Friday, February 28, 2014

Peter Gomes: Gay black Harvard minister preached "scandalous gospel"

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Peter Gomes: Gay black Harvard minister preached "scandalous gospel"

“The Rev. Peter Gomes, of Plymouth, 1942 – 2011” by Jon Dorn

Peter Gomes was a gay black Baptist minister at Harvard and one of America’s most prominent spiritual voices for tolerance. He used his national celebrity as a “gay minister” to make the religious case for LGBT people, even though he reportedly disliked the label. He died at age 68 on this date (Feb. 28, 2011).

A man of many contradictions, Gomes became a Democrat in 2007 after decades as a conservative Republican. He even gave the benediction at President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 and preached at the National Cathedral for the inauguration of Reagan’s successor, George Bush.

Gomes (May 22, 1942 - Feb. 28, 2011) was born in Boston to a black African immigrant father and a mother from Boston’s African American upper middle class. He grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  He studied at Bates College (where a chapel was named after him in 2012) , earned a divinity degree at Harvard University, and taught Western civilization at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for two years before returning to work at Harvard in 1970. Four years later he became the first black person to serve as chief minister to Harvard. He held the positions of Pusey minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church and Plummer professor of Christian morals for the rest of his life.

He came out publicly as “a Christian who happens as well to be gay” at a student rally in 1991 after a conservative student magazine at Harvard published a condemnation of homosexuality.  “I now have an unambiguous vocation -- a mission -- to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he later told the Washington Post. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the 'religious case' against gays.”

In his 1996 best-seller, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” he showed how the Bible was misused to defend homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and sexism.

His 2007 book “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?” went on to show that Jesus was a subversive whose radical gospel always overturns the status quo.

Among Gomes’s many admirers is artist Jon Dorn, who drew the portrait at the top of this post. Dorn is a cartoonist, filmmaker, and Master of Fine Arts student at Emerson College in Boston. He also serves on the Plymouth Cultural Council.

A musical tribute to Gomes is “I Beseech You Therefore, Brethren” by composer Craig Phillips, music director at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. It was originally commissioned by members of Harvard’s Class of 1978 to celebrate Gomes' retirement, but he died before its premiere so it was sung at his memorial. The anthem has become a memorial to Gomes' legacy. It is included on the 2014 album “Spring Bursts Today: A Celebration of Eastertide” by Harvard University Choir. Gomes himself selected the text, which was one of his favorite scriptures:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1–2)

Gomes’ blend of scholarship, wisdom and accessibility is expressed in a few selected quotations:

“Hell is being defined by your circumstances, and believing that definition.” -- Peter Gomes

“The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, 'What would Jesus have me do?'” -- Peter Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

“To some, the temporal triumph of the Christian community in the world is a sign of God's favor and the essential righteousness of the Christian position. The irony of the matter, though, is that whenever the Christian community gains worldly power, it nearly always loses its capacity to be the critic of the power and influence it so readily brokers.” --Peter J. Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

“The battle for the Bible, of which homosexuality is the last front, is really the battle for the prevailing culture, of which the Bible itself is a mere trophy and icon. Such a cadre of cultural conservatives would rather defend their ideology in the name of the authority of scripture than concede that their self-serving reading of that scripture might just be wrong, and that both the Bible and the God who inspires it may be more gracious, just and inclusive than they can presently afford to be.” -- Peter Gomes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart

Books by Peter Gomes include:

The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

Sermons: Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living

The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need

Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living


Related links:

Peter Gomes at LGBT Religious Archives Network

Rev. Peter Gomes: The Accidental Gay Advocate (Irene Monroe at HuffPost)

Gay, Black, Republican, Baptist Preacher, Rev. Peter Gomes, 1942-2011 (Candace Chellew-Hodge at Religion Dispatches)

Rev. Peter J. Gomes Is Dead at 68; A Leading Voice Against Intolerance (New York Times)

Video: Peter Gomes discusses: Would Jesus Support Gay Marriage? (also posted below)

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.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Homoerotic interfaith poetry book explores “lust for the holy”

Gay visions of Christ are part of a homoerotic interfaith adventure that awaits in “The Daring of Paradise,” the newest poetry book by Toronto teacher Brian Day.

He writes about what he calls “the lust for the holy” across the boundaries of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.

His latest book features several new homoerotic poems about Jesus, including “Pursuing our Pleasure in the Body of Christ” (reprinted with permission below) and “Krishna and Jesus in Algonquin Park.” (reprinted in full in my previous post “What if Christ and Krishna made love?”) The new book also provides a glimpse of Jesus enjoying a naked interlude with Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism.

