Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rumi: Poet and Sufi mystic inspired by same-sex love

Rumi and Shams together in a detail from “Dervish Whirl” by Shahriar Shahriari (

Rumi is a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic whose love for another man inspired some of the world’s best poems and led to the creation of a new religious order, the whirling dervishes. His birthday is today (Sept. 30).

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Rumi: Poet and Sufi mystic inspired by same-sex love

With sensuous beauty and deep spiritual insight, Rumi writes about the sacred presence in ordinary experiences. His poetry is widely admired around the world and he is one of the most popular poets in America. One of his often-quoted poems begins:

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,
Like this.*

The homoeroticism of Rumi is hidden in plain sight. It is well known that his poems were inspired by his love for another man, but the queer implications are seldom discussed. There is no proof that Rumi and his beloved Shams of Tabriz had a sexual relationship, but the intensity of their same-sex love is undeniable.

“Rumi of Persia”
by Robert Lentz
Rumi was born Sept. 30, 1207 in Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian Empire. His father, a Muslim scholar and mystic, moved the family to Roman Anatolia (present-day Turkey) to escape Mongol invaders when Rumi was a child. Rumi lived most of his life in this region and used it as the basis of his chosen name, which means “Roman.” His full name is Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi.

His father died when Rumi was 25 and he inherited a position as teacher at a madrassa (Islamic school). He continued studying Shariah (Islamic law), eventually issuing his own fatwas (legal opinions) and giving sermons in the local mosques. Rumi also practiced the basics of Sufi mysticism in a community of dervishes, who are Muslim ascetics similar to mendicant friars in Christianity.

On Nov. 15, 1244 Rumi met the man who would change his life: a wandering dervish named Shams of Tabriz (Shams-e-Tabrizi or Shams al-Din Muhammad). He came from the city of Tabriz in present-day Iranian Azerbaijan. It is said that Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East asking Allah to help him find a friend who could “endure” his companionship. A voice in a vision sent him to the place where Rumi lived.

Meeting of Rumi and Shams
16th-17th century folio
(Wikimedia Commons)
Rumi, a respected scholar in his thirties, was riding a donkey home from work when an elderly stranger in ragged clothes approached. It was Shams. He grasped the reins and started a theological debate. Some say that Rumi was so overwhelmed that he fainted and fell off the donkey.

Rumi and Shams soon became inseparable. They spent months together, lost in a kind of ecstatic mystical communion known as “sobhet” -- conversing and gazing at each other until a deeper conversation occurred without words. They forgot about human needs and ignored Rumi’s students, who became jealous. When conflict arose in the community, Shams disappeared as unexpectedly as he had arrived.

Rumi’s loneliness at their separation led him to begin the activities for which he is still remembered. He poured out his soul in poetry and mystical whirling dances of the spirit.

Eventually Rumi found out that Shams had gone to Damascus. He wrote letters begging Shams to return. Legends tell of a dramatic reunion. The two sages fell at each other’s feet. In the past they were like a disciple and teacher, but now they loved each other as equals. One account says, “No one knew who was lover and who the beloved.” Both men were married to women, but they resumed their intense relationship with each other, merged in mystic communion. Jealousies arose again and some men began plotting to get rid of Shams.

One winter night, when he was with Rumi, Shams answered a knock at the back door. He disappeared and was never seen again. Many believe that he was murdered.

Rumi grieved deeply. He searched in vain for his friend and lost himself in whirling dances of mourning. One of his poems hints at the his emotions:

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

Rumi danced, mourned and wrote poems until the pressure forged a new consciousness. “The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” he once wrote. His soul fused with his beloved. They became One: Rumi, Shams and God. He wrote:

Why should I seek? I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.

After this breakthrough, waves of profound poetry flowed out of Rumi. He attributed more and more of his writings to Shams. His literary classic is a vast collection of poems called “The Works of Shams of Tabriz.” The Turkish government refused to help with translation of the last volume, which was finally published in 2006 as The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication. It was forbidden both because of its homoerotic content and because it promotes the “blasphemy” that one must go beyond religion in order to experience God.

Rumi went on to live and love again, dedicating poems to other beloved men. His second great love was the goldsmith Saladin Zarkub. After the goldsmith’s death, Rumi’s scribe Husan Chelebi became Rumi’s beloved companion for the rest of his life. Rumi died at age 66 after an illness on Dec. 17, 1273. Soon his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, known as the whirling dervishes because of the dances they do in devotion to God.

