Friday, March 27, 2015

Adrienne Rich: lesbian poet with spiritual impulses

Adrienne Rich portrait by Sharon McGill

Adrienne Rich, a lesbian feminist and one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, died three years ago today on March 27, 2012 at age 82.

Her writing was a guiding light to me and countless others, both people of faith and secular readers. The following lines from her poem “Natural Resources” (from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977) became like a creed for many:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

Rich was born on May 16, 1929 to a Jewish father and Episcopalian mother. She wrote about her conflicting religious background in her essay “Split at the Root” (from Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985). That volume also includes the insightful essay whose title alone was enough to dazzle me: "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence."

I had the honor of meeting Rich in person in the 1980s when she spoke at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, where I served on the clergy staff. Informally among ourselves, we called her “the Great One.”

Many years later I was impressed all over again when I listened to my cassette tape of her remarks and reading at MCC-SF on Nov. 7, 1987. I was there in person and I remember it well.  Speaking to the mostly LGBT audience from both Jewish and Christian traditions, she emphasized the importance of bringing together sacred and secular, Christian and Jew, lesbian and gay and straight. The event was co-sponsored by Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, a progressive Reform Jewish congregation in San Francisco.

I transcribed what she said about her connection to spirituality:

The coming together of those of us who are non-congregants with you who are is very important. A couple of years ago in a talk and reading that I gave at UCLA Hillel, I described myself as a secular Jew and later in a discussion Andy Rose (now Avi Rose) asked me why, since he felt the poetry I was reading to be spiritual rather than secular in its impulse. I’ve thought a lot about that and about the lines drawn in Judaism between secular and religious, and between various degrees and forms of observance.

Along with all the work being done by observant Jewish feminists, the re-creation of liturgy towards a theology of wholeness, I think there are some of us who are drawing a deep spiritual sustenance from the Jewish secular progressive tradition, who are trying to fuse the material and the spiritual rather than leave them in the old dichotomous opposition, coming from a secular rather than a religious orientation and wanting to keep asking the questions of flesh and blood, of justice, of bread, the questions of this world.

Maybe we don’t know exactly what we are trying to do nor yet have a language for it. Liberation theology is not quite it, though the concrete examples of liberation theology in action, both Jewish and Christian, have revealed certain possibilities. The wealth of blessing that proliferate in Jewish tradition -- the tradition that bids Jews bless all kinds of everyday as well as exceptional events and things: new clothes, a new moon, bread, wine, the washing of hands, our teachers, spices, the sight of lightning, the sound of thunder -- this tradition has implications as well. And for me this has implications for poetry. And since I would never claim that poetry can be purely secular, I will have to leave it for now at that.

She also talked eloquently about LGBT life with words that are still just as true more than 25 years later:

There is no simple way to speak about what’s happening in lesbian and gay communities at the end of the 20th century. We know that in the history of our communities there have been many efforts and many ways of defining ourselves against the hostile and destructive definitions that have been ground out by a heterosexuality badly in trouble and terrified of its own complexity, terrified of its own fragility. Nothing obviously but a deep sense of anxiety of identity could produce the kind of projective thinking and scapegoating which has targeted lesbians and gay men along with any women and men who have refused the straightjackets of gender.

Rich had a big impact on the lives of many people, including artist Sharon McGill whose art graces this post. Her tribute "Wonder Woman: Adrienne Rich" is posted at her McGillustrations blog.

Artist Sharon McGill illustrated a quote from Adrienne Rich: “Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.”

Rich's essay “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978) played a major role in helping me (and many other lesbians) decide to come out of the closet. I read the essay so many times that I  memorized parts of it.  I still refer to these words when I need to make difficult decisions:

An honorable human relationship-- that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word "love"-- is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

Thank you, Adrienne.  Now your soul is continuing on that hard way.  I count you among the LGBT saints for all the wisdom that you have bestowed upon the world.

Related links:

Adrienne Rich 1929-2012: A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism (New York Times obituary)

In Remembrance: Adrienne Rich by Victoria Brownworth (Lambda Literary)

Adrienne Rich and transmisogyny (You're Welcome blog)

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

John Boswell: Historian of gays and lesbians in Christianity

John Boswell

John Boswell (1947-1994) was a prominent scholar who researched and wrote about the importance of gays and lesbians in Christian history. He was born 68 years ago today on March 20, 1947.

Boswell, a history professor at Yale University, wrote such influential classics as Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994).

Boswell converted from the Episcopal Church of his upbringing to Roman Catholicism at age 16. He attended mass daily until his death, even though as an openly gay Christian he disagreed with church teachings on homosexuality. He also helped found Yale’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center in the late 1980s.

A linguistic genius, he used his knowledge of more than 15 languages to argue that the Roman Catholic Church did not condemn homosexuality until at least the 12th century in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century.

Using some of his last strength as he battled AIDS, Boswell translated many rites of adelphopoiesis (Greek for making brothers) in his book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, presenting evidence that they were same-sex unions similar to marriage.

Boswell died an untimely death at age 47 from AIDS-related illness on Christmas Eve 1994. He remains an unofficial saint to the many LGBT Christians who find life-giving spiritual value in his historical research that affirms the value of queer people in Christian history.

Boswell’s books include:

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century

Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
Related links:

John Boswell Page at Fordham University

John Boswell profile at LGBT Religious Archives Network

John Boswell tribute at Yale AIDS Memorial Project (

John Boswell profile at Elisa Reviews and Ramblings
This post is part of a new effort to add authors and theologians to the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

From Selma to Palm Sunday: A gay vision

News photos of the recent Selma march bear an uncanny resemblance to the Palm Sunday painting in a gay vision of Christ’s Passion painted 14 years ago.

President Obama led the crowd marching across the bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7 for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” -- a civil rights march that ended in violent confrontation with police.

New York artist Doug Blanchard used photos of civil rights marches as inspiration when he painted “Jesus Enters the City” and other images in “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.” He shows Jesus as a gay man of today in a modern city. All 24 paintings are included in a new book with reflections by lesbian theologian Kittredge Cherry.

It is eerie how much images look alike. The Selma march and the Palm Sunday painting both show a thin black man in a white shirt and tie walking beside a person in a wheelchair at the front of the crowd. Even the bridge in Selma looks similar to the arch that Blanchard imagined. He painted this in 2001 -- before 9/11 and long before Obama was president. It’s like he saw the future.

One big difference is that Jesus is missing from the news photo. Blanchard’s Christ figure is not the Obama look-alike, but a young gay man riding a donkey in the middle of the crowd.

In the Bible the Palm Sunday march into Jerusalem leads up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Let’s hope the similarity does not go that far.

A full reflection on “Jesus Enters the City” will launch a series on the gay Passion of Christ at the Jesus in Love Blog on Palm Sunday, March 29. Daily reflections will continue through Holy Week until Easter.

The image at the top of this post comes from “Introduction to the Queer Christ,” a Slate Project video by Sara Shisler Goff. She combines an Associated Press photo by Jacqueline Martin with “Jesus Enters the City” by Doug Blanchard and prophetic words by martyred civil rights icon Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Related links:
Fifty Years After 'Bloody Sunday,' Obama Calls Selma a Place Where Meaning of America Was Defined (ABC News)

Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision book website

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

New Queer Christ video created for ReLENT online series

A new video introduces the queer Christ in an accessible, inviting way with LGBT Christian art and short quotes from queer theologians, including Jesus in Love founder Kittredge Cherry.

The “Introduction to the Queer Christ” video was created by Sara Shisler Goff for the Slate Project, a an Baltimore-based online Christian community that she co-founded.

“In less than five minutes, the video sums up the queer Christ with great clarity and beauty,” said Cherry. “It presents my best ideas and many of the artists that I featured on the Jesus in Love Blog.”

The video was produced for the Slate Project's “ReLENT” series of Lenten reflections. They use the latest technology to explore ancient spiritual truths. Each week their videos, social media, Twitter chats, and in-the-flesh gatherings focus each week on a different side of Christ each week: Black Christ, the Poor Christ, the Queer Christ, the Feminist Christ, the Disabled Christ and the Nonviolent Christ.

The Queer Christ video highlights quotes from Cherry's book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” along with texts from gay theologian Patrick Cheng and transgender priest Shannon Kearns.

Their words appear with artwork by a variety of historical and contemporary artists, including Jesus in Love contributors Doug Blanchard, Becki Jayne Harrelson, Robert Lentz, Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, Christine Bakke, Bill Burch, Carlos Latuff, and Dirk Vanden.

A slide from the Queer Christ video

The soundtrack sets a tone of sacred openness with the chant “Open My Heart” from the album “Inside Chants” by Harc (Ana Hernandez and Ruth Cunningham).

Shisler Goff is one of three co-pastors who founded the Slate Project in 2013. She also serves as assisting priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, MD.

“The Slate Project is a community, both online and in person, where we ask ourselves, ‘What if we had a blank slate for doing and being church?’ This lets us ask what it is in our Christian traditions that no longer serves us and needs to be ‘wiped away,’ and what is in the slate itself -- the very form and substance of what it means to be the church. Jesus is that substance,” she told the Jesus in Love Blog.

She joined forces with pastors from two other denominations -- Presbyterian Jenn DiFrancesco and Lutheran Jason Chesnut -- to build a post-denominational community whose playfully irreverent motto is “Christianity without the crap.” About 1,800 people have “liked” their Facebook page and they have more than 500 followers on Twitter.

“For me the queer Christ is about Jesus embodying God’s radically inclusive love for all people,” she explains in a separate video interview about the queer Christ produced for ReLENT.

The Twitter chat about the queer Christ opened with Shisler Goff tweeting the Rainbow Christ Prayer by Cherry and Cheng. A record of the whole chat is online at The following highlights include questions and some of the most “favorited” answers from an hour of tweets.

For you, how does the #QueerChrist set free and heal damage that has been done?

“As a member of the queer community, the #queerchrist welcomes and knows me, despite what the church has told me in the past. -- Christophe Schaefer

How does the #QueerChrist reclaim Christ from those who “use him as a weapon to dominate others?”

“If Christ is Queer, there’s no “other" to even use a weapon against, because there’s no norm.” -- Julie

“We see the #QueerChrist in people like Matthew Shepherd, beaten and left for dead on the outskirts. Not holding a weapon.” -- Jason Chesnut

“The #QueerChrist meets Westboro with a sign of Christ’s own - ‘I love you. Deal with it.’” -- Jason Chesnut

How do you experience the #QueerChrist—theologically, emotionally, spiritually, imaginatively?

“I encounter the #QueerChrist in members of the queer community who have also been martyred, and their legacies which live on.” -- Christopher Schaefer

“I experience the #QueerChrist bringing me from a homophobic guy raised in Texas to a straight ally in a challenging way”. -- Jason Chesnut

What do you think of the role of art as both an expression of faith and an agent of change?

“Trying to get away from "idols" has left us devoid of icons- windows to the divine.” -- Lauren Muratore

Cherry tweeted along too in her first-ever Twitter chat. “It was a thrill to use a new technology to meet new people who seek to know the queer Christ,” she said.

Shisler Goff, who led the discussion and made the video, explained why she has put so much effort into sharing the Queer Christ in a statement for the Jesus in Love Blog:

“It was important to me that we talk about the Queer Christ for several reasons. I think many people are still not that familiar with the Queer Christ. Scholarship on the Queer Christ is still relatively new. It was not until I began my doctoral studies at Episcopal Divinity School in the last two years that I seriously studied the Queer Christ. For me, Jesus is the embodiment of God's radically inclusive love. This is the language of many queer theologians. The Queer Christ helps us transform unhelpful and limiting binary thinking and opens up a freedom for all people, with many kinds of diversity, to be imaged in Christ. I like to think of the Queer Christ as transforming the boundaries that we like to put up; not destroying them but transforming them. This view of Christ subverts the most popular critiques of the church today- it is homophobic, hypocritical, and irrelevant. This Christ has something to say to the lived experience of LGBTQ people who have historically be oppressed, marginalized and even persecuted by the church. I think the Queer Christ can speak to all people, because to "queer" something is to interpret it in a new and normative, non-traditional way.

Everyone is welcome to join in ReLENT’s “digital discipline” by meditating on selected scriptures and readings and responding online through their Facebook and Twitter accounts. They host a Twitter chat of the week’s topic every Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern, using the hashtag #SlateSpeak.

The ReLENT group has already discussed the theology of James Cone (Black Christ) and Gustavo Gutierrez (Poor Christ) as well as Cherry’s writing about the queer Christ. Upcoming weeks will focus on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Nonviolent Christ), Nancy Eiesland (Disabled Christ) and various writers who discuss the Feminist Christ.

“The church is in the process of reimagining and re-creating itself for the twenty-first century,” Shisler Goff said. “I believe the Spirit is inviting us to join in the queering of the church.”

This post is part of the Queer Christ series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

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

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Gay centurion: Jesus heals a soldier’s boyfriend in the Bible

“Traces of His Presence” by Eric Martin

Jesus praised a gay soldier as a model of faith and healed his male lover in the gospels, according to many Bible experts. The soldier, a centurion in the Roman army, is highlighted here today (March 15) for the feast day of Longinus, a centurion at the crucifixion of Jesus.

by Luc Viatour
Both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 tell how a centurion asked Jesus to heal the young man referred to in Greek as his “pais.” The word was commonly used for the younger partner in a same-sex relationship. It is usually translated as boy, servant or slave. In recent years progressive Bible scholars have concluded that the centurion was in a homosexual relationship with the “slave who was dear to him” in the gospel story.

Jesus was willing to go into the centurion’s house to heal his lover, but the centurion stopped him, saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Jesus marveled and told the crowd around him, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith!” To the centurion he said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And his boyfriend was healed at that moment.

Scholars believe that “boy” was the centurion’s sex partner not only due to the word “pais,” but also because it is unlikely that a soldier would care so much about an ordinary slave. It was common in Greco-Roman culture for mature men to pair up with a young man as his lover in “erastes-eromenes” pederastic sexual relationship.

This interpretation is promoted by LGBT-friendly church groups such as and on billboards stating “Jesus affirmed a gay couple.” For more info, see my previous post, Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.

The centurion’s story has gotten surprisingly little attention throughout history considering that Jesus himself was impressed by his faith. But the Roman soldier has always been an unlikely role model. Jesus’ contemporaries were probably shocked that the great healer would praise a military man who enforced Roman occupation of their land. Today people may find the centurion unappealing because he may have been queer, or a slave owner, or both. It was just like Jesus to take someone disreputable and praise them as holy.

Detail from “Healing the Centurion’s Servant” in Mother Stories From the New Testament by Anonymous, 1906

While the faithful centurion himself is rarely mentioned, his words do live on in a prayer used in many Catholic and Protestant eucharistic liturgies. For example, the prayer immediately before communion at Catholic mass paraphrases his words: “Lord I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Saint Longinus, whose feast day is today (March 15) is the centurion who pierced Christ’s side at the crucifixion and declared, “Truly this man was the son of God.” It’s possible that he is the same faithful gay centurion whose beloved boyfriend was healed by Jesus.

“Crucifixion” by Christopher Olwage (oil on canvas)

Gay New Zealand artist Christopher Olwage pictures the centurion and his “pais” with Jesus at the cross in his 2015 crucifixion painting. The scene is framed by a male couple: the Centurion on the left and the man “who was dear to him” on the right. The nude painting includes two other men who may have had male-male sexual relationships with Christ: John, who is most often identified as the Beloved Disciple and Lazarus. For more info, see the previous post Gay Jesus painting shown in New Zealand.

Jesus’ healing interaction with the same-sex couple has fascinated artist Eric Martin so much that he created two works based on their story. Martin is a gay poet, artist, and church organist in Burlington, North Carolina. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

“Traces of His Presence” at the top of this post uses fluid lines and bold red to reveal the face of Christ in the holy space between the centurion and his beloved.

“The Visit” by Eric Martin

Martin takes a more realistic approach in “The Visit.” A rainbow arches behind Jesus as he gazes at the centurion and his pais. Their varied expressions draw the viewer deeper into the drama.

Books that explore the homosexuality of the centurion include:

Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times by Tom Horner

Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else by John McNeill

The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships by Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley

What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak

The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament by Theodore Jennings

“Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant” by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) (Wikimedia Commons)
Related links:

A gay centurion comes out to Jesus (Gay Christian 101)

Jesus and the centurion (Wild Reed)

Gay centurion (My Queer Scripture)

The centurion of great faith (Homosexuality and Scripture by Pharsea)

Jesus, the centurion, and his lover (Jack Clark Robinson at Gay and Lesbian Review)

When Jesus Healed a Same-Sex Partner by Jay Michaelson (Huffington Post)

The Gay Gospel? (The L Stop)

La Biblia y las personas gays: ¿Es un pecado ser gay? ¿Condena Jesús? (Santos Queer)
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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