Trinity (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“So then the Sovereign Jesus, after speaking to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” -- Mark 16:19

What is the gay vision of heaven? The Holy Spirit inspires each person to see visions of God in his or her own way. Look, the Holy Spirit celebrates two men who love each other! She looks like an angel as She protects the male couple. Are the men Jesus and God? No names can fully express the omnigendered Trinity of Love, Lover, and Beloved… or Mind, Body, and Spirit. God is madly in love with everybody. God promised to lead people out of injustice and into a good land flowing with milk and honey. We can travel the same journey that Christ traveled. Opening to the joy and pain of the world, we can experience all of creation as our body -- the body of Christ. As queer as it sounds, we can create our own land of milk and honey. As Jesus often said, heaven is among us and within us. Now that we have seen a gay vision of Christ’s Passion, we are free to move forward with love.

Jesus, thank you for giving me a new vision!

This concludes a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Day 7: Jesus is Buried; Jesus Among the Dead (Gay Passion of Christ series)

16. Jesus is Buried (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

A mother mourns her dead son in “Jesus is Buried” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. Mary leans over Jesus, ready to kiss his ashen face goodbye. A tag from a morgue is tied around his wrist. His corpse is bloodless and wrapped in a plain white sheet. A gravedigger shovels dirt from the grave where Jesus will be buried. A simple wooden coffin waits. The night is dark with city lights in the distance.

This scene is not found in the Bible, but it is a traditional subject in art history known as the Lamentation. The standard Lamentation shows Jesus on a shroud before his tomb while Mary bends to kiss his face. The Pieta, which shows Mary cradling his body, is a special type of Lamentation. The subject was especially popular in Christian art from the Middle Ages to the Baroque era. The gospels do report that women were the first to visit Jesus’ tomb.

“They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom.” -- John 19:40 (RSV)

After Jesus died, the authorities allowed one of his friends to take his body for burial. Almost all of his many supporters were gone. Jesus’ body was laid to rest in a fresh tomb at sundown, just before the sabbath began. When they buried him, they also buried a beautiful part of themselves. Sometimes the humiliations continue even after death… when homophobes picket the funerals of the LGBT people and other outcasts, when mortuaries refuse to handle the bodies of AIDS patients, when families exclude same-sex partners from memorial services, on and on. Jesus understood grief and didn’t try to suppress it. He said, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus, I wait in silence at your grave.

17. Jesus Among the Dead (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

Endless rows of corpses fill an almost-black image in “Jesus Among the Dead.” Even in death, Jesus is not separate from humanity. He lies with the stink, the dead bodies, and the skeletons. This must be hell, or some human holocaust. Perhaps there is no difference.

The Bible doesn’t tell what Jesus experienced between crucifixion and resurrection, but many artists and theologians over the centuries have been eager to imagine it. The Apostle’s Creed clearly states, “He descended into hell,” or in another translation, “He descended to the dead.” The subject is traditionally known as the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descends to hell or limbo to rescue the souls held captive there since the beginning of time. Blanchard based the composition on photographs of the Holocaust, especially photos of the dead laid out in long rows after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Nordhausen in 1945.

There are many hells and many types of limbo in which people are trapped neither fully alive nor dead. For example, the US Supreme Court overturned state sodomy laws in 2003, but same-sex marriage is still illegal in almost every state, leaving most LGBT people to exist in a non-quite-legal limbo.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die...” -- Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (RSV)

Like all human beings, Jesus eventually had to experience death. In effect, it was like he was buried in a mass grave with all humankind -- saints and sinners, gay and straight, male and female, all of us without exception. His body rested in peace with the other corpses. Jesus didn’t believe death was the end. During his lifetime, he often talked about the afterlife. He said he would always be with us, connected like a vine connects to a branch. But when his body lay cold in the tomb, his friends simply missed him.

God, even death cannot separate me from 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.  For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotation is from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Day 6: Jesus goes to his execution, is nailed to the cross, and dies (Gay Passion of Christ series)

13. Jesus Goes to His Execution (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

A modern Christ figure carries a wooden crossbeam through the city in “Jesus Goes to His Execution” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. The bleeding Jesus is surrounded by guards with guns and men who aim news cameras at him.

