Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Bible and Gays: Is it a sin to be gay? Did Jesus condemn homosexuality?

“Bible with Awareness (Beibl gydag ymwybyddiaeth)” by Andrew Craig Williams

When readers send me anti-LGBT hate mail, I often refer them to “The Bible and Gays” by Rev. Durrell Watkins, pastor of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

It is one of the all-time best articles on the Bible and homosexuality. Rev. Watkins goes well beyond debunking the anti-gay “clobber” passages to present Christ’s positive message about queer people in a clear, accessible way. I am pleased to share his article here today.

The Bible and Gays

There are four questions I am most often asked about spirituality in relation to LBGT people. My ministry is within a church that is rooted both within the Christian tradition and the Gay Rights movement. However, I am a spiritual humanist and a religious pluralist and while I speak from a primarily Christian viewpoint, the message that I try to offer is universal. Here are the questions and my answers.

Is it a sin to be gay?
“Sin” means to miss the mark (an archery metaphor). To “be” anything is a matter of ontology (of “is-ness”). So to discover that one is something and to be honest about it can never be missing the mark. Self-discovery and expressing one’s truth with integrity is hitting the bull’s eye!

Did Jesus condemn homosexuality?
Jesus condemned precious little. One of the few things that he did condemn was the tendency of religious people to participate in condemnation! Jesus seemed to have a great deal of patience with almost everything other than self-righteous people who tried to enforce religious rules in a way to oppress or control others.

Was Jesus ever sympathetic to homosexual persons?
The word “homosexual” would not have been part of Jesus’ vocabulary. However, in the 8th chapter of Matthew’s gospel (and the story is repeated in the 7th chapter of Luke’s gospel) Jesus is said to have healed a centurion’s servant. The original hearers of that story would have assumed that the servant was the centurion’s lover. From what we know of 1st century Roman culture, we know that such relationships were not uncommon. And for a person of such high rank to be so concerned about a servant that he would approach a faith healer of lower status in a desperate attempt to help his servant suggests an intimacy far greater than one would expect between a military officer and his “servant.” How did Jesus respond to the centurion? He praised his faith! His relationship was not condemned or even questioned.

Also, in Matthew 19, Jesus defines “eunuchs” in a much broader sense than we normally hear. He says that, there are those who are castrated, which is the usual definition. But he also says there are 2 other kinds of eunuchs. He says some “choose” to be eunuchs (living a life of celibacy) and that others are “born” eunuchs (people who by nature are sexually different). He also says that not everyone would accept his broad, inclusive, and non-judgmental definition of eunuchs, but he says, “whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Jesus was giving an example of sexual diversity -- some are different because they’ve been surgically altered. Others are different because of personal choices to not marry or to remain celibate (e.g. monks and nuns). And still others are different because they are born different, that is, they are innately different. Jesus did not suggest that anything was wrong with any of the eunuchs, and he certainly did not propose an “ex-eunuch” program. Some of us are “different” from the majority, and Jesus seemed to think that was OK and that everyone who can accept such diversity needs to accept it! His teaching reminds us of Isaiah 56 where the prophet places these words in the mouth of God, “The eunuch need not say, ‘I am a dry (barren) tree’…I will give them in my house a monument and name which will be even better than having children; an eternal, imperishable name…For my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples.” In any case, Jesus never condemned same-sex love or attraction.

But aren’t there bible verses that do condemn homosexuality?
It depends on how you read the bible. The people who wrote the documents that in time became our bible were products of their time and culture. They had specific agendas and were writing to particular communities, usually in response to definite events. None of them had any idea that 21st century Americans would be reading their work. In fact, none of them knew there was a North American continent or that the world wasn’t flat. And so, we do read statements in the bible that support slavery, that assume women are in some way inferior to men, that seem to suggest God takes sides in bloody military conflicts.

Today, we do NOT accept that women are in any way inferior to men.
Today, we believe slavery to be one of the greatest evils of human history.
Today, many of us believe that war is almost never the will of God.

Do we read the bible with an awareness of its historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts? Or do we cling to isolated verses that seem to support one prejudice or the other? How we choose to read the bible will determine if we believe the bible promotes homophobia. And how we choose to read it actually says more about the reader than the text.

Out of the entire bible written by many people covering a period of more than a thousand years, there are only about half a dozen sentences that are routinely used to shame, condemn, harass, or terrorize gay and lesbian people! Each of those rare, isolated passages, when taken in their cultural, historical, linguistic, and literary contexts can be deconstructed in ways that are actually quite liberating for same-gender loving people! Love and even mutual attraction are never condemned in scripture.

