Sunday, July 29, 2012

Martha and Mary of Bethany: Sisters or lesbian couple?

Mary and Martha by Bernardino Luini (Wikimedia Commons)

Mary and Martha of Bethany were two of Jesus’ closest friends. The Bible calls them “sisters” who lived together, but reading the Bible with queer eyes raises another possibility. Maybe Mary and Martha were a lesbian couple. Their feast day is today (July 29).

Mary and Martha formed a nontraditional family at a time when there was huge pressure for heterosexual marriage.

As Nancy Wilson, moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches, wrote in the brochure “Our Story Too: Reading the Bible with ‘New’ Eyes”:

“Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. What drew Jesus to this very non-traditional family group of a bachelor brother living with two spinster sisters? Two barren women and a eunuch are Jesus’ adult family of choice. Are we to assume they were all celibate heterosexuals? What if Mary and Martha were not sisters but called each other ‘sister’ as did most lesbian couples throughout recorded history?”

Mary and Martha are best known for the conflict they had when they hosted Jesus and his disciples. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to listen, but Martha wanted her to help her serve. Jesus’ famous answer: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42).

In another major Bible story, Jesus talks with Mary and Martha in turn before raising their brother Lazarus from the dead. During the conversation, Martha speaks what is considered the first profession of faith in Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27).

Like with most Biblical figures, the truth about Mary and Martha is a mystery. The gospels references are brief and sometimes contradictory. As a result, Mary of Bethany is identified as Mary Magdalene in the Roman Catholic church, while in Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions they are considered separate persons.

The Orthodox Church also includes Mary and Martha among the “myrrh bearing women” who were faithfully present at his crucifixion and brought myrrh to his tomb, where they became the first to witness his resurrection. Christian feminists also honor the sisters and say that they probably were leaders of a “house church.”

Artists provide some beautiful paintings of the “sisters,” including the one above by Italian Renaissance artist Bernardino Luini (1480 -1532). Magic realist painter Eileen Kennedy has done a new painting of them as contemporary women. Kennedy’s “In the House of Martha and Mary” is on view at the Episcopal Cafe Art Blog. Martha stands angrily with vacuum cleaner in hand as her sister listens to Jesus.
_________
This post is part of the GLBT 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.

__________

Icons of Martha and Mary of Bethany and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Boris and George: Russian saints united in love and death

Saints Boris and George the Hungarian
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. www.trinitystores.com

The love between Saint Boris and George the Hungarian ended in tragedy in 1015 in medieval Russia. Their feast day is July 24 -- the same day that same-sex marriage became legal in New York in 2011.

Boris was a prince and gifted military commander who was popular with the Russian people. He was married, but he had enormous love for his servant George the Hungarian. Slavic professor Simon Karlinsky has highlighted their gay love story in his analysis of the medieval classic, “The Legend of Boris and Gleb” compiled from 1040 to 1118. Karlinsky writes:
Boris had a magnificent gold necklace made for George because he “was loved by Boris beyond reckoning.” When the four assailants stabbed Boris with their swords, George flung himself on the body of his prince, exclaiming: “I will not be left behind, my precious lord! Ere the beauty of thy body begins to wilt, let it be granted that my life may end.” The assailants tore Boris out of George’s embrace, stabbed George and flung him out of the tent, bleeding and dying. After Boris died, first having forgiven his assassins, his retinue was massacred… Not only was the author of this story clearly sympathetic to the mutual love of Boris and George but he also seemed to realize that “the gratuitous murder of George resulted from his open admission of the nature of this love.”

Karlinsky’s text above is quoted from “Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People” and “Gay Roots: Twenty Years of Gay Sunshine.”

The man behind the murders was Boris’ half-brother Sviatopolk, who wanted to consolidate his power. He also had their brother Gleb killed at the same time. In 1071 Boris and his brother Gleb became the first saints canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. They were named “Passion Bearers” because, while they were not killed for their faith, they faced death in a Christlike manner, forgiving their murderers.

Brothers Boris and Gleb are popular saints in Russia. They are often pictured together and many churches are named after them. Meanwhile the beloved George the Hungarian was never canonized and has mostly been ignored -- until recently.

The icon above was painted in 2000 by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It 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.

