Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why we need LGBT saints

“The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” by Fra Angelico, 1428-30, Wikimedia Commons

It’s time to welcome the queer saints. Many believe that saints and other souls will visit this weekend for Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). LGBT saints are important because people are searching for alternative ways to lead loving lives.

Churches have tried to control people by burying queer history. The LGBT saints show us not only THEIR place in history, but also OUR place -- because we are all saints who are meant to embody love. We can tap into the energy of our ancestors in faith. For some they become friends and helpers, working miracles as simple as a reminding us that “you are not alone.”

At first I thought that LGBT saints were rare. Gradually I came to see that they are everywhere throughout all time and they are among us now. We have all met saints in our lives. They are ordinary people who are also extraordinary.

Calling someone a “queer saint” is a liberating act in two ways: The most obvious one is that revealing the hidden queer sexual orientation or gender identity of traditional saints liberates people from sex-negative, oppressive church dogmas. In addition, revealing the “saintliness” of LGBT people ignored by the church liberates people from the tyranny of the sacred/secular dichotomy. Phrases like “queer saint” make a nice shorthand for headlines -- neatly challenging the assumption that sainthood and LGBTQ identity are mutually exclusive.

As All Saints Day approaches, I offer reflections on what I have learned by writing more than 60 profiles in the LGBT Saints Series over the past five years. This is my queer theology of sainthood.

Sergius and Bacchus
by Robert Lentz
Who are the LGBT and queer saints? If you want some specific names, visit the LGBT Saints page at

One of the greatest challenges has been to figure out who is a “saint” and who is “LGBT.” If the boundaries of sainthood are slippery, then the definition LGBT is even more fluid.

Most mainstream churches would not canonize any saints who were openly LGBT, so we must claim our own saints. It’s important to re-evaluate familiar figures as well as to recover those who have been lost and recognize the saints of our own time. The church may seem to have the power to decide who is a saint, but each individual can also choose for themselves. Paul urges us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Mitch Gould, a historian of queer and Quaker subjects, summed up the dilemma well when he told me, “Sainthood is a devilishly nuanced accusation.” Traditional stories of the saints tend to be overly pious, presenting idealized super-heroes who seem distant and irrelevant. Saints have been used to get people to passively accept oppressive situations. Too often the saints have been put on a pedestal to glorify virginity and masochistic suffering. The emphasis on miracles disrespects nature, the ongoing miracle of life. Feminists have criticized saints as tools of the dominant morality, but for me the opposite is true: LGBT saints can shake up the status quo. We can restore the complex reality of saints whose lives are being hijacked by  hagiograpahies and hierarchy to enforce the status quo. Queer saints can help reclaim the wholeness, connecting sexuality and spirituality for the good of all.

Perpetua and Felicity
by Robert Lentz
I began writing about LGBT saints after finishing a series of books on the queer Christ (Jesus in Love novels and Art That Dares). Many people told me that they couldn’t relate to a gay Jesus, but they liked the idea that his followers were LGBT. Church leaders have used saints to impose control from the top down, but the desire for saints springs naturally from the grassroots. People are drawn to the presence of spiritual power in the lives of the saints, and their willingness to use that power for others, even at great cost to themselves. Saints attract others with the quality of their love, even though their personal lives may not be “saintly.”

I was aware of new research and art about LGBT saints, so I was shocked to discover that it was not easily available online. Largely due to the church’s crackdown on LGBT spirituality, much of it was buried under obscure code names like “images that challenge” -- if it was available on the Internet at all.

As an independent blogger, I am free to put LGBT saints out there where more people can find and benefit from them. I decided to uncover and highlight holy heroes and role models to inspire LGBT people of faith and our allies. The positive response quickly affirmed that people are hungry to connect with queer people of faith who have gone before.

What is a saint?
My definition of who qualifies as a “LGBT saint” continues to expand. First I included saints officially canonized by the church, but I soon discovered that many have achieved “sainthood” by popular acclaim. The church didn’t even have a formal canonization process for its first 1,000 years. Ultimately all believers, living and dead, can be called “saints,” a practice that began in the early church. In the New Testament, Paul used the word “saint” to refer to every member of the Christian community, a practice continued by Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches. One of my memories from working with him was that whenever he wrote a letter to MCC members, he addressed it as "Dear Saints." We always got back some responses from people protesting, "I'm not a saint!" But in a very real sense, we are all saints.