The bible is against rape, exploitation, and harming your neighbor (and rightly so!). It is not a collection of books meant to condemn love, mutuality, or any life-affirming situation.

Now, reflect on these passages from the bible that some of us believe accurately sum up the divine message for the human family: “God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them!” – 1 John 4.16; “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Eternal, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.” – Jeremiah 29.11; “By the grace of God I am what I am.” – 1 Corinthians 15.10; “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5.22-23.

There is no law against love and we are all one. This is the message of the bible. It doesn’t tell us who to hate; it tells us how to love. We can be sure that LBTG people are as capable of living love-filled lives as anyone else
Rev. Durrell Watkins has been the senior pastor of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Florida since 2007. The church is affiliated with Metropolitan Community Churches and the International New Thought Alliance. Watkins has a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This article originally appeared at his blog Kweerspirit.


A Spanish translation of this article is online at the Santos Queer blog:

La Biblia y las personas gays: ¿Es un pecado ser gay? ¿Condena Jesús la homosexualidad?

More resources on the Bible and homosexuality:

Metropolitan Community Churches theological resources

What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality” by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality” by Jack Rogers

The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality by Matthew Vines (with translations in 10 langauges)

Homosexuality and the Bible at

Gay and Christian (

From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ” by Patrick S. Cheng

La Biblia y las personas Gays: ¿Es un pecado ser gay? ¿Condena Jesús? (coming soon at Santos Queer)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Spirit Day: Stand up to bullying of LGBT youth

LGBT youths driven to suicide appear as Jesus is laid in the tomb in Station 14 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button

People are speaking out against bullying of LGBT and queer youth today for Spirit Day (Oct. 17, 2013).

Spirit Day was started in 2010 by Brittany McMillan, a 16-year-old Canadian girl, in response to high-profile suicides by young LGBT people such as Tyler Clementi.

The Jesus in Love Blog marks Spirit Day this year by posting Station 14 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud. The painting matches Jesus being laid in his tomb with images of LGBT youths who took their own lives. Recognizable faces include Tyler Clementi, Jamey Rodemeyer, Raymond Chase, and Seth Walsh. They represent countless other young LGBT people who committed suicide because they couldn't bear life in a world that despises and discriminates against queer people.

Many people make a statement supporting LGBT young people on Spirit Day by wearing purple, which symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag. They also “go purple” by making their profile pictures purple at Facebook and other social media websites.

Spirit Day is promoted by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Visit Spirit Day for more info, including an interview with McMillan about why she founded Spirit Day.

“The purpose of the event was so that people who were being bullied at their schools could come to school on Spirit Day and look around at all the people wearing purple, all the people who they could trust, all the people who would support them….I honestly had a bit of a pessimistic view of it. I thought that I would only get a few hundred people wearing purple and then my school. I never thought it would get as big as it did,” she said.

McMillan noted that Spirit Day is also a day to mourn the youths already lost. “A lot of events are always doing things for the present or the future, but they don’t really look back on the past. Spirit Day is a day where you can presently support LGBTQ teens, promise to stand up to homophobic bullying and also remember teens from the past,” she said.

Related links:

Trevor Project national help line for LGBTQ teens
Visit or call 866 4U TREVOR

Day of Silence: Stop bullying God’s LGBTQ youth (Jesus in Love)

Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America” by Mitchell Gold and Mindy Drucker

Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens” by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke

Wear purple for Spirit Day to support LGBT youth (Jesus in Love - 2011)

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

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

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Matthew Shepard: Modern gay martyr and hate-crime victim died 15 years ago

Matthew Shepard brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes when he died on Oct. 12, 1998. He was a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming at the time.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Matthew Shepard: Modern gay martyr and hate-crime victim

Shepard (1976-1998) was brutally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6-7, 1998 by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic” due to Shepard’s alleged sexual advances. Shepard was beaten and left to die.

Now the Matthew Shepard Foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. U.S. President Obama signed "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law on Oct. 28, 2009. It broadens the federal hate-crimes law to cover violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Matthew Shepard” by Tobias Haller

Shepard has become a cultural icon, inspiring dozens and dozens of paintings, films, plays, songs and other artistic works -- with more still being created every year. Among the new images is a sweet portrait of him with a rainbow halo 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.

Shepard’s martyrdom gives him the aura of a Christ figure. His torturous death evokes the Good Shepherd who was crucified. The officer who found Shepard said that he was covered with blood -- except for the white streaks left by his tears. Based on this report, Father William Hart McNichols created the striking icon at the top of this post. McNichols dedicated his icon The Passion of Matthew Shepard to the 1,470 gay and lesbian youth of commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered.

McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been rebuked by church leaders for making icons of saints not approved by the church, including one of Matthew Shepard. McNichols’ own moving spiritual journey and two of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry. His Matthew Shepard icon appears in his book “Christ All Merciful,” which he co-authored with Megan McKenna.

Another new project inspired by Shepard is “Matthew Shepard Meets Coyote,” a play that blends Christianity, queer experience and Native American folklore. In the final moments of Shepard’s life he encounters Coyote, the trickster god of the American West, who urges him to move beyond the cruel tricks that life has played on him. It was written by Harry Cronin, a priest of Holy Cross and professor in residence at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. In 2014 it was performed at the San Francisco Fringe Festival and at Bay Area churches as a way to spark dialogue. Cronin currently writes plays about redemption in alcoholic and queer experiences.

Several works were released in 2013 for the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death.  They include the musical tribute “Beyond the Fence,” the film “Matt Shepard was a Friend of Mine” and the book “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.”

"Matthew Shepard: Beyond the Fence," a musical tribute celebrating a life that helped change the world, premiered in October 2013 in a production by the South Coast Singers, a LGBTQ performance troupe in Long Beach, California. Written by SCC creative director Steve Davison, it incorporates existing music by gay composers Levi Kreis, Ryan Amador and Randi Driscoll.

The documentary film “Matt Shepard was a Friend of Mine” is directed by Michele Josue, who indeed was a close friend of Shepard. She takes a personal approach, exploring his life and loss by visiting places that were important to him and interviewing his friends and family. View the trailer below or at this link.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine: Teaser #2 from Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine on Vimeo.

Award-winning gay Journalist Stephen Jimenez does extensive research into the circumstances of the crime in “The Book of Matt.” He finds that Shepard was not killed for being gay, but for reasons far more complicated.

Other books about Shepard include “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie” and “A World Transformed” by his mother (Judy Shepard) and “October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard” by Lesléa Newman, a novel in verse about the murder.

“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni

“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni is a painting that makes an important connection between a gay Christian martyr from history and the gay victims of hate crimes today. Leveroni is an emerging visual artist living in South Florida. Painting in a Cubist style, he matches Shepard’s death with the killing of another gay martyr, Saint Sebastian. The suffering is expressed in a subdued style with barely a trace of blood. A variety of male nudes and religious paintings can be seen on his website (warning: male nudity).

“The Murder of Matthew Shepard” by Matthew Wettlaufer

The grim scene of Matthew’s death is vividly portrayed in “The Murder of Matthew Shepard,” above, by gay artist-philosopher Matthew Wettlaufer. He lived in El Salvador and South Africa before returning to California. For an interview with Wettlaufer and more of his art, see my previous post “New paintings honor gay martyrs.”

“The Last of Laramie” by Stephen Mead
Above is a lyrical painting dedicated to Matthew Shepard: “The Last of Laramie” by gay artist Stephen Mead.of New York. It appears in his book “Our Book of Common Faith.” For more about Mead and his art, see my previous post “Gay Artist Links Body and Spirit.”

"The Candlelight Vigil for Matthew Shepard (NYC Oct. 19, 1998)” by Sandow Birk

California artist Sandow Birk painted a candlelight vigil for Shepard. With a drummer and a rainbow flag, it seems to echo “The Spirit of 76,” a famous patriotic painting of Revolutionary War figures by Archibald MacNeal Willard. But it is based on the 1889 painting (“The Conscripts” by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, a work that takes a hard look at the toll of war, especially the conscription of young people into the military during the Franco-Prussian War.

For more about Sandow Birk’s art, see my previous post Stonewall's LGBT history painted: Interview with Sandow Birk.

The play “The Laramie Project” by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project has been performed all over the world since it premiered in 1998. Many American performances were picketed by Westboro Baptist Church members, who appear in the play picketing Shepard’s funeral as they did in real life. “The Laramie Project” draws on hundreds of interviews with residents of Laramie conducted by the theater company. A film version of The Laramie Project was released in 2002.

Matthew’s story has also been dramatized in biopic movies such as “The Matthew Shepard Story” with Sam Waterson and Stockard Channing as the grieving parents.

More than a 30 songs inspired by Matthew Shepard are listed in “Cultural Depictions of Matthew Shepard” at Wikipedia. They come from a variety of singers, including Melissa Etheridge, Janis Ian, and Elton John.

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco features photos of Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Gwen Araujo and others. In the center of the cross is the fence where Shepard was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.