Related links:
Rumi and Shams: A Love of Another Kind (Wild Reed)

Ramesh Bjonnes on Rumi and Shams as Gay Lovers (Wild Reed)

Another Male's Love Inspired Persia's Mystic Muse (

Love Poems of Rumi at

Rumi quotes at

5 Queer Couples in Islamic History (

*“Like This” is quoted from The Essential Rumi, which has translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. For the whole poem, visit

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

FannyAnn Eddy: Lesbian martyr in Africa

FannyAnn Eddy was a major activist for LGBT rights in her native Sierra Leone and the rest of Africa. She was murdered 10 years ago today on Sept. 29, 2004. Nobody was ever convicted of the crime.

She founded the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association in 2002 and advocated for LGBT rights at the United Nations. Her organization documented harassment, beatings and arbitrary arrests of LGBT people in her country.

In her testimony at the U.N Commission on Human Rights in April 2004, she affirmed that there are LGBT throughout Africa, but they live in fear.

With tragically prophetic words, she told the U.N, “We live in fear within our communities, where we face constant harassment and violence from neighbors and others. Their homophobic attacks go unpunished by authorities, further encouraging their discriminatory and violent treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Eddy was working alone at night in the Freetown offices of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association when one or more attackers broke in and killed her. She was survived by her 10-year-old son and her girlfriend, Esther Chikalipa.

Eddy’s final words to the United Nations still resound today: “Silence creates vulnerability. You, members of the Commission on Human Rights, can break the silence. You can acknowledge that we exist, throughout Africa and on every continent, and that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are committed every day. You can help us combat those violations and achieve our full rights and freedoms, in every society, including my beloved Sierra Leone.”

Related links:
Uganda Martyrs raise questions on homosexuality, religion and LGBT rights (Jesus in Love)


This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Was Jesus married?

This scrap papyrus says that Jesus had a wife

People are buzzing over the discovery of an ancient papyrus fragment in which Jesus mentions “my wife.”

The standard Bible texts don’t say anything about Jesus’ marital status. I usually focus on the possibility of a queer Christ here at the Jesus in Love Blog, but the idea that he was married at all opens up new options for affirming sexuality of every kind.

SF Gate’s new piece about the papyrus discovery includes a link to my reflection on The Many Faces of Mary Magdalene, the woman most likely to marry Jesus. Here’s the part that sent hundreds of new visitors to the Jesus in Love Blog:

The adorable tale of Jesus’ sexy wife is like a sly teaser to a grand movie we can’t quite see just yet, but which we’re all fully participating in, every single day.

There’s also a medieval tradition that Jesus married a man -- his beloved disciple John -- at the wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine.

Related links:
Jesus’ Gay Wedding at Cana (Queering the Church)

A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife (New York Times)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Henri Nouwen: Priest & author who struggled with his homosexuality

Henri J. M. Nouwen was a Catholic priest and bestselling author who wrestled with his own homosexuality. He died on Sept. 21, 1996.

Nouwen (1932-1996) remains one of the most popular and influential modern spiritual writers. He wrote more than 40 books, including The Wounded Healer, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and The Inner Voice of Love.

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Henri Nouwen: Priest and author who struggled with his homosexuality

Known as a “gay celibate, he probably would have had mixed feelings about being included in this series on LGBT Saints. Nouwen never directly discussed his gay sexual orientation in his published writings, but he confided his conflict over it in private journals and conversations. These are documented in his outstanding and honest 2002 biography Wounded Prophet by Michael Ford. Despite his loneliness and same-sex attractions, there is no evidence that Nouwen ever broke his vow of celibacy.

His personal struggle with his sexual orientation may have added depth to his writing. “The greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity or power, but self-rejection,” he said.

Although Nouwen is not an officially recognized saint, his “spirituality of the heart” has touched millions of readers. Nouwen’s books have sold more than 2 million copies in over 22 languages. He emphasized relationships and social justice with core values of solitude, community and compassion.

Nouwen was born in Holland on Jan. 24, 1932. He was ordained as a Dutch Catholic priest in 1957 and went on to study psychology. He taught at several theological institutes in his homeland and in the United States, including the divinity schools at Harvard and Yale.

In 1985 he began service in Toronto, Canada, as the priest at the L’Arche Daybreak Community, where people with developmental disabilities live with assistants. It became Nouwen’s home until his sudden death in 1996 at age 64. He died from a heart attack while traveling to Russia to do a documentary.

The video below shows Nouwen speaking on "Being the Beloved" at the Crystal Cathedral in California in 1992. One of the  newest books about him is the 2012 biography “Genius Born of Anguish: The Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen” by Michael Higgins, Nouwen’s official biographer.

The icon of Nouwen at the top of this post was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. During his lifetime Nouwen commissioned Lentz to make an icon for him that symbolized the act of offering his own sexuality and affection to Christ.