The Bible records that Jesus was forced to walk to the execution grounds carrying the cross on which he would be crucified. The story emphasizes that people play a role in their own oppression. For LGBT people, it is a solemn reminder that persecution includes being forced to carry our own crosses by internalizing homophobia as self-hatred and guilt.

“So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha.” -- John 19:17 (RSV)

The soldiers made Jesus walk to the execution grounds. They forced him to carry the cross on which he would be crucified. It was big news and crowds gathered along the road. They had watched Jesus rise to mass popularity, and now they wanted to see his fall. Almost everyone jeered at him. Surely some of the hecklers had been among his followers. Maybe they shouted louder than the rest to prove that they were not associated with Jesus -- like closeted lawmakers who loudly oppose LGBT rights. The crowd also included some women who wailed in grief. Jesus turned to them and said, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves.

God, my heart breaks when I remember how Jesus died. Create in me a new heart with greater ability to love.

14. Jesus is Nailed to the Cross (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

Bruised and bleeding, a condemned man cries out in agony as a spike is hammered through his wrist in “Jesus is Nailed to the Cross.” The guard shows no emotion as he pounds a cruel spike through human flesh and bone. A shadowy guard in sunglasses keeps people away with a rifle while paparazzi eagerly record the horror from behind. Even the frame appears to be spattered with blood.

“There they crucified him.” -- Luke 23:33 (RSV)

The soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross. It was high noon on Friday. The pounding of the hammer left no room for neutrality. People were forced to choose sides, us versus them. If you didn’t want to be a victim, you had to join the perpetrators. The psychic terror extended to everyone who watched. By abusing one person, the authorities intimidated everyone like him, everyone who was different in any way… religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever. And what about the men who nailed him to the cross? Their actions were monstrous, but Jesus still saw their humanity. He prayed, God, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.

God, help me channel my outrage at wrongdoing into a creative force for good.

15. Jesus Dies (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“While the sun’s light failed… he breathed his last.” -- Luke 23:44-46

“Jesus Dies” places Christ’s crucifixion against a 21st-century city skyline. Some spectators cheer while others pray. Many, including some priests, watch grimly. Dark clouds gather in the sky above. Jesus looks dead.

Until now the images in this Passion series mostly seem plausible, but as Jesus dies the series enters a different realm, a soulscape of faith and symbolism. Public crucifixions do not happen in contemporary New York City in a literal sense. Crucifixions happen every day in a metaphoric way -- every time anyone does violence to another. Many queer people have died in circumstances of abuse and humiliation.

After an almost suffocating close-up focus on the torture of Jesus in the last four images, this Good Friday painting takes a step back. We get the big picture, seeing the crowd, the horizon, and the open sky.

The crucifixion could be taking place on top of a building, or on some kind of terrace. The scaffolding for the cross is an old sign frame, like the one on top of the red brick building in the back right. The outline of a skyscraper like the Empire State Building stands tall in the distance. Its presence hints at a subtext of this Passion: the 9/11 terrorist attacks that happened near Blanchard’s art studio while he was painting the series. The World Trade Center is missing from the skyline; it has gone up in smoke like the dark clouds gathering above Jesus.

“He said, ‘It is finished’; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” -- John 19:30 (RSV)

As Jesus hung dying on the cross, the crowd mocked him. A few of his supporters watched from the distance. Among them were his mother and the man he loved. One of Jesus’ last wishes was to make them into a new kind of family. When he saw his mother and his beloved standing together at the cross, he used some of his last breath to call to his mother, Woman, behold your son! And to his beloved, he said, Behold your mother! They were helpless to stop the tragedy, but they chose to be present and keep on loving. All the suffering of a broken world seemed to come together at the crossroads of those terrible hours. After about three hours on the cross, Jesus shouted, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Nothing left, he emptied himself completely. With another loud cry, he died. His loving heart stopped beating. The death of Jesus was unique, and yet it was also terribly common. Whenever anyone commits violence against another, Christ is crucified.

