Jesus was not a queer ally: why I can’t take LGBT-affirming Christianity seriously (and why queer spaces must remain secular)

Introduction

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been trying to write this. Weeks in draft-and-delete mode spawned the post you’re reading, but drafting it at all was half the battle. Having first thought up this piece in February, I’ve spent 2014 with writer’s block – but a block is just the state of not knowing what to say or how, and I’ve felt that way about queer Christianity since leaving the church seven years ago. What I’m about to say’s a long time coming.

I was twelve the first time I came out, sixteen when I lost my faith. In the intervening years I never thought God was against me: mine was the God-loves-the-gays Christianity the gays have since fallen for, and I knew all the scriptural self-defence techniques I needed. No one was without sin; all were one in Christ; homophobic Bible verses had been badly translated; they had to be read in context; Jesus himself made Old Testament ideas redundant; he said nothing at all about gay sex; his was a gospel of love and acceptance.

I’m more embarrassed now of telling myself this than anything I thought about resurrections or virgin births. You’d think perhaps that as an atheist, I’d find all my former beliefs equally odd, but given my upbringing I understand why I thought Christ rose from the dead – within a certain belief set these things make sense. The claim that Jesus was a queer ally seems poor on its own terms, so clear a feat of wishful thinking I don’t know how I convinced myself of it, yet I hear it everywhere.

In the brief time I attended my university’s LGBT society, I ran into people frequently who preached this kind of Christianity – some with extreme religious pasts contorting faith into a more bearable shape, some secular but oh-so-keen to prove queer churchgoing possible. These members, who were a major reason I stopped going, pushed for the group to advertise local churches, host talks by clergy and move meetings so as not to clash with church. They got their way, at times by threatening formal complaints.

This February I was invited to a London university for an event called ‘How Faith and Sexuality Go Hand in Hand’. It began with an eight minute speech by a gay priest and saw a lobbyist from Stonewall argue coverage of extensive church campaigns against gay marriage had unfairly stereotyped believers. No one said anything to contradict or complicate the cosy claim of queer-religious coexistence, and prior to Q&A the audience were warned a ‘safe space policy’ was in effect, though not told what it was.

Two months ago I attended a discussion of religion, race and queer identity where a pfarrer from Germany’s main Protestant church declared that yes, of course one could be gay and Christian, echoing gay evangelical Vicky Beeching’s words that ‘what Jesus taught was a radical message of welcome and inclusion and love’. Why, he asked, did people always discuss Christian homophobes instead of Martin Luther King or Desmond Tutu?

Recently when a friend encountered Christian queerphobia, a relative took to defending their faith, splaining that scripture ‘must be seen in context’, homophobes misrepresented it for their own ends, Saint Paul was condemning pederasty and Jesus, who put an end to Mosaic sexual laws, ‘did not say that homosexuality was a sin. He didn’t even mention it!’

Arguing with this at the time would have been derailment – queer theology’s existence doesn’t negate Christian bigotry – but it’s worth taking the bullshit by the horns, not least because this isn’t just a Christian-atheist dispute: I’ve heard more secular friends than I can count say Christ himself would condemn the homophobia of the Christian right. I’ve a few responses, first of which is to ask: why are we even debating this?

If Jesus, human or divine, was a queer ally – if as is claimed, his gospel involved respecting and defending us and if he’d take our side today – why hasn’t this been clear to most Christians for most of history? Why is it a minority’s contentious view today, and why did queer-affirming Christianity only become an organised force in the global church in the last hundred years, if that? Why were Christ’s teachings misunderstood for the first 95 percent of Christian history?

Jesus was not a queer ally

Only men seem to’ve interested the Emperor Hadrian, who ruled Rome while the New Testament was a work in progress. When one of them, Antinous, drowned in the Nile, Hadrian named a city after him and declared him a god. This wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows: sex between men was as ordinary in pre-Christian Rome as in pre-Roman Greece and Celtic polytheist cultures to the north, whose men, according to Aristotle, enjoyed it even more.

Jesus might not have mentioned gay sex, but the church fathers did, and what they said was unmistakably damning. Detail aside, there’s little historical doubt the rise of Christianity in Rome was what made it taboo, bringing stigma and legal force to bear. Between the third and sixth centuries the Roman Church and Christian Empire took what would one day be called homosexuality from an accepted part of public life to a capital crime: the history of structural homophobia in Europe starts as the history of Christianity.