Christ the Bridegroom
by Robert Lentz
Research and reflection led Lentz to paint “Christ the Bridegroom” (left) for Nouwen in 1983. It shows Christ being embraced by his beloved disciple, based on an icon from medieval Crete. “Henri used it to come to grips with his own homosexuality,” Lentz explained in my book “Art That Dares,” which includes this icon and the story behind it. “I was told he carried it with him everywhere and it was one of the most precious things in his life.”

Lentz’s icon / portrait the top of this post shows Nouwen in an open-handed pose. It calls to mind a prayer written by Nouwen in The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life:

Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.

Nouwen gave the gift of his spiritual vision to generations of readers. He encouraged each individual to find their own mission in life with words such as these:

“When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a man can be a Christian.” -- from "The Wounded Healer"

“My hope is that the description of God's love in my life will give you the freedom and the courage to discover . . . God's love in yours.” -- from “Here and Now: Living in the Spirit

To watch the rest of the sermon, visit the following YouTube page with links to all 8 parts of Nouwen’s sermon on “Being the Beloved”:

A book “The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles by Henri Nouwen” was published in 2016. It includes Intimacy, A Letter of, Consolation, Letters to Marc About Jesus, The Living Reminder, Making All Things New, Our Greatest Gift, Way of the Heart, and Gracias.

Related links:
Henri Nouwen Society

Henri's Wound with a View” by Chris Glaser

Chris Glaser on Henri Nouwen’s sexuality (Huffington Post)

Henri Nouwen, on Andrew Sullivan and the “Blessing” of Homosexuality (Queering the Church)

Top image credit:
“Henri Nouwen” by Br. Robert Lentz,

Icons of Henri Nouwen, Christ the Bridegroom and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

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.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hildegard of Bingen: Woman-loving nun gets new honor from Pope

Hildegard of Bingen was a medieval German nun, mystic, poet, artist, composer, healer and scientist. She founded several monasteries, fought for women in the church and wrote with passion about the Virgin Mary. Some say she was a lesbian because of her strong emotional attachment to women, especially her personal assistant Richardis von Stade. Hildegard was declared a doctor of the church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. Her feast day is Sept. 17 (today).

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis: Medieval mystic and the woman she loved

The title “Doctor of the Church” is a rare honor, bestowed upon only a few saints whose writings have universal value to the church. Their “eminent learning” and “great sanctity” must be affirmed by the Pope. Currently the Roman Catholic Church has only 33 doctors, including three women.

The friendship -- or love story -- between Hildegard and Richardis is included in a 2009 film from German feminist director Margarethe von Trotta called Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen. Von Trotta is one of the world’s most important feminist filmmakers and a leader of independent German cinema. Von Trotta allows Hildegard to speak for herself by using a script based on Hildegard’s own writings and a soundtrack filled with Hildegard’s music. Watch a trailer at the end of this post.

Richardis von Stade (center, played by Hannah Herzsprung) and Hildegard (left, Barbara Sukowa) in the biopic “Vision” (from

Hildegard also inspired a play by lesbian feminist playwright Carolyn Gage. In the play “Artemisia and Hildegard,” Gage has two of history’s great women artists debate their contrasting survival strategies: Gentileschi battled to achieve in the male-dominated art world while Hildegard created women-only community to support her art by founding a nunnery.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the tenth child of a noble family, was offered to the church as a “tithe” when she was very young. She was raised from the age of 8 in the hermitage that later became her Benedictine abbey. She founded two other convents where women performed her music and developed their artistic, intellectual and spiritual gifts. She spent almost all of her life in the company of women.

“Hildegard: The Vision” by Tricia Danby

She had visions throughout her life, starting at age 3 when she says that she first saw “the Shade of the Living Light.” She hesitated to tell others about her visions, sharing them only with her teacher Jutta.

When she was 42, Hildegard had a vision in which God instructed her to record her spiritual experiences. Still hesitant, she became physically ill before she was persuaded to begin her first visionary work, the Scivias (Know the Ways of God).

"St. Hildegard of Bingen" by Plamen Petrov

Hildegard was nursed in her illness and encouraged in her writing by Richardis von Stade, a younger woman who was her personal assistant, soul mate and special favorite. Whether or not they were physically intimate, Hildegard’s actions suggest that she was a lesbian in the sense that her primary love interest was in women.

In 1151, Hildegard completed the Scivias and trouble arose between her and her beloved Richardis. An archbishop, the brother of Richardis, arranged for his sister to become abbess of a distant convent. Hildegard urged Richardis to stay, and even asked the Pope to stop the move. But Richardis left anyway, over Hildegard’s objections.