Dictionaries define a saint as “a holy person” or “an extremely virtuous person.” I rather like the concept of sainthood that emerged in comments on this blog during a discussion of the post “Artist shows sensuous gay saints.” Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras wrote: “My definition of saint has absolutely nothing to do with what the hierarchical church defines, and everything to do with the quality of love displayed.” Or, as gay author Toby Johnson commented, “Being a saint means creating more love in the world.”

Joan of Arc
by Robert Lentz
Sainthood comes in many different forms. Some become saints by leading an exemplary life, but the surest path to sainthood is to risk or lose one’s for the good of others. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). Martyrs, from the Greek word for “to bear witness,” are a common type of saint.

Sometimes readers object that my LGBT saints series includes modern martyrs whose lives were not “saintly,” My understanding is that martyrs need not be role models, but they are honored simply because they were killed for a particular cause. Therefore I include people such as Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard because they were killed for being gay and their deaths furthered the cause of LGBT rights, regardless of their flaws.

Whether or not they died as martyrs, the lives of the saints were indeed difficult. Our lives are difficult too -- and that can become a point of connection. Like today’s LGBT Christians, the saints sometimes faced opposition from within the church. Some martyrs, including cross-dresser Joan of Arc, were killed not FOR the church, but BY the church!

What is LGBT?
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer did not exist as categories throughout most of the history in which the saints lived. A convenient way around this dilemma is to say that LGBT saints are those of special interest to LGBT people and our allies. The term “queer” is increasingly used to describe gender-variant people of the past, so I often use the phrase “queer saints.”

Harvey Milk
by Robert Lentz
Some deny the existence of historical LGBT saints because it’s almost impossible to prove their sexual activity. However, same-sex love does not have to be sexually consummated for someone to be honored as an LGBT saint. Deep love between two people of the same gender is enough. Homosexuality is more than sexual conduct. The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions.” The dominant Christian culture tried to suppress overt homosexuality, so any hint of homosexuality that survives in the historical record should be given extra significance. Many official saints were nuns or monks living in same-gender convents or monasteries.  Naturally their primary emotional attachments were to people of the same gender. Soon almost all saints seem LGBT!

Let us be inspired by the LGBT saints who surround us as a “great cloud of witnesses” and commit ourselves to our own queer paths toward sainthood.

Related links:

I have expanded on the ideas presented here by writing theological reflections based on feminist and queer theology at the following two blogs:

Feminism and Religion Blog: Feminism leads to a queer theology of sainthood by Kittredge Cherry

99 Brattle (Episcopal Divinity School blog): A queer theology of sainthood emerges by Kittredge Cherry

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
¿Por qué necesitamos santas y santos LGBT?

LGBT Saints list at

Who are the "Queer Saints and Martyrs"? by Terence Weldon (Queering the Church)

LGBT-friendly memorial for All Saints, All Souls and Day of the Dead

An All Hallows' Eve Vigil to Begin Transgender Awareness Month by H. Adam Ackley (Huff Post)

LGBT litany of the saints: Harvey Milk, pray for us; Joan of Arc, pray for us... by Rachel Waltz

Santos Queer (LGBT Saints by Kittredge Cherry in Spanish / en español)

A Litany of All the Saints by James Kiefer (innovative icons, including some LGBT saints)

Sanctity And Male Desire: A Gay Reading Of Saints by Donald Boisvert

Spitting at Dragons: Towards a Feminist Theology of Sainthood by Elizabeth Stuart

Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People by Dennis O’Neill

Special thanks to CJ, Sage, Terence, Dennis, Liz, Trudie, Toby, Mitch and Eric for comments and conversation that helped me develop this queer theology of sainthood.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Allen Schindler: Gay martyr and military officer

The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer

Allen Schindler (1969-1992) brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes and gays in the military when he died on Oct. 27, 1992 (22 years ago today).

Maybe Allen Schindler is resting more peacefully now that the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gays and lesbians in the military ended on Sept. 20, 2011.

Allen R. Schindler, Jr.
Schindler was a U.S. naval petty officer who was brutally beaten to death because he was gay by two of his shipmates in a public restroom in Sasebo, Japan. Schindler’s murder was cited by President Bill Clinton and others in the debate about gays in the military that culminated in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The crime is portrayed in an epic painting by gay artist Matthew Wettlaufer, who makes connections between anti-gay violence and other human rights struggles in his art.