In later centuries, largely via colonisation, Christian homophobia spread around the globe. Its impact is still being felt.

After centuries of homophobic laws that began in religious courts, inherited by territories as far from London as Australia, it took till 1982 for gay sex to be legal throughout the UK.

In countries like Uganda and Nigeria today Anglican churches planted under British rule campaign, often formidably and with the aid of US evangelicals, for the survival of colonial sexual laws. The same is true in India.

In the US itself, churches’ power to push homophobic laws is only just starting to wane. In South America, packed with conservative bishops by John Paul II, Catholic resistance impeded even modest gay rights work for decades.

In Russia, Orthodox Church officials are among the Putin government’s staunchest allies in its crusade for ‘family values’, whose illustrations in world media are videos of queerphobic violence, often bloody and sometimes fatal.

On every continent on earth (except Antarctica), Christianity has othered and outlawed queer sexuality. Whatever Jesus thought about it, assuming he lived at all, this is the movement he inspired. If he preached love and respect for queer people, most Christians throughout history and probably most in the world today have managed to get the opposite message. If you mean to come to queer people’s aid but end up prompting brutality that lasts thousands of years, what sort of ally are you exactly?

It’s not Jesus’ fault Christians have twisted and ignored his words, one might argue. It’s entirely his fault. When your life’s work is to broadcast your views, particularly if you mean to build a church on them, it falls to you to make them unmistakable – and when people whose life’s work is obeying you do just what you oppose, you may well be in the wrong job. If as liberals claim, Christianity’s impact over millennia has been antithetical to Jesus’ words, the question is not why Christians have missed Christ’s real message – it’s why Jesus was the worst communicator in human history.

He says nothing about gay sex, we’re told as if this proves he had no objection. (Curiously, the same doesn’t apply to slavery or rape.) He doesn’t even mention queer people. I’m afraid when I hear someone takes my side, acknowledging I exist is the least I expect from them. In her 63 years on Britain’s throne and 89 on earth, Elizabeth II has never once spoken of LGBT people, attracting sharp rebukes as a result – yet many of the same activists claim Jesus’ silence shows progressiveness.

Superstitiously worshipped though she is, even Elizabeth’s platform is dwarfed by the billions of devotees he’s gathered since the first century. If Jesus was God he must have known this would be so, but even if not, every account of him suggests someone aiming to start a movement. Elizabeth’s reign, in spite of her tight lips, has seen great advances for queer people; Jesus’ alleged society punished gay sex with death just as its forebears had. Had he wished to confront this, preempt its continuation in the Christian Empire or prevent millennia of queerphobic religious violence, saying something would have been all he had to do. From a supposed radical killed as a revolutionary, who says perfectly concrete things about tax and divorce, it doesn’t seem an outrageous ask. Was he too busy cursing trees?

‘Till heaven and earth pass’, he might have said, ‘one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law. Except the death-for-gay-sex part. Lose that.’

‘Ye have heard that it hath been said,’ he might have commented, ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. But I say unto you, It’s fine.’

Less than poetic, I admit – then again, had Jesus wished to avert his church’s queerphobic history, one supposes less poetry and more prose might have helped. Consistently since his reported death, Christ’s followers have voiced their own views on gay sex, for or against, far more clearly than he voices any – indeed with far more clarity than they claim he does. It’s all but amusing that as tensions rock the global church today, both camps insist Jesus was obviously on their side. To any Christian not madly self-absorbed, the fact this is a major argument should demonstrate he wasn’t self-evidently an ally.

Thanks to the Internet it’s possible this blog will still be online in two thousand years. If so, I guarantee no one who reads will think I was queerphobic any more than they’ll think Desmond Tutu was or Fred Phelps wasn’t. From Paul on, the believers made their views about queer people more intelligible than Jesus made his. Christians today, whether our friends or foes, are more articulate about it than he was, as are most ten year olds.