Hildegard wrote intense letters begging Richardis to return: “I loved the nobility of your conduct, your wisdom and your chastity, your soul and the whole of your life, so much that many said: What are you doing?”

Richardis died suddenly in October 1151, when she was only about 28 years old. On her deathbed, she tearfully expressed her longing for Hildegard and her intention to return.

“The Universe”
by Hildegard of Bingen

Wikimedia Commons
Hildegard’s grief apparently fueled further artistic creation. Many believe that Richardis was the inspiration for Ordo Virtutum (“Play of Virtues”}, a musical morality play about a soul who is tempted away by the devil and then repents. According to Wikipedia, “It is the earliest morality play by more than a century, and the only Medieval musical drama to survive with an attribution for both the text and the music.”

In an era when few women wrote, Hildegard went on to create two more major visionary works, a collection of songs, and several scientific treatises. She was especially interested in women’s health. Her medical writings even include what may be the first description of a female orgasm.

“Hildegard of Bingen: Vision of Music” by Tricia Danby

As a church leader, Hildegard had to support its policy against homosexual behavior. But she often wrote about the divine feminine and the dignity of women, presenting sexuality in a generally positive way. She wrote, “Creation looks on its Creator like the beloved looks on the lover.” Many readers today delight in her erotic descriptions of marriage as a metaphor for the union of a soul with God. Hildegard writes:

The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.
With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.
It is a yearning to take on God's gentle yoke,
It is a yearning to give one's self to God's Way.

In the Symphonia, a collection of liturgical songs to Mary, Hildegard writes with ecstatic passion of her love and devotion to the Virgin Mary. She extols Mary as “greenest twig” and sings the praises of her womb, which “illuminated all creatures.”

Her songs to Mary are available for listening in the following video and on the Sequentia recording, “Hildegard von Bingen: Canticles of Ecstasy.” Her music is still just as beautiful today.

Hildegard died on Sept. 17, 1179 at age 81. The sisters at her convent said they saw two streams of colorful lights cross in the sky above her room. She became a saint by popular acclamation.

The icon of Hildegard and Richardis at the top of this post was painted by Colorado artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). He studied with master iconographer Robert Lentz and has made social justice a theme of his icons. This post also features images of Hildegard by artists Tricia Danby and Plamen Petrov.

Hildegard appears as a young woman in new portraits by Tricia Danby, a spiritual artist based in Germany and a cleric in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church. Her images reveal a sensuous side to Hildegard’s rapturous connection with God.

Stained-glass artist Plamen Petrov of Chicago is known for his window showing the male paired saints Sergius and Bacchus at St. Martha Church in Morton Grove, Illinois. His Hildegard window shows her illuminated with beautiful aquamarine colors.

“Hildegard von Bingen” by Tobias Haller

Hildegard was sketched in blue with intense blue eyes by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

“Saint Hildegard of Bingen” by Robert Lentz

Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons, portrays Hildegard with a wild rose. She used to dip a rose in the Rhine River and use it to sprinkle water on people as a blessing when she traveled between monasteries. Lentz is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland.

LGBT-affirming creation theologian Matthew Fox has written two books on the life and work of Hildegard. The newest is Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century, which presents her as an "eco-warrior" who meets such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Howard Thurman, Dorothee Soelle and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Fox also wrote Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen.

Hildegard was the subject of a major sermon by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori when the House of Bishops met in Taiwan on Sept. 17, 2014. “Hildegard speaks scientifically and theologically of divine creativity as viriditas, reflecting both greenness and truth… Hildegard’s vision motivates all healers of creation who understand the green web of connection that ties creation together in Wisdom’s body,” she said. (Thanks to Ann Fontaine at Episcopal Café for the news tip.)

Related links:

Pope sets date to declare two new church doctors (Catholic News Agency)

Ritual to Honor Hildegard of Bingen by Diann L. Neu (WATER)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Hildegarda de Bingen y Richardis: Una mística que amaba a otra mujer

To read this post in Italian / in Italiano, go to
La forza della visione. La vita della mistica Ildegarda di Bingen

Top image credit: “St. Hildegard of Bingen and Her Assistant Richardis” by Lewis Williams,

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.

The Hildegard icons are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

Friday, September 14, 2012

Jesus wears rainbow shroud on new “Gays for God” magazine cover

A gay Jesus is wrapped in a rainbow-flag shroud on the cover of the new “Gays for God” issue of “Maisonneuve: A Quarterly of Arts, Opinion and Ideas.”