At first the Navy tried to cover up the circumstances of Schindler’s death. The movie “Any Mother’s Son” tells the true story of how his mother, Dorothy Hadjys-Holman, overcame her own homophobia and Naval cover-up attempts to get justice for her gay son. She also spoke at the 1993 March on Washington for LGBT Rights.

Wettlaufer discusses his painting of Schindler and his other gay-related political art in my previous post “New paintings honor gay martyrs.”
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts
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Friday, October 24, 2014

Victory! Facebook approves gay Passion of Christ ad

Victory! Facebook backed down today and approved the ad for our gay Passion of Christ book. Thanks to good friends, the gay media, and God!

Artist Doug Blanchard was able to get the ad running again today. The book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” features Doug’s paintings of Jesus as a contemporary gay man in a modern city.

I consider this a win for the power of the people and the press. As Doug said, “We have the best friends in the universe!” We are especially grateful to Tris Reid-Smith of Gay Star News.

"Gay Star News contacted the social networking site for comment, they have reversed their decision and ruled it didn’t breach their guidelines after all. … Facebook told Gay Star News the ad was blocked but they have now reviewed it and decided it doesn’t breach their terms and shouldn’t have been removed" Reid-Smith reported today in the article “Facebook u-turns to allow gay Jesus crucifixion ad.”

Facebook shut down ads promoting the book’s Facebook page on Monday because the image “may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.” They banned image was “Jesus Goes to His Execution,” which shows the gay Jesus carrying his cross.

In a strange and holy twist, the controversy brought the book even more attention than it would have gotten from the ads. Doug and I are deeply grateful to the many friends old and new who “liked” the Passion book page and invited their friends.

The page currently has 403 “likes,” and about half of them came AFTER the ads were shut down.

It reminds me of Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Facebook didn’t know what it was up against!

You can still show support by "liking" the page that Facebook didn’t want us to advertise:

Censorship of social media, especially social media advertising, is a grey area / new frontier with very few laws and legal precedents to govern it. It's the like the Wild West, and we won this round. I found a valuable article about it this week during the battle with Facebook: "The Brave New World of Social Media Censorship" (Harvard Law Review)

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

News release: Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad


Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

NEW YORK, NY — Oct. 23, 2014 — Facebook canceled ads purchased for the new book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” this week because the images “may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.”

The book features art by Doug Blanchard showing Jesus as a gay man in a modern city, including the crucifixion and resurrection.

“We are fighting what appears to be censorship and discrimination based on sexual orientation at Facebook,” said author Kittredge Cherry.

Blanchard suspects that complaints from religious conservatives scared Facebook into canceling the ads. He bought the ads to promote the book’s Facebook page,

“The book is indeed controversial, but its intentions are not blasphemous, there is no sexual content, and the violence is unavoidable in any retelling of Christ's Passion,” he said.

The artist, author and publisher contacted Lambda Legal over the matter.

The ads were supposed to run for a week starting on Oct. 17, but Facebook shut down the promotion on Monday, Oct. 20. A message from Facebook explained, “Your ad wasn’t approved because the image or video thumbnail may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.”

Blanchard complained to Facebook, and they sent a surprising reply on Wed., Oct 22: “Your ad was rejected because the image violates the Ad Guidelines. Ads may not use images that are shocking. Prohibited images include: -Accidents -Car crashes -Dead or dismembered bodies -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires.”

One purpose of the book is to reawaken people to the reality that violence is unacceptable and shocking. But the artist and author believe that Facebook is being unfair in how it applies its policy.

“Facebook publishes crucifixes all the time, which would always violate the criteria that they lay out in their reply,” Blanchard said. “Why was our book singled out? I suspect strongly that it is because of the gay content.”

Cherry invited people to show support by "liking" the page that Facebook won't let them advertise:

In the book’s 24 paintings, a contemporary Christ figure is jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God. His diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom. Each image is accompanied by an essay on its artistic and historical context, Biblical basis and LGBT significance.

Douglas Blanchard is a gay artist who teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian author and art historian who founded, an online resource for LGBT spirituality and the arts. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches.

“The Passion of Christ” (ISBN 194067140X) was published this month by the Apocryphile Press, a publisher based in Berkeley.