Here George is restored to his rightful place beside Boris, properly honoring this extraordinary couple and the way they loved each other.

Surely Boris and George are smiling down now on all the newlyweds in New York, where same-sex marriage became legal on their feast day.
____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, 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.

Icons of Boris and George and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com
Bookmark and Share

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Symeon and John: Holy fool and hermit who loved each other

“Symeon and John” by Jim Ru

Sixth-century Syrian monks Symeon and John were were joined in a same-sex union and lived together as desert-dwelling hermits for 29 years. After a tearful split-up, Symeon went on to become known as the Holy Fool of Emessa, the patron saint of all holy fools (and puppeteers.) Their feast day is today (July 21).

These Byzantine saints are important for LGBT people because of their loving same-sex bond and Symeon’s role as holy fool. In the tradition of “fools for Christ,” believers deliberately challenge social norms for spiritual purposes. LGBT Christians, who face insults from both sides for being queer AND Christian, may be able to relate to the motivations and experiences of the holy fools.

Symeon the Holy Fool (or Simeon Salus) of Emessa (c. 522 - c.588) and John of Edessa were close friends starting in childhood, although Symeon was six years older. Both came from wealthy families. When Symeon was 30, they made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the journey home they were both filled with an irresistible desire to leave their families and join a monastery together.

They took vows in the monastery of Abba Gerasimus in Syria. The two men were tonsured by the abbot who blessed them together in an early monastic version of the adelphopoiia ceremony -- the “brother-making” ritual that historian John Boswell calls a “same-sex union.” They were referred to as the “pure bridegrooms (nymphoi) of Christ.”

Soon the two men went together to live as hermits in the desert near the Dead Sea, where they could practice spiritual exercises in solitude. There is no suggestion that their relationship was sexual, but they shared a life together in the wilderness with all the emotional intensity of a same-sex couple for 29 years.

At that point Symeon decided to leave his longtime companion and move to the city of Emessa in modern Lebanon.  He wanted to do charity work while mocking social norms as a “fool for Christ.” John begged him not to go. John’s passionate plea is recorded in “Symeon the Holy Fool” by Derek Krueger:

“Please, for the Lord’s sake, do not leave wretched me. For I have not yet reached this level, so that I can mock the world. Rather for the sake of Him who joined us, do not wish to be parted from your brother. You know that, after God, I have no one except you, my brother, but I renounced all and was bound to you, and now you wish to leave me in the desert, as in an open sea. Remember that day when we drew lots and went down to lord Nikon, that we agreed not to be separated from one another. Remember that fearful hour when we were clothed in the holy habit, and we two were as one soul, so that all were astonished at our love. Don't forget the words of the great monk….Please don’t lest I die and God demands an account of my soul from you.”

Even this heartfelt appeal did not change Symeon’s mind. Instead he invited John into a long, intimate prayer session as described by Krueger:

“After they had prayed for many hours and had kissed each other on the breast and drenched them with their tears, John let go of Symeon and traveled together with him a long distance, for his soul would not let him be separated from him, but whenever Abba Symeon said to him ‘Turn back, brother,’ he heard the word as if a knife separated him from his body, and again he asked if he could accompany him a little further. Therefore, when Abba Symeon forced him, he turned back to his cell drenching the earth with tears.”

Symeon went on to do help the poor, heal the sick and do other good works in Emessa. In order to avoid public praise, he shocked people by deliberately acting crazy, making himself a “holy fool.”

Not long before his death, Symeon had a vision in which he saw his beloved John wearing a crown with the inscription, “For endurance in the desert.” 

Symeon and John were honored together as saints on July 21 in many ancient calendars. In the 16th century Caesar Baronius separated them and moved Symeon to July 1, but some traditions still celebrate them both on July 21.

Artist Jim Ru was inspired to paint the Symeon and John as a couple, with John’s fervent words to his beloved, “Please don’t leave lest I die and God demands an account of my soul from you.” The painting was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee, Arizona in the 1990s.
___

More resources:
Symeon the Holy Fool: Leontius’s Life and the Late Antique City” by Derek Krueger (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996).

____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, 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.
Bookmark and Share

Friday, July 20, 2012

Saint Wilgefortis: Bearded woman

St. Wilgefortis in the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Loreta Sanctuary in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Curious Expeditions.