A sneak preview posted for the Fall 2012 issue of Maisonneuve states:

Was Jesus gay? That’s the implicit question posed by our cover, which depicts the Son of God wrapped in a rainbow shroud. The image, photographed by Kourosh Keshiri and designed by Anna Minzhulina, is arresting and provocative. But that raises another key question: why should it be controversial to portray Jesus as a gay man?

UPDATE: Maissoneuve has posted the whole article with more images of Jesus with the rainbow shroud at this link:
“Gays for God” by Clancy Martin
Based in Canada, the magazine will reach newsstands Sept. 17 with a “Gays for God” cover about the queer evangelical movement challenging the homophobia of the religious right.

Special thanks to Terrence Weldon of Queering the Church for alerting me to this striking image. He has already blogged about it in a wide-ranging post titled Gays for Jesus: Catholic and Evangelical.
Related link:
Maissoneuve subscription page at
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. More queer Christ images are compiled in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11

Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to New York firefighters and unofficial “gay saint,” died helping others in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He was killed by flying debris while praying and administering sacraments at the World Trade Center. Father Mychal (1933-2001) was the first recorded victim of 9/11.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11 and chaplain to New York firefighters

Father Mychal responded quickly when extremists flew hijacked planes into the twin towers. He rushed with firefighters into the north tower right after the first plane hit. Refusing to be evacuated, he prayed and gave sacraments as wreckage crashed outside. He saw dozens of bodies hit the plaza outside as people jumped to their deaths. His final prayer, repeated over and over, was “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”

While he was praying, Father Mychal was struck and killed in a storm of flying steel and concrete that exploded when the south tower collapsed. Father Mychal was designated as Victim 0001 because his was the first body recovered at the scene. More than 2,500 people from many nationalities and walks of life were killed. Thousands more escaped the buildings safely.

After Father Mychal’s death, some of his friends revealed that he considered himself a gay man. He had a homosexual orientation, but by all accounts he remained faithful to his vow of celibacy as a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan order.

The charismatic, elderly priest was a long-term member of Dignity, the oldest and largest national lay movement of LGBT Catholics and their allies. Father Mychal voiced disagreement with the Vatican’s condemnation of homosexuality, and found ways to welcome Dignity’s AIDS ministry despite a ban by church leaders. He defied a church boycott of the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens, showing up in his habit and granting news media interviews.

During his lifetime, he often said, “Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?”

Many people, both inside and outside the LGBT community, call Father Mychal a saint. He has not been canonized yet by his own Roman Catholic Church, but some feel that he has already become a saint by popular acclamation, and the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America did declare officially declare him a saint. Here is a round-up of artwork, films and books about him.

A dramatic icon of Father Mychal against a backdrop of the burning buildings was painted by Father William Hart McNichols. He shows Father Mychal with St. Francis of Assisi as the World Trade Center burns behind them. The narrative that accompanies the icon describes Father Mychal as a Passion Bearer who “takes on the oncoming violence rather than returning it… choosing solidarity with the unprotected.” It is one of 32 McNichols icons included in “You Will Be My Witnesses: Saints, Prophets, And Martyrs” with text by John Dear. McNichols is a Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. He has a deep connection to New York City because he worked at an AIDS hospice there in the 1980s.

“Father Mychal Judge” by Brother Robert Lentz,

Father Mychal carries his fire department hat in an icon by Brother Robert Lentz, is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. It is one of 40 icons featured in the book “Christ in the Margins” by Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley.  Lentz is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland. Both McNichols and Lentz have faced controversy for painting gay-affirming icons. They are two of the 11 artists whose life and work are featured in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More ” by Kittredge Cherry.

“Mychal Judge” by Tobias Haller

A smiling Mychal Judge with a halo was sketched by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

“Fr. Mychal Judge” at the Legacy Walk

In 2014 Father Mychal was inducted into the Legacy Walk in a Chicago. The outdoor public display celebrates LGBT history through a series of biographical bronze plaques with laser-etched photos located in a traditionally gay neighborhood along North Halsted Street.

In June 2015 a larger-than-life bronze statue was dedicated to him at St. Joseph’s Park in East Rutherford, New Jersey, across the street from St. Joseph’s church, where he worked for several years. It was sculpted by nationally known artist Brian Hanlon, who has sculpted more than 300 public art pieces of religious, civic and sports figures.