Why I can’t take LGBT-friendly Christianity seriously

The last resort is often to point out the cuddly ideals Vicky Beeching cites of ‘welcome and inclusion and love’ – teachings, typically, about loving thy neighbour or judging not lest ye be judged. Since she came out, how many ex-fans in the Bible Belt have called for her records to be burnt in the same sermons as they proclaimed this unconditional love? These people are hypocrites, the answer goes – it’s on them if they can’t practise what Christ preached. But if something’s immoral, messages of general kindness don’t excuse it. In the eyes of Christian homophobes, ‘love thy neighbour’ is no more a call for tolerance of queerness than of rape.

Why do we talk about bigots, the German pfarrer asked, and not Christians like Martin Luther King? For one thing, King distanced himself from gay men in the civil rights movement, cancelling a march where Bayard Rustin was scheduled to speak when a former pastor in the US Congress threatened rumours of an affair between the two. For another, King endorsed conversion therapy. In 1958 a young black man wrote to him, asking ‘I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don’t want my parents to know about me. What can I do? Is there any place where I can go for help?’ In a column for Ebony magazine, King replied:

I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that led to the habit. You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.

Assuming King was a friend to queer people because he spoke of love and community is not just wrong but a worse insult than acknowledging his faults: it shows more concern with giving liberal Christians a respected name to drop than with the facts of what he said and did. In reality, speeches about loving thy neighbour have exactly zero impact on the likelihood someone is queerphobic. Claiming either Jesus or MLK was on our side simply because they’re deemed ‘nice’ is bizarre: most bigots are nice people in general.

It’s hard not to note the case for Jesus as a queer ally requires an absurd degree of generosity, applying uniquely low standards of allyship.

  • It is absurdly generous to call someone a queer ally whose name we only know because they spurred a movement that overwhelmingly harmed us for thousands of years.
  • It is absurdly generous to call someone a queer ally because they never said a word about us, particularly to a violently homophobic audience.
  • It is absurdly generous to call someone a queer ally for preaching nonspecific love and kindness. That never stopped anyone, let alone preachers, persecuting us.

I don’t just bash this theology for fun. Its claims are so preposterous it seems strategically contrived, less a good-faith belief than a desperate pragmatic attempt to reconcile queerness and Christianity. Who could be taken in by such bad arguments apart from willfully?

There was a time believing in a god who loved me got me through the night – I’ve no desire to take any queer person a private belief they need to get by, nor am I cavalier about it, but private belief and public theology are different things, the latter always having been a political choice. The list of encounters atop this post should illustrate that queer religiosity is a less and less private thing. I worry about its effects.

My fear is that my community’s response to religious persecution is increasingly to try and prove itself godly, ignoring that religious respectability is a double-edged sword – and that as a result, a steady religionisation of queer spaces is afoot.

I worry they’re becoming places liberal clergy come to deliver sermons, where believers explain God’s love to others even when not invited to; where God and Jesus in particular feature heavily in activists’ rhetoric, where we’re exhorted to pray and told what our creator meant for us.

It worries me when meetings are moved so as not to clash with church, LGBT groups advertise services in their newsletters, giving out religious flyers at their own meetings, and reservations about this are called ‘hate’, declared a form of bigotry as real as queerphobia. It worries me that when I hear queer theology’s contentions reeled off, it’s usually to deny and dismiss realities of Christian homophobia, both current and historical.

Religious voices being broadcast throughout my community may not declare me an abomination, but this doesn’t put my mind at ease. Religionised environments, even superficially ‘progressive’ ones, are themselves marginalising and exclusionary for many: not everyone can join the circle and sing kumbayah.

Why queer spaces must remain secular

I see why ‘doing God’ as a community might seem politically expedient. I understand the urge to demonstrate religion need not entail queerphobia. Despite this post, I value religious allies – and I recognise queer believers face all manner of challenges that mean they need inclusion and support. I’m not here to deny them that – queer spaces, most of the time, should welcome those of all beliefs and none – but I will argue the following: overt public religiosity stands in the way of this, and believers (queer or not) in LGBT space should be considerate.

Religious reformists are embattled. They deserve acknowledgement because of this, but it’s also why heavily religious spaces can feel tough even for them: being a liberal Catholic or progressive Muslim is frequently hard, and pressure to serve as an exemplary queer-religious role model in LGBT venues filled with prayers and church flyers can be asphyxiating. Those who can’t stand the sturm und drang of a progressive religious identity, as ultimately I couldn’t, often leave, declaring themselves secular as is their right, and a queer community where talk of God and Jesus never stops is an uncomfortable reminder of past angst.

