Jesus’ “Queer Death” – and the Modern Queer Resurrection

At The Bible in Drag, has a useful reflection on the crucifixion, which begins’ with a quotation from Mark’s Gospel, and continues

Jesus died a queer’s death. Hate, ridicule, scorn, anger, humiliation, beatings – there is very little difference between these dynamics in the death of Jesus and in the lives and death of countless queer persons.

As a minister I am accustomed to speaking of a “peaceful death” or a “troubled passing.” With Jesus, and others who died as objects of abuse, we must use the term “victim.” Here the death of Jesus intersects with the queer community.

There’s a simple truth among queers – we are often at the mercy of heterosexual supremacy. Disempowered and marginalized we are the victims of an attitude and cultural posture that sees us as expendable. The Romans said of Jesus, “What’s one less Jew in the world?” Heteroarchy says of us “What’s one less fag in the world?”

This should be the end of the story – they the eternal oppressors and we the eternal victims. Yet, the death and resurrection of Jesus hints that this stalemate can be broken. Furthermore, it is the victim that has the power to break it. Only the victim can forgive the perpetuator of a crime. Society cannot forgive the perpetuator, the perpetuator cannot forgive him or herself, only the victim holds the power to forgive and to unlock a future that breaks the cycle of violence.

-full reflection at The Bible In Drag.

As queer people in faith, the comparison of the crucifixion with our own persecution is a pertinent one. Just as Jesus’ passion was instigated by the religious leaders of his day, our community suffered for centuries serious persecution and executions instigated by religious leaders, or in the name of Christianity, in direct contradiction of Christ’s own message of love, compassion, inclusion and justice. So as Kittredge Cherry observes in a reflection at Huffington Post, the image of the crucifixion by Becki Jayne Harrelson is the best known image of a queer crucifixion, but is just one of many.

The active persecutions and executions of sodomites that began with the Inquisition and continued over centuries by secular authorities for many centuries, still have echoes to this day. Bishops, other church leaders and secular organizations distort Jesus’ message to campaign against equality legislation in some countries, and for harsh criminal sanctions against us (even to the death penalty) in others. Bullying, gay bashing and even murder are often used by the perpetrators to excuse their hatred. In the long perspective of Christian history, the this persecution was so complete that by the middle of the twentieth century, the term “gay Christian” was (even allowing for the anachronism in the word “gay”), self-evidently a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. We were invisible, collectively we had been metaphorically killed off.

However, it is important that we do not make the same mistake of our tormentors, and ignore Jesus’ own clear message of love – even to our tormentors. Popham ends his reflection with an important reminder: that Jesus’ response was emphatically not one of anger and hatred towards his executioners.

I am not Jesus. It deeply hurts when I am belittled because I am gay. My own sense of desperation and wounded esteem arise to repay hurt with hurt. I am ready to fight and deliver punishment with all the ferocity I can muster. Forgiveness is not on my radar.

As a queer person of faith I wrestle with the invitation to repay evil with good. It is hard to forgive when society persist in condemning me. So, at the foot of the cross I wrestle…

Difficult is it is, we must find a way to respond positively, and in love to our own persecution. One way in which the human spirit has always dealt with the anguish of pain and suffering, has been through the arts – to articulate it in words as poetry, or by depicting it in visual images.

Kittredge Cherry, who specializes in spirituality experienced through art, published a series of 8 posts for Holy Week on the “Gay Passion in Art”, in which she reflects on 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard to tell the story of the passion from an LGBT perspective. Read her thoughts, and meditate on the images, at Jesus in Love blog.

Another way to respond to the queer crucifixion is to focus on its counterpart – the modern queer resurrection. Just as Christ’s Easter story does not end with his crucifixion, but is completed by his glorious resurrection, the story of our persecution is incomplete if we ignore the abundant evidence of a modern queer resurrection. Whereas a half century or so ago, openly gay and lesbian Christians simply did not exist, now we seem to be everywhere, even as bishop, priests, ministers and lay leaders. To balance the religious campaigns against marriage equality, there are prominent faith – based groups arguing for equality, as a matter of religious principle (and in some areas, already conducting same sex weddings, in church).  Where the verdict of the theologians was once unanimous that homoerotic love was incompatible with Christian faith, the visibility of openly queer and partnered pastors and theologians contradicts that. Gay and lesbian theology, and queer theology, are now so well-established as a distinct and respectable academic sub-discipline, that  there even exists an introductory college textbook devoted to the subject. Spirituality was once presented as the suppression of all sensuality and sexuality in service of supposedly higher virtues, modern writers are recognizing the possibility and validity of achieving spirituality through sexuality (including queer sexuality), by integrating them. Where the verdict of scripture once appeared to be clear, the recognition by modern biblical scholars that the evidence was in fact scanty, based on only a handful of verses, of less than clear meaning and relevance. What appeared to be the clear bible message, turned out to be flagrant textual abuse. Going beyond these important defensive responses to scripture, there are also new, affirmative readings, such as those presented by David Popham at The Bible in Drag, and in books like Take Back the Word and the Gay Gospels. In the impressive Queer Bible Commentary, we can even read queer perspectives on every book in the bible – and for some of the more important books, for every major division.

On the time scale of salvation history, as we heard it recounted in the Easter vigil readings, it is not far-fetched to compare the last thirty years as occupying a similar fraction to the Easter triduum in Jesus’ life. This modern queer resurrection has a long way yet to go, but the distance we have come already travelled is astonishing. We can look forward in joy to its completion.

In her concluding post on the  Gay Passion Kittredge Cherry has these stirring words,

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.” – Isaiah 60:1 (Inclusive Language Lectionary)
Christ lives! Nobody knows exactly how it happened, but on the third day Jesus rose to new life. The mystery of resurrection replaced the law of cause and effect with a new reality: the law of love. Jesus lives in our hearts now. Just as he promised, he freed people from every form of bondage. Captives are released from every prison. LGBT people are liberated from every closet of shame. Christ glows with the colors of all beings. People of all kinds — queer and straight, old and young, male and female and everything in between, of every race and age and ability — together we are the body of Christ.
Jesus, you are alive! Alleluia!

Alleluia, indeed.

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2 comments for “Jesus’ “Queer Death” – and the Modern Queer Resurrection

  1. abbysherlock
    August 8, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    I never thought about the parallel between Jesus’ persecution and death and the bullying, hatred and sometimes murder of homosexuals before.

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