St. Wilgefortis prayed to avoid marriage to a pagan king -- and her prayers were answered when she grew a beard! Her feast day is today (July 20). This virgin martyr has natural appeal for LGBT, queer and transgender folk.

The name Wilgefortis may come from the Latin “virgo fortis” (strong virgin). Her English name Uncumber means escaper, while she was called Liberata in Italy and France, and Librada in Spain -- meaning “liberator” from hardship or husbands! Her veneration arose in 14th century Europe, and her story is often set in Portugal.

Friends of this blog have come up with many comments with various theories about Wilgefortis -- as the patron saint of intersex people, as an asexual person, as a person with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, as a powerful lesbian virgin.

Here’s an account of her life by Terence Weldon, a gay Catholic who blogs on queer and religious matters at Queering the Church, where this summary first appeared.

A wonderful example of a sainted bearded lady?

Unfortunately, Saint Wilgefortis may also be an example of a ‘saint’ whose biography is more popular fiction than recorded history. Still, she is listed in the standard catholic reference works, and has had an official feast day, as well as bewildering array of aliases, among them Liberata, Kummernis, Uncumber, and Livrade, Of the biographical details, take them as you will. For what it is worth, the legend says that she was the daughter of a king, who had taken a vow of virginity. When her father wanted to marry her off to the King of Sicily, she prayed for deliverance from this evil fate. Whereupon she grew a beard. What self-respecting king would want to marry a bearded princess? Her father was said to be so enraged at this that he had her crucified. This may be the reason she became known as the patron saint of difficult marriages – but crucifixion seems an extreme way to end one.

Modern skeptical scholars suggest that the story of her beard and crucifixion are sheer invention. Spoilsports! Why let facts get in the way of a good story? Sadly, her “cult was suppressed and she was dropped from the calendar in 1969.”


Thanks to Yewtree for this link to a photo of Wilgefortis by contemporary French artists/romantic partners Pierre et Gilles. It’s at the bottom of this German-language page about Wilgefortis:
http://www.brauchtum.de/sommer/heilige_kuemmernis.html

Another modern appearance of the saint occurs in Castle Waiting, a critically acclaimed graphic novel by Linda Medley. One of the main characters is a nun from the order of St. Wilgefortis, an entire convent full of bearded women!
____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, 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.
Bookmark and Share

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jesus and Freddie Mercury: Marriage Made in Heaven cartoon supports equality

“Marriage Made in Heaven” by Mr. Fish (clowncrack.com)

A gay Jesus cuddles in bed with rock star Freddie Mercury in “Marriage Made in Heaven” by cartoonist Mr. Fish.

Artist Dwayne Booth, who uses the pen name Mr. Fish, created the image in reaction to a vote banning same-sex marriage in North Carolina this spring. After working through his rage, he decided to highlight the hypocrisy of anti-gay Christians indirectly by showing Jesus in bed with a gay icon.

Conservative Christian voters claimed that their opposition to same-sex marriage is based on the Bible, but in a statement the artist pointed out that the Bible is open to innumerable interpretations -- including Jesus as a radical hell-raiser who valued outcasts and accepted human differences.

“I chose Freddie Mercury as Jesus’ partner because, a.) he is immediately recognizable as a gay icon and b.) there is something both holy and tragic about Mercury’s life and premature death. In many ways it is a narrative that is not dissimilar to the Jesus narrative, both figures inspiring of love and beauty and self-assuredness removed from corporeal existence way too soon. In that way, they seemed like a perfect match,” Booth told the Jesus in Love Blog.

Mercury (1946-1991) was the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band Queen, composing such hits as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We are the Champions.” An acknowledged bisexual, Mercury was the first major rock star to die of AIDS.

The text accompanying Mr. Fish’s cartoon says, “Tired of watching humanity ignore his simple message of love and tolerance and acceptance, Jesus decides that his marriage to Freddie is all that he cares about anymore and that he will never return to earth because people are just too G-----n stupid to understand anything he might say to them.”