Many in queer communities have histories of religious abuse, whether ordinary queerphobia or physical, sexual or emotional varieties: the mere presence of guests in holy orders, even entirely friendly ones, can make an event a no-go area. There are apostates from all forms of religion who feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in LGBT groups that have been godded-up, as I did at university. There are atheists and believers alike with reservations about God-loves-the-gays theology who feel expected to keep quiet. There are undecided people who feel put on the spot, pressured to be louder and prouder. There are people who want to discuss religious queerphobia without attaching endless caveats, or who just want to hear it acknowledged.

Welding together religion and queer identity is a false economy. Communally, it makes us more exclusionary rather than less; politically, it writes off queer people and others who’ll never be godly enough, pushed to the margins by religious structures.

The call for queer space to be secular is not a demand to exclude believers – nor do I buy that LGBT groups where sermonising and official links to churches are left out are exclusionary in this way. To say the inclusion of queer believers requires loud-and-proud expressions of belief at every turn echoes the logic of the Christian right. It suggests the same thing prosthelytising nurses and homophobic registrars insist: that there is no inappropriate domain for faith, and asking believers not to evangelise in any context is discrimination.

By all means call my atheism evangelical, but I evangelise in my own time, on my own blog, and when it comes up in conversation. I don’t mouth off about religion being crap at the post office; I wouldn’t at work if I had a nine-to-five job; I don’t ordinarily at LGBT groups. To do so would likely intrude on something personal in quite the wrong time and place – one that can only be inclusive if it’s secular. Asking believers to show the same awareness and restraint is not exclusionary – if they did, I’d never have needed to write this post. (If you insist on talking Jesus, I will too. If you don’t want an argument, leave him out – I will too. I’d prefer that.)

It’s not an accident queer-affirming Christians have emerged as an organised force within the last century, with major figureheads like Desmond Tutu: they follow a long, slow period of secularisation in which Christianity’s social heft diminished (largely thanks, I must point out, to loudmouth atheists). Only secularisation allows genuine plurality, giving every point of view breathing space – the price of this, as the queer community must learn, is not placing God at the heart of public space. It’s a small one.

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Jesus was not a queer ally: why I can’t take LGBT-affirming Christianity seriously (and why queer spaces must remain secular)

38 thoughts on “Jesus was not a queer ally: why I can’t take LGBT-affirming Christianity seriously (and why queer spaces must remain secular)

  1. 1

    You gave us plenty to chew on, which is a good thing. Here are my two cents (and this might be a bit rambling, so bear with me):

    My Emergent Christian friends often say that it’s the Holy Spirit that makes people rethink what the Bible says. I used to believe that, but looking back the argument doesn’t make any sense. Why would God wait until the mid-1800’s to tell folks, “You know what? This whole slavery thing? You’ve got it wrong!” Was God not paying attention to the thousands of years of slavery that came before the Emancipation Proclamation? It’s the same with marriage equality today. Why would the Holy Spirit wait until now to tell us queer people aren’t going to Hell?

    The reason why theology evolves is because of humanistic reasoning. People eventually realize something isn’t right, but of course, being good little Christians, they want to make sure God says they’re right, so they go back to the Bible to find some passage that confirms their convictions. With slavery, the abolitionists applied humanistic reasoning (without realizing it, probably) to the old story of the Exodus, and viola, a scriptural argument against slavery was born! Now pretty much every Christian knows that slavery is bad, and the “Slaves, obey your masters” verse isn’t really about slavery.

    Because here’s the truth about religion: Not only do people believe that their scriptures are the Word of God, but also their own interpretations. You got the Catholics who are convinced the bread and wine are literally the flesh and blood of Jesus, and you got the Protestants who say the bread and wine only symbolize the flesh and blood of Jesus. When you’ve got two folks reading the same Bible, but two different conclusions. Why is that? Because they both are convinced that the other is wrong (it never occurs to them that they might both be wrong, of course).

    Anyway, all’s that to say that you’re right when you say queer spaces must remain secular. I don’t mean that religious queer people aren’t allowed, but that queer spaces need to be religiously neutral. Because it ain’t the Holy Spirit that’s waking people up . . . it’s human reason.

    Am I making any sense?