The tendency to acclaim Shepard as a martyr is analyzed in a scholarly paper that won the 2014-15 LGBT Religious History Award from the LGBT Religious Archives Network. “The Martyrdom of Matthew Shepard” was written by Brett Krutzsch, religion professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio. It is an excerpt from his Ph.D dissertation, “Martyrdom and American Gay History: Secular Advocacy, Christian Ideas, and Gay Assimilation,” which examines how religious rhetoric and gay martyr discourses facilitated American gay assimilation from the 1970s through 2014. He finds that secular gay advocates invoked Shepard as a gay martyr, using Christian ideas to present gay Americans as similar to the dominant culture. He questions the politics of martyrdom and analyzes why the deaths of a few white, middle-class, gay men have been mourned as national tragedies.

The award announcement explains: “The paper argues that Shepard’s appeal was connected to constructions of him as Christ-like and as an upstanding young, Christian man. His posthumous notoriety reveals a historical moment when Christian ideas significantly shaped arguments for American gay social integration. In turn, Matthew Shepard became an icon of the apparently ideal late twentieth-century gay citizen: a white, nonsexual, practicing Protestant.”

Related links:
Cultural Depictions of Matthew Shepard (Wikipedia)

Top image credit: “The Passion of Matthew Shepard” by William Hart McNichols

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.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vida Dutton Scudder: Lesbian saint, reformer and teacher

Vida Dutton Scudder, c. 1890 (Wikipedia)

Vida Dutton Scudder is an American social reformer, professor, prominent lesbian author -- and an officially recognized saint in the Episcopal Church. Her feast day is Oct. 10.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Vida Dutton Scudder: Lesbian saint, reformer and teacher

Her ideas on economic inequality are especially relevant amid the financial crises of our times. Born in India to missionary parents in 1861, Scudder studied at Oxford and became a professor at Wellesley College, where she taught English literature for 41 years. All her primary relationships were with women. For 35 years from 1919 until her death in 1954, Scudder lived with author Florence Converse in a lesbian relationship.

Scudder’s spirituality went hand in hand with her social conscience and love of learning. She was active in the Social Gospel movement, co-founding a Boston settlement house to reduce poverty, promoting Christian socialism and backing trade unions. Scudder wrote 16 books, including her autobiography “On Journey,” plus numerous articles on religious, political, and literary subjects.

Converse (1871-1967), a New Orelans native and Wellesley graduate, served on the editorial staff of the Atlantic Monthly and The Churchman magazine.  She wrote many novels with titles such as “The Story of Wellesley” and “The Holy Night.”

The couple's lesbian life is documented in the books “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America” by Lillian Faderman and “Passionate Commitments: The Lives of Anna Rochester and Grace Hutchins” by Julia M. Allen. Their long-term relationship lasted until Scudder died at age 91 on Oct. 9, 1954.

The two women are buried near each other at Newton Cemetery and Crematory in Newton, Massachusetts. The Internet makes it possible to visit to the graves of Scudder and Converse online.

The Episcopal Church added Scudder to its book of saints several years ago. She expressed her belief in the power of prayer when she wrote, “If prayer is the deep secret creative force that Jesus tells us it is, we should be very busy with it.” Here is the official prayer that the Episcopal Church offers in memory of this lesbian saint:

Most gracious God, you sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in your church witnesses who, after the example of your servant Vida Dutton Scudder, stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Related links:

Vida Dutton Scudder, American Lesbian Saint for Our Times (Queering the Church)

Vida Dutton Scudder, Educator and Witness for Peace (Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church)

Vida Dutton Scudder (Wikipedia)

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, October 07, 2013

Saints Sergius and Bacchus: Paired male saints, Roman soldiers, Christian martyrs

Saints Sergius and Bacchus were third-century Roman soldiers, Christian martyrs and men who loved each other. Their story is told here in words and pictures for their feast day today (Oct. 7).

The close bond between Sergius and Bacchus has been emphasized since the earliest accounts, and recent scholarship has revealed their homosexuality. The oldest record of their martyrdom describes them as erastai (Greek for “lovers”). Scholars believe that they may have been united in the rite of adelphopoiesis (brother-making), a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Sergius and Bacchus: Paired male saints loved each other in ancient Roman army

From ancient times until today these “gay saints” have inspired some of the most beautiful art depicting the holiness of same-sex couples, sometimes in a homoerotic way. One of the newest is the icon at the top of this post. It was painted by a member of the Cristianas y Cristianos de Madrid LGTB+H (CRISMHOM), an LGBT Christian community in Madrid, Spain. The artist is serving as a missionary in Mozambique.  He portrays Christ inside a rainbow medallion uniting Sergius and Bacchus as they join hands and gaze into each other's eyes. Sacred flames burn in their hearts.

