Was Jesus Gay? Was There A “Jesus?” Does It Even Matter?

April 23, 2012 in General

It’s hard to believe that outside the Christian catchment, many people still care about whether or not “Jesus of Nazareth” was ‘gay’, straight or asexual. Personally, I don’t care. I am increasingly sceptical that there ever was an autonomous entity of that title, and I suspect that the alleged ‘Jesus’ was actually a compilation of esoteric and messianic teachers within Judaism.  I did find Morton Smith’s “Secret Gospel of Mark” speculations about the possible Gethsemane garden gay old times of Jesus and John during an (ahem) initiation rite intriguing, but I really don’t care either way now.

Still, British Anglican theologian Paul Oestereicher disagrees and argues that indeed, Jesus may well have been gay. In a recent Guardian column, he argued that

 I was painfully aware of the context, a church deeply divided worldwide over issues of gender and sexuality. Suffering was my theme. I felt I could not escape the suffering of gay and lesbian people at the hands of the church, over many centuries.

 In other words, Paul’s one of the ordinary decent Christian liberals within his denomination.  According to him, it’s significant that  Jesus was unmarried at a time when rabbinical marriage was commonplace. And forget all that supposition about Mary Magdalene and the green fields of Provence afterward. Why, though? Isn’t it possible that idf there was a real historical Jesus, he could have been bisexual?  Why not? It’s as likely as the gay hypothesis that Paul then advances:

Jesus was a Hebrew rabbi. Unusually, he was unmarried. The idea that he had a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene is the stuff of fiction, based on no biblical evidence. The evidence, on the other hand, that he may have been what we today call gay is very strong.

I felt I was left with no option but to suggest, for the first time in half a century of my Anglican priesthood, that Jesus may well have been homosexual. Had he been devoid of sexuality, he would not have been truly human. To believe that would be heretical.

However, and commendably, he doesn’t completely rule out the possibility that Jesus might have loved women and men:

Heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual: Jesus could have been any of these. There can be no certainty which. The homosexual option simply seems the most likely. The intimate relationship with the beloved disciple points in that direction. It would be so interpreted in any person today. Although there is no rabbinic tradition of celibacy, Jesus could well have chosen to refrain from sexual activity, whether he was gay or not. Many Christians will wish to assume it, but I see no theological need to. The physical expression of faithful love is godly.

To rub salt in the fundamentalist wounds:

To suggest otherwise is to buy into a kind of puritanism that has long tainted the churches

 Ouch. Take that, Rowan Williams! So, why did he preach this sermon on Good Friday?

I saw it as an act of penitence for the suffering and persecution of homosexual people that still persists in many parts of the church.

He concludes:

Whether Jesus was gay or straight in no way affects who he was and what he means for the world today. Spiritually it is immaterial. What matters in this context is that there are many gay and lesbian followers of Jesus – ordained and lay – who, despite the church, remarkably and humbly remain its faithful members. Would the Christian churches in their many guises more openly accept, embrace and love them, there would be many more disciples.

To be perfectly honest, I suspect it is already far too late for reconciliation between Christianity and the LGBT community.  Faced with the gory history of Christian homophobia- Spain’s sixteenth century auto da fes,  Jose Bilbao’s account of the coldblooded slaughter of transgender/gay indigenous Americans during the onset of Spanish colonialism, the Societies for Reformation of Manners and Dutch moral panics of the eighteenth century, the persecution and humiliation of Oscar Wilde,  and the suicides and madness occassioned by the Labouchere amendment, not to mention Anita Bryant, the US Christian Right and its palsied satellites- I have long since become an atheist. As have many other LGBT post-christians.

I have no doubt that Paul Oestereicher is a good person and I know many such ODCs. However, their bravery and courage is outweighed by the silence and collaboration of even those liberal denominations when faced with fundamentalist banshees. Most of them weren’t there when it really mattered, although some were. Most of my socialist (and progressive libertarian friends too) were.

Jesus Seminar scholar Bart Ehrman dissents from the conservative perspective about Columbia University’s Morton Smith and the “Secret Gospel of Mark.” According to Smith, during the Second World War, he was a Harvard Divinity School doctoral student on sabatical in Jerusalem when the war broke out, so he took the opportunity to visit the Greek Orthodox seminary at Bar Saba. While there, and cataloguing the monastery’s library, he found a document allegedly from Clement of Alexandria in the third century CE. It was intended as polemic against the “Carpocratian” heresy. The Carpocratians were a gnostic sect that laid heavy emphasis on embodiment and sexual initiation, citing a version of the Gospel of Mark held at an Alexandrian church that allegedly had three versions- the canonical one, the gnostic one, and a third, corrupted Carpocratian variant version. In the gnostic version, Jesus resurrects a young man and shared gnostic knowledge with him while the young man was clad only in a linen loin cloth. The Carpocratians interepreted this as sexual initiation and Smith liked the idea. While conservatives condemn the suggestion, Smith liked it and publicised it. Ehrman keeps an open mind about its apparent authenticity or forged status.

Postscript: And, apparently, so do the good folk at St Matthews in the City/ Auckland Community Church, with their rainbow-haloed Baby Jesus asking the question about the sexual orientation of the putative messiah during Christmas 2012.


Paul Oestereicher: “Was Jesus Gay?” Comment: Guardian: 20.04.2012: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/apr/20/was-jesus-gay-probably?newsfeed=true

Bart Ehrman: Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew: New York: Oxford University Press: 2003.

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