Jesus Was a Queer

Christians who read the Gospels shouldn’t find anything so radical about love and compassion for social outcasts.

By Josh Kruger
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Dec. 24, 2013

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(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.

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1. merf said... on Dec 24, 2013 at 02:28PM

“Mr Kruger, please stop equating being gay with being black. Liked the article otherwise, but, that is as offensive as being called that uncomfortable word!!!! Rappers using that word has nothing to do with an alternative lifestyle, don't continue to anger and incense a group of people who can see your side of the story!!! Don't alienate potential allies, been a black man for 39 years, probably know more than you do. Not one of these guys appreciate being compared to gay people, they aren't gay!!!! The fight is totally different, if a gay guy talks straight he would be considered, just a white guy. No matter what I sound like or dress, I am still a black guy and treated accordingly!!!! Good article after you get past the part of you being an asshole!!”

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2. Anonymous said... on Dec 24, 2013 at 05:16PM

“Wow, merf --- sounds like you have some pretty serious issues with homophobia yourself. What gives you the right to claim that the plight of black people is "better" than that of gay people? Why are you so horrifically afraid of being even the tiniest bit perceived as gay? Are gay people really that deplorable in your eyes?

As a predominantly-gay man currently in a heterosexual relationship, not one minute goes by that I don't think about heterosexual privilege, as I have more experience with being on the unprivileged side of that.

You also seem to say that only white men can be gay.
That is just ignorant, and no less bigoted than the rest of your diatribe.”

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3. merf said... on Dec 24, 2013 at 06:11PM

“You seem to be having trouble comprehending what I posted. First off, I am not homophobic. That word gets used improperly alot of the times. I'm not afraid of gay men or women, maybe you didn't read the part about me sympathizing with their plight! Never did I even insinuate that the black plight was better! What I said was they were not the same! I stand by that! The point of my post, was to tell the author not to alienate a population of people who can sympathize with you!! Fight your fight on your merits, I got your back. Don't twist my words into something hateful!!!”

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4. merf said... on Dec 24, 2013 at 06:24PM

“The white guy reference was an example of sorts. I guess that was lost on you, like the whole point of the diatribe! Racial discrimination and sexual discrimination are different because, I have to get to know you to know your preference. If I hate your race, there is no getting to know you, I hate you on site!! Sexual discrimination is as evil as any other, especially because, you'd have to like me well enough to know my preference, you cant start to hate someone for that sole reason, its hypocritical! Relax, everything is not an attack!!! My previous post was not!”

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5. Pete Hoge said... on Dec 25, 2013 at 05:45PM

“I appreciate your perspective Mr.Kruger, but I hope no one will take it as a
definitive understanding of Christianity, or it's supposed founder. I am an amateur scholar of sorts who grew up in an active Christian household, (and suffer the consequences of that upbringing). I made it a lifelong project to understand where Christianity came from, and how it has evolved. I have been a Christian by choice, as well as by threat of punishment, so the issue is very serious to me. Currently, my apostasy is
supported by understanding Christian origins through study of the
research by Dr. Robert Price, Earl Doherty, Dr. Richard Carrier, Peter Kirby, and especially the amazing work of Neil Godfrey. I suggest investigating their research instead of attempting to understand the New Testament through literal interpretation, which atheists and believer's are both guilty of.”

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6. Larry said... on Dec 26, 2013 at 12:05PM

“Jesus didn't call people to simply "be nice and love others." He did far more: He called them to "pick up your cross and follow me." Which is a pretty radical call to obedience to His lordship, when you realize the cross was an instrument of torture. It means laying down your whole life, and seeking to follow wherever He leads you to.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Dec 27, 2013 at 02:53PM

“"Pick up your cross and follow me?" Well, that's where I'd draw the line if I were a Christian. Especially if you interpret as a call to blind obedience to whatever his crazy followers dictate these thousands of years after he was tortured to death on a cross. No thank you. Carry on...”

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8. Jo said... on Dec 28, 2013 at 03:07PM

“This newspaper is disgusting, and should close it's doors.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Jan 9, 2014 at 08:44AM

“how does this hack have a job?”

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10. Anonymous said... on Mar 27, 2014 at 09:00AM

“"disobedience repeatedly, in one instance grabbing ears of corn from a field on the Sabbath."

They believed they were starving to death. Jewish law, which does prohibit harvesting on the Sabbath, is also clear that saving a life takes precedence and thus, they could harvest to avoid starving.

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