A classic example of paired saints, Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking young officers. Sergius was primicerius (commander) and Bacchus was secundarius (subaltern officer). They were tortured to death around 303 in present-day Syria after they refused to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus. 7th Century icon from St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. Now in an art museum in Kiev, Ukraine. (Wikimedia Commons)

The men were arrested and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them. Early accounts say that they responded by chanting that they were dressed as brides of Christ. They told their captors that women’s dress never stopped women from worshiping Christ, so it wouldn’t stop them, either. Then Sergius and Bacchus were separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died.

According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus appeared to Sergius that night with a face as radiant as an angel’s, dressed once again as a soldier. He urged Sergius not to give up because they would be reunited in heaven as lovers. His statement is unique in the history of martyrs. Usually the promised reward is union with God, not with a lover. Over the next days Sergius was tortured and eventually beheaded.

Sergius’ tomb became a famous shrine, and for nearly 1,000 years the couple was revered as the official patrons of the Byzantine army. Many early churches were named after Sergius, sometimes with Bacchus. They have been recognized as martyrs by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The pair was venerated through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America and among the Slavs.

Yale history professor John Boswell names Sergius and Bacchus as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church in his book “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe”. (The others are Polyeuct and Nearchus and Felicity and Perpetua.)

The Roman Catholic Church stripped Sergius and Bacchus from its liturgical calendar in 1969 -- the same year that New York’s Stonewall riots launched the modern gay liberation movement. Supposedly they were “de-canonized” due to lack of historical evidence, but some see it as an anti-gay action since they clearly had churches dedicated to them long before medieval times. Sergius and Bacchus continue to be popular saints with Christian Arabs and now among LGBT Christians and their allies.

“Sergius and Bacchus” by Alessio Ciani

In a striking 2013 painting, Alessio Ciani of Italy shows young Sergius and Bacchus embracing in their red-and-white military uniforms. He has done a wide variety of LGBT illustrations and gay homoerotic art. His work has been exhibited in Milan and Perugia.

“Sts. Sergius and Bacchus” by Plamen Petrov, St. Martha Church, Morton Grove, IL

Another new image of third-century gay saints Sergius and Bacchus is a stained glass window donated in 2011 to an Illinois church by its LGBT parishioners. The new Sergius and Bacchus window (above) was dedicated in September 2011 at St. Martha’s Church in Morton Grove, Illinois, as a gift from its LGBT members. Rev. Dennis O’Neill, pastor, believes it is the first window dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus in any church in the United States. O’Neill is the author of Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People. The book includes a chapter retelling the love story of Sergius and Bacchus with historical detail.

The Sergius and Bacchus window is part of a project in which members of St. Martha’s diverse congregation were selecting and paying for a set of 20 windows of saints from their various homelands. LGBT members contributed the “friendship window” depicting Sergius and Bacchus. It is a companion to the “marriage window” which shows St. Elizabeth of Hungary and her husband, Blessed Ludwig of Thuringia.

Artist Plamen Petrov worked with Daprato Rigali Studios to design and create the stained glass windows. He was born in Sevlievo, Bulgaria in 1966 and currently lives in Chicago. He graduated from University St. Cyril and St Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s Faculty of Fine Art in 1995, with an M.F.A. in graphic art - printmaking and pedagogy of figurative arts. For more than a dozen years he specialized mostly in stained glass, but his creativity takes many forms, since he also works in mosaics, murals, oil, acrylic, photography and graphic design. His artwork may be seen across Chicago and Illinois, and in many countries all over the world.

“Baccus and Sergius” by Brandon Buehring

Massachusetts artist Brandon Buehring included Sergius and Bacchus in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” He uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The painting below is by California gay artist Rick Herold. “I over the years as a painter have been interested in the idea of the spirit and the flesh as one -- began by Tantric art influences and then using my Catholic background,” he told the Jesus in Love Blog. He paints with enamel on the reverse side of clear plexiglas.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Rick Herold (details below)

Herold has a bachelor of arts degree in art and theology from the Benedictine Monastic University of St. John in Minnesota and a master of fine arts degree from Otis Institute of Art in Los Angeles. His religious artwork included a Stations of the Cross commissioned by Bob Hope for a church in Ohio before a conflict over modern art with the Los Angeles cardinal led to disillusionment with the church. Herold came out as gay and turned to painting male nudes and homoerotica, which can be seen at RickHerold's website. (Warning: his home page has male nudity.)

“St. Bacchus and St. Sergius: Patrons of Same-Sex Couples by Maria Cristina

A banner saying “patrons of same sex couples” hangs above Bacchus and Sergius in a colorful icon by Maria Cristina, an artist based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Ray Avito

On the day that California artist Ray Avito first heard the story of Sergius and Bacchus, he sketched a  delightfully unpretentious portrait of the pair (pictured above).  He said it was based on “the suspicion that they may have been more than just comrades in arms.”