“(Saint) Mychal Judge being Welcomed by the Franciscan Saints” by JR Leveroni

The priest's connection with others is emphasized in “(Saint) Mychal Judge being Welcomed by the Franciscan Saints” by JR Leveroni. Deliberately painted in the primitive style of folk art, it goes beyond the iconic news photo, sometimes called the “American Pieta,” that shows firefighters carrying Father Mychal’s limp corpse at Ground Zero. In Leveroni’s vision, saints replace the firefighters to carry Mychal onward to heaven. He holds his red firemen's helmet in his left hand. Leveroni has also painted gay martyrs Matthew Shepard and Saint Sebastian together. A variety of male nudes and religious paintings can be seen on Leveroni’s website (warning: male nudity).

Stories from the life of Father Mychal are presented in the book, “Mychal's Prayer: Praying with Father Mychal Judge” by Salvatore Sapienza, a former monk who worked with Father Mychal to build St. Francis AIDS Ministry in New York City. The book mixes prayers with stories from the chaplain’s life. It begins with Father Mychal’s own words, a text that has come to be known simply as “Mychal’s Prayer”:

Lord, take me where You want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say; and
Keep me out of your way.

For an excerpt from the book, see my previous post 10 years later: Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11. Sapienza is also the author of Seventy Times Seven: A Novel, a novel about a young Catholic brother torn between his sexuality and his spirituality as an out and proud gay man.

The film Saint of 9/11 - The True Story of Father Mychal Judge is a complete and uplifting documentary on Father Mychal’s life, including his gay orientation and his support for LGBT rights.  Its producers include Brendan Fay, who directed “Taking a Chance on God,” a biopic about gay priest John McNeill.

Another gay man who died heroically helping others in the Sept. 11 attack was rugby champion Mark Bingham, who lost his life while fighting hijackers on Flight 93. His story is told in my previous post at this link.

An excellent interfaith selection of prayers for peace is available at It includes prayers by Father Mychal as well as Sister Joan Chittister, Dr. Maya Angelou, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Dr. Jane Goodall, Rumi, Lao-Tse, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad, Jesus and many more.

Mychal Judge is the first recorded victim of 9/11 -- and also the first saint profiled in the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry when it began on Sept. 11, 2009. 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.

On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, may these images and stories inspire people with renewed dedication to peace and service to humanity.

Related link:

Saint Mychal Judge Blog

Top image credit:
“Holy Passion Bearer Mychal Judge and St. Francis of Assisi” by William Hart McNichols

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

The Mychal Judge icon is available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Leviticus: Religion can lead to violence

“Leviticus” by Ron Richard Baviello

“Leviticus” by artist Ron Richard Baviello shows eyes narrowed by hatred based on the Biblical book of Leviticus, which has been misused to condemn LGBT people.

The angry glare is intended to make viewers stop and think about how unquestioning religious faith can instill hatred and lead to violence. Attacks on LGBT people are only one example of aggression motivated in part by religious fundamentalism. The issue is especially timely now with the upcoming Sept. 11 anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Baviello, a gay artist based in Maryland, uses an unusual long, horizontal format so the eyes seem to stare through the slit of a peephole. He named his painting after the book of Leviticus, which is basically a set of ancient laws. It contains two “clobber passages” that are often used to condemn homosexuality.

“I was inspired to do this painting because so much hate has been generated from this book of the Bible,” Baviello told the Jesus in Love Blog. “So many gay people have been damned and ridiculed by religious people who never stop to think who actually wrote this passage over 2000 years ago. Most people don’t even know how the Bible was put together and who was responsible for it. This was my attempt to get people to stop and think and to seek the truth. If they believe in God, and that God created us all, and God is love, then it shouldn't matter who we love, but whether we can.”

Baviello’s art includes many gay couples and male nudes as well as landscapes, abstractions and other subjects.  Raised in the Bible Belt of North Carolina, Baviello counts himself among the many LGBT people whose connection to God was disrupted by Christians quoting anti-gay Bible verses.

“I felt close to the presence of God as a child, but then they tried to convince me that God hated me, and I was condemned to hell for being who I am. As a child I couldn’t understand why God would create me and hate me all in the same breath. I didn’t create myself, or even ask to be born. It took me long time to discover it was all a lie. I was just one of the many victims of human ignorance. I hope it will be better for future generations.”

Progressive religious leaders and Bible scholars give two main reasons why Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 should NOT be used to condemn homosexuality.

First, these passages refer specifically to sex acts with male temple prostitutes in the fertility cults of the neighboring Canaanite nations. The rules were intended to stop Jews from adopting the idolatry of other nations, not as a blanket prohibition on same-sex intercourse. The scriptures are part of Israel’s Holiness Code, but the idea that they apply to today’s lesbian and gay relationships has even been rejected by the Reform Jewish movement, the biggest branch of Judaism in North America.

