David the Prophet & Jonathan, His Lover

The story of David and Jonathan is one of those most frequently quoted in any discussion of biblical same sex relationships. As with the stories of Ruth & Naomi, or of Jesus and John (the “beloved disciple”), it is similarly bedeviled by discussion over the degree of physical intimacy involved (was there or wasn’t there?), and the impossibility of knowing for certain.
Personally, I see these questions as something of a distraction, just as I do with the other cases. Gay men are frequently accused of being “obsessed” with genital sex. If we only accept as “gay” those men for whom we know there was this genital activity, we are simply reinforcing the stereotype. I prefer simply to recognize that there was clearly a deeply intimate emotional relationship here, and to ignore the degree of physical expression. (Chris Glaser has pointed out that whatever the nature of the relationships, the stories of David & Jonathan, and of Ruth and Naomi, are the two longest love stories told in the Bible – longer than any obviously heterosexual love stories. Marriage in Biblical times was not about love. See “Coming Out as Sacrament“)
However, for those who are determined to dig deeper, there is a reference by John McNeill (in Sex as God Intended) which is worth thinking about.

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St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”: December 27th

In the catalogue of “gay saints”, or pairs of supposedly “gay lovers” in Scripture, the coupling of John the Evangelist (the “beloved disciple”)  and Jesus himself is surely the most controversial. Many people, including some of my friends from the LGBT Soho Masses, find the whole idea that this may have been a “gay”, sexually active relationship, highly offensive. Others argue the opposite case.
In an explosive book, “the man jesus loved,  the reputable biblical scholar Theodore Jennings mounts an extended argument that Jesus himself was actually gay and that the beloved disciple of John’s Gospel was Jesus’ lover.  To support this provocative conclusion, Jennings examines not only the texts that relate to the beloved disciple but also the story of the centurion’s servant boy and the texts that show Jesus’ rather negative attitude toward the traditional family: not mother and brothers, but those who do the will of God, are family to Jesus.  Jennings suggests that Jesus relatives and disciples knew he was gay, and that, despite the efforts of the early Church to downplay this “dangerous memory” about Jesus, a lot of clues remains in the Gospels.  Piecing the clues together, Jennings suggests not only that Jesus was very open to homosexuality, but that he himself was probably in an intimate, and probably sexual, relationship with the beloved disciple.
Daniel Helminiak, Sex and the Sacred

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Born Today – Queer Icon, Jesus Christ

As the whole of the Christian world focuses today on the incarnation of Jesus Christ, I want to take a different tack. Instead of the familiar (and too often saccharine) focus on the nativity and a cute little infant in a manger, my thoughts have been along the lines we more usually take, in commemorating the births of other great men and women – with tributes to their lives and legacies. In the case of Jesus Christ, of course, we do this routinely throughout the liturgical year, which is why Christmas quite rightly concentrates exclusively on the birth – but for LGBT people, this message is also so inextricably bound up with the false perception that his message is inherently hostile to us, that is important from time to time to step back and consider his life and message as a whole. When we do so, the unmistakable conclusion must be that far from being hostile to sexual or gender minorities (or anybody else), Jesus is more properly seen as a unique queer role model, a superb queer icon.

It is not for nothing that in the letter to the Galatians, we read

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

– Galatians 3:28-29New International Version


1 Erotic Christ, OHLSON, Krucifix2

This direct dismissal of arbitrary distinctions between groups of people goes right to the heart of what is understood by queer theory, which no longer restricts the word to a sexual or gender context. In his life, ministry and teaching, Jesus completely exemplified queer in this broad sense, famously reaching out to marginalised groups of all kinds, associating freely with social outcasts like prostitutes and tax collectors, and not afraid to touch the unclean – lepers, or menstruating women. We can easily see ourselves as included among the marginalized and social outcasts, especially in the religious communities that ought to know better, and (metaphorically) also among the unclean – as that is how far too many so-called Christians have tended to view us.  We also know, with specific reference to same – sex relationships, that he did not hesitate to go to the home of the Roman centurion to heal his sick “boy” – even though it would have been assumed by all around him that this included a sexual relationship between the two men. It is clear that, in modern terminology, he was at the very least what we would call a straight ally.

But we usually think of “queer” in a narrower sense, as referring specifically to one or other of “LGBT”, for which it is often used as a simple synonym. Is it reasonable to think of Jesus as queer in this more restricted understanding? Indeed, it is.

In the first place, consider his own family, which far from being a model for the modern nuclear family as it is often portrayed, was in fact distinctly queer – conceived by an unmarried mother, and with “two daddies”. Later, he downplayed the importance of the biological family, and emphasised instead our families of choice, advising his disciples to leave their fathers and mothers, in order to follow him.

In his own life, there is no evidence that he ever married, in marked contrast with the practice of his day. Instead, his closest associates were a band of twelve men, who had abandoned their wives and families to join him.  For Jews, there was a strong expectation on men to marry and father children, a practice that only the ascetical Essene sect rejected – but Jesus was not an ascetic. (Although he lived simply and encouraged others to do so, we know that he was not averse to a glass of wine). In this direct and public rejection of the hetero-normative emphasis on marriage and family, Jesus was clearly queer in his lifestyle.

He was also queer in his choice of friends. Outside the immediate circle of the twelve, his best known close associates were the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, who are described in the bible as two sisters and their brother. This is unlikely however to be literally true, with the extreme social pressures and expectations on all Jewish women to marry. It is quite possible that “sisters” is a euphemism for two women in a lesbian relationship – but even if this were not so, this household was definitely “queer”, in its direct repudiation of conventional marriage. As for Lazarus, when Jesus is given the news of his death, he is described as one whom Jesus loved deeply.

Throughout the Gospel of John, there are repeated references to a “beloved disciple”, with whom Jesus had a particularly close relationship. This may have been John, to whom at the point of death he entrusted the care of his mother (much as a widower might take care of his mother-in-law). Or it may be Lazarus, who we know to have been the object of particular affection. Whoever it was, we know that the relationship was at the least more emotionally intimate than his other relationships, and included a tactile element – at the Last Supper, he sat beside Jesus and laid his head on his breast.

We do not know for certain whether this emotionally intimate relationship with the Beloved Disciple was purely emotional and celibate, or a sexual one  – but it certainly could have been. As one who was fully human as well as fully divine, Christ would certainly have experienced the same sexual feelings and urges as any other adult male. There was even at one time, a tradition in some quarters of the Church that the bridal couple at the famous wedding feast at Cana was – Jesus and his Beloved Disciple, John.

Whether he was sexually active or celibate, whether we choose to interpret the word broadly or narrowly, we cannot avoid the conclusion that Jesus was, most certainly, “queer”.

But makes him a uniquely important queer role model, what warrants my description of him as a “queer icon”?

I’m not going to go into this analysis myself – the theologian Patrick Chen has done a superb job of explaining this in a series of articles on sin and grace  published at Jesus in Love blog, and later expanded in his book,  “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ

In the first of these, “Erotic Christ“, Cheng emphasises the importance to Christ of relationships.

In Out Christ, he describes how Christ’s example is a role model for us  in coming out, which he sees as grace  – and the closet as sin ).

Liberator Christ emphasises Christ’s role as one who came “to set prisoners free” – and that explicitly includes those imprisoned in any way by sexual oppression and social hostility or prejudice. LGBT activism is thus seen as a Christian grace.

3, Liberator Christ, Jesus Rises

 Transgressive Christ and the last of the series at Jesus in Love, Hybrid Christ illustrate Jesus’ overt flouting and subversion of artificial socially prescribed group boundaries and  restrictive gender norms – and how in his own life he constantly merged different identities.

5 Hybrid Christ, transfigurationscover2


Recommended Books:

Thomas Bohache et al (eds):    The Queer Bible Commentary (especially the chapters on the four Gospels)

Patrick S. ChengRadical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology

Patrick S. Cheng: From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ

Patrick S. Cheng: Rainbow Theology

Susannah CornwallControversies In Queer Theology

Gomes,  Rev Peter:  The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?

Robert Goss:  Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus Acted Up

Theodore W. Jennings Jr: The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament

Gerard Loughlin: Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body 

Dale B Martin: Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation

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John Boswell (1947 – 1994), Historian and gay Catholic activist

b. March 20, 1947
d. December 24, 1994

John Boswell was an esteemed historian who argued that homosexuality has always existed, that it has at times enjoyed wide social acceptance, and that the Church historically allowed same-sex unions.
“It is possible to change ecclesiastical attitudes toward gay people and their sexuality because the objections to homosexuality are not biblical, they are not consistent, they are not part of Jesus’ teaching; and they are not even fundamentally Christian.”
John Boswell was a gifted medieval philologist who read more than fifteen ancient and modern languages. After receiving his PhD from Harvard in 1975, he joined the history faculty at Yale University. Boswell was an authority on the history of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in medieval Spain. He helped to found the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center at Yale in 1987. In 1990 he was named the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History.
In 1980 Boswell published the book for which he is best known: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. In this groundbreaking study, Boswell argued against “the common idea that religious belief-Christian or other-has been the cause of intolerance in regard to gay people.” The book was named one of the New York Times ten best books of 1980 and received both the American Book Award and the Stonewall Book Award in 1981.
Boswell’s second book on homosexuality in history was The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, published in 1994. In it he argues that the Christian ritual of adelphopoiia (“brother-making”) is evidence that prior to the Middle Ages, the Church recognized same-sex relationships. Boswell’s thesis has been embraced by proponents of same-sex unions, although it remains controversial among scholars.
John Boswell converted to Roman Catholicism as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, and remained a devout Catholic for the rest of his life. He was an effective teacher and popular lecturer on several topics, including his life journey as an openly gay Christian man.
Boswell died of AIDS-related illness on Christmas Eve in 1994 at age 47.


Selected works by John Boswell:

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Let Us Remember, for Dec 24th

  • John Boswell, Catholic historian whose extensive research did so much to open up scholarship to renewed interest in both a re-evaluation of the biblical evidence on same – sex relationships, and to the previously hidden history of gay and lesbian people in the church, saints, martyrs, bishops and popes among them.

Protus & Hyacinth, 24th December

Protus and Hyacinthus were the eunuch slaves who were the companions of St. Eugenia of Alexandria. They served as her two teachers who accompanied her on a somewhat romantic journey, and at the end were martyred with her.

Select bibliography

Dukakis, Megas Synaxaristes, translated in various volumes by Holy Apostles Convent, (Buena Vista, Colorado,
various dates ), sub. Eugenia
Szarmach, Paul E., “Aelfric’s Women Saints: Eugenia”, in Helen Damico and Alexandria Hennessey Olsen, eds., New
Readings on Women in Old English Literature, (Bloomington IN: Indiana UP, 1990), 146-157