“Marriage of Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” (2013) by Tony de Carlo

“Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” by Tony de Carlo

Sergius and Bacchus are among the many saints painted by Georgia artist Tony de Carlo. Raised Catholic, he started painting saints to counteract the church’s demonization of LGBT people. For more info, see my article Tony De Carlo: Artist affirms gay love with saints, Adam and Steve, and marriage equality paintings.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Ryan Grant Long

Historical men who loved men, including Sergius and Bacchus, are painted by American artist Ryan Grant Long in his “Fairy Tales” series. Sergius and Bacchus are usually portrayed as static icons, side by side staring straight at the viewer. But Long catches them gazing into each other’s eyes during a private moment in their prison cell. For more info, see my article Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Long.

“Bacchus” and “Sergius” from the series “Five Saints” (2008) by Anthony Gayton. © Anthony Gayton /

Noted British photographer Anthony Gayton does stylized homoerotic photos based on the history of gay culture. He shows Sergius and Bacchus stripped and bound as prisoners in two separate photos. The images are intended to be shown together, but by design they can also be separated.

Appropriate Bible quotes are on banners above them. For Bacchus: “But I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.” (Psalm 89:33). For Sergius: “All thy commandments are faithful, they persecute me wrongly; help thou me.” (Psalm 119: 86)

His Sergius and Bacchus photos belong to the series “Five Saints.” In addition to exploring saints, Gayton’s work uses historical themes inspired by such diverse sources as mythology, Renaissance and Baroque painting and early photography. Gayton's work is published in his book Sinners and Saints.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus
By Brother Robert Lentz OFM,

The Living Circle, an interfaith LGBT spirituality center founded by Dennis O’Neill, commissioned the above icon of the loving same-sex pair. It was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. “Saints Sergius and Bacchus” is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda. They caused such a stir that in order to keep the peace between his Franciscan province and the Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lentz temporarily gave away the copyright for the 10 controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. Lentz’ own moving spiritual journey and some of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry.

A 20th-century icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus appears in the courtyard of the Monastery of Mar Sarkis and Bakhos in Maaloula, Syria. (Wikimedia Commons)

Their same-sex love story is set amid dramatic events of the Roman Empire events in the 2014 novel “The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus” by David Reddish. The explosive gay romance of the soldier-saints unfolds during the Roman Empire in the 2014 novel “The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus” by  David Reddish. Sergius and Bacchus meet, fall in love, have a commitment ceremony, and face deadly threats in a novel based on historical and archeological discoveries. It dramatizes the final gasp of paganism, the politics of newborn Christianity, and the re-discovered rites of same-sex unions performed by the early church. From the forests of Gaul to the streets of Constantinople, from the secret Christian hideaways of the deaconess Macrina to the palace of the emperor, the novel provides adventure and romance while examining questions of sexuality, faith, sacrifice, patriotism and the nature of God. It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in the gay romance category.

A screenwriter as well as a novelist, Reddish has won awards for his political activism as well as pop culture acclaim for his fashion design work. He graduated with a degree in film from the University of Central Florida and resides in Los Angeles.

Icons of Sergius and Bacchus as “patrons of homosexuality” have been created by the artist known as Shoushan. They are available as cufflinks, pendants, lockets and bracelets through her My Altar shop.

One of the many traditional hymns to Saints Sergius and Bacchus includes this verse:

How good, or how pleasent is the brotherly knowledge of Your Martyrs, O God.
For they did not know natural brothers in the flesh,
but for the faith were considered brothers who struggled until death.
Through their prayers, O God, have mercy on us.

Related links:

La Adelphopoiesis de San Sergio y San Baco” (“The Same-Sex Union of Sergius and Bacchus”) by Alfredo Müller Suárez Arana of Bolivia (Warning: male nudity)

Many icons, statues, and churches dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus can be viewed at:

Honoring (and Learning from) the Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus -- at The Wild Reed

St. Sergius and St. Bacchus at the Legacy Project

To read this article in Spanish (en español), go to:
Santos Sergio y Baco: Una pareja masculina martirizada en la antigua Roma (Santos Queer)

To read this article in Italian, to to:
La storia di Sergio e Bacco continua ad ispirare gli artisti contemporanei (

Top image credt: “Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” from Cristianas y Cristianos de Madrid LGTB+H (CRISMHOM), an LGBT Christian community in Madrid, Spain

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 Sergius and Bacchus and many other saints are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

Thursday, October 03, 2013

New info on Francis of Assisi’s queer side revealed

Historical records reveal a queer side to Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the most beloved religious figures of all time. The 13th-century friar is celebrated for loving animals, hugging lepers, and praying for peace, but few know about his love for another man and his gender nonconformity. His feast day is today (Oct. 4).

