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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Saturday, March 07, 2015

Perpetua and Felicity: Patron saints of same-sex couples

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM,

Saints Perpetua and Felicity were brave North African woman friends who were executed for their Christian faith in the third century. Some consider them lesbian saints or patrons of same-sex couples. Their feast day is March 7.

Perpetua and Felicity were arrested for being Christian, imprisoned together, and held onto each other in the last moments before they died together on March 7, 203.

Perpetua and Felicity are still revered both inside and outside the church. For example, they are named together in the Roman Catholic Canon of the Mass. They are often included in lists of LGBTQ saints because they demonstrate the power of love between two women.

The details of their imprisonment are known because Perpetua kept a journal, the first known written document by a woman in Christian history. In fact, her "Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions” was so revered in North Africa that St. Augustine warned people not to treat it like the Bible. People loved the story of the two women comforting each other in jail and giving each other the kiss of peace as they met their end in the amphitheater at Carthage, where they were mauled by wild animals before being beheaded.

Perpetua was a 22-year-old noblewoman and a nursing mother. Felicity, her slave, gave birth to a daughter while they were in prison. Although she was married, Perpetua's husband is conspicuously absent from her diary.

Yale history professor John Boswell names Perpetua and Felicity as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church. (The others are Polyeuct and Nearchus and Sergius and Bacchus.) The love story of Felicity and Perpetua is told with historical detail in two books, “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” by Boswell and “Passionate Holiness” by Dennis O’Neill. He is founder of the Living Circle, the interfaith LGBT spirituality center that commissioned the following icon of the loving same-sex pair. It was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons.

The Lentz icon of Perpetua and Felicity is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. It is rare to see an icon about the love between women, especially two dark-skinned African women. The rich reds and heart-shaped double-halo make it look like a holy Valentine.

“Felicity and Perpetua: Patrons of Same-Sex Couples” by Maria Cristina

A banner saying “patrons of same sex couples” hangs above Felicity and Perpetua in the colorful icon painted by Maria Cristina, an artist based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She paints the two women holding hands in an elegant gesture. The skull of a long-horn cow, similar to paintings of famous New Mexico artist Georgia O’Keefe, adds a welcome bit of Southwestern flavor to the image.

Felicity and Perpetua by Jim Ru
Artist Jim Ru was inspired to paint Felicity and Perpetua as a kissing couple. His version was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.

Irish artist St. George Hare, painted an erotic, romanticized vision of Perpetua and Felicity around 1890. His painting “The Victory of Faith” shows the women as an inter-racial couple sleeping together nude on a prison floor.

“The Victory of Faith” by St. George Hare (Wikimedia Commons)

Their lives are the subject of several recent historical novels, including “Perpetua: A Bride, A Martyr, A Passion” by Amy Peterson and “The Bronze Ladder” by Malcolm Lyon.

Related links:

"Eternal Bliss" - SS Felicity and Perpetua, March 7th (Queer Saints and Martyrs - and Others)

Suspect 3rd Century Women Put to Death in Arena: Ancient Hate Crime? (Unfinished Lives: Remembering LGBT hate crime victims)

Perpetua y Felicitas: santas patronas de parejas del mismo sexo (Santos Queer)
This post is part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints 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.

March is Women's History Month, so women will be especially highlighted this month at the Jesus in Love Blog.

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


Icons of Perpetua and Felicity and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

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