The picture above is titled “Christ the Bridegroom”, which was painted by Father Robert Lentz, OFM, in 1985, to meet the request of Priest Henri Nouwen. We know that Henri Nouwen is a famous writer; but not many people do know that he in fact struggled strongly and painfully with his secret identity as gay. Nouwen chose celibacy as his way of living. His sexual orientation as a gay was not known by others until he died in 1996. Nouwen commissioned Lentz in 1983 to paint an icon that symbolized his measure to offer his homosexuality and affection to Christ.
After doing an extensive research and a deep reflection, Lentz eventually painted the Christ being embraced by his ‘beloved disciple’ (interpreted by some as the Apostle John) on the basis of an icon originating from the medieval Crete. The result was an exquisite and subtle painting which expresses an intimate and deep companionship between Christ as the bridegroom and Saint John as his lover. Nouwen always brought this painting wherever he went, and it became the most precious thing for him in the rest of his life.
A number of biblical scholars have explored the controversial idea that Jesus and his ‘beloved disciple’ were a pair of lovers who loved each other very much. Even though the evidence is not sufficient to enable one to conclude that the ‘beloved disciple’ was the Apostle John, nevertheless some biblical scholars do not doubt that Jesus had a male companion as his lover. In the Gospel of John (13:23) we read that the ‘beloved disciple’ was “reclining next to him” on the occasion of the last supper, a position that could indicate intimacy as lovers.
The Professor of biblical and constructive theology of Chicago Theological Seminary, in the USA, who is also a Methodist minister, Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., has written a book entitled The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2003, 2009). On page 34 of this book, Jennings writes, “A close reading of the texts in which the beloved disciple appears supports the hypothesis that the relationship between him and Jesus may be understood as that of lovers. As it happens, both Jesus and the beloved are male, meaning that their relationship may be said to be, in modern terms, a ‘homosexual’ relationship.”
On the basis of the Jewish custom in those times which demanded the daughter-in-law be adopted by the surviving family upon the death of her husband as a member of this family, Prof. Jennings explains a short episode at the foot of Jesus’ cross as narrated in John 19:25-27. According to him, it is solely because of the intimate relationship between Jesus and his beloved disciple as gay lovers, that the crucified Jesus could ask his mother to adopt his lover as her own son, and bid his lover to adopt Jesus’ mother as his own. Jennings says that recognizing that Jesus and his beloved disciple were lovers is the most literal and least tortured interpretation of the scene at the foot of the cross. But Jennings cannot detail the manner of the physical sexual relationship in which both Jesus and his beloved disciple were involved.
Kittredge Cherry in her book, Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More (Berkeley, CA: Androgyne Press, 2007), also portrays Jesus both as a gay and as a female Christ. An analytical book which explores what the Bible says and doesn’t say concerning homosexuality has been written by Jack Rogers, titled Jesus, The Bible, And Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster Knox Press, 2009). A book that long has sparked controversy regarding Jesus’ homosexuality is one that was authored by Morton Smith, entitled The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel According to Mark (Middletown, CA: The Dawn Horse Press, 1973, 1982, 1984, 2005). In this book, Smith, on the basis of an obvious note in “the Secret Gospel according to Mark”, argues that Jesus conducted a homosexual intercourse ritual during his ministry in Galilee.
Of course for devout Christians in general, viewing Jesus of Nazareth as gay, or as a married man, is an act of blasphemy. At any rate, to accept the possibility that Jesus was gay may help boost the modern spirit which treats homosexuals (the LGBT) as people possessing the same rights, equality and dignity as those which nature and society endow to heterosexuals. I do not know the way to elevate this possibility to the level of probability. But I am very certain that in order to be able to participate in the international movements to promote the various rights of the LGBT, it is absolutely not necessary for anyone to hypothesize a gay Jesus. Together with the real man Jesus of Nazareth, any Christian can take part in the movements, because Jesus the man loved all people of all sexual orientations.
One and more words about homosexuality. I emphasize that homosexuality is not a sin, but rather a gift of rich nature, and therefore must be accepted with gratitude and thankfulness, and must not be cursed in the name of any god and any religious doctrine. Presently heteronormativity loses its validity more and more as the only norm for sexual orientation. In the USA, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1973 removed homosexuality from the Statistic and Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorder; and therefore anyone in the present should not view homosexuality or homosexual behavior as a clinical mental disorder. Hopefully this healthy progress can occur as well in Indonesia, a large country inhabited mostly by Muslims.
As an heterosexual Indonesian, I must join in the global effort to promote and support a social and political acknowledgment of homosexuals’ rights, equality, dignity and values. Be happy. Keep smiling to disseminate peace and tranquility to all beings.
by Ioanes Rakhmat