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Francis of Assisi: Queer side revealed for saint who loved creation, peace and the poor

Francis is “a uniquely gender-bending historic figure” according to Franciscan scholar Kevin Elphick He has spent years researching the queer side of Saint Francis, including travel to to the Italian town of Assisi. There he photographed artwork depicting the man he believes may have been the saint’s beloved soulmate: Brother Elias of Cortona.

Brother Elias (center) at the Baptismal font where St. Francis was christened in the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi, Italy. (Photo by Kevin Elphick)

When Francis (1181-1226) was a young man, he had an unnamed male companion whom he dearly loved -- and who was written out of history after the first biography. Other Franciscan friars referred to Francis as “Mother” during his lifetime. He encouraged his friars to be mothers to each other when in hermitage together, and used other gender-bending metaphors to describe the spiritual life. He experienced a vision of an all-female Trinity, who in turn saluted him as “Lady Poverty,” a title that he welcomed.

The earliest companion of Francis, a man whom Francis “loved more than any other because he was the same age” and because of “the great familiarity of their mutual affection” remains nameless. Elphick's research suggests that the unnamed soulmate of Saint Francis was Brother Elias of Cortona. Francis called Elias “Mother” and gave him a special blessing. Elias expressed much concern about Francis’ body and his health. Francis and Elias each describe the other in affectionate terms. However, very quickly after Francis died, Elias is written out of history and discredited. Elphick presents the scholarly evidence about their relationship in the detailed article at the Jesus in Love Blog: “Brother Elias: Soulmate to Saint Francis of Assisi?

Lady Jacoba
also known as
Brother Jacoba
(See full image below)

Francis allowed a widow to enter the male-only cloister, naming her “Brother Jacoba.” (Details about Jacoba are at the end of this article.) His partner in ministry was a woman, Clare of Assisi, and he cut her hair in a man’s tonsured style when she joined his male-only religious order.

Early evidence of these and other ways that Francis crossed gender boundaries are gathered in the ground-breaking unpublished master’s thesis “Gender Liminality in the Franciscan Sources” by Elphick, who is both a Franciscan scholar and a supervisor on a suicide prevention hotline in New York. He wrote the thesis for a master’s degree in Franciscan studies from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

Francis’ love for another man is described in his earliest biography, The First Life of St Francis of Assisi by Thomas of Celano, a follower of Francis who knew him personally. The biography was completed by 1230, just four years after Francis died. Celano says that when Francis was in his 20s, before embracing a life of poverty, he dearly loved a special male friend:

“Now there was a man in the city of Assisi whom Francis loved more than any other, and since they were of the same age and their constant association and ties of affection emboldened Francis to share his secret with him, he would often take this friend off to secluded spots where they could discuss private matters and tell him that he had chanced upon a great and precious treasure. His friend was delighted and, intrigued by what he had heard, he gladly accompanied Francis wherever he asked. There was a cave near Assisi where the two friends often went to talk about this treasure.”

In his thesis, Elphick points out, “Because homosexuality and ‘gay’ identities are modern constructs, it is impossible and inaccurate to attempt to read these modern categories into the personalities of historical figures.” Instead he uses the word “homoaffectional” to describe the relationship of Francis and his beloved companion.

“The relationship is inescapably homoaffectional, describing a shared intimacy between two Medieval men. That this first companion disappears from the later tradition is cause for suspicion and further inquiry.... The tone in Celano’s earliest account captures the flavor and intimacy of this relationship, perhaps too much so for an increasingly homophobic church and society.”

Francis and his beloved friend are seldom depicted by artists, but they are shown together in the rare and hard-to-find image above: “They shelter in a cave” (Se cobijan en una cueva) by Spanish painter José Benlliure y Gil. It is the 8th in his series of 74 images from the life of Saint Francis. The series was published by Franciscans in Valencia, Spain, in 1926 in a book to mark the 700th anniversary of the saint’s death. A commentary in Spanish about the picture is available online.

Elphick finds many more examples of what he calls “gender liminality” in historical documents on Francis. He defines liminality as “crossing the threshold of gender, either symbolically, or by actions within a person’s life that breach the social boundaries of gender.”

Francis was born to a wealthy Italian family in 1181 or 1182. As a young man he renounced his wealth, even stripping off his clothes, and devoted himself to a life of poverty in the service of Christ. He connected with nature, calling all animals “brother” and “sister” and celebrating them in his famous Canticle of the Sun.