God, help me find meaning in the brutal death of Jesus.

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.  For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotation is from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Day 5: Jesus before the soldiers; Jesus is beaten (Gay Passion of Christ series)

11.Jesus Before the Soldiers (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“Soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him.” -- Luke 23:11 (RSV)

Marine look-alikes torment a naked man in “Jesus Before the Soldiers” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. Jesus kneels, naked and vulnerable, as a knife-wielding soldier grabs him by the hair. War dogs bark at him like hounds from hell, baring their teeth. A leering soldier flips the finger at him while another holds an AK-47 assault rifle. They are crowded in a claustrophobic space. Behind them a skull sits inside a gaping black hole.

I find this painting and the next one (“Jesus is Beaten”) to be the most terrifying images in the series. It hurts to look at them. After these, death comes as a relief. Maybe that’s the point.

The arch in back adds a black halo to the scene. There is no other way to identify the nude prisoner as Jesus -- except by remembering his words, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” Whenever anyone commits violence against another, Christ is crucified -- including when LGBT people are attacked or killed for loving someone of the same sex.

When looking at these paintings of violence and nudity, it is essential to keep them in the holy context of Christ’s suffering. Otherwise they only glorify violence or fuel sadomasochistic fantasies, adding to the exploitation in the pictures. These explosive subjects must be handled with care. Blanchard paints the frame around all 24 images in the series, but in these two images the frame is especially important. The frame puts the torture in context, naming Jesus and numbering it to show that it is part of a larger story. Even so, we viewers do become accomplices as the soldiers leer out at us, urging us to laugh as they hurt and humiliate their victim. Note that this frame bears the scars of war: a bullet hole and a gash.

Both paintings are reminiscent of the notorious photos showing U.S. soldiers and military contractors abusing and torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The photos caused a major scandal when they became public in 2004, the same year that these were painted. Here it’s worthwhile remembering that the artist is a New Yorker who used these paintings to work through his feelings about the religious motivation of 9/11 terrorist attack there, which led to war with Iraq, which led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

There are Biblical parallels for these images. “Jesus Before the Soldiers” is a modern version of Jesus being mocked by soldiers and crowned with thorns . “Jesus is Beaten” is a new interpretation of Jesus being scourged, a scene often called “The Flagellation” in art history.

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus… and they stripped him.” -- Matthew 27:27-28 (RSV)

The soldiers pulled off Jesus’ clothes and mocked him with contempt. They made ethnic jokes about him for being Jewish, and taunted him as a “king” because he taught that God’s kingdom of love is here and now. They could have used “queer” or a “faggot” or “lezzy” or any other slur. Whatever the words, whenever one person insults another, a child of God is humiliated. As Jesus said, whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me. The soldiers were young men similar to Jesus in many ways. The bullying was done by the soldiers, but the religious leaders were also to blame for the cruelty. The priests had set the stage for violence by calling Jesus a sinner. They targeted Jesus, but the pain spread far beyond him to terrorize many more people.

God, wherever there is hate and violence, make me a means of love and peace.

12. Jesus is Beaten (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him.” -- John 19:1 (RSV)

Pilate, the magistrate, ordered that Jesus be scourged -- a severe whipping before execution. This cruel punishment was state-sponsored terrorism against a man who defied the established order and hierarchy by teaching love for all. When they hit him, they did violence to everyone who has ever dared to be different. The charge against Jesus was treason, but his “crime” might have gone by a different name in another time and place. Governments have imposed similar tortures on people who threaten the social order in various ways, including homosexuality. The painful scourging left Jesus bleeding and in shock.

Jesus, you are no distant, untouchable God. You experienced human suffering firsthand. Be with all who suffer… and with all who cause suffering.

Scripture quotation is from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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.  For the whole series, click here.

Conservatives attack Kitt’s queer Christ article

“The Crucifixion of the Christ”
by Becki Jayne Harrelson
appeared on the HuffPo article, a major conservative watchdog group, posted an attack today on my recent Huff Post article on the queer Christ.

