Was Jesus Gay?

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 theological credentials for making this claim, but his fame alone will ensure that his remarks command wide attention.

This is welcome, because the subject deserves more consideration than the easy assumptions that usually underlie thinking and speaking 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 modern 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.


10 Responses to “Was Jesus Gay?”

  1. KittKatt Says:

    Thanks for a great post. The idea of a gay or queer Jesus come as a shock, especially to those who believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Some denounce them as blasphemy because they differ from traditional images. Others, myself included, experience them as a blessing that enhances Christian faith by embodying God’s wildly inclusive love for all.

    As you know, I promote the gay Jesus in my blog, books and website JesusInLove.org, so I’m pleased to hear Elton John saying that Jesus was gay. I believe the gay Jesus is needed to balance Christian anti-gay bigotry. The name of Jesus is being misused to justify hate and discrimination against GLBT people, but Jesus taught love for all. As God’s embodiment on earth, he represents all people, including sexual minorities.

    Nobody knows for sure whether the historical Jesus was attracted to other men. Being human, he must have had sexual feelings. Some groundbreaking scholars think that the historical Jesus really was gay, a term used loosely here to mean any same-sex attraction. They base their theory on Jesus’ actions in the Gospels, especially his relationship with the man known only as the Beloved Disciple. They point out that Jesus gladly healed the centurion’s “boy,” the same word used for a homosexual lover.

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      Hi Kitt. Do you know of the claims based on the “Secret Gospel of Mark”? This is tantalising fragment, supposedly taken from an expanded version of Mark’s Gospel, nad referred to in a letter said to have been from Clement of Alexandria. The fragment of interest describes a scene where after raising a young man from the dead (presumably Lazarus), the young man approaches Jesus “in his nakedness”, and the two retire to bed for the night. one of the web sources I ahve seen also refers to what he claims was a widespread early belief in some quarters that Jesus and his associates were a roving homosexual band.

      I have not raised any of this in my main posts, because the facts are so nebulous: is the fragment really from an expanded, authentic Gospel of Mark? Was the letter containing it really from Clement, or even from antiquity at all, or just a grand hoax? Does the passage really mean what it appears to mean? And the reference to the roving band came from quite an old, very primitive site with no useable attribution. So I do not promote it as fact, but it is certainly a fascinating idea.

      I agree with you that it is right to promote the “idea” of a gay Jesus. It certainly a possiblity, and we need role models. We are all advised in our spirituality to develop a deep , loving personal relationship with Jesus the man. If we are oursleves male, that will necessarily mean a same sex relationship. If we are gay men, we can easily visualise this as an erotic relationship. I have very usefully done this myself on retreat, refelcting deeply on the idea of being a “Bridegroom of Christ”. I do not, however, want to get into discussion of his sexualilty as a matter of historical fact, as this is so unknowable – and largely irrelevant. It is more constructive, I thin, for each of us to visualise the details we cannot know about for sure, in the ways that best enable us to grow in that personal relationship.

  2. Ned Says:

    This thought has crossed my mind for many years.

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      Thanks, Ned, for taking the trouble to write.

      I don’t believe that there are any simple answers to the matter of historical fact. However, I think that means that as a matter of spiritual practice, we can interpret the issue any way we choose. Have a look at my response to an earlier comment by KittKatt.

  3. GCC Says:

    Nice post. I find it interesting that so much of the response to this has focused on the historical veracity (nor nor) of Sir Elton’s comment. I think that misses the point and value of what he said. In the follow up video he seems to clearly indicate he did not mean that Jesus was literally gay in the sense we most often mean it today. Here’s my take on the issue: http://thediscursionists.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/was-jesus-gay/

    Would love to know your thoughts.

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      Thanks for the comment, and for your link – which I would recommend to others. However, it is now far too late (here in the UK) for me to absorb a carefully thought out post like yours. I want to digest it properly, and explore the rest of your site – tomorrow. I would say though, that at the least, I would agree with your observation that in one important sense, he is both: depending on who we are. What matters is not the historical detail, which is unknowable, but the quality of the relationship that we are able to develop.

      Good night.

  4. GCC Says:

    Thanks. I’m glad I found your blog in poking around on the Sir Elton issue. Being n the UK you must have a good vantage point for all the monkey business regarding women, etc. in the C of E, and that little overture from PapaRazi about accepting Anglicans back to the mother church.

    Here it’s time for a beer.

  5. Phillip Clark Says:

    While I don’t think that Our Lord was gay, being both human and divine and as Scripture says “like us in all things but sin” I think He had an intimate and unique perspective of all sexual orientations; straight, gay, bisexual, and transgender. So, even if He might not have been strictly gay as we understand it today, I think He no doubt genuinely understood and sympathized with homosexual individuals, as Fr. John McNeill alludes to in “The Church and the Homosexual” when he reflects on Jesus’ use of the word “eunuch.”

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      Right again, Phlilip. Once gain, you raise something important, wiht the reference to “eunuch”. This is another neglected text with enormous significance for us, but even more directly for our trans colleagues and friends. This is yet another theme I have been wanting to address for ages, and just not getting to. so little time, so little time……………

      • Phillip Clark Says:

        I know what you mean about TIME Terry, I’ve been wanting to blog for ages but just haven’t been able to get around to it! =/ I think we all would do well to have three months paid vacation here like they have established throughout Europe =P Like THAT will ever happen soon… if that’s just not the halmark of SOCIALISM what else is???

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