Related links:
Facebook u-turns to allow gay Jesus crucifixion ad (Gay Star News)

"Facebook bans art book advert" by Madpriest - with funny cartoon (

Victory! Facebook approves gay Passion of Christ ad (Jesus in Love Blog)

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

Facebook canceled ads purchased for our book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” this week because it was too “shocking.”

The book features art by Doug Blanchard showing Jesus as a gay man in a modern city, including the crucifixion and resurrection. We contacted Lambda Legal and the National Coalition Against Censorship for advice on how to handle the Facebook censorship.

People can show support by "liking" the Passion of Christ page on Facebook on Facebook and buying the Passion of Christ book at or other bookstores.

Doug and I assumed that Facebook was upset about the gay aspect, but today Facebook sent a surprising explanation: They rejected the ad because it shows “Dead or dismembered bodies -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires.”

Are they seriously upset at the shocking nature of the image of a crucified Jesus?! They see the risen Christ as a zombie?! One point of the book was to reawaken people to the reality that violence is unacceptable and shocking. But this is unfair.

Facebook features plenty of other images of Jesus on the cross, including ones that are more gruesome than anything in the book. And Facebook has many images of ghosts and zombies for Halloween, “The Walking Dead” TV show, etc. We still suspect that our book was singled out due to its gay content.

If Facebook wants to stop all image of the crucifix, we might even have fundamentalist Christians on our side with this!

We also wonder whether these explanations were automatically issued by a computer -- based on complaints from right-wing Christians. It feels like what one supporter called the “Robotic Inquisition” -- automated messages generated by algorithms without any human staff member taking a look at the images.

The following is a detailed chronology of the whole crazy chain of events.

Fri., Oct. 17: Doug Blanchard bought a series of ads to promote the Facebook page about our new book, “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.” They were supposed to run for a week.

Mon, Oct. 20: Facebook canceled the ads. They posted a message saying, "Your page wasn't promoted because your ad violated an ad guideline" with a link that said, "Learn More." Doug clicked on the link and didn't learn much. It said:

"Your ad wasn't approved because the image or video thumbnail may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers. However sometimes we make mistakes. If the image you used was not intended to shock but was still disapproved, get in touch." 

Doug began sending messages to Facebook while I contacted Lambda Legal and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

Wed., Oct. 22: Facebook finally responded with this message:

Hi Doug,
Thanks for writing in. I'm here to help.

Your ad was rejected because the image violates the Ad Guidelines. Ads may not use images that are shocking.
Prohibited images include: -Accidents -Car crashes -Dead or dismembered bodies -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires

To resubmit your ad, edit the image from your ads manager.

Review our policies on ad images here:


Michelle Facebook Ads Team Facebook

Doug sent this reply today:

Dear Michelle,

Here is a link to the website for the book we are trying to promote and to all of the images in the book:

The book is indeed controversial, but its intentions are not blasphemous, there is no sexual content, and the violence is unavoidable in any retelling of Christ's Passion. Facebook publishes Crucifixes all the time, which would always violate the criteria which you lay out in you reply. If promoting a book of art means that we are limited to strictly happy uncontroversial subject matter, then only Thomas Kinkade and the work of a select few children's book illustrators would pass muster. Picasso and Michelangelo would both be out of bounds by your own definition.

Facebook publishes the most bloodthirsty homophobic rants all the time, but lately seems to have a lot of problems with anything with gay, and especially gay positive, content. Is this a problem for Mr. Zuckerberg?

I suspect that Facebook is trying to impose a kind of candied anodyne vision upon the chaotic variety and vitality of human communication that uses its social network. Where better to directly enforce that vision than in advertising policies?

The author, the publisher, myself, and a few friends are in conversation with Lambda Legal over this matter.

I notice that the Facebook page for the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of Christ -- a much more violent version of this subject than anything in our book -- has more than 3 million likes. Can you explain this to us, and why our book was singled out? I suspect strongly that it is because of the gay content.

--Doug Blanchard, the artist of the book.

Visit the page that Facebook won't let us pay to advertise -- and show support by clicking "like" and inviting your friends.

Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision

Promote Your Page Too

Here's a link to one of many lively discussions about the Passion ad censorship on Facebook today.  Feel free to join in:

Related links:
The Brave New World of Social Media Censorship” (Harvard Law Review)

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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