Christians who read the Gospels shouldn’t find anything so radical about love and compassion for social outcasts.
(Editor's note: A printing error in this week's print edition of PW resulted in page 22 being replicated on page 25, thus truncating the second half of "The Uncomfortable Whole," which appears correctly in its entirety here. PW regrets the error.)
Last century, when minority groups of all sorts started realizing how short their end of the cultural stick was, these groups started to assert their identity, to empower themselves and, as in the case of the word “queer,” to take back terms that had been, up to that point, the language of bigots. African-American artists started incorporating certain words into music that make a lot of people uneasy; a “Queer Manifesto” could be found on street corners from New York to Los Angeles, and lesbians started a motorcycle group called Dykes on Bikes.
In the community that many of us call “queers,” there exist gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transmen, transwomen and everything in between. Personally, I use “queer” as the handiest umbrella term because, frankly, I have no idea what letter will next be added to the already abysmally clunky “LGBT” moniker that seems to be the most mainstream term for us. (In fact, on a number of college campuses, that acronym has already grown to LGBTQI.) “Queer,” on the other hand, is simple, monosyllabic and a great word with which to implicitly assert one’s own radicalism.
The thing is, though, there’s nothing particularly radical about being queer. To be more specific: Queers basically embody the principles espoused by the man who’s been named the most popular person in all of history. That, of course, would be Jesus Christ.
I read all of the Gospels recently to figure out what Jesus was all about. I’d grown up mostly around the type of Christianity that equates Easter with ham and Christmas with presents—so, like a lot of people, my exposure to Christianity was more exposure to other Christians than it was exposure to Jesus and the words contained in the New Testament. And after all those years hearing the opinions of self-proclaimed Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, I had come to the conclusion that, based upon how his loudest followers behave, Christ must have been kind of a jerk. But no! Pick up the Gospels and actually read them with your own eyes, and it turns out Jesus has some pretty remarkable things to say about feminism, equality and compassion. What’s more, Jesus talks about the importance of love—a lot—just like the queer movement did in the 1980s and ’90s. So, I’m going to go out on a limb here for Christmas:
Jesus was a queer.
In the Bible, he never seems to engage in polite public displays of piety or faith; to the contrary, he engages in outright disobedience repeatedly, in one instance grabbing ears of corn from a field on the Sabbath. Even though this violates God’s law as outlined in the Old Testament, Jesus pretty much just shrugs his shoulders and says people should eat when they’re hungry—and then proceeds to keep on not giving a damn about laws or edicts that obviously had no real point aside from controlling people. For instance: Jesus was not down with misogyny. He was not cool at all with the fact that society placed women beneath men, and the Gospels routinely talk about women sitting at Jesus’ feet as though they were training to be teachers themselves. Paul the Apostle backs that up in a letter to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus had very little time for people who were rich or loudly pious. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus spends a lot of his time talking with the most corrupt people in society—at that time, tax collectors. While he’s already scraping the bottom of the social barrel, he gathers up a bunch of prostitutes and losers, too, to hang out and rap for awhile. Seeing Jesus alongside this posse of weirdoes and undesirables, a concerned friend asks him why he doesn’t find a new group of, you know, respectable people to hang around. After all, Jesus is the son of God and all that. Jesus responds by saying, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Likewise, he routinely and compassionately heals or simply counsels lepers—then the most loathsome sick people in society.
That last part is particularly important. Nowadays, it’s politically incorrect to admit that you get the heebie-jeebies from someone’s medical condition—but people do indeed still get the creeps at the idea of certain viruses, parasites or bacteria. Two thousand years ago, leprosy meant that you were both figuratively and literally an outcast. You couldn’t live with “normal” people, you were shunned and, most of all, you were pitied and relegated to the ranks of “that poor thing.”
As someone living with a condition designated in American jurisprudence as, literally, “a loathsome disease,” I tend to think that Jesus would have been hanging out with me and all the other HIV+ guys in the 1980s if he were around. What’s more, he would have been totally fine with people smoking pot even though it was against the law—because, really, marijuana prohibition is purely a social-control law. After all, back in the day, Jesus really liked having conversations with folks after drinking wine; in 2013, it’s plausible that he’d be smoking a bong instead.
He probably would be wondering, too, why we don’t help people who need it by giving them food and shelter. (And Rush Limbaugh would probably summarily call him a communist, too, just like he did Pope Francis.) Most importantly of all, Jesus would advocate for people whose voices are quiet in the crowd; for those who need help; for those who are different; for those who don’t ever feel comfortable; for those who have problems and for those who suffer discrimination.
And he would say that what’s in a person’s heart matters most; people make mistakes, and Jesus was and always will be totally OK with this.
What Jesus was not OK with was being an asshole: hurting others on purpose. Not sharing. Being greedy.
So I’d like to wish my fellow queer a happy birthday. I thank him for saying some remarkable, progressive things 2,000 years ago that, even today, remain sort of controversial (like about wealth redistribution). I thank him for all the presents my parents and friends buy me every year around this time; if it weren’t for his birthday being arbitrarily picked to coincide with the solstice and the new year, we wouldn’t have this nice two-week-long spot of down time. And I thank him for advocating for the sick, the meek, the poor and every other group that people in power like to dismiss, harm or ignore.
Then again, Jesus would say thanking him for all these things is unnecessary, and that the best way to thank him would be to be a nice person and to love others. How queer is that?
Josh Kruger is a writer and editor from Philadelphia. His PW column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” presents stories and ideas that challenge our cultural understanding of what “normal” means in American life anymore.
Savage Love: Sondheim is solace