CW: Discussions of sexuality, homophobia and transphobia
Are we wrong about our perceptions of Jesus Christ?
The figure of Jesus is massively influential, known to many and interpreted in many ways. Yet, one consistent aspect of people’s understanding of Jesus is that he was a celibate man, presumably not sexual in any way. And certainly not queer in any way.
Yet, Dr. Clint Jones, who joined Capital’s Religion and Philosophy Department last fall, thinks we should reconsider this assumption.
On Jan. 31, Jones gave a lecture titled “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself: Masturbation, Homoeroticism, and Queer Love in the Life of Jesus Christ.” The lecture was attended by tens of students, as well as other faculty members from the Religion and Philosophy Department.
While some were seemingly upset by the controversial nature of the discussion, as evidenced by torn down posters promoting the event, there were no complainants or protestors present at the lecture.
After an introduction from fellow Philosophy Professor Nate Whelan-Jackson, Ph.D, Jones explained the inspiration for this line of inquiry. In 2010, a woman by the name of Kathleen Folden vandalized an artwork by Enrique Chagoya which depicted Jesus engaged in homoerotic acts. Folden’s motivations were the blasphemous nature of the artwork, and she asked “How can you desecrate my Lord?” while committing the vandalism.
From here, the question was raised, how do we depict Jesus in modern art and why? Why did Edwina Sandys’ depiction of Christ as a woman in her 1975 work “Christa” generate controversy? Why do depictions of Jesus outside of this particular hypermasculine, cishet perception cause anger?
There was an important discussion about the nature of the questions asked. Jones described the difference between asking counterfactual “What if?” questions and asking “Perhaps…” questions. Rather than asking “What if Jesus wasn’t celibate?”, we should consider that “…perhaps Jesus was erotically involved,” for instance.
From here, Jones addressed three aspects of the life of Jesus. Knowing that Jesus was fully man, one can assume Jesus felt human desires. It is also worth noting that little is known about Jesus’s life from age 12, when he debates at the temple, to age 30, when he begins his ministry. This leaves much room for interpretation of those missing 18 years.
Jones then stopped to examine the story of Onan in Genesis 38. From the story, many Christians believe that masturbation is a sin because Onan is described as spilling his seed on the ground when asked to impregnate his dead brother’s wife, instead of within her. He is then put to death.
But why is this the interpretation? Onan had concerns about inheritance because of the law, knowing the children would not legally be his. Violating God’s commandment for selfish reasons may also be the reason for Onan’s death.
Jones also highlighted the story of Jesus healing the Roman soldier’s slave boy in Matthew 8:5-13. The use of the term “pais” rather than “doulos” implies not merely a slave of the soldier but the lover of the soldier. Why else would the soldier ask for healing? The question now is why Jesus would heal one engaged in what Leviticus considered an abominable act, especially since Jesus did not heal every sick person he met. Perhaps this means Jesus did not seek to turn away homosexuals.
Jones acknowledged that Jesus was aware of Jewish customs on homosexuality, and that he would have been aware of it in practice due to its prevalence in surrounding ancient cultures.
Jones also talked about the resurrection of Lazarus and the relationship Jesus had with John, who is widely considered to be the beloved disciple. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus is told “…the one you love is sick.” in John 11:3 and makes an effort to bring him back. Jesus is described as lying intimately with John as well during the Passover meal.
Ultimately, the question should be: How do our perceptions of Jesus affect the way people treat each other? Should Christians assume Jesus would turn away queer people or accept them?
During the Q&A segment, a student asked what the point of this inquiry was. Jones responded that the goal was to reorient ourselves to Jesus. Why should we assume that the traditional assumption of Jesus is entirely accurate? How much can we truly know? And what does that mean for our assumptions about scripture?