Day blends gay and religious themes in a way that illuminates both queer experience and all spiritual expression. Visit Lambda Literary Review for my full review of the book.


Pursuing our Pleasure
 in the Body of Christ

There is no further body of Christ but this smoothed aggregate

of human flesh. We are the athletic limbs

of his swimming through the world, the hands of all

his practical acts. But hands and limbs are not all of a body,

and those parts of Christ we might conceal

must elicit from our mouths a particular esteem.

The body of Christ is built for delight, and not one

of its vivifying organs can be scorned. The kindling sites

of our communal body take part in our sacred

and carnal commission, this ignition of flesh in its knowledge

as flesh. We caress the completeness of our one body, explore it

with palms, alert it with fists. We lick a glistening

array of physiques, knowing the foreign and knowing

ourselves, knowing Christ in each of his tissues and hollows,

straining toward completer knowledge in this keen narcissistic

congregation of flesh. We train each finger, each muscle, each

follicle to take its place in the communion of Christ. And we,

so flooded with desire for the countless strong members

of the body of Christ, what should we in desire

strive for? We would strive to be those zones

of the holy within the common body of Christ, the seats

of pleasure where he excites himself

into vibrant and ever more electric being.

Biblical references:

1 Corinthians 12.27 and Romans 12.4-5

Related links:
Conjuring Jesus poems: Homoerotic taste of heaven
(review of the book “Conjuring Jesus” by Brian Day)

This post is part of the Queer Christ 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.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Marcella Althaus-Reid : Saint of a sexually embodied spirituality

Marcella Althaus-Reid

Marcella Althaus-Reid was a major queer theologian whose books include “Indecent Theology” and “The Queer God.” Born in Argentina, she became the first woman appointed to a chair in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006. She held that post when she died at age 56 on Feb. 20, 2009 -- five years ago today. Here is a new original reflection on her life and work by a scholar who knew her personally.

Marcella Althaus-Reid : Saint of a sexually embodied spirituality

By Hugo Córdova Quero

It is difficult to speak of someone who has recently passed away as a “saint.” Commonly, the popular belief is that someone who is considered a “saint” lived many centuries in the past. There is a need to “normalize” and “sanitize” the saint’s life in order to make it almost “perfect.” The temporal distance achieves this effect. If this is the rule through which the life and work of Marcella Althaus-Reid should be measured, then we are faced with someone who can hardly be placed inside this closet. If there is anything that Marcella did in her life, it was to come out of the closets that both culture and society as well as religion and theology have imposed on us through centuries of Christian history.

However, there is another kind of “holiness” which is not governed by perfection, but by its opposite, namely, imperfection, fragility and potentiality. The famous words of St. Paul “power made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12.9b); and “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor 4.7) are a guide in this respect. Saints are not super-heroes who can do almost everything; rather, they are individuals who have incarnated and embodied the depths of our humanity. This humanity, nonetheless, is not perfect, and its perfection is fully attainable only when embraced by the divine power. Latin America testifies to countless popular saints who embody precisely this “holiness from the underside.” Marcella is part of that popular tradition.

Marcella was born in Rosario, one of the major cities in the State of Santa Fe, Argentina, on May 11, 1952. Although raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, in her teen years she encountered the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina. Inspired by this tradition, she studied theology at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teologicos (known as ISEDET for its acronym in Spanish), the ecumenical seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She then pursued her doctorate at Saint Andrew’s University in Fife, Scotland.

Marcella is mostly known for her indecent theology, which is also the title of her first book, published in 2000. In that book, she states:

The paradigm is an indecent paradigm, because it undresses and uncovers sexuality and economy at the same time. Not only do we need an Indecent Theology which can reach the core of theological constructions, insofar as they are rooted in sexual constructions, for the sake of understanding our sexuality, we also need it because theological truths are currencies dispensed and acquired in theological economic markets (2000: 19).

This quotation challenges us to face the materiality of theological constructions, which are closely related to bodily, sexual and relational aspects. However, by conceiving theology as an element of decency — understanding decency as control and regulation — it has been used to spiritualize those areas. Nothing is further away from the work of Marcella. For her, holiness does not only come through hearing “the word of Christ” (Ro 10.17), but also from listening to our own experiences, including — or should I say, mostly — our sexual experiences:

Why to do a theology of sexual stories? Is that not too particular, or too concerned with the ‘private realm’ of a person? The answer is no, because sexuality does not stay at home, or in a friend’s bedroom, but permeates our economic, political and societal life. Theology has always been a great theoretical discourse on hetero-normativity, prescribing sexual relations at home and in the public spheres of life (2000: 131).