  2. 2

    Needed to be said. Needs to be said far more often.
    Christianity would stone homosexuals to death today if not the for the continual struggles and victories of the secular opposition to the crimes and discrimination against homosexuals. Sure, Christians have seen the light, but not the light of “kind Scripture”

  3. 4

    You know something else that Jesus never had much nice to say about?
    Families.
    All of these “Family Research Councils” and “Focus on Family” and other groups that pretend that family-friendliness is the core of Christianity are far out in extra-Biblical land. When Jesus’ family comes to visit, he stone-cold disses them. Then he says that people ought to hate all the members of their families in order to follow him.
    (Luke 14:26, Matthew 10:37)
    Fortunately, for most Christians, their actual religion has little to do with the actual guy described in the Bible. I truly believe that, in fifty years or so, most people will believe that Christianity was always firmly in favor of homosexual rights, just like nowadays Christianity was always pro-abolitionist. The religion’s greatest strength has always been its capacity to reinvent itself.

  4. 5

    I agree that Jesus was not a queer ally. But I find it faulty to then conclude that he was a queer enemy. Granted: your post never calls him that. It does, however, indict the religion he spawned on that charge, and seems quite clearly to hold its founder accountable for that state of affairs – if not morally, then at least rhetorically. As you state, he had other goals, and to charge him with something approaching queerphobia (at least, implicitly accepting it) simply for not explicating in detail what one would have liked him to say overlooks this. That is why he was not a queer ally: his overriding goal was not equality for all under the law. But that statement is in no wise equivalent to “Jesus didn’t care about queer concerns,” let alone “Jesus is antithetical to queer concerns.” That seems to be underlying your piece: that Jesus was not explicitly for us; ergo he is against us.

    You might reply that that is precisely what is required in an age of rampant queerphobia. Silence is assent, and failure to speak out is to side oneself with the perpetrators. Be careful you are not committing the same error with which you (rightly) charge the open/inclusive Christian crowd. “Jesus never said anything about gayness, so it must be because he had no problem with it!” This is obviously faulty logic, but equally so is the following: “Jesus never said anything about queerphobia, so it must be because he had no problem with it!”

    However long, winding, and tortuous the road may have been for you to come to that conclusion, I believe that in this piece your thesis is undercut when you brush off the “love thy neighbor” argument too quickly, leaving the reader with a sense that disdain is overriding reason. While Jesus may not have been a queer ally in the sense that he was not explicitly on the side of queer concerns, I would argue that he was implictly on that side – or at least that his words can be interpreted so without doing hermeneutical violence. He had some very pointed and frequent things to say about how we should treat each other as human beings, which makes it practically impossible to follow and be hate-filled. Of course people claim they do both, but they always do so at the expense of one, and assiduously avoid cognitive dissonance. Also, look to Jesus’ statements in Matthew about eunuchs and marriage, which is incredibly inclusive in the context of his culture, and a good template for how Jesus views and treats sexual minorities. This is, I believe, a valid point of view given short shrift in your piece.

    In all, I would not call Jesus a queer ally because that is a 21st Century term inappropriate to both the evidence and the context. I might call him at most a pioneer or trailblazer, at least a sympathizer. I have little concern to name-drop Jesus in support of my pet issue. I prefer to see him in his historical, cultural, and spiritual context and apply his wisdom where it fits – not where I desire it to fit.

    Good thoughts!

  5. 8

    Hmm, puzzling… Only part my comment is showing. Copy and paste mess up on my part I think. Anyway…

    Again, great article, Alex. You expressed yourself and your evolving viewpoint beautifully. (Oh, and personally speaking, I don’t mind “long winded” posts. Being succinct is not always the best way to fully express one’s thoughts, particularly when dealing with such personal, close to heart, topics.)

    Trav Mamone, you made perfect sense and I completely agree with your assessment.

  6. 9

    @4 brucegee1962

    Jesus is pretty much anything you want him to be. The scriptures can be massaged and tweaked and cherry-picked at will, so much so that you can pretty much have Jesus saying “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK” with no trouble at all.

    That’s because all of the myths surrounding this character were written by different people at different times and edited year-after-year-after-decade-after-century by folks who had their own agendas.

    If there ever was a “real” person named Jesus (which I seriously doubt), there is nothing left of him in the writings, except perhaps the mad table-turner who thought the world was coming to an end within the lifetimes of the listeners to his rantings.

  7. 10

    @1 Trav Mamone

    Agreed. Especially your observations about slavery. If you look at Exodus, Moses has just delivered them from Egypt (a rank lie, BTW and FWIW), and then in the same book goes on about how they should treat their slaves. You’d think they’d have a little self-awareness…but no. If your male slave (indentured servant) marries a female and they don’t have kids, then they can leave at the end of 6 years…but if they have kids, she can’t leave (because the kid is property) and if the man decides to stay, he can never leave…and has to have his ear pierced with an awl to show everyone the decision he made.

    Barbaric.

  8. 11

    Whatever Jesus thought about it, assuming he lived at all, this is the movement he inspired

    And … if you believe it: continues to inspire. Remember, christianity claims to be based on the wishes of an existing god who’s involved at a personal level in human affairs. If that god was gay-friendly, maybe he wouldn’t have hardened the hearts of his followers in Uganda, etc.

  9. 12

    Spencer Owen@#5:
    As you state, he had other goals, and to charge him with something approaching queerphobia (at least, implicitly accepting it) simply for not explicating in detail what one would have liked him to say overlooks this. That is why he was not a queer ally: his overriding goal was not equality for all under the law.

    If he “had other goals” then at best he could be described as “apparently queer-phobic at the time being” given the direction taken by his church, which allegedly listens to his guidance and interprets his will. Of course, it’s easy to say that’s not what jesus had in mind at all, but then you’re also putting words into his mouth like all the other liars. How do you know anything about his overriding goal? Have you become a reader of the divine agenda in all its mysteries?

    Saying that jesus wasn’t responsible for christianity’s homophobia is remarkably reminiscent of the holocaust deniers who try to say that Hitler never really planned for all that genocide stuff to happen – it was just a bunch of rowdy brownshirts who got carried away waving his banner.

    1. 12.1

      And Godwin’s Law strikes again… The two are hardly comparable, since we have numerous instances of certifiable utterances from Hitler’s own mouth of the inferiority of Jewish people and the need to eradicate them from society/the earth, to say nothing of his signature and/or verbal command regarding orders managing the execution of his pathetic “Final Solution.” Compare that to Jesus’ case: not a single word directly against queerness, possibly one directly in favor of it (i.e., eunuchs), and several indirectly in favor of it – to be fair also, balanced with several heteronormative statements which can be construed as exclusionary. But hardly genocidal.

  10. 13

    Clearly if you think of Jesus as a guy who was directly tapped in to the inmost thoughts of the creator of the universe, with knowledge of the future, then his silence on slavery, queer issues, and some of the other barbarities that have been and will be practiced in his name is morally indefensible.

    There is a strain of Christianity, though, that is more like Thomas Jefferson, looking at Jesus as a moral philosopher. Since the main reason his brand took off in the ancient world was that it was the ONLY religious brand that addressed itself specifically to the concerns of the poor and downtrodden (before Constantine coopted it for the state), perhaps there could be reasons for those who hold such beliefs to find in him an ally.

  11. 14

    (the last was @Marcus Ranum)

    @brucegee1962 – and by extension anyone else holding to the “Jesus is directly responsible for the actions of his followers” claim

    To begin, I have no interest in debating the overall merits of Christianity/its followers, the veracity of the Biblical record, varieties of hermeneutical exegesis, or any other satellite issue. These issues are swept aside ex hypothesi, wherein the proposition is “Jesus was not a queer ally, even on LGBT-affirming Christianity’s own terms.”

    Back to brucegee1962: Can you really imagine a gospel like that? Jesus rattling off a litany of world evils which will be committed in his name, and either condemning or applauding each one individually? Once we accept the absurdity of this, it then becomes a question of where to draw the line – which issues are serious enough to warrant specific, individual mention in a 3-year span of ministry. From that perspective, I contend it is valid to pass over explicit mention of certain items and instead present broad principles which guide ethical/moral/spiritual behavior. Insofar as that has occurred (again, according to the ex hypothesi “for granted” nature of the Biblical record), he has spoken quite vociferously against the tactics and beliefs of queerphobic Christians. I have no desire to positively prove that Jesus’ rhetorical tactics are the best possible – only that they can legitimately be sustained in defense of an LGBTQI-affirming worldview without inviting contradiction.

