Was Jesus Gay? (Elton John)

According to Sir Elton John, the answer is clearly yes.

Theologian, Sir Elton John

Sir Elton John is facing a backlash from conservative Christian groups after stating in an interview that Jesus was a gay man. The 62-year-old musician also opened up to US magazine Parade about the “life-threatening downside” of fame and his relationship with partner David Furnish. But it’s the Rocket Man’s views on Jesus’s sexuality which have sparked headlines across the world. In the interview, to be published in America on Saturday, Sir Elton said: “I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.

“On the cross, he forgave the people who crucified him. Jesus wanted us to be loving and forgiving. I don’t know what makes people so cruel. Try being a gay woman in the Middle East – you’re as good as dead.”

I don’t suppose Sir Elton has notable thological credentials for making this claim, but his fame alone will ensure that his remarks command wide attention.

This is welcome, because the subjeect deserves more consideration than the easy assumptions that usually underlie thinking and speking about Jesus the man. Simply by raising the issue, Sir Elton has ensured that there will be many voices raised in opposition and in support. Let us hope that some of these voices will offer some plain sense.

My own position here is simple.  I do not for a minute believe that Jesus was “gay”, certainly not in any sense of the word that is recognisable in the moedern world.  But I do believe he was undoubtedly “queer”, in that he emphatically did not conform to any usual expectations of sexual or gender conformity.

Let us begin with the obvious basics.  We know and accept as basic to theology, that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  The divinity does not concern us here, but the “human” part surely does.  As fully human, and specifically male, we know that he had a fully male physical body, and all that that entails. We must also accept that he had human emotions, human feelings – and those would certainly have included sexual feelings.

What he did about those, we do not know.  Did he act on them? Did he sublimate them? Some argue on scanty evidence for a sexual relationship with John the Evangelist, or with Mary Magdalene, or with Lazarus. All this is speculation.  We have no way of knowing for sure, although in thee absence of hard evidence, any of these are possible – as is complete celibacy.

So instead of complete celibacy, let us look at some basic facts, as we know them from Scripture and from history, starting with the latter.  The Pontifical Bible Commission recommends that the interpretation of Scripture includes some consideration of the historical context.  In first century Hebrew society, that would have included an overwhelming social expectation that all should marry and raise families, in a strictly hierarchical social structure. That society assumed an inferior position for women, who were not expected to join in religious discussion or leadership, assumed the place of slavery in human conduct, with extensive rights of slave owners over their “property”, and followed a complex set of purity regulations and taboos.

In his life and in his teaching, Jesus ignored all of these, and actively taught against some.  He never married (as far as we know), and exhorted his disciples to leave their own families to follow him. His closest friends outside the twelve were the household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus – also all unmarried, living in a household that would surely have shocked many Jewish social conformists. On several occasions, he actively engaged with women in religious discussions.  And in his dealings with social outcasts of all kinds, including prostitutes, lepers, slaves or menstruating women, he ignored the purity taboos.  Doing so undoubtedly contributed to his getting up the noses of the religious leaders of the day, just as gay men, lesbians and transsexuals today continue to upset self-righteous and self-appointed religious leaders.

Jesus Christ – possibly not “gay” – but undoubtedly queer.

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