They called my ideas about the queer Christ “laughable” and “riddled with distortions, half-truths, fantasies, and baseless speculations” in an article titled “Huffington Post Promotes ‘Queer Christ.’” With a goal of “exposing and combating liberal media bias,” Newsbusters is a project of the Media Research Center, which has an annual budget of more than $10 million.

But even these wealthy conservatives cannot deny that Jesus may have been queer! They just believe that if he was homosexual, he was celibate. (I never said he wasn’t.)

As Newsbusters put it:

Cherry began her last paragraph with this ridiculous quote: “Being human, Jesus must have had sexual feelings. Being divine, Christ lives in every individual of every different shade of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

But being the perfect human, Christ was able to direct and control His impulses. Homosexuals are indeed welcomed by Christians – and can and do live happy and fulfilled lives – while still holding to Christian teachings on homosexuality.

At least they sent a lot more readers to my original article at Huff Post, Queer Christ Arises to Liberate and Heal.

Conservatives have called me names before and even gave me the “Dumb Dora Award for Blasphemous Burlesque.” But this is the first time that I’ve seen a detailed right-wing rebuttal the concept of a queer Christ. The fact that Newsbusters went to the trouble of denouncing the queer Christ actually proves the point I made at the beginning of my HuffPo piece: “Visions of a queer Christ are on the rise as Easter approaches this year.”

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Day 4: Jesus before the priests, magistrate and people (Gay Passion of Christ series)

8. Jesus Before the Priests (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“One of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’” -- John 18:22 (RSV)

A guard hits Jesus in a church while clergymen do nothing, indifferent to the violence, in “Jesus Before the Priests” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. The blow is so hard that Jesus doubles over. The guard’s dark sunglasses cannot hide his hateful grimace. A bespectacled priest looks up from an open Bible, but his bland face registers no concern for Jesus. Another priest purposely ignores the assault, studying his fingernails. Red carpet on the steps leads to an altar with candles. Watching from the back are more white-robed priests and men in business suits.

This is one of the more shocking images in Blanchard’s Passion series because it exposes blatant hypocrisy in a familiar setting. The church and its priests look familiar, maybe even comforting or boring. We have been there. But we haven’t seen what would happen if Jesus showed up there today in person as a young man. One might expect violence from police or soldiers, but not from ministers in a church sanctuary. But in the banality of evil, unspeakable acts are committed not by monsters, but by ordinary people who accept the premises of an institution.

Religions have condemned LGBT people and others as “sinners,” and then refused to accept responsibility for the violence that they incited. A recent example occurred in Uganda, where a law that imposed the death penalty for homosexuality was drafted under the influence of Christian conservatives from America. Church trials for homosexuality continue in America too. In a highly publicized trial the Presbyterian church ruled in February 2012 that Rev. Jane Spahr violated their constitution by performing same-sex marriages.

“Jesus Before the Priests” is a counterpart to the Biblical story of Jesus’ trial in the before Caiaphas, the high priest, in the religious court of the Sanhedrin. After lengthy questioning they condemned Jesus for blasphemy and sent him to the Roman authorities for sentencing.

“Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy.’” -- Matthew 26:65 (RSV)

The police arrested Jesus and took him straight to the priests -- the ones that Jesus had often accused of hypocrisy. They rigorously enforced minor laws, while neglecting the purpose of the law: justice, love and faith. They were like today’s church officials who put ministers on trial for blessing same-gender relationships or ordaining lesbians and gays. The priests interrogated Jesus for hours, trying to get him to say something that could be used against him. When they asked about his teachings, Jesus replied, Why ask me? Ask those who heard me. At that, an officer struck him, snarling, Is that how you answer the high priest?! The priests watched the violence with bland indifference. There were some good men among them, but they accepted their role as part of the system. They kept silent as evil triumphed again. Violence in God’s name was routine. The unthinkable had become normal.

God, I listen to YOU, even when it goes against what the priests say.

9. Jesus Before the Magistrate (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“Now Jesus stood before the governor.” --Matthew 27:11

A young defendant consults an attorney in “Jesus Before the Magistrate.” Jesus is caught between his lawyer and a guard wearing Nazi-style knee-high boots. Dull men in suits are shuffling papers, but nothing seems to happen in the generic courtroom. All of them, even the judge, look like pawns in Kafkaesque bureaucracy. A post behind the judge’s bench is topped by an eagle, a symbol shared by imperial Rome -- and the United States.

The Biblical parallel for this painting is Jesus meeting with Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate has been portrayed as the villain that you love to hate in Passion plays and movies, played by the likes of Telly Savalas in “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” In Blanchard’s painting the judge is too bland to make a memorable villain. It is in this antiseptic setting, impartial to a fault, that Jesus is found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

“And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation.’” -- Luke 23:2 (RSV)

The priests took Jesus to the magistrate, Pilate, demanding that he impose the death penalty. His government headquarters was bustling with dispassionate bureaucrats. For Jesus, the only law was love -- outright love for God and for people. He kept quiet in this alien place where loveless laws led to injustice. They used the legal system to force an uneasy “peace” on the local people, suppressing their culture and their very identity. Pilate’s lawmakers were like those who devised today’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy or “defense of marriage act.” Pilate came from just such a narrow-minded viewpoint when he asked Jesus, What have you done? Jesus answered, I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Puzzled, the magistrate posed another question: What is truth?

Jesus, show me your truth.

10. Jesus Before the People (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“They shouted out, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’” -- Luke 23:21 (RSV)

A mob turns against their former hero in “Jesus Before the People.” Jesus stands alone, handcuffed and motionless in the shadow, his back to the viewer, as he faces the angry crowd outside the courthouse. They are enraged, shouting, shaking fists, and waving signs with messages such as “Hell is hot, hot, hot!” Someone flips the finger at him in front of that sign, adding an obscene gesture. Another begins, “God hates...” with the last word hidden by the mob and a fist blocking it. The viewer can fill in the blank -- this mob could be turning against any disadvantaged group.

A man in a wheelchair points a finger sideways, signaling to cut his throat or get the hell out. Police struggle to stop the hostile crowd from killing Jesus right there. The crowd is multi-racial, but all male, which is realistic for mass street violence. Eggshells, squashed tomatoes and other debris litter the ground after being hurled at Jesus. Even the frame looks like it is spattered with eggs and gunk in a trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) artistic technique. Slashes are ripped into the back of his white T-shirt. His head is haloed by one of the “death” signs. The windows of a nearby office building are filled with people watching. A banner that says “Death” hangs between two windows.

The words on the signs suggest that Jesus is a gay man being jeered by fundamentalists. The signs are reminiscent of Westboro Baptist Church, led by Pastor Fred Phelps, who is infamous for picketing AIDS funerals with “God hates fags” signs. By scapegoating queers, the bullies maintain power. The scene is all the more tragic because the crowds adored Jesus less than a week earlier when he entered the city.

May be one of the few scenes that doesn’t have an exact parallel in art history. This could be an “Ecce homo” scene, although that normally comes after the flagellation. The order of events differs in various gospels.

“But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’” -- Mark 15:14 (RSV)

How quickly the people turned against Jesus! A week ago the crowds adored him. Now a mob was outside the government headquarters demanding his death. Pilate, the magistrate, wanted above all to maintain security. He made Jesus stand before the angry throng. They shouted with increasing frenzy: “Crucify him!” The chief priests stirred up the crowd, vehemently accusing Jesus of all kinds of sins. “He’s a traitor! Burn in hell!” Their words still echo today when hate-mongers tell ruthless lies: “God hates gays! Death to fags!” The magistrate saw that a riot was beginning. If one person had to die to keep the peace, then the end justified the means. Guilt or innocence was not part of the equation. The magistrate agreed to the demands of the crowd. He ordered the execution of Jesus.

Jesus, help me see my own capacities for good and evil as truthfully as I can.

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.  For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotation is from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.