One way to do this is by highlighting sexual histories either by reading the Bible from a sexual point of view or through listening to the stories of lovers as a divine revelation. The spirituality of Marcella unfolds a theology that embodies all human reality, not only those areas which are socially considered “decent.” In this, Marcella faithfully follows the Cappadocian Fathers, especially Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390 AD) who claims “what [Christ] has not assumed, has not been saved, because he has saved what he has also assumed to his divinity” (Ep. 101). An embodied spirituality must also be sexual. Otherwise, salvation is not completely attainable. Marcella thus guides us towards a spirituality which does not force us to sever our sexuality. On the contrary, she leads us to honor it as a path to holiness. Her indecent theology is a truly queer theology that has opened the doors of the closets of traditions and prejudices and prophetically calls us out to walk towards liberation.

A prolific writer, teacher and lecturer, Marcella penned two books, edited eight collections where she gave the opportunity to new scholars to present their work, and published more than fifty articles and chapters in academic journals and books. However, despite her tireless dedication, Marcella always had time to nurture her spirituality and cultivate her friendships. I had the privilege of knowing her work when I was taking a Masters of Arts at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. After our initial contact, we quickly became friends and I was always surprised that amidst her busy academic life, she devoted a considerable space of time to cultivate our friendship. It was she who invited me to publish my first article in an academic journal. When the article was published and I wrote to thank her support, she replied:

Hugo, when I was studying theology, because of being a woman and thinking differently, many people failed to understand me. It was difficult. It cost me much effort and struggle to progress in my career. I believe in your work, so I support it. When you become well known, promise me that you will do your best to act in solidarity with others who are like us “in the struggle.” Only then will we build community, only in that way will we produce liberation.

These words made me realize that Marcella was not an “armchair theologian,” but someone who sincerely “lived her preaching,” that she embodied each of her words. Her life was always a struggle in the midst of which she never lost the freshness of knowing what it is to be alive and that there is always a possibility of change for the better. Although she did not find her academic space in Argentina — maybe exemplifying that “Prophets are not without honor except in their own in own country” (Mt 13.57) — she never let go of her roots or her happiness. For those who were privileged to know her, in one way or another, the sense that life is worth living — although not without struggle — was a hallmark of her life, faith, spirituality and work, moreover an encouragement in our friendship.

The death of Marcella on February 22, 2009 in Edinburgh, Scotland, left a deep void not only in her family and in those who knew her, but also in the academic world where her prophetic voice emerged as an icon of queer theologies. Marcella was my dear friend and a member of my doctoral committee while I was studying at the Graduate Theological Union. She died a month before I defended my dissertation. It has been five years since she was with us and I really miss her. I miss our conversations, with that mixture of philosophy and laughter, intellectual depth and sensitivity to the most human situations of everyday life. She always has a word of comfort to guide me in my formation as a scholar. I feel that her death evoked the same emotions that I have when I read the testimony of the Gospels on the experience of the disciples in light of the death of Jesus; it makes me question why good people die early. However, quickly I am struck by the connection of death with the event of the resurrection, not as a dogma that has to be believed and repeated because it was just taught to me. On the contrary, the resurrection becomes the hope that I hold dearly that in God, somehow, in some way, we will live again in community. Marcella knew about this when she wrote these words in her book From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology (2004):

The fact is that Jesus’ resurrection was also a community event: women and men witnessed how he came back from death, walked among them and continued the dialogue which existed before his crucifixion. Every death changes the life of the survivors, because some humanity is removed from them, so it is legitimate to think that, starting with Jesus’ resurrection, a whole community of people who suffered his loss when he was crucified came back to life again. Their eyes were opened in the sense that death took on another meaning; the resurrection became the paradigm showing us the durability and indestructibility of life and justice (2004: 113).

In her indecent theology, Marcella ably demonstrated a spirituality that interrupts the dictates of society and its counterparts in religious institutions, while bringing into the conversation our realities and sexual stories. Marcella, our popular Latin American saint, invites us to queer and embody a spirituality that is not surprised to find God in the theological reflection of our sexual histories. Those sexual stories — although imperfect — reveal our full humanity, and — although indecent — they are truly mystical. Saint Marcella’s proposal of a fully sexually embodied spirituality finally seduces us towards embracing our own liberation. I miss you so much, my holy friend!

Althaus-Reid, Marcella (2000). Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics. London: Routledge.

Althaus-Reid, Marcella (2004). From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology. London: SCM Press.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101.

Hugo Córdova Quero holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Religion, Ethnicity and Migration from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He received a Master of Arts in Systematic Theology, Queer Theory and (Post)-Colonial Studies from the Graduate Theological Union (2003) and a Master’s in Divinity from ISEDET University in Buenos Aires (1998). Currently he is Adjunct Faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM) at the Graduate Theological Union. His busy schedule includes writing and translating for the Santos Queer blog.


A Spanish version of this article is posted at the Santos Queer Blog:
Marcella Althaus-Reid: Santa de una espiritualidad sexualmente encarnada

Links to books by or about Marcella Althaus-Reid:

Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics

The Queer God

From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology

Liberation Theology and Sexuality

Dancing theology in fetish boots: Essays in honour of Marcella Althaus Reid

More books by Marcella Althaus-Reid

Related links:

Official website

Prof Marcella Althaus-Reid obituary and memorial page: Light a candle or add your own tribute

Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid, “Indecent theologian” (Queer Saints and Martyrs - And Others)

En La Caminata: Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid” by Alejandro Escalante (Indecent Theology blog)

This post is part of a new effort to add authors and theologians to 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.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Brothers by affection: Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus: Brothers by affection

Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1995,

Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus were Roman soldiers in 3rd-century Armenia and “brothers by affection.” They are a prime example of same-sex lovers in the early church. Polyeuct’s feast day is Feb. 13.

The earliest account of Polyeuct’s martyrdom, a 4th-century Armenian biography, says that they were “brothers, not by birth, but by affection” and enjoyed “the closest possible relationship, being both comrades and fellow soldiers.”

St. Polyeuctus (Wikimedia Commons)
Nearchus was Christian, but Polyeuct was not. The men had a strong desire to spend eternity together, so Polyeuct converted from paganism to Christianity, the faith of his beloved Nearchus. With a convert’s zeal he attacked a pagan procession.  He was beheaded for his crime in the year 259 in the western Armenian city of Militene. Shortly before he was executed, he spoke his last words to Nearchus: “Remember our secret vow.” Thus Polyeuct is known as a protector of vows and avenger of broken promises, in addition to his role as a probable “gay saint.”

Yale history professor John Boswell names Polyeuct and Nearchus as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church. (The others are Perpetua and Felicity and Sergius and Bacchus.) The love story of Polyeuct and Nearchus is told with extensive historical detail in two books, “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” by Boswell and “Passionate Holiness” by Dennis O’Neill. He is founder of the Living Circle, the interfaith LGBT spirituality center that commissioned the above icon of the loving same-sex pair.

The icon is by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It 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, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores.

Polyeuctus and Nearchus by Jim Ru
Artist Jim Ru was also inspired to paint Polyeuct and Nearchus. His version was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.

O’Neill reports that French writer Robert Dartois recently took the story of Polyeuct and Nearchus from “Passionate Holiness” and turned it into a libretto, which was then set by the Swiss composer Thierry Chatelain as the oratorio “Polyeucte et Nearchus.”

There are many variations in the spellings of their names, such as Polyeuctus, Polyeuctes, Polyeuktos and Nearchos and Nearch. Polyeuct’s feast day is Feb.13 in the Catholic calendar, but falls on Jan. 9 in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and Jan. 7 in ancient Armenian calendars. The feast day for Nearchus is April 22.

Related links:

Saints Polyeuct and Nearchos, 3rd Century Lovers and Martyrs (Queer Saints and Martyrs -- And Others)

Hermanos de afecto: Santos Polieucto y Nearco (Santos Queer)

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 Polyeuct and Nearchus and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Top 10 LGBT spiritual arts stories of 2013 named

Detail from Passion
by Doug Blanchard
"Saints Felicity and Perpetua"
by Maria Cristina

An artist’s gay vision of Christ’s Passion was the top LGBT spiritual arts story for 2013 at the Jesus in Love Blog.

Perpetua and Felicity came in second place as patron saints of same-sex couples, followed by the Intimacy with Christ paintings of Richard Stott.

The year’s top 10 LGBT spiritual arts stories were named today by Cherry, founder of the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT Spirituality and the Arts. The ratings are based on pageviews reported by Google Analytics.

The blog’s most popular post of the year was an introduction to “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard with reflections by Cherry. The paintings present Jesus as a contemporary gay man in a modern city. The Passion paintings and commentary are set to be published as a book later in 2014. Click here to sign up for e-mail announcements about the book.

“Jesus in Love has become the go-to place for new and innovative material on queer saints -- in both English and Spanish,” Cherry said. “Readers love the pioneering LGBT Christian art presented here.  It is hard to find anywhere else except at Jesus in Love.”

Non-traditional takes on traditional saints attracted more readers than ever before, filling four of the Top 10 spots. Three of the top stories were about contemporary artists creating bold new paintings of Jesus in a queer context.

Another trend was the surging popularity of Jesus in Love articles in Spanish. The Santos Queer Blog was launched in late 2012 to provide translations of the LGBT Saints series throughout the year. In fact, some saints were a bigger hit in Spanish than in the original English. Over at Santos Queer, San Sebastián actually got more hits in 2013 than anything in English with 2,608 pageviews!

Two books tied for the top spot as the bestseller of the year at Jesus in Love: “Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication” and “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations.”

Here is a list of the year’s top 10 stories. Click the headlines to go to the original posts at the Jesus in Love Blog.

1. The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision

Gay Passion paintings on display
(Photo by Dorie Hagler)
Jesus challenges viewers by arriving as a young gay man of today in the “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard. The artist takes the most important narrative in Western culture and rescues it from fundamentalists and also from over-familiarity. All 24 paintings in the series were posted with expanded commentary and prayers by Kittredge Cherry for Holy Week and Easter last year. The series covers Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. Blanchard’s images show Jesus being jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes and rising again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God and his diverse group of friends. More info

Blanchard, a gay painter based in New York, and Cherry, a lesbian minister and art historian based in Los Angeles, plan to run an updated version of the series again on the Jesus in Love Blog for Holy Week this year. Join the Passion book e-mail list to be notified when the book version is published.

2. Perpetua and Felicity: Patron saints of same-sex couples

Saints Perpetua and Felicity were brave North African woman friends who were executed for their Christian faith in the third century. Some consider them lesbian saints or patrons of same-sex couples.  They were arrested for their Christian beliefs, imprisoned together, and held onto each other in the last moments before they died together on March 7, 203. A banner saying “patrons of same sex couples” hangs above Felicity and Perpetua in the colorful icon at the top of this post. It was painted by Maria Cristina, an artist based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. More info

3. Gay artist paints "Intimacy with Christ": Richard Stott reflects on sensual spirituality

Detail from “Intimacy with Christ 3”
by Richard Stott
A gay man’s intimacy with Christ is expressed in new art and writing by Richard Stott, a Methodist minister and art therapist in Sheffield, England. Three large paintings that unite sexuality and spirituality emerged from Stott’s prayer life and meditations on the medieval Christian mystics, especially the poem “The Dark Night of the Soul” by Saint John of the Cross. More info

4. Ash Wednesday: A day to recall queers executed for sodomy

Ash Wednesday is an appropriate time to reflect on the sins of the church and state against queer people, including the burning of “sodomites” and execution of thousands for homosexuality over the past thousand years. This article uses historical images and research to remember and honor all those killed for homosexuality in church- or state-sanctioned executions. Ash Wednesday also made the 2012 Top 10 list. In 2013 the Slacktivist blog sent a lot of extra visitors to the Ash Wednesday post by highlighting a quote from a woman executed for sodomy in 1721: “But even were I to be done away with, those who are like me would remain.”  In 2014 Ash Wednesday will be March 5. More info

5. LGBT Stations of the Cross show struggle for equality

Station 3 from LGBT Stations of the Cross
by Mary Button
courtesy of Believe Out Loud
“Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality” is a new set of 14 paintings that link the suffering of Jesus with the history of LGBT people. Using bold colors and collage, artist Mary Button juxtaposes Christ's journey to Golgotha with milestones from the last 100 years of LGBT history, including Nazi persecution, the Lavender Scare, the Stonewall Rebellion, the assassination of Harvey Milk, the AIDS pandemic, the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester, and LGBT teen suicides. “In the sacrifices of martyrs of the LGBT movement, we can come to a new understanding of the cross, and of what it means to be part of the body of Christ,” Button said. More info

6. Saints Sergius and Bacchus: Male couple martyred in ancient Rome

Sergius and Bacchus were third-century Roman soldiers, Christian martyrs and men who loved each other. 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”). Their story is told here in words and art, including historical works and contemporary art. Sergius and Bacchus are perennial favorites at Jesus in Love, where they also made the Top 10 list in 2011 and 2012. More info

7. New info on Francis of Assisi’s queer side revealed

Historical records revealed a queer side to Saint Francis of Assisi as Pope Francis visited the birthplace of his namesake in October 2013. “It will be interesting to hear Pope Francis’ message while he pilgrimages to Assisi. However, the gender-bending St. Francis has already clearly spoken through the ages to the LGBT community,” Franciscan scholar Kevin Elphick said. Saint Francis is one of the most beloved religious figures of all time, known for embracing poverty, loving animals, hugging lepers, and praying for peace. Elphick continued his research into the queer side of Saint Francis in 2013 with his own trip to Assisi, where he photographed artwork depicting the man he believes may have been the saint’s beloved soulmate: Brother Elias of Cortona. More info

8. Queer religious art resource list: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism

Queer religious art resources from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Paganism are listed on the Jesus in Love Blog. The list provides dozens of links to art created throughout human history, from ancient cave paintings to the most contemporary images of today. It includes Asian, African / African-American, Australian, Celtic, Latina/o, Native American and others. More info

9. Saint Sebastian: History’s first gay icon

“Saint Sebastian”
by Rick Herold
Saint Sebastian has been called history’s first gay icon and the patron saint of homosexuals. Sebastian was an early Christian martyr killed in 288 on orders from the Roman emperor Diocletian. He is the subject of countless artworks that show him being shot with arrows. Little is known about his love life, so his long-standing popularity with gay men is mostly based on the way he looks. Starting in the Renaissance, Sebastian has been painted many times as a near-naked youth writing in a mixture of pleasure and pain. The homoeroticism is obvious. More info

The Spanish translation of this article, San Sebastián: El primer ícono gay de la historia, was the most popular story of the year at the Santos Queer blog

10. Blasphemy debate on queer Nativity

A big blasphemy debate erupted when Believe Out Loud cross-posted a queer Nativity photo and essay by lesbian Christian author Kittredge Cherry in December 2013. "Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including the growing number of LGBT parents and their children," she wrote. Many said it was offensive, blasphemous, ridiculous, stupid, and "makes equality look bad," even though they are a LGBT-affirming Christian group. Others found it inspiring, empowering, and wonderful, providing "instant identity that this story includes me too." The Facebook debate grew to more than 140 comments. The original queer Nativity piece was posted at Jesus in Love in 2009.  It is on the Top 10 list now because it was the most controversial content of the year, even though it didn't generate a lot of traffic on the Jesus in Love in 2013. More info

Related links:

2012’s top 10 LGBT spiritual arts stories

2011’s top 10 LGBT spiritual arts stories

2010’s top 7 LGBT spiritual arts stories

2009’s top 7 GLBT spiritual arts stories

2008’s top 5 queer-spirit arts stories

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

Bestselling books of 2013:

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Olympics: Spiritual art supports Russia’s LGBT rights struggle

“De Profundis” by Tony O’Connell

Artists are using spiritual imagery to draw attention to LGBT rights in Russia as the Olympics begins in Sochi tomorrow (Feb. 7).

The holiness of the Russian struggle for LGBT equality is emphasized in two new artworks: “De Profundis” by queer British artist Tony O’Connell and “Postcard to Putin” by gay American artist Stephen Mead.

LGBT rights supporters are using the Sochi Olympics to call worldwide attention to anti-gay laws passed last year under President Vladimir Putin, especially one banning “gay propaganda.” Statements in favor of LGBT rights during the Olympics, including waving rainbow flags and other pride gear, would break the law against discussing LGBT issues in front of children. Homosexuality itself was decriminalized by Russia in 1993.

In “De Profundis” O’Connell bestows a halo upon a gay Russian who is being arrested for protesting laws that oppress LGBT people. Watching in the background are Christ and paired male saints Sergius and Bacchus, who were ancient Christian martyrs and lovers. “They seem appropriate protectors in this situation,” O’Connell said. Jesus and the saints witness the scene without condemning the police, but are present for them too.

The Latin title means “From the Depths.” It comes from Psalm 130, which is quoted in an inscription on O’Connell’s image:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam.

“The Latin is from the De Profundis which was a Catholic prayer I grew up with,” he explained. He translates it as:

Out from the depths I have cried to thee, Oh Lord;
Lord hear my voice!

“De Profundis” is also the title of an important epistle written by 19th-century gay Irish writer Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment for homosexuality.

O’Connell symbolizes the whole Russian LGBT-rights struggle with a news photo that documents the 2010 arrest of Nikolay Alexeyev, founder and chief organizer of Moscow Pride since 2005. He is considered Russia’s best known LGBT-rights activist.

For more about Tony O’Connell and his art, see my previous post Reclaiming sainthood: Gay artist Tony O’Connell finds holiness in LGBT people and places.

“Postcard to Putin” by Stephen Mead

New York gay artist Stephen Mead also uses his talent and spiritual vision to shed light on human rights abuses in Russia as the Olympics approach. He began his “Postcards to Putin” series by superimposing the text of his “Dear Vladimir” letter over a candle and a hand raised in blessing the Olympic torch on a computer screen.

Just days before the Olympic opening ceremony, he expanded the series with a new mixed-media collage that offers a simple prayer: “Olympics: please keep safe. Watch over, protect all, during and after…”

“Postcard to Sochi” by Stephen Mead

“I did this one a couple days before the Olympics are to begin, feeling that safety is the most important message right now, a sort of prayer or energy of hope and protection,” Mead said. “My sentiment is that if we can make art and at least post it online so it is out on the World Wide Web where anyone can see it, maybe that will bring some hope to the LGBT people of Russia (and elsewhere).”

For more about Mead and his art, see my previous post Gay artist links body and spirit.

A gallery with more than 50 images called “Illustrators in Support of Gay Rights in Russia” has been set up by Anna Goodson Illustration Agency.

“We believe that Art Speaks Louder Than Words and we wanted to make a statement and show the world that our agency and illustrators don’t support discrimination or violence of any kind, regardless of religion, race or sexual orientation,” Goodson wrote.

As the Olympics gets underway various LGBT groups are planning protests around the world to denounce the injustice and express support for LGBT Russians. For example, the Human Rights Campaign has organized a variety of actions on “Russia’s anti-LGBT agenda” and is using social media for an initiative called Love Conquers Hate.

While the Olympics rightly puts the spotlight on Russian injustice toward LGBT people, there is no reason  to be smug about LGBT rights under U.S. law. Nine American states limit what teachers can say about homosexuality in ways that are similar to Russian law, according to an article at

After creating the “De Profundis” image last summer, O’Connell has had second thoughts about whether Alexeyev deserved a halo. “I felt strongly about how brave he been to stand up the rise of fascism in Russia and the level of violence and legal persecution he had received. Unfortunately he seems to gone off the rails a bit since then as this article suggests his own dangerous tendencies toward misogyny and anti-semetism. Of course that controversy only arose after I had made the image and partly I wonder if it is the Russian state publicity machine slinging mud at him to separate him from allies in the west,” O’Connell said.

Related links:

Boris and George: Russian saints united in love and death (Jesus in Love)

Tony O’Connell reclaims sainthood by finding holiness in LGBT people and places (Jesus in Love)
___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.

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

Monday, February 03, 2014

RIP Archbishop Mark Shirilau: Founder of global church welcoming LGBTs

In memory of
Archbishop Mark Shirilau

Founder of Ecumenical Catholic Church,
a global denomination welcoming LGBT people,
proud supporter of Jesus in Love

Dec. 13, 1955 - Jan. 12, 2014

white candle Pictures, Images and Photos

I light a memorial candle for Archbishop Mark Shirilau, head of the Ecumenical Catholic Church and a proud supporter of Jesus in Love. He died on Jan. 12 from heart failure resulting from pneumonia while in Italy to ordain a priest. He was 58.

Mark founded the Ecumenical Catholic Church in 1987 to provide a religious home to gays and lesbians. It grew to include about 3,000 members in the United States, Italy and Latin America.

Mark Shirilau, official church portrait, 1993

His last words to me were posted online with his donation in October: “This should reach your goal. Thanks for your great work, Kitt. It's one of the few blogs and newsletters I actually take time to read. :) + Mark”

Mark contributed to Jesus in Love in many other ways too. He participated in the Queer Nativity Project at the Jesus in Love Blog by submitting a photo of the gay shepherd couple in his outdoor manger scene.


“Adam and Steve, the Gay Shepherd Couple” by Archbishop Mark Shirilau

Some of the shepherds in Bethlehem on the first Christmas must have felt same-sex attractions. Archbishop Mark Shirilau reports that the gay shepherd couple in his photo have been part of his family’s Nativity set since before he even knew what a gay couple was. Over the years he gained an extra shepherd and a gay consciousness. The results are reflected in his light-up Christmas lawn ornaments -- updated with energy-efficient light bulbs. More info


Although Mark is best known for his LGBT religious leadership, I also remember him for his commitment to solar energy and his love for dogs. He wrote an enthusiastic endorsement for the pet portraits offered through Jesus in Love.

Mark always used to send me the ECC calendar of saints around January every year. Last year he was happy that they added John Boswell. Now Mark is with the saints he loved.

In the wake of his death, ECC bishops elected David Kalke as acting primate and archbishop of the denomination.

A memorial service is set for Feb. 15 at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Riverside, California. Burial will be in Kaneohe, Hawaii, next to his late partner, Jeffery Shirilau.

Related links

Riverside man who led worldwide church dies (

More on the death of Archbishop Mark Shirilau (

Memorial service for archbishop changed (

Remembering Archbishop Mark Steven Shirilau by Bishop James Alan Wilkowski

Mark Shirilau personal website

Ecumenical Catholic Church website

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, humanitarians, 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.