“St. Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree”
By William Hart McNichols ©
He saw the face of Christ in lepers, the most reviled outcasts of his time, and nursed them with compassion.  William Hart McNichols puts Francis’ ministry into a contemporary context by showing him embracing a gay Jesus with AIDS in “St. Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree,” pictured here. Words on the cross proclaim that Christ is an “AIDS leper” as well as a “drug user” and “homosexual,” outcast groups at high risk for getting AIDS. The two men gaze intently at each other with unspeakable love as Francis hugs the wounded Christ. It was commissioned in 1991 by a New Jersey doctor who worked with AIDS patients, and is discussed in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry.

McNichols created the icon in his own style based on a 1668 painting by Spanish painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo, which was surely inspired by the more passionate 1620 version of fellow Spaniard Francisco Ribalta. In Ribalta’s work (pictured below), Christ responds to St. Francis’ ecstatic kiss by giving the saint his crown of thorns, the symbol of suffering that leads to divine union.

“Saint Francis Embracing Christ” by Francisco Ribalta (Wikimedia Commons)

“St. Francis and the Sultan”
by Brother Robert Lentz,
A famous peace prayer is attributed to St. Francis. It begins, “God, make me an instrument of your peace.” Late in his life Francis embodied this message through man-to-man Christian-Muslim dialogue in the Mideast, a region where people are still at war.

In 1219 Francis went to Damietta, Egypt, with the European armies during the Fifth Crusade. He hoped to discuss religion peacefully with the Muslims. He tried to prevent Crusaders from attacking Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, but he failed. Francis was captured and taken to the sultan Malek al-Kamil. At first they tried to convert each other, but each man soon recognized that the other already knew and loved God. They remained together, discussing spirituality, for about three weeks between Sept. 1 and Sept. 26. Robert Lentz celebrates their meeting as a model of interfaith dialogue in the icon “St. Francis and the Sultan,” pictured here.

“St Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata”
by Kevin Raye Larson © 1991
In 1224, when Francis was in his 40s, he received the stigmata -- marks like the crucifixion wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. California artist Kevin Raye Larson emphasizes the sensuality of the ecstatic moment in “St Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata,” pictured here. The painting has appeared on the cover of the spirituality issue of “Frontiers,” the Los Angeles gay lifestyle magazine.

Along with the stigmata came other health problems. When Francis sensed death approaching, he called for Jacoba de Settesoli, a Roman noblewoman devoted to him and his teachings. Francis stayed in her house when in Rome.  Celano’s 13th-century account in the “Treatise on the Miracles of Blessed Francis” reports that Francis greeted the news of her arrival at the male-only cloister with a decidedly queer statement that breaks gender rules::

“Blessed be God, who has guided the Lady Jacoba, our brother, to us. Open the door and bring her in, for our Brother Jacoba does not have to observe the decree against women.”

The widow called “Brother Jacoba” by Francis kneels near the dying Francis of Assisi in “48. Jacoba of Settesoli is associated with the mourning” (Jacoba de Settesoli se asocia al duelo) by José Benlliure y Gil, 1926 (Wikimedia Commons)

Francis died a few days later on Oct. 3, 1226. Two years after Francis’ death, Pope Gregory IX declared him a saint and commissioned Celano’s biography, the one that includes the love between Francis and his male companion.

Elphick adds an intriguing footnote about how the queer side of Francis has manifested outside official Christianity. Francis is venerated in the Yoruba religion of Africa as Orunmila, the orisha of wisdom, patron of animals and a transgendered deity who engages in same-sex eroticism.

At the end of his thesis, Elphick concludes that breaking gender rules is an extraordinary God-given power or “charism” that Franciscans offer to the church and the world.

“What are the lives of figures like Mother Francis, Brother Jacoba and Mother Juana de la Cruz revealing to us in our own day? I think that the Franciscan charism of gender liminality has much to teach our Church and fellow community of humans in our day. In a church divided over issues of ordination of women, inclusive language, and sexual orientation, I believe that the Franciscan tradition has important figures to hold up and from whom to learn. For issues which we have not even yet begun to explore theologically in authentic ways, issues such as hermaphroditism, transsexuality, genderedness and sexual orientation, I believe the Franciscan voice can be prophetic.”

“Saint Francis in Ecstasy” by Caravaggio (Wikimedia Commons)
Related links:
"The Message of St. Francis" by Kevin C. A. Elphick (The Empty Closet)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
San Francisco de Asís: La evidencia histórica revela su lado gay

Animal blessing events are happening all over the world this month for the Feast of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals. Click here for animal blessing prayer by Kittredge Cherry.

Top image credit: Francis of Assisi and the man he loved in “They Shelter in a Cave” by José ___Benlliure y Gil, 1926 (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Innovative icons of St. Francis and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores