Saturday, July 08, 2006

Did Jesus live the down low?

Rev. Irene Monroe at The Witness blew me away with her provocative and insightful July 3, 2006, column, Church's Code Keeps Jesus on the "Down Low":

For many of us who have always cast a suspicious eye on why biblical scholars, theologians and ministers do not have a clue as to who the historical Jesus was, Dan Brown's bestseller and now blockbuster movie, The Da Vinci Code, sheds an illuminating light onto the hysteria that maintains the mystery.

And the mystery is that there has always been an open secret about Jesus' sexuality that not only attacks the pillars of Christianity, but also profoundly plays into the oppression that women as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people face today in both church and society.

And that open secret about Jesus' sexuality -- along with the suggestions that he was gay, married, or both, if Jesus was on the "down low" -- point to the issues we are wrestling with today in what conservatives call the "cultural war," namely the institution of marriage, women in the church, and gay clergy. The hysteria surrounding those issues creates the perfect climate for stories about secret texts emerging from centuries-old closets and church authorities trying desperately to keep the lid over the "truth about Jesus."

However, the debate about Jesus' sexuality takes him from his mother's womb to his tomb. The Christian depiction of Jesus as that of a lifelong virgin who had no sexual desire and who never engaged in sexual intercourse raises anyone's suspicion, when Jesus' traveling with unattached (and therefore "loose") women and with at least twelve men -- the law of averages would say that at least one out of the bunch was gay -- made his scandalous band the subject of a great deal of winking and nudging around ancient Palestine. Of course, given the compulsory heterosexuality in ancient Palestine, a gay Jesus would have been forced to be on the "down low."

Yup, I couldn't agree more. The de-sexualizing of Jesus caused me to delve into textual criticism, and obviously through my art, I've speculated about a queer Jesus as have others. Rev. Monroe goes on to articulate more fully something that has bothered me for decades and moved me to undertake the subject in oil paint.

Ever notice how lesbians are kewl (a straight guy's wet dream is to get it on with lesbians, right?) but gay guys cause gnashing of the teeth particularly by straight men? I've thought gay guy bias contained an unspoken patriarchal prejudice against the feminine, and historically in usurping the Goddess with a father god, the sacred feminine. Monroe writes (with emphasis):

While homophobia in today's Christian churches is antithetical to the gospel proclaimed by the early Church, so too is the denigration of the sacred feminine.

It would have been highly unusual and very scandalous, given Jewish marital customs, for Jesus not to be married; normally he would have been betrothed and married long before he became an itinerant preacher and called both male and female disciples. And just as any good Jew in Jesus' culture (aside from a few fringe sects like the one that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls) would have obeyed the command in Genesis to "be fruitful and multiply" by having children, any "real man" in Jewish or Roman circles would have shown his masculinity by penetration. Whatever Jesus did or didn't do sexually, his reported failure to marry and have children would have made him, in the eyes of his culture, Queer, unfruitful and feminized.

But Jesus was unashamed to tap into the forbidden zone -- his feminine side. The sacred feminine is not only the life force tied to women's ability to produce new life, but is also the power of the erotic that African-American lesbian poet Audre Lorde depicted as "a source within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling."

Our sexualities are the expressions of who we are with and in our bodies. They are a language and a means to communicate our spiritual need for intimate communion -- both human and divine. They are our self-understanding through which we experience the world.

However, the hysteria that surrounds Jesus' sexuality forces us all to see the walls of partition erected in our society, in our churches, and in our families that prohibit us from living freely in our bodies and force some of us on the "down low."

And these walls not only contribute to the false socialization of who we are as male and female -- they also contribute to the false spiritualization of who we are as the body of Christ.

What powerful words Monroe writes. Recently, elaborating on the idea of the sacred feminine, I dared to paint a Second Coming oil that embraces the return of a female messiah in the form of a blue pasture rose heralded by a way-showing Christ. Optimistically, I envision a future where the sacred feminine reemerges, and in tandem with the sacred masculine, gives birth to another renaissance, another Age of Enlightenment, and a restoration of balance so sorely needed on our planet. Ironically, Mother Earth and the threat of global warming may spark this necessary correction if we as species intend to flourish. Perhaps I'm foreseeing a vision that's decades or centuries away but I am encouraged to read such inspired words from Rev. Irene Monroe that identify the crux of the issue, the false socialization of who we are as male and female and ultimately a false spiritualization.

If Christians and others such as I accept the belief that we were created in the image of the divine, and that undeniably, we are sexual beings with biologically-induced minority and majority traits, inevitably we must resolve the full spectrum of sexuality and spirituality or continue a compartmentalization that robs us of our wholeness and our holiness. Let the transformative integration accelerate for I intuit that is the evolutionary force presently at work. The emergence of a politically-powerful Religious Right so hell-bent in attempting to subvert feminism, gay equality, and control what all of us do in our bedrooms and the personal decisions we make with our physicians tells me that we have embarked upon the road to recovery and an awakening. Adversity in the form of repression, oppression, and suppression has its purpose in propelling us forward, thank God! In time, these obstacles, too, shall pass.

IMAGES: From top to bottom, Judas Kiss, a cropped close-up of an acrylic study for The Last Supper, and The Raped Virgin.

UPDATE: Seems that I have joined the clan of the Fey Women in subverting necrophilia. Well, I was certainly born to be Wild. Ha!