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

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Brigid and Darlughdach: Celtic saint loved her female soulmate

For a new version of this article, click
Brigid and Darlughdach: Celtic saint loved her female soulmate

“Saint Brighid and Darlughdach of Kildare” by Rowan Lewgalon and Tricia Danby (

Saint Brigid and her soulmate Darlughdach were sixth-century Irish nuns who brought art, education and spirituality to early medieval Ireland. Brigid (c.451-525) shares her name and feast day (Feb. 1) with a Celtic goddess -- and she may have been the last high priestess of the goddess Brigid.  Her followers still keep a flame burning for her.

Raised by Druids, Brigid seems to have made a smooth transition from being a pagan priestess to a Christian abbess. Today she is Ireland’s most famous female saint. Her name is also spelled Bridget.  Legend says that when she made her final vows as a nun, the bishop in charge was so overcome by the Holy Spirit that he administered the rite for ordaining a (male) bishop instead.

A younger nun named Darlughdach served as Brigid’s ambassador and her “anam cara” or soul friend. The two women were so close that they slept in the same bed. Like many Celtic saints, Brigid believed that each person needs a soul friend to discover together that God speaks most powerfully in the seemingly mundane details of shared daily life. The love between these two women speaks to today’s lesbians and their allies. Some say that Brigid and Darlughdach are lesbian saints.

Brigid started convents all over Ireland and became the abbess of the “double monastery” (housing both men and women) at Kildare. Built on land that was previously sacred to her divine namesake, the monastery included an art school for creating illuminated manuscripts.

After Brigid turned 70, she warned Darlughdach that she expected to die soon. Her younger soulmate begged to die at the same time. Brigid wanted her to live another year so she could succeed her as abbess. Brigid died of natural causes on Feb. 1, 525. The bond between the women was so close that Darlughdach followed her soulmate in death exactly one year later on Feb. 1, 526.

Both Christians and pagans celebrate St. Brigid’s Day on Feb. 1. It is also known as Imbolc, a spring festival when the goddess Brigid returns as the bride of spring in a role similar to the Greek Persephone. People still celebrate her day by weaving twigs into a square “Brigid’s Cross,” an ancient solar symbol traditionally made to welcome spring.

Brigid’s main symbol was fire, representing wisdom, poetry, healing and metallurgy. The nuns at the Kildare monastery kept a perpetual fire burning in Brigid’s memory for more than a thousand years -- until 1540 when it was extinguished in Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Order of St. Brigid was reestablished in 1807. Two Brigidine sisters returned to Kildare and relit the fire in the market square for the first time in more than 400 years on Feb. 1, 1993. The perpetual flame is now kept at the Solas Bhride (Brigid’s Light) Celtic Spirituality Center that they founded there. In addition, anyone may sign up to tend St. Brigid’s flame in their own homes through the Ord Brighideach Order of Flame Keepers.

Two Celtic Christian artists based in Germany collaborated on the sensuously spiritual portrait of Brigid and Darlughdach at the top of this post. On the left is Darlughdach, painted as a fiery redhead by Rowan Lewgalon, and on the right is fair-haired Brighid, painted by Tricia Danby. Lewgalon and Danby are both clerics in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church as well as spiritual artists whose work is online at

"Saints Brigid and Darlughdach of Kildare"
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1999

Brigid and Darlughdach are shown with their arms around each other in the above icon by Brother Robert Lentz. He is a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons. The two women are dressed in the white gowns worn by Druid priestesses and Celtic nuns. Flames burn above them and on the mandala of Christ that they carry. It is one of 40 icons featured in his book Christ in the Margins.

The icon was commissioned by the Living Circle, a Chicago-based interfaith spirituality center for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community and their friends. Four Living Circle members took the original icon to Kildare with them in 2000 for the flame-lighting ceremony at the recently excavated site of Brigid’s ancient fire temple.

Dennis O’Neill, the priest who founded the Living Circle, includes the icon and an in-depth biography of Brigid and Darlughdach in his book “Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People.”

Brigid’s spirit of fun and hospitality is expressed in her reputation for loving beer. She made beer for the poor every Easter. In a well known poem attributed to Brigid, she envisioned heaven as a great lake of beer. Here are some of the words to St. Brigid’s Prayer, as translated and performed by Irish singer Noirin Ni Riain:

I’d sit with the men, the women of God
There by the lake of beer
We’d be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.

Riain also sings a heavenly Ode To Bridget on the video below and on her Celtic Soul album.

Related links:

February 1st: Celebrate Brigit's Day by Diann Neu (WATER)

To read this article in Spanish, go to:
Santa Brigid y Darlughdach: Irlandés santo amaba a su alma amiga (Santos Queer)

To read this article in Italian, go to:
Il fuoco di Santa Brigida e la sua anima gemella. Due monache nell’Irlanda medioevale (


Icons of Brigid and Darlughdach and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

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.