Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Jesus: Not "Gay", but Genderqueer.

It appears from an article by Michael Ruse at the Guardian, that there is new evidence that Jesus was openly and unambiguously a gay man. Appearances are deceptive: this is a speculative piece, describing the texts he would like to see, when these newly discovered codicils have been translated. 

So what?

The interesting thing about this story is that while it is a piece of fiction, it actually makes very little difference to the core statements in the report: all (except for the unspecified parable, and the hypothetical quarrel with Joseph about manliness) are already known to us from the existing Gospels.

The Sexuality of Jesus

The absence of any direct reference in the Gospels to Jesus' love life,  sexual or emotional, has led to the unfortunate modern assumption that he did not have one, that he was in effect asexual. This is a bad mistake. We know that he was fully human, and do will also have had the full range of human bodily and emotional drives. We also know very little about his eating habits, hygiene practices or bowel movements - but this does not imply that he did not have any.  We may not know how Jesus responded to his sexual feelings, but we can be certain that he had them - just as we do.

The repeated references to a "beloved disciple" (whoever he is) are clear evidence of a special, even intimate,relationship. This evidence comes from the words used, but also from the privileged position given to him, physically and symbolically, at key points in the Gospel narrative (for example, at the last supper and at the crucifixion). It is widely assumed that the term applies to John the Evangelist, but this may not be so. Another candidate is Lazarus. Some scholars draw attention to a supposed Second Gospel of Mark, which supposedly tells that after raising a young man (Lazarus?) from the dead, Jesus spent the night in bed with him. There is also a peculiar story in Mark's Gospel of a night-time encounter in the garden with a young man covered only in a linen cloth, who then ran away naked.  We do not know who this mysterious young mas was, or what they were doing in the garden, but it too could have been Lazarus - and what do you think they were doing, in the dark and with one at least almost naked?

Personally, I reject the idea that Jesus was gay in any modern sense - the word is totally anachronistic, and there is in any case comparable evidence of a relationship with Mary Magdalene, which would make him at least "bi-" (in modern terminology. Intriguing as the evidence is that he may have had same-sex attractions or involvements, this evidence is at best supportive, but not conclusive proof.

Jesus and Mary Magdalene (Rubens)
 What can we say for certain?

Jesus Rejected Modern "Family" Values

Well, we know very clearly what he was not. At a time when there were enormous social pressures on all Jews to marry and raise a family, he did not. He also encouraged his followers to leave their own families, lived with a same-sex band of single men, and selected his closest friends from single people.  Other than the men of "the twelve", his closest friends were the two women Mary and Martha, two unmarried women living together (again in clear defiance of social expectations), and their unmarried brother, Lazarus. Much as the religious conservatives try to paint the Gospels as supporting their (modern) conception of supposedly "traditional" family values, the values found in the texts themselves and not the fundie imagination, are decidedly queer: This was not a devoted, heterosexual, family man.

We also know for certain that he rejected nobody. Inclusion for all was a hallmark of his ministry, to the extent of simply ignoring standard social taboos of all kinds. He freely engaged in religious discussions with women, he did not hesitate to go to the home of a Roman centurion to heal his servant and (probably) lover, he met with and healed lepers, and did not shrink from the menstruating woman. The example of the woman caught in adultery (and others) shows clearly that he was not particularly interested in peoples' sexual acts - but only in the quality of their relationships (with others, and with God). This is also demonstrated by what he had to say on sex and sexuality : nothing at all.

Biological Sex and Gender Expression.

I was delighted by the timing of Michael Ruse's Guardian report, which came just at the start of Trans in Faith week. The more I reflect on it, the more convinced I become that however one views Christ's sexual orientation or practice, the most reliable descriptor that I can find is that he was/is very clearly, emphatically, genderqueer.

Consider first, the circumstances of his birth, and the implications if we are to accept the orthodox Catholic doctrine of Mary's virginity. Then, without no human father, we must read his parentage as one human mother, with the Holy Spirit - often thought of as a feminine aspect of the Trinity. Two moms, then.

An observation by Susannah Cornwall in Trans/formations gives an even more radical view of the virgin birth. With no biological male parentage, he can have had no Y chromosomes, but only the female XX pattern. This will have made him externally male, but internally female - in other words, intersex.

Other writers in  Trans/formations draw attention to his gender bending behaviour: not only mixing socially with people from all backgrounds, reflecting sexual and gender diversity as well a ignoring class and ethnic divisions, but also reflected in his flouting of gender roles, freely engaging in many actions that were reserved to women in a highly gendered society.

Finally, as God and one person of the Trinity, he is clearly gender free, but also shares in theological descriptions which demonstrate extraordinary gender fluidity.

Welcome to God's Queer Family

Michael Ruse concluded his post for the Guardian with the important words:
Finally, the most important news is that nothing in the newly discovered codices challenges in any way the essential message of Christianity. Jesus was the messiah; he died on the cross for our sins; and through his death and resurrection made possible our eternal salvation. Our overriding obligation is to love God and we do this by loving our neighbours as ourselves. Christianity will never be the same again. Christianity will go on completely unchanged.
That is, his sexuality and gender expression really do not matter. An response from a reader asked, if that is so, why bother to write about it at all?

But that is precisely the point. Biological sex, sexual orientation and gender expression clearly were of no concern to him, in his words and ministry. They really not be of any greater concern to us. As Bart put it his response here,
"Welcome to God's queer family. All are invited".


Althaus- Reid, Marcella & Isherwood, Lisa: Trans/formations (Scm Controversies in Contextual Theology Series)
Jennings, Theodore W: The Man Jesus Loved
Cherry, Kittredge: Jesus in Love

Related Posts at QTC

Related articles, elsewhere
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment