A mural of “The Last Supper” is displayed in February in the church of Curahuara de Carangas, Bolivia. While the mural is a version of the original Da Vinci painting, it shows the relationship between Jesus and the apostles. Modern theologians are examining and analyzing the Bible and Christian tradition from a view that homosexuality and gender nonconformity existed in ancient times just as they do today.
‘Previous translation s of the bible’ would indicate CHANGES, to a supposedly concrete-unchangeable foundation. The Catholic’s faith-practice-order: Catholicism, has changed radically since the time of Pope Pius (early 1900’s, 20th century). Although the Catholic Church claims to be under unexpected tension in the current decade, the 3rd decade (2020’s) is less than 10 months away.
Because of safety concerns, the school was essentially on lockdown.
Threatening calls and emails were pouring into Tarleton State University, a medium-sized school in central Texas.
It was 2010 and then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in a press release what the school was doing was attacking common decency.
“No one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans. … This lewd display runs completely contrary to the standards of scholastic excellence and common decency that we demand in our publicly-funded institutions for higher learning,” Dewhurst said.
The state of Texas was in an uproar because of a play. At the center of the controversy was John Otte, then a 26-year-old student at Tarleton State. He was part of an advanced directing class and had to select a production to manage. Otte died in 2018 at age 34, but he spoke about his decision in choosing the play in a 2010 interview found on YouTube.
“It just resonated within me the message of the full picture. … This play was very touching for me. I cried when I read the script and it gave a more tangible Christ figure for me,” he said in the video.
The play was “Corpus Christi,” a modern telling of the story of Jesus and the apostles set in Texas. But this was not just any play about the son of God. In the production, Jesus and the apostles are gay. And what is being imagined in the theater is getting a closer examination by modern theologians.
Understanding queer theology
Questioning Jesus’ personal life has been a point of historical and theological tension for decades. His supposed relationship with Mary Magdalene is the central plot of “The Da Vinci Code.”
Further theories have questioned whether Jesus had a homosexual relationship with the “beloved disciple” mentioned in multiple Bible verses.
These kinds of questions are part of the growing field of queer theology. The theology analyzes the Bible and Christian tradition from a view that homosexuality and gender nonconformity existed in ancient times just as they do today.
Queer theology resists the notion emphasized in Christianity that heterosexuality is salvation, said the Rev. Dr. Bob Shore-Goss, a gay theologian and author of several books on queer theology.
“The whole ideology of 20th-century, and even now 21st-century, Christianity is to be heterosexual meant you were perfect,” he said. “And what does that do to people like myself? Or people who are transgendered and who are bisexual and so on? We’re lesser human beings. And see there’s a denigration there.”
Shore-Goss said queer theology takes the definition of queer — meaning strange or odd — and applies it in understanding the characters of the Bible and how they navigated their historical society.
The Bible does not include a line about Jesus’ sexuality — gay, straight, bisexual or anywhere on the spectrum — because the terms used today did not exist 2,000 years ago. The terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual” were created in the late 1800s.
But comparing the definition of queer to how Jesus acted in ancient Palestine, Shore-Goss said, leads to an obvious conclusion: Jesus was queer.
“When you use the word ‘queer’ historically, it’s not a thing or an identity,” he said. “It is really standing outside of any sort of patriarchal normativity. … I would say Jesus is queer. But if you push me, is that something about sexuality? Possibly. Is it something about his kind of deconstructing and destabilizing masculinity in the Roman Empire, and in first-century Palestine? Yes, he’s not a normal male.”
In ancient times, a man had status and value by owning property, including not just land but a wife. Men owned women. Jesus neither held land or married, according to the Bible.
Jesus also recognized women as equals. In John 4, he goes to a town well and meets a woman who was a social outcast. Merely walking up and talking with the woman would have been viewed as heretical among the religious at the time.
The Holy Spirit, which is said to guide Christians after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, helps the apostles to spread the word of God to people around the world, as told in the book of Acts. One of the first converts in the spread of Christianity is a eunuch, another social and sexual outcast at the time, Shore-Goss said.
In his ministry, Jesus even identified with eunuchs, as told in Matthew 19:12, said Kittredge Cherry, a lesbian minister, theologian and creator of QSpirit.net, which promotes LGBTQ rights in the church. Looking over previous translations of the Bible, Jesus ministered to the sexual minorities of his time, she said.
“The word that he used for eunuch is for a sexual minority,” Cherry said. “That’s the closest thing to what we might call today LGBTQ. He reached out to people who the regular religious authorities were saying were sinners, that we’re too far gone to be part of God’s kingdom. He went ahead and said, ‘These are the people that are also welcome in God’s kingdom.’”
Cherry said one of the reasons modern Christians may struggle to accept the sexual diversity present in ancient times and acknowledged in the Bible is because modern Christians struggle to understand their own sexualities and bodies.
What does the Bible really say?
Faith leaders who condemn homosexuality and other sexualities often turn to lines in the Bible that seemingly condemn anything beyond the heterosexual worldview.
However, those verses which Cherry referred to as “clobber passages” are being re-examined and are offering a different view, she said.
“New understandings, based on contemporary Bible scholarship, have debunked a lot of the more hateful and misguided interpretations that say the Bible flatly condemns all homosexuality and gender variance as we know it today,” Cherry said.
Leviticus 18:22 — Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (NIV)
The denunciation of men having relations with men here is part of a list of practices Christians should not do. Centuries later, some of those practices are still viewed as socially unacceptable. For example, several lines in Leviticus say people should not practice incest or child sacrifice.
Other rules in the section include not committing adultery or cursing out one’s parents. In 2019 society, these acts are not necessarily seen as good, but they are not a reason for execution.
Then, there are rules in Leviticus that no longer have application to modern times, such as not having sex with a menstruating woman or talking to a fortune teller.
Theologians point out all the rules outlined in Leviticus are given the same weight and punishment. But, over time, society has cherry-picked which rules to keep and which to ignore.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 — Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)
The analysis by Myers states the Greek phrase about homosexuality originally used in the passage has two meanings. The first meaning is literal homosexuality. The second meaning, though, is about being sexually promiscuous, a practice the Bible repeatedly condemns in other sections. The meaning the original writers of this passage intended is unclear, Myers wrote.
What queer theology adds
Ancient traditions recognized a spectrum of sexualities, despite not always recognizing the variety as equal.
Heterosexuality was seen as “natural” not only because it was the most common but because of the Protestant Reformation, said Megan DeFranza, theologian and author of “Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God.”
Prior to Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses in 1517, celibacy was viewed as the holiest way of life, one of the reasons why nuns and priests in the Catholic tradition must be celibate. Part of Luther’s revolution in the Reformation was announcing that being married and raising a family could also be holy, DeFranza said.
“Then we have the emphasis on ‘Oh, it’s just as much a religious vocation to have a family as it is to serve God and the monastery,’” she said. “Well, what that ended up doing was making fewer places for those who didn’t fit into that binary reproductive model. With fewer monasteries, there were fewer places to go if you didn’t fit in those categories as male or female.”
DeFranza’s work offers a more complex reading of the Bible to counter what she said are often narrow interpretations. Her book re-evaluates some of the gender stereotypes in the church. Among conservative Christians, there are strict gender roles where a man has certain duties and a woman has certain duties. But also, among liberal members of the faith, the genders are seen to be all alike and there is little recognition of the various genders, especially the gender minorities, she said.
DeFranza said modern science on gender and sexuality is helping us better understand what ancient people already knew: There is a spectrum of gender and sexuality.
“Ancient Judaism had six extra categories in addition to male and female,” she said. “… Saint Augustine talks about hermaphrodites in his book ‘The City of God,’ which is a very well-known piece of his literature that lots of folks have to read. And yet, we read right past the section where he talks about hermaphrodites and androgynes being rare but saying every culture has people that they don’t know how to classify as male or female.”
The Bible is clear salvation is not withheld from sexual minorities, DeFranza said.
In Isaiah 56, eunuchs complain to God about being separated from other church followers. God reassures and blesses them, not to be changed and to fit into the binary heterosexual model but God blesses them as they are, DeFranza said.
The ongoing research and conversations around queer theology are reversing a trend in the Christian tradition that has long-marginalized members of the LGBTQ community. While some churches have opened their doors, many people who identify as LGBTQ do not feel welcome in the pews. About half of congregations allow openly gay or lesbian couples to be members, according to the Pew Research Center.
Cherry said queer theology is pushing the church to be more inclusive. A different way of reading the ancient text is allowing the marginalized to see themselves in the Bible story.
“When I read the Bible thinking that Jesus is like me, it just brings it alive and makes it much more real,” Cherry said. “And I think that’s true for other LGBTQ people. I’m not doing this to say, this is the only way to look at Jesus. … It helps to see that Jesus was like we are and to see ourselves reflected in the holy story. Now for our straight allies, I think it’s also valuable to visualize the idea that Jesus was gay because it helps them then to be able to see the holiness among the LGBTQ community and just to expand their idea of God.”
Follow Wyatt Massey on Twitter: @News4Mass.