I recently read this piece by Paul Oestreicher regarding Jesus' sexuality. It has been nagging me since.
Oestreicher reflects on a sermon he preached on Good Friday this year in which he made the claim that Jesus must have been gay. In his meditations on the Good Friday theme of suffering and the great suffering LGBT people have undergone, and continue to experience at the hands of the Church, he felt moved to preach such. Oestreicher bases his reading of Jesus as gay on two points in the biblical text: the reference to John as the "beloved disciple," and the words of Jesus on the cross, confirming Jesus’ mother, Mary, as John’s mother and John as her son.
This is exactly the kind of thing that rubs me the wrong way. The whole reading sacrifices thoughtfulness at the altar of being edgy. My argument is that it is inappropriate from a historical critical perspective, and doesn't go far enough from a theological perspective.
Let me be clear, theoretically I affirm problematizing the assumption that Jesus was straight and celibate. Given the church's history of marginalizing LGBT people, and anyone else we deem to stand outside of our preconceived notions of human embodiment and behavior, pointing to Jesus as one who breaks normative labels is good news. But pegging Jesus the 1st century Jew as "gay" based on the account of one gospel is lazy.
The categories of gay, straight, homosexual, heterosexual didn't exist when Jesus was alive. They didn't exist 100 years ago. They barely existed 60 years ago. That's not to say there weren't men hot on men and women hot on women and everything else in between, but we simply can't map our notions of human sexuality, and certainly not sexual identity, onto 1st century Jews in the Near East.
That Jesus appears to be un-married and celebate in the accounts of his life preserved by the church is odd, it's true. One might even call it queer. Indeed, queer is a word I would rejoice to be applied to Jesus. To us he is queer in many ways: in his speech, in his actions, in his concern for the very least in society, in his refusal to defend himself before the courts, in his refusal to raise a sword in the defense of his body. These are strange to us and they were strange in his own time.
Celibacy is also queer. More than traditionally defined, LGBT queer-sexuality, celibacy is the boundary breaking sexual identity par excellence. From a strict biological, evolutionary perspective, all of human life is geared toward the maintenance of the species and the passing on of genetic material through sex. Celibacy rejects this biological desire as the driving force of our lives. But celibacy does not reject sexuality outright, as Oestreicher would have us believe. Rather celibacy orders sexuality differently within the scope of human relations to the human other and to God. The very fact that Oestreicher writes, "Had [Jesus] been devoid of sexuality, he would not have been truly human," is an example of the extreme onus we place on sexuality as the overwhelmingly defining factor of our embodied existence. Perhaps it is paradoxical (all to the better, in my opinion) but one need not have sex to be sexual.
That is not to say all are called to celibacy -- I am not -- but I think we are all called beyond our shallow sexual identities, identities that increasingly, for gay and straight individuals alike, dominate our larger identities as full human persons. Churches and pastors concerned with the care of persons whose sexuality breaks societal norms should articulate a theological vision of Jesus' embodied existence that breaks every norm, including the norm of human sexuality itself. For example, surely the radical emptying (kenosis) undergone by Jesus on the cross makes room for every variety of human sexuality within Christ's body, the church.
By the way, did you know that the Gospel of John isn't a journalistic report of Jesus' life and times? What!? Wow! News to me and I'm the one writing this.
I’m not sure if by 90 AD (when it is presumed the final form of the Gospel of John was published) the tradition that holds Mary to be the spiritual mother of the Church had taken root. But this, it seems to me, is a better explanation of Christ’s words in John 19:26-27.
Oestreicher claims "the gospels" refer to John as special among the disciples, when it is the Gospel of John alone that refers to John as “beloved” or set apart among the twelve. Is it, like, a big surprise that in the Gospel of John, John the Disciple is referred to as beloved?
I find offensive the notion that because Jesus had a close male relationship he must have been gay. I must be pretty gay because I say "I love you" to my closest male friends. I guess someone should tell my wife. Sam and Frodo? Super gay. Funny how this whole reading is actually a product of our stupid frat-boy, macho culture in which men can't share deep feelings of affection without everyone automatically thinking they must be romantically involved.
You know what's pretty edgy? A guy who was God lived a life and preached a message so threatening to Rome that the empire arrested him and lynched him. But his followers, who were probably pretty scared about the whole Rome lynching people thing, decided to keep talking about this guy who was God. They claimed he came back from the dead and then they all eventually got lynched themselves for helping the poor and living a life and preaching a message that was similarly threatening to empire. Not edgy enough for Good Friday probably.
But as Paul Oestreicher finally argues in his piece, I guess none of it really matters.