Booth is a cartoonist and freelance writer whose work can be seen most regularly on Harpers.org and Truthdig.com. Over the last 20 years his work has been published by many of the nation’s most prestigious magazines and newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice and the Advocate. A debut volume of his collected cartoons titled Go Fish: How to Win Contempt and Influence People was published in 2011.
___
Special thanks to Mr. Fish for permission to share his cartoon here at Jesus in Love. And special thanks to Ann for alerting me to this amazing image.

___
Related links:
Cartoon: Jesus saves LGBT kids from jaws of clergy hat (Mr. Fish at Jesus in Love)

Jesus, Freddie Mercury and Gay Marriage (cagle.com)

John the Evangelist: The man Jesus loved (Jesus in Love)

Lazarus: Jesus’ beloved disciple? (Jesus in Love)
____
This post is part of the Queer Christ series 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.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, July 09, 2012

Pauli Murray: Episcopal church votes on queer saint / activist for gender and racial equality

Pauli Murray (Wikipedia)

Human rights champion Pauli Murray, an unofficial queer saint, will be voted on this week by the Episcopal Church at its general convention in Indianapolis.

(Update: Murray was approved for inclusion in the Episcopal Church’s book of saints, “Holy Women, Holy Men” in a vote late on July 11. She will be honored every July 1 on the church calendar).

Murray (1910-1985) has been nominated for inclusion in the Episcopal Church’s book of saints, “Holy Women, Holy Men.” If approved, she will be honored every July 1 on the church calendar.

She is a renowned civil rights pioneer, feminist, author, lawyer and the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her queer orientation is less well known.

Murray was attracted to women and her longest relationships were with women, so she is justifiably considered a lesbian. But she also described herself as a man trapped in a woman’s body and took hormone treatments in her 20s and 30s, so she might even be called a transgender today.

Others have written extensively about her many accomplishments, but material on Murray’s sexuality is hard to find. She did not speak publicly about her sexual orientation or gender identity issues, but she left ample evidence of these struggles in her letters and personal writings.

Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray was born November 20, 1910 in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Durham, North Carolina. She became aware of her queer sexuality early in life. In Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White, historian Anne Firor Scott explains:

“In adolescence Murray began to worry about her sexual nature. She later said that she was probably meant to be a man, but had by accident turned up in a woman’s body. She began to keep clippings about various experiments with hormones as a way of changing sexual identity…. In 1937, at the initiative of a friend, she had been admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York, and during her stay there she examined her worries about her sexual nature in writing, and said that she hoped to move toward her masculine side... . She continued for years to discuss the developing medical literature about hormones, thinking they might help her. She discussed the possibility of homosexuality with doctors; she knew that she was attracted to very feminine, often white, women, and she knew as well that… she was not physically attracted to men. This conflict would continue for the rest of her life.”

Murray’s queer side is discussed in many books, including American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism by Nancy Ordover and To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done For America by Lillian Faderman, and in the play “To Buy the Sun: The Challenge of Pauli Murray” by Lynden Harris.

A graduate of New York’s Hunter College, Murray was rejected from the University of North Carolina UNC Chapel Hill’s graduate school in 1938 because of her race. She became a civil rights activist. Murray was arrested and jailed for refusing to sit in the back of a segregated bus in Virginia in 1938 -- 15 years before Rosa Parks became a national symbol for resisting bus segregation. In the late 1930s Murray was also seeking psychological help and testosterone implants from doctors in an effort to “treat” her homosexuality by becoming more male.

Eager to become a civil rights lawyer, Murray became the only woman in her law school class at Howard University in Washington, DC. In 1941 she organized restaurant sit-downs in the nation’s capital -- 20 years before the famous Greensboro sit-ins.

She graduated first in her class in 1944, but was rejected by Harvard because of her gender -- even though President Franklin Roosevelt wrote a letter of support for her after Murray contacted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Instead Murray studied law at the University of California in Berkeley. She wrote numerous influential publications, and NAACP used her arguments in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that ended racial segregation in U.S. public schools.

In the early 1960s President John Kennedy appointed Murray to the Commission on the Status of Women Committee. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin on civil rights -- and criticized the 1963 March on Washington at the time for excluding women from leadership. In 1965 she became the first African American to receive a law doctorate from Yale. A year later she co-founded the National Organization for Women.