Second, Christians should not even try to enforce laws from Leviticus because these laws no longer apply to followers of Jesus. A basic belief in Christianity is that salvation comes from faith in Christ, who replaced the old laws with a new commandment to love. The New Testament firmly rejects imposing the old purity code on Gentile Christians. Many of the other laws in Leviticus were abandoned by Christians long ago. In addition to its sexual rules, Leviticus also outlaws many practices that are commonly accepted by Christians today, including tattoos, eating shrimp, reading horoscopes and wearing blended fabrics.

A full explanation of Leviticus and its impact today is provided in Dirt Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and their Implications for Today by William Countryman, New Testament professor at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

“The creation of its own purity code has been one of several ways in which the church has at times allowed itself to become a barrier to the gospel of God's grace,” Countryman writes. “A Christian sexual ethic that remains true to its New Testament roots will have to discard its insistence on physical purity.” More of this excerpt is is available online at

For more LGBT-affirming info on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, visit these links:

Special thanks to Stephen Mead for alerting me to the art of Ron Richard Baviello!

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Gay saints, Adam & Steve, and marriage equality art affirms LGBT love: Tony de Carlo interview

“Adam and Steve and the Banana Tree” by Tony De Carlo

Artist Tony De Carlo affirms the holiness of gay love with colorful, festive paintings of gay saints, Adam and Steve, same-sex marriage and much more -- all with a zesty Latino flavor.

Gay saints in his art include the martyred male couple Sergius and Bacchus and a series on Sebastian, the protector against plague. De Carlo began his ongoing Sebastian series in response to the AIDS crisis. He also paints many whimsical made-up saints ranging from Saint Tranny and Santa Banana to the Patron Saint of Flying Dogs.

De Carlo has done more than 20 paintings of Adam and Steve as the original gay couple. He says that they are his answer to those who condemn homosexuality based on the “ridiculous argument” that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

“Adam And Steve In Eden” by Tony De Carlo

Raised Catholic, he started painting saints to counteract the church’s demonization of LGBT people. His paintings confront the hypocrisy of the church, which has a long history of homoerotic images but condemns homosexuality.

“Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” by Tony De Carlo

De Carlo’s art grows out of his own experience. He features the people, neighborhoods, landscapes, cityscapes, dogs and flowers that he sees in his daily life. A native of Los Angeles, he now lives in Savannah, Georgia.

De Carlo is a self-taught artist who learned to draw and paint by keeping a visual journal every day starting in childhood. As an adult he switched to painting on canvas and wood, but he still approaches his paintings like pages from a diary.

Some of his work mixes religious iconography with gay subjects, blending homoeroticism and spirituality. His vivid, sensuous paintings are bursting with color and often convey a delightful sense of fun, but he also addresses suffering with series on Saint Sebastian and the Day of the Dead.

Many of his favorite themes combine in “Marriage Equality,” one of the newest paintings in an ongoing series on same-sex marriage that he began in 1992. He shows a gay couple surrounded by the state flowers of the five states that had legally recognized same-sex marriage at that time. “One day, I hope I can paint all 50 flowers,” De Carlo said. Shown here are:
-Connecticut: Mountain Laurel (far right)
-Iowa: Wild Prairie Rose (center)
-Massachusetts: Mayflower (white flowers at top)
-New Hampshire: Purple Lilac (left and right behind shoulders)
-Vermont: Red Clover (bottom left)

“Marriage Equality” by Tony De Carlo

De Carlo’s work is displayed regularly in museums and galleries throughout the United States, and his paintings are in collections around the world. He has also exhibited at various LGBT Pride and Latino Pride events. His work is featured in a variety of publications, including The Art of Man: Fine Art of the Male Form Quarterly Journal.

De Carlo discusses his life and work in the following interview with Kittredge Cherry, art historian and author of Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.

Kittredge Cherry: How did you get the idea to combine gay and Christian subjects in your art? Does this come from your own experience?

Tony De Carlo: I was raised Catholic and as the oldest child in my family, my parents ensured I went to Catechism, and to church every Sunday and through all of the rituals. I grew up with the imagery of saints in cathedrals, statues, paintings and stained glass windows. I first started painting saints as a response to the Catholic church's tirades and attacks on, and demonization of, gay people.

KC: You have painted many santos -- both official saints and made-up saints. Please tell about some of the gay saints in your paintings.

TDC: With 10,000 official saints in the Catholic church, they're all made-up in my view. So I've added my own saints to the list, some sarcastic, some comical, but all of them with the same number of videotaped miracles: 0. My series of saints includes: The Patron Saint Protector Against AIDS, The Patron Saint of Chain Smokers, The Patron Saint of Triplets, Saint Aaron the Surfer, San Labios (Saint Lips), The Patron Saint of Ants, Boy Saint of The Birds, Saint Ranunculus, El Hijo Virgen (The Virgin Son), The Pisces Saints, Santo De Los Chihuahuas, San Perro (Saint Dog), The Patron Saint of Schizophrenics, Saint Bamboo, The Patron Saint of Siamese Twins, The Patron Saint of Flying Dogs and others.