    The issue is not, “Is the Jesus Movement a queer ally,” but “Is Jesus a queer ally.” I would answer both in the negative, but would stop well short of calling Jesus’ words and actions (such as they are recorded) antithetical to queer concerns, or even validly open to that interpretation.

  12. 15

    Spencer Owen:

    Can you really imagine a gospel like that? Jesus rattling off a litany of world evils which will be committed in his name, and either condemning or applauding each one individually? Once we accept the absurdity of this, it then becomes a question of where to draw the line – which issues are serious enough to warrant specific, individual mention in a 3-year span of ministry.

    I’m not sure which version of Jesus you’re defending. If it’s the “Jesus as human moral philosopher,” then as I said, I agree with you — I think he’s better than many, and certainly a big advance over most of the moral philosophy prevalent in his time and region, with a few glaring exceptions in passages that seem out of character for his overall message.

    If, though, you’re defending the idea that he was acting as some sort of mouthpiece for the Allmighty, then I don’t see anything at all wrong with criticizing him for what he did not say, as well as what he did say. One of the key things that turned me away from Christianity for good was reading an 1850s pro-slavery tract that laid out the Biblical justification for slavery. It was extremely compelling — so compelling, in fact, that I couldn’t find any way to come up with a moral excuse for any God who would allow His Book to be used in such a way.

    It wouldn’t even take a whole book. One sentence: “No follower of mine should hold another human in bondage” could have prevented a thousand years of oppression and all the lives lost in the Civil War.

    If you know for a fact that my house is going to be blown up at five o’clock tomorrow, and you don’t do anything to warn me about it, then you’re just as guilty as the one who sets the dynamite. I don’t see any reason why the same ethical principle shouldn’t be applied to God.

    1. 15.1

      @brucegee1962
      Just to clarify the discussion – it is in the context of “can Jesus’ statements legitimately be construed as queer-friendly,” paying special attention to the omission of explicit advocacy or prohibition.

      I’m assuming Jesus through the ex hypothesi lens: LGBTQI-affirming Christians. That may or may not indicate the “mouthpiece of God,” as views on the errancy of Biblical texts vary widely among exclusionary Christians as well as inclusionary. I am leaving both options (the other being moral philosopher) open, because I have encountered both with regularity in the group under scrutiny.

      Now we’re getting into the semantics of “clear enough.” Would even an explicit prohibition be enough? Just look at how many Christians treat Jesus’ words about remarriage following divorce, or Paul’s words about women speaking/teaching in church services: here we have an explicit prohibition that has been explained away in practice. The validity of the rationalization is a matter of hermeneutics and personal epistemic justification – I have no wish to debate that. The point is that even an explicit prohibition is no guarantee one’s followers will get in line.

      The question is, have sufficient reasonable measures been taken to remove moral culpability? This is not an easy black and white issue. If I make a product that egregiously promotes violence against others, but I issue a boilerplate statement decrying violence against others while continuing to profit from that product, have I really removed from myself moral culpability despite my clear prohibition? Of course not; It’s disingenuous – mixed messages. So, the other things I say and do matter and are part of the moral calculus. The existence of a clear prohibition or endorsement is only part of the puzzle: the weight of one’s testimony (words and actions) is a necessary condition. I would argue that in the case of Jesus and queerphobia (and, incidentally, slavery as well) the weight of testimony is overwhelmingly at odds with such a worldview and actions. An explicit statement is neither necessary nor sufficient to remove moral blame.

      As a final note, I will point out that we are talking primarily of counterfactuals, which are notoriously difficult – if not impossible – to prove. Whether or not an explicit statement from Jesus would have avoided the anti-gay sins of Christianity is speculation, pure and simple. The question is not “Was all that was possible done?” it is “Was enough done?” Yes, institutional Christianity has far too much to answer for. But that is on the heads of the perpetrators, and Jesus was not one of them.

  13. 19

    “he said nothing at all about gay sex” Oh yes, it is hilarious to ask Christians to share the part of the Bible where Jesus condemns homosexuality.

    “pushed for the group to advertise local churches” The LGBT Center of St. Louis had flyers for local churches, and that always made me uncomfortable.

    “I’ve heard more secular friends than I can count say Christ himself would condemn the homophobia of the Christian right” I wish secular peeps would realize that some (many? (most?)) queers have been ABUSED by Christian theology and communities, and we don’t need to be re-victimized by having Christian apologism (even the kinder, gentler “liberal” theology) parroted by secular folk too.

    “the question is not why Christians have missed Christ’s real message – it’s why Jesus was the worst communicator in human history.” This, incidentally, was one of the questions (though I asked it about the entire Bible) that lead me out of theism altogether.

    “But I say unto you, It’s fine.”  :D

    “Thanks to the Internet it’s possible this blog will still be online in two thousand years.” It’s possible they’ll point to me as an example of a bigotry we haven’t even began to address in society yet.  ;)

    “King endorsed conversion therapy.” Oh wow fuck that.

    “religious respectability is a double-edged sword” Ugh, respectability… *shudder*

    “Religionised environments, even superficially ‘progressive’ ones, are themselves marginalising and exclusionary for many: not everyone can join the circle and sing kumbayah.” I have the right to name my oppressor, and it is ALL Christianity.

    “queer spaces, most of the time, should welcome those of all beliefs and none” I attended a queer activist meeting yesterday, and religion was brought up not at all. It wasn’t an issue, and as such, it was taken for granted that all were welcome.

    “being a liberal Catholic or progressive Muslim is frequently hard” True, I do offer my support to my queer religious brethren, in that we all deserve religious freedom without spiritual threats for “doing it wrong”.

    “If you insist on talking Jesus, I will too. If you don’t want an argument, leave him out – I will too. I’d prefer that.” YESSS.

  14. 20

    Heck, if Jesus would have given a list of issues that wouldn’t be issues until some time in the future and commented on them — I’d be a convert. Real and true prophecy? Awesome. Like:

    In the future, my name will be invoked to support the institution of slavery. Verily I say unto you, that’s bullshit.

    In fact, that’s what’s so silly about the whole Jesus mythology. It’s so completely and totally bound up in its own era — not knowing what causes disease, having no idea about the process of conception, or even of death, and on and on and on — makes it quite ridiculous to think it comes from the life of a god-son.

  15. 21

    @Spencer Owen says
    Rather than saying that the old law shall not pass away, maybe he could have said “You know guys, that old Hewbrew law? A lot of it had some rather bad ideas, such as slavery, rape, disobedient children, gay men, etc.” Not that hard.

    @brucegee1962

    I’m not sure which version of Jesus you’re defending. If it’s the “Jesus as human moral philosopher,” then as I said, I agree with you — I think he’s better than many, and certainly a big advance over most of the moral philosophy prevalent in his time and region, with a few glaring exceptions in passages that seem out of character for his overall message.

    Only with nostalgia glasses.

    Ex:
    http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Sermon_on_the_Mount
    http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Slavery_in_the_Bible

  16. 27

    […] I am an atheist (among many other self-identifiers), although I generally look to humanism to inform my worldview aside from The God Question. Humanism aside, practically all self-identified atheists are quick to go after the religious opponents of same-sex marriage equality, and with good reason. It is religious bigotry and religious teachings that have animated centuries of brutal legal policies and cultural stigma against the GLBT. […]

  17. 28

    Jesus WAS actually gay-friendly. In Matthew 19:11-12, he tells Christians to “accept” it. We are often misled here because of the word “eunuch”. This word meant a castrated male only since 1680. Prior to that it referred to any man who had no interest in the sexual pursuit of women, especially those who were used to guard the harem’s bed-chambers. As people who were “born that way”, as he put it, he MUST be referring to homosexuals. Who else could there be who is born with no interest in the pursuit of women?

  18. 31

    aidanbh @20:

    Jesus WAS actually gay-friendly. In Matthew 19:11-12, he tells Christians to “accept” it. We are often misled here because of the word “eunuch”. This word meant a castrated male only since 1680. Prior to that it referred to any man who had no interest in the sexual pursuit of women, especially those who were used to guard the harem’s bed-chambers. As people who were “born that way”, as he put it, he MUST be referring to homosexuals. Who else could there be who is born with no interest in the pursuit of women?

    1: I doubt you know what Jesus said, unless you can read the language the original manuscripts for the Bible were written in (it wasn’t English)
    2: You obviously don’t realize that the word homosexual applies to gay men and lesbians. Which means that there are many homosexuals with an interest in the pursuit of women.

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