Three Queers of the East: Thoughts for the Feast of the Epiphany

Earlier in the week, I wrote that some Bible stories are so familiar, we do not stop to consider their significance. I could also add, that some others are so familiar, we do not stop to ask if they are accurate. A case in point is that of today’s feast of the Epiphany, which we routinely celebrate as the visit of the three kings of the East to the infant Jesus – but the Gospel text does not specify that there were three, nor that they were kings.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

It is the term “magi” that has been traditionally adapted to “wise men”, or corrupted in popular imagination to “kings”. Astrologer-magicians, in the Zoroastrian religion, would be a more accurate translation. (Note the obvious linguistic connection between “magus” and “magic”). Kittredge quotes Nancy Wilson and Virginia Mollenkott, to suggest that the Magi were probably either eunuchs, or trans.

Three Magi: Not what they seem?

Joseph and His Fabulous Queer Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Sometimes, stories and images are so familiar to us, that we completely fail to see their significance. The story of Joseph and his coat is familiar to us all from childhood Bible stories – and even more familiar as Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Ignore the main story for now, and just focus on that coat of many colours.

In the modern world, colour is everywhere, so much so that we hardy notice it unless it is used particularly well, or until it is unexpectedly absent. It was not always so. In the Biblical world, clothing was mostly drab: dyes of all kinds were costly , brightly coloured cloth of any kind was an expensive luxury. It is not surprising that Joseph’s brothers would have been jealous of the special favour shown by their father, and wished to sell him into slavery.

Joseph sold into slavery, Edward Knippers

But there could be more to the story than first appears: this was not just a coloured coat, but a very specific type – a coat of many colours, in stripes. Just such a coat was typically worn by a specific group of people – a distinctly queer group. Read the rest of this entry »

Heed the Message of Christ: Queering Galatians

As we continue to consider the person of Jesus Christ, we must think also of what he expects of us. Above all he sends us out into the world to carry his message. This is what is meant by “apostle” – one who is sent as a messenger. We are all (or should be) apostles, and the world we are to carry the message to is our own, contemporary world, with its modern conditions and circumstances.

It is in this spirit that  Rev Steven Parelli, executive director  of Other Sheep, has posted an adaptation and paraphrase of Paul’s letter to the Galatians., that he prepared in the immediate aftermath of the Equality March in Washington D. C. This is a text that he once memorized in an attempt to fight against his same-sex attraction – but reassessing it in personal, modern terms has given it a very different complexion:

When I was in my freshman year of Bible college, I memorized most of the book of Galatians by heart (and filled five notebooks with personal study notes) ….for the purpose of helping me to overcome my “temptation” to same-sex sex (which I now realise is not a temptation but an orientation).

Last night while on the bus that brought us home from the National Equality March in Washington,  D. C., I went over chapter 1 of Galatians in my mind as well as read it from the NT Bible I had with me. …….Once I queered the very first word “Paul” as “we who strive for the equality rights of LGBT people”, I was off and running. And then the text spoke to me, as many texts from the Bible have spoken to other oppressed peoples of former and present times.

Apostles for Today

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St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”: December 27th

In the catalogue of “gay saints”, or pairs of supposedly “gay lovers” in Scripture, the coupling of John the Evangelist (the “beloved disciple”)  and Jesus himself is surely the most controversial. Many people, including some of my friends from the LGBT Soho Masses, find the whole idea that this may have been a “gay”, sexually active relationship, highly offensive. Others argue the opposite case.

In an explosive book, “the man jesus loved,  the reputable biblical scholar Theodore Jennings mounts an extended argument that Jesus himself was actually gay and that the beloved disciple of John’s Gospel was Jesus’ lover.  To support this provocative conclusion, Jennings examines not only the texts that relate to the beloved disciple but also the story of the centurion’s servant boy and the texts that show Jesus’ rather negative attitude toward the traditional family: not mother and brothers, but those who do the will of God, are family to Jesus.  Jennings suggests that Jesus relatives and disciples knew he was gay, and that, despite the efforts of the early Church to downplay this “dangerous memory” about Jesus, a lot of clues remains in the Gospels.  Piecing the clues together, Jennings suggests not only that Jesus was very open to homosexuality, but that he himself was probably in an intimate, and probably sexual, relationship with the beloved disciple.