“Homage to Sebastian” by Tony De Carlo

I've also done a series of Saint Sebastian that I continue to add to each year, which now numbers 40+. I first started painting him in the 1980s as a response to the AIDS epidemic, and chose him because he was known as the Patron Protector Saint Against the Plague, as the Plague was sweeping Europe. It wasn't until the year 2001 when I went into a Catholic store in New Mexico, picked up a pewter statue of Saint Sebastian, and saw a label on the bottom that said "Patron Saint of Homosexuals". I knew then that it was official. I've also painted Saints Sergius and Bacchus, long rumored to have been lovers. And in my Dia de Los Muertos/Day of the Dead series, I've painted "real" saints like Santa Luz, Santa Sophia and San Antonio.

“Adam Y Steve” by Tony De Carlo

KC: Adam and Steve appear together as a couple in several of your paintings. What do Adam and Steve mean to you?

TDC: My Adam and Steve series, now number 20+, were initially a response to that ridiculous argument "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" that I heard over and over from self-professed Christians. I know that gay people and their relationships are no less valid or worthy than anyone else's. I continue to add to this series a painting or two per year, often in domestic settings, with titles like "Adam and Steve At Home" and "Adam and Yves."

“End the Ban on Love” by Tony De Carlo

KC: Why did you decide to do a series of paintings on marriage equality?

TDC: This is another series I continue to add onto each year. The first in the series was painted in the early 1990s as a response to the discounting and dismissal, usually by religious people, of the love between two people because of their gender. I've tried to focus on the love and bond between the two people, instead of the hatred and bigotry of the others.

”Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Happiness” by Tony De Carlo

KC: I see that you have exhibited your work in Latino Pride events and you paint some popular Mexican subjects such as Juan Diego.  What is your connection to Latino culture?

TDC: I painted a number of "San Juan" paintings years before he was officially bestowed sainthood by the Catholic church. Like gay marriage, I am happy I recognized the worth and value of this subject before the Catholic church did. I participated in the very first (and second) Latin Pride festivals in Los Angeles and most of the galleries and venues I exhibit at today are Latino.

KC: Has your art caused any controversy because of your gay-positive spiritual vision?

TDC: I have not heard any negative feedback from my Saints series of paintings, but my series of the Virgin of Guadalupe paintings and odd takes on her has caused a couple of people to confront me for my portrayal of her because she is such a revered image to some.

KC: Thank you, Tony, for sharing your art on the Jesus in Love Blog! Thank you, Stephen Mead, for introducing me to Tony’s art.

“37 Santos” (37 Saints) by Tony De Carlo (

“37 Santos” by Tony De Carlo shines a spiritual light on a wide variety of real and imaginary figures from Latina/o, queer, and pop culture perspectives. They are San Albino, Patron Saint of Hillbillies, San Toupee, Patron Saint of Draft Dodgers, San Kamehameha (King who united the Hawaiian Islands), San Luchador (Wrestler), San Cannabis, San Voodoo, San Corazon (Heart), Patron Saint of Hummingbirds, Patron Saint of Marionettes, San Hollywood, San Pescado (Fish), San Igualdad (Equality), Patron Saint of Deer, Patron Saint of Artists, San Scuba, Santa Frida, Patron Saint of Protesters, San Chihuahua, Saint Tranny, Santa Hula, San Ojos (Eyes), Santa Anthurium, San Bozo, Patron Saint of Split Personalities, Saint Ginger, San Tattoo, San Chorizo (Mexican sausage), Patron Saint of Smokers, San Kudzu (The “vine that ate the South”), Patron Saint of Prisoners, Patron Saint of Pill Poppers, Santa Banana, San Calavera (Skull) and Santa Flores Del Sol (Sunflowers).

Related links:

Obituary: Tony de Carlo (58) died at his home in Savannah, GA. Aug 16, 2014 after a short illness.

Queer Creation in art: Who says God didn’t create Adam and Steve?
(Jesus in Love)

Adam and Steve welcome marriage equality (Jesus in Love)

Tony De Carlo Facebook page

Presenting Tony de Carlo, Painter Extraordinaire! (

Tony De Carlo: El Sublime Arcoiris de la Protesta Gay (in Spanish)

LGBT Saints series (

Adam and Steve by Toby Johnson

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery.