After the Supreme Court's historic ruling on gay marriage, it seemed like all the proudly homophobic Christians came out of the woodwork to talk about how much they still hate gay people. As a straight Jew, the homophobia amongst Jesus's followers has always struck me as a bit of a surprise: Worshipping at the feet of a ripped, hung man, seems at least a little homoerotic. But it's Jesus himself who lights up my gaydar like a Christmas tree. He's a skinny young otter-like guy, flocked by a mess of dudes, telling everyone to love and care about each other, who later gets the shit beaten out of him by a bunch of closed-minded conservatives who are terrified of change.
As it turns out, this is not a unique theory. Dr. Reverend Bob Shore-Goss, an openly gay senior pastor, has written several books on the subject, including Queering Christ and Jesus ACTED UP: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto. He holds a doctorate degree in Comparative Religion from Harvard, and he serves on the National Advisory Board of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion. Oh, and he believes that Jesus was gay. I got in touch with Reverend Goss, who laid out the Biblical evidence and explained how his theory plays out.
VICE: Was Jesus Christ gay?
Bob Shore-Goss: I would hope he is. I would project that he is. For my own spirituality, I would love to jump into bed with Jesus. At the very least, Jesus was queer. That is to say: He broke the rules of his culture, of heteronormativity. He subverted masculinities and gender codes in his culture. Queer doesn't necessarily mean sexual orientation, but it can include that. St. Paul, I would say, would probably be described as a closeted homosexual today, but they didn't have those words at the time.
How was homosexuality perceived in Jesus's time?
There was no concept of sexual orientation, but there was a concept of gender. So, in the Bible, when a man sleeps with another man like with a woman, it's an abomination. See, the emphasis is on a man betraying his status: He has feminized himself. So it's a gender violation as opposed to a sexual violation. The code of masculinity is very strong in the ancient world. Now, homoerotic relationships in the ancient world are really common, especially in the Greek and Roman worlds.
Does Jesus himself ever address that?
As a matter of fact, one of Jesus's miracles is the healing the Centurion's boy. It's in Matthew and Luke. Matthew uses the word "pais"—you get the word pederasty from it, it means youth—to describe this boy, who is essentially a concubine to the Centurian. It's an erotic relationship. He comes to Jesus and asks for his boy to be healed. And Jesus asks if he should heal him, and he says, "I'm not worthy that you should come under my roof, but say the word and my boy will be healed." Jesus says about the faith of the Centurion, who is in a homoerotic relationship, that "there is no greater faith than I've encountered in Israel."
What's great about that is that every time you go to communion on Sunday, millions of Catholics say, "Lord, I'm not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." They're uttering this homoerotic phrase that was uttered by a Centurion in an actual homosexual relationship with a youth. We've just sanitized that and forgotten those sort of things in the meantime. But a church of the second century would understand that this is a homosexual relationship and it wasn't a big deal.
So what evidence is there in the bible of Jesus's homosexuality?
There's hints of it, and then there's readings into it. The hints come from John's Gospel with the "beloved disciple." He and Jesus have an intimate relationship, although there are questions as to who the disciple actually is. Anyhow, the beloved disciple is lying on the chest of Jesus at the last supper and is supposedly in his "inner tunic," which is what we would call underwear today. It's a very intimate gesture, and it's a special gesture of affection between the two.
I would imagine Jesus loved all of his disciples, I mean he told everyone to love their neighbor. So, singling out a particular person as "beloved" seems significant.
Yes. Jesus only calls one other person beloved and it is Lazarus. There was also an excerpt that was discovered in the 1960s by a professor of history and ancient studies, Morton Smith, a very good scholar. He found an inscription that hints at a secret gospel, that people are dating back to sometime in the late part of the first century. There is a fragment that describes a naked boy who comes to Jesus very late, and spends the night for an "initiation." The fragment has been disputed, of course. But what this has to say is that there was some sort of homoerotic relationship, a love relationship.
It seems that, like anything else in the Bible, you can draw your own conclusions, including that Jesus was gay. I mean, he's this queer figure, never married—
That is actually significant. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, and pretty much every rabbi at the time was married. But there's no testimony of Jesus's marriage. There are some interesting theories, Jesus could have been bisexual and carried on a relationship with Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple. Perhaps he was intersex or trans, because he was born without a father, and therefore was born female and took on the phenotype of a male. Virginia Mollenkott argues that in her book, Omnigender. It's a fun sort of argument. What I'm saying is that people see this as really important. I once had a lesbian student tell me, "Jesus wasn't gay, he was perfect." So what does that say about how she views her sexuality? The Catholic position says that Jesus is perfect, so therefore he is intrinsically good and intrinsically ordered. Now what they say about gays is we are intrinsically evil and intrinsically disordered. Even evangelicals will say that Jesus was perfect so that, in order to be saved for evangelicals, you must be heterosexual to be saved.
But if Jesus was gay, and he was perfect, then really it's only the gay people that are going to heaven, right? That's so deliciously ironic.
You know, I think there's a greater picture about how universal Jesus is. Jesus had sexuality. I used to think that everything about Jesus was perfect. Then in my first year of school, I was reading a book by John A.T. Robinson, an Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar, The Human Face of God, and there was a little footnote there that really disturbed me. It said that Jesus farted. And I said, "Oh my god!" And then I thought, Well, OK. He was human. And that led to, "If he was also human, did he have an erection at night? Did he have a nocturnal emission? All males experience that." So that was kind of an eroding of my sort of Catholic fundamentals around Jesus. And I went the next step by saying, "Was Jesus sexual?" And then, "With whom?" Then I thought, "Does it really matter?" And I think it does.
If Jesus was fully human, he must have been fully erotic. That would mean that sexuality was a positive thing, because we need to reclaim the fact that sexuality is a great and good thing, whatever sexuality that you are. So, you see where I'm coming from? I want to say that all sexualities are an original blessing because we're made in the image of God.
What I'm getting from this the most is that Jesus, as a queer human individual, could at least relate to the struggle of gay men—feeling like outcasts, having violence perpetrated on them for their queerness, whatever it may be.
Yeah, I'd say that you're absolutely on solid ground with your statement.
Even if Jesus wasn't gay, I imagine he'd certainly feel more kinship with the minority of homosexuals than the heteronormative Christians who preach hate.
It's funny, because fundamentalists go back and misread these things and get hysterical about it because they do not understand the historical context. They misuse it and they misrepresent their own ideology. And often times they're vehement about it because they have so much internalized homophobia, which indicates to me that they have those same attractions to the same sex that they need to stamp them out in other people. Jesus was not a fundamentalist. He's not a literalist. He spoke in parables and metaphor and story.
Was Jesus a top or a bottom?
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