Daniel Helminiak, Sex and the Sacred

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Young Men in the Burning Fiery Furnace: Dec 17th

Last week the church marked the feast of three young men, Shadrack, Mesach and Abednego, the companions of Daniel the prophet.  I missed the opportunity to comment on the due date, which was unfortunate: they are important for highlighting a much neglected group in the church – the transgendered.

We are probably all familiar with the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, and of his three companions in the burning fiery furnace. What they don’t tell us in Sunday School, is that as slaves captured and taken to service in the king’s court in Babylon they were almost certainly eunuchs – castrated males. This was the standard fate of slaves in the royal court, as Kathryn Ringrose has shown, and as anticipated by Isaiah:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

-Isaiah 39:7

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Maybe Jesus Was Gay?

See the pic from San Diego Pride, with commentary, at “Jesus in Love Blog.

Also:

Was Jesus Gay?

The gay Centurion

Was Jesus Gay? Mark and the Naked Young Man

Water into Wine: Jesus’ Ga Wedding at Cana

The Queer Lesson of Nehemiah: “Rebuild God’s Church!”

Through the fog of millenia, foreign language, and unfamiliar cultural contexts, it is easy for Christians in the twenty first century to miss the specific relevance of some passages in Scripture, especially the books of the “minor prophets” in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the queer references. When, with the help of suitable guidance, we do explore these, we may find some powerful material for reflection. I have found precisely that in a piece by Michael S. Piazza, “Nehemiah as a Model for Queer Servant Leadership” (In “Take Back the Word” , ed Robert Goss)The first likely question from those unfamiliar with the background (let alone even the basic story of Nehemiah), is what makes this a “queer” story? The answer depends on appreciating the cultural background, and in turn casts some light on several other passages from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Nehemiah was one of many Hebrews taken to Babylon as a slave, where he was engaged as a “cupbearer” to the Persian king Artaxerxes (the Persians had replaced the original Babylonians as rulers) . The purpose of a cup-bearer was not simply to carry the wine glass – it included the responsibility for tasting and testing all the king’s food and drink, against the possibility of poisoning. As such, it was a position of great responsibility, and personal intimacy – and it was standard practice for slaves in positions of such personal intimacy in the Royal household to be castrated. It is likely, then, that Nehemiah was a eunuch. (According to one historian, cupbearers to the king were always the most attractive men). Living in such close proximity to the king, and sharing in his meals, also meant that he shared in a life of great luxury – almost as much as the king himself.

That’s the background. The point of the story in the Bible, is that some years after the first wave of Hebrew exiles had been allowed to return to Jerusalem, where the temple and the city walls had been destroyed. Without the walls for defence, the city was vulnerable to repeated attacks by its enemies.  Nehemiah became convinced that the Lord was calling him, too, back to Jerusalem, to do something about it.  Now, remember that Nehemiah was a cupbearer, used to luxury,  and not a soldier, a politician, or a religious leader. Nevertheless, he responded to God’s call, and secured permission from the king to return.

When he returned, he was initially ridiculed  for his presumption in undertaking such a preposterous task – he, who had not the skills or experience to undertake such a great project. But he set to regardless, and ultimately succeeded.

Michael Piazza, in his reflection on the story, uses it as a metaphor for the task that we as lesbigaytrans people in the church can face. There is a sense in which the wider Christian church, having lost its way in rejecting its own people, and placing (possibly mistaken) biblical literalism above the more fundamental lesson of love,  can be seen as a church which is broken and in need of rebuilding, just as Jerusalem needed to rebuild its temple.

Like the eunuch Nehemiah, we are sexual outsiders, and can easily be dismissed by the church for our lack of approved skills and insider accreditation as pastors – but we too are called by God to help in rebuilding God’s church. With application, prayer and God’s help, we too can prevail – just as Nehemiah did.

Adding to the power of Piazza’s telling, is his own record with the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, where he is the senior pastor. This was founded in Dallas in 1970 – hardly the most obvious place for a gay friendly church. But in the years since, it has become the world’s largest gay and lesbian megachurch. Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem against the odds, and the Cathedral of Hope defied its location and prospered as as church serving an LGBT congregation.

We can and will do so for the wider church.