Instead of retiring, Murray launched a new career at age 62. She entered New York’s General Theological Seminary in 1973, before the Episcopal Church allowed women priests. She was ordained in 1977. She celebrated her first Holy Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC -- the same church where her grandmother, a slave, was baptized.

After a lifetime as a human rights activist, she drew on her own experience to preach a powerful vision of God’s justice. In a 1977 sermon recorded in Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings, she said:

It was my destiny to be the descendant of slave owners as well as slaves, to be of mixed ancestry, to be biologically and psychologically integrated in a world where the separation of the races was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States as the fundamental law of our Southland. My entire life’s quest has been for spiritual integration, and this quest has led me ultimately to Christ, in whom there is no East or West, no North or South, no Black or White, no Red or Yellow, no Jew or Gentile, no Islam or Buddhist, no Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic, no Male or Female. There is no Black Christ, no White Christ, no Red Christ – although these images may have transitory cultural value. There is only Christ, the Spirit of Love.

Murray died of cancer on July 1, 1985. Her best known book is Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family (1956), her memoir of growing up as a mixed-race person in the segregated South.

___
Related links:

Pauli Murray profile at LGBTHistoryMonth.com

Special thanks to Terrence Weldon of Queer Church News for the tip about this week’s vote.
____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, 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.

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Artemisia Gentileschi paints strong Biblical women

“Judith and Her Maidservant” by Artemisia Gentileschi

Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi inspires many with her paintings of strong Biblical women -- created despite the discrimination and sexual violence that she faced as a woman in 17th-century Italy. She was born 419 years ago today (July 8, 1593).

Gentileschi was apparently heterosexual, but lesbians have drawn energy from her life and art. Many queer people can relate to her battles against prejudice and sexual violence, documented in her rape trial in 1612. She could be considered the patron saint of lesbian artists, women artists, and everyone who breaks gender rules.

Gentileschi (1593–1652) was successful in her own day, but was mostly written out of art history until the 1970s, when feminist scholars rediscovered her work. Now she is celebrated in many books, films and plays, and her work is widely reproduced. Her greatest paintings include “Judith Beheading Holofernes” and “Susanna and the Elders.”

Lesbians who have created tributes to Gentileschi include painter Becki Jayne Harrelson and playwright Carolyn Gage. In the play “Artemisia and Hildegard,” Gage has two of history’s great women artists debate their contrasting survival strategies: Gentileschi battled to achieve in the male-dominated art world while Hildegard of Bingen found support for her art in the women-only community of a medieval German nunnery.

The daughter of a painter, Gentileschi was born in Rome and trained as a painter in her father’s workshop there. She was refused admission to the art academy because she was a woman, so her father arranged for her to have a private painting teacher -- who raped her when she was about 19. Gentileschi herself was tortured by thumbscrews during the seven-month rape trial, but she stuck to her testimony. The teacher was convicted, but received a suspended sentence.

“Judith Beheading Holofernes”
by Artemisia Gentileschi
Gentileschi used art to express her outrage. During the trial Artemisia began painting the Biblical scene of “Judith Beheading Holofernes” (left). Judith, a daring and beautiful Hebrew widow, saves Israel by cutting off the head of the invading general Holofernes. Judith and Holofernes became one of Gentileschi’s favorite subjects, and she painted several variations during her lifetime.

Her realistic style, influenced by the great artist Caravaggio, shows dramatic contrasts between light and dark. But Gentileschi usually created her own unique interpretation expressing a strong female viewpoint. The violence of Judith beheading the male general Holofernes speaks for itself. Another example is her painting (below left) of the Biblical story of the Hebrew wife Susanna and the lustful elders who spied on her while she was bathing. While her male contemporaries painted the scene as a voyeuristic fantasy, Gentileschi presents it as a violation of the vulnerable Susanna by the predatory elders.

“Susanna and the Elders”
by Artemisia Gentileschi
Soon after the rape trial Gentileschi married and moved to Florence, where she became the first woman accepted into the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing). She had a full career, producing many paintings of powerful women from Christianity, history and mythology. She worked in various Italian cities and even spent a few years painting in London, England. It is believed that she died when she was about 60 years old in a plague that swept Naples in 1656.

Today Gentileschi’s life and work are admired by many, including artist Becki Jayne Harrelson. She is best known for her LGBT-affirming version of “The Crucifixion of the Christ” with the word “faggot” above Jesus on the cross, but Harrelson has also honored Gentileschi in her art and blog.

Harrelson offers this tribute in celebration of Gentileschi’s birthday: “Artemisia Gentileschi’s talent and mastery was equal to her male counterparts, yet because of sexism and misogyny, she was denied the recognition she deserved as a master painter until many centuries later. She also suffered sexual violence and was treated unjustly for standing up against it. Her art and life inspires me to persevere despite adversity and prejudice.”

“Tribute to Artemisia’s Judith” by Becki Jayne Harrelson, www.beckijayne.com
Oil on canvas | 36”w X 48”h

Artemisia Gentileschi is included in the GLBT saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog because she has inspired so many lesbians with her paintings of women and her success despite gender barriers and sexual violence.
_________
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Blasphemy or fresh perspectives? What others say


Charges of blasphemy are being hurled again against my queer Christian writing. This time the target is my new Rainbow Christ Prayer.

Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, a conservative Christian hate group devoted to “exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda,” recently posted an attack titled Blasphemy 101: ‘Lesbian Christian’ Kittredge Cherry Offers ‘Rainbow Christ Prayer.’

The fun part is how they reprint the whole prayer, with the blasphemous parts conveniently highlighted in bold. It’s kind of like a red-letter Bible where the words of Jesus are printed in red ink. To Americans for Truth, the whole sexuality section of the Rainbow Christ Prayer is unmitigated blasphemy, while everything we wrote about love is OK. (They neglected to mention the name of my co-blasphemer, Patrick Cheng, who wrote the prayer with me.)

Meanwhile, my Jesus in Love blog was honored as a “meaty blog” with “fresh perspectives” on a new list of "12 Queer Blogs to Watch" at Where the Girls Go.

I’m not sure which is the greater compliment: To be praised by the young queers or condemned by the right wing conservatives!

Americans for Truth about Homosexuality was a 501(c)3 United States tax-exempt organization until that status was revoked in 2010 after years of failure to file appropriate paperwork. Headed by Peter LaBarbera, it is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Rainbow Christ Prayer was published recently by Huffington Post in an article titled Rainbow Christ Prayer honors LGBT spirituality.
Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 05, 2012

LGBT saints honored in Vermont exhibit

Joan of Arc panel from LGBT Saints, Heroes and Martyrs show in Vermont

“Prophetic Vision, Courageous Lives: LGBT Saints, Heroes and Martyrs,” an exhibit of 40 images and stories, opens Friday, July 6, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Burlington, Vermont.

The show celebrates LGBT persons and their straight allies throughout history who have faced adversity and even death while striving to make the world a better place.

“That work is by no means complete!” curator Judith McManis says. “This exhibit is a continuum, a trajectory, relating some of the battles of the past in order to give energy and inspiration to those who continue in the cause.”

The exhibit honors historical saints such as Joan of Arc and the male couple Sergius and Bacchus. Contemporary figures in the show include religious leaders such as Father Mychal Judge, plus secular LGBT rights activists such as Harvey Milk and David Kato.

St. Paul’s is an open and affirming congregation of the Episcopal Church, so the show highlights courageous Episcopalians, including Integrity founder Louie Crew (pictured below) and prophetic leader Pamela Chinnis. Adding a local flavor are Vermont’s homegrown heroes such as Beth Robinson, founder of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Taskforce.

McManis, an artist who founded Laudata Liturgical Art and Calligraphy, says the exhibit grew out of her interest in contemporary icons of gay saints. However she decided not to use icons in this show, opting instead for images from historic documents, photos and drawings. The decision was based partly on copyright issues, but also in order to reach more viewers. “For some people, the 'religious' flavor of icon images was off-putting (they just weren't ready for the connection with what perhaps for them had been a not-so-positive experience),” McManis explains.

Sponsored by Integrity Vermont and Pride Vermont, “Prophetic Vision, Courageous Lives” the show will run through the end of July. For more info, visit the event’s Facebook page.

Louie Crew from LGBT Saints, Heroes and Martyrs show in Vermont
___
Related books:

Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive Peoples

Sanctity And Male Desire: A Gay Reading Of Saints
____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, 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.

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Jemima Wilkinson: Queer preacher reborn in 1776 as “Publick Universal Friend”

Jemima Wilkinson / Publick Universal Friend (Wikimedia Commons)

Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819) was a queer American preacher who woke from a near-death experience in 1776 believing she was neither male nor female. She changed her name to “the Publick Universal Friend,” fought for gender equality and founded an important religious community. This fascinating person died almost 200 years ago today on July 1, 1819.

Wilkinson is recognized as the first American-born woman to found a religious group, but is also called a “transgender evangelist.” The breakaway Quaker preacher spoke against slavery and gave medical care to both sides in the Revolutionary War.

It’s especially appropriate to consider the Publick Universal Friend now with Independence Day coming up on July 4. In 1776, the same year that America issued the Declaration of Independence, Wilkinson declared her own independence from gender.

Wilkinson was 24 when she had a severe fever leading to a near-death experience. Upon waking she confidently announced to her surprised family that Jemima Wilkinson had died and her body was now inhabited by a genderless “Spirit of Life from God” sent to preach to the world. She insisted on being called the Publick Universal Friend or simply “the Friend.” From then on, the Friend refused to respond to her birth name or use gendered pronouns.

Seal of the Universal Friend
(Wikimedia Commons)
The preacher and prophet known as “the Friend” defies categorization. The Friend has been labeled a “spiritual transvestite” and is on lists of “famous asexuals” and “a gender variance Who’s Who.” As a gender nonconformist whose life was devoted to God, the Friend fits the definition of a queer saint. The androgynous Friend was many things to many people.

Jemima Wilkinson was born to a Quaker family in Rhode Island on Nov. 29, 1752. She showed a strong interest in religion while growing up. On Oct. 13, 1776, the Sunday after her rebirth, the Friend gave a public sermon for the first time. Quaker officials rejected the Friend as a heretic, but s/he went on to preach throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

The Friend blended traditional Christian warnings about sin and redemption with Quaker pacifism, abolitionism, plain dress and peaceful relations with Native American Indians. Women had no legal rights in the United States, but the Friend advocated equality of the sexes. The Friend was a firm believer in sexual abstinence.

People were drawn not only to this progressive message, but also to the Friend’s forceful personality and genderbending appearance. S/he rejected standard women’s attire and hairdos for a unique blend of male and female. The Friend commonly wore a flowing black male clergy gown with female petticoats peeking out at the hem. The Friend’s long hair hung loose to the shoulder. The rest of the Friend’s outfit often included a man’s broad-brimmed hat and women’s colorful scarves.

The first recruits were family members, but the Friend soon attracted a diverse group of followers, including intellectual and economic elites as well as the poor and oppressed. Known as the Universal Friends, they upset some people by proclaiming that the Friend was “the Messiah Returned” or “Christ in Female Form.” The Friend did not make such claims directly.

The Friend founded the Society of Universal Friends in 1783. Members pooled their money and started a utopian communal settlement in the wilderness near Seneca Lake in upstate New York in 1788. As the first settlers in the region, they cleared the land and became the first white people to meet and trade with the Native Americans there. By 1790 the community had grown to a population of 260.

Hostile observers put the Friend on trial for blasphemy in 1800, but the court ruled that American courts could not try blasphemy cases due to the separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution. The Friend was a pioneer in establishing freedom of speech and freedom of religion in American law.

Like other isolated utopian communities based on celibacy, the Society of Universal Friends dwindled. The Friend “left time,” as the Universal Friends put it, on July 1, 1819 at age 61. The organization disintegrated within a few years of the founder’s death.

The Publick Universal Friend continues to fascinate people today. One of the most authoritative biographies of this mysterious person is Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend by Herbert A. Wisbey Jr. In recent years the life and work of the Friend has been examined by feminists and LGBTQ scholars, including gay historian Michael Bronski in his new Lambda Literary Award-winning book, A Queer History of the United States.
___
Related links:
Chapter on Jemima Wilkinson from “Saints, Sinners and Reformers” by John H. Martin(Crooked Lake Review)

The Assumption of Jemima Wilkinson by Sharon V. Betcher (Journal of Millennial Studies)
____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, 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.

Bookmark and Share