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Can Jesus Christ be a Resource for Queer Masculinities?

Rob Day-Walker

By Rob Day-Walker
Rob Day-Walker is a 27-year-old English Major, lay theologian, and disabled gay man currently living in Winnipeg, Canada. He loves Battlestar Galactica, learning about radical social analysis, and singing about Jesus. When he grows up, he wants to be a good writer, a Christian clergyperson, and a happy member of a polyamorous family. He's learned one thing in particular from the submission process for this anthology: when all else fails, read the directions.

I’ve stayed in the Christian tradition because the Jesus of the Religious Right is not the one that I experienced when I was five years old, nor the Jesus found in the pages of the Bible. Therefore, I write what follows in the service of communities I know and love: those who follow Jesus (especially if they disagree with me about queer sexualities), and queer men of every description. Some of us queers, I find, wish that we could find a way to cut through the Church’s bullshit, longing to find some solace in a Christ who really is “good news” for us. We are tired of being hit over the head by a heterosexual, heterosexist, pro- (“traditional”) family Christ (and His misogynistic, abusive Father) whom certain kinds of Christians portray as “saviour”—well, as long as we look like them.

A close reading of the canonical Gospels shows, in contrast, that Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexual sex between men; was decidedly disinterested in patriarchal marriage; asserted the necessity of faithfulness in marriage for both men and women; and de-emphasized “blood family” to a shocking degree for his culture and time period. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are “theological biographies” that contain the historical witness to the life and teachings of Jesus. Some Jesus scholars believe these documents contain very little “history”; instead, they tell us quite a lot more about what early Christians thought of Jesus. In contrast, others believe that the authors knew the importance of truthfully recording history (albeit with a “believing” bias). In other words, some scholars say that the writers made up stories because they had a particular theology; others say that the happenings reported in the Gospels are the concrete historical basis for the theology that developed in early Christian communities. [1] I fit into the latter category.

Granting this assumption, I will use material drawn from the Gospels to suggest ways in which Jesus can become a resource for queer masculinities. My reading critiques many aspects of queer masculinities or queer male communities; a queer Jesus still challenges all who love justice and peace— especially those who name the name of Christ—to live in a way that actually reflects what we say. “The personal is political,” – so the feminists tell us – and in a culture where personal faith in Jesus supposedly props up a great deal of political activism on both the right and left, that is all the justification I need for my investigation.

I can’t make the entire Christian tradition safe for queer men. A project that ambitious would take several volumes and even then isn’t guaranteed success. I can only sketch an outline of Christ as a friend to queer men – someone capable, with our help, of undoing the damage of Christian theological heritage from the inside. With this modest goal, perhaps others more capable than I can join the continuing project of “befriending the text,” reading it from their own experiences of queerness to see if it can express “good news” for our queer lives. When quoting the gospels, I use the New Revised Standard Version, which employs inclusive language when referring to humanity and reflects a mainstream (rather than right-wing Evangelical) method of translation.


Jesus and Women

Luke 10:38-42 (New Revised Standard Version)
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." 41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing [or few things are necessary, or only one]. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." [Brackets indicate an alternate reading found in the margin of the NRSV text.]

I have a confession to make. I loved the story of Mary and Martha growing up, because I hated chores. I live with a disability—Cerebral Palsy. It leaves me a wee bit gimpy; though I get around reasonably well, I hate pushing around a vacuum cleaner, standing at the sink doing dishes, or sweeping floors. I was thoroughly incompetent at sports (despite my stepdad’s efforts to “toughen me up” by teaching me to bicycle, play baseball and soccer, and even to jump rope). Neither did I like drawing or piano very much—mostly because I felt that my dad pushed me way too hard. I just felt clumsy, lazy, and stupid. (Thanks to neuropsychological testing, I now know my “spatial orientation” is in the fifth percentile, far below average.)

Instead, I found joy in reading and creative writing – and, oftentimes, you might’ve found me in my room, singing about Jesus. My dad figured that I wasn’t busy enough around the house—he once accused me of “sloth” for sleeping in past 10 AM on a weekend—but I would remember that Jesus was on Mary’s side. Neither chores nor obsession with productivity, I decided, were of first importance, after all.

At first blush, this text would probably rankle most feminist men or women from any number of angles: Martha is in the kitchen, the traditional domicile of the woman, supporting the evidently more important work of a man (even one as nice as Jesus). Her sister Mary isn’t much better—why is she sitting at the feet of a man, simply accepting what he says? From this position, we might think that Martha rescues Mary from abject intellectual servitude; if Mary is in the kitchen, she is in woman-space, at one remove from direct manipulation by a man (even one as nice as Jesus).

Or taking another tack, doesn’t Jesus sound like an intellectual snob? In this circumstance, isn’t he being a little unreasonable? Oh, come on, Jesus, we might say. Who’s going to cook dinner if we’re all just sitting around? Aren’t you tired after a long day preaching revolution in the countryside? Besides, we might add, who’s going to throw this fabulous party without any food? Mary chose “the better part”? Surely, Jesus, your rebuke is a little harsh! Martha (Stewart) fits a latent Protestant work ethic that many of us—including me!—carry in our hearts... (continue reading)


[1] When dealing with history, I consider myself a critical realist. This means that while there is something external to the observer to actually report, the experience of observation is always mediated by language and the subjective consciousness of the observer. It is most accurate, then, to speak of statistical probabilities (approaching certainty) rather than “what actually happened”—as though there is no interpretation involved. This position is similar to that of Jesus scholar NT Wright in his several academic works, especially his Christian Origins and the Question of God series published by Fortress Press.

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Rob Day-Walker said:

I keep wanting to correct the tiny typos that I see...especially the last sentence: "The peace of Christ be yours." LOL. Minor thing!

Posted at: May 31, 2008 3:30 PM

Chris Coombs said:

Fantastic essay! I think one of the most exciting ideas suggested by your essay is the idea of adopting a subversive masculinity, a masculinity of which Jesus (at least in this characterization) is a superb example. I also appreciated the inclusion of a critique of our postmodern disdain for metanarratives. While I think this disdain arises quite naturally out of the radical critiques and the sheer volume of alternative readings of "important" texts that have accompanied poststructuralism and deconstruction, I also think there are radical possibilities (and even something of a practical imperative) to be found in reconstructing metanarratives on a wider, more inclusive foundation, by weaving together the millions of personal narratives that structure our daily existences, as queer men, as masculine, as feminists, as people of color, as people with disabilities, etc. - that out of this melting pot or mosaic or what have you, certain patterns begin to emerge and it is these patterns that offer us an opportunity to write our own story, our own grand narrative and lend our movement direction, sweeping up the whole of humanity in its march forward. This is just a flowery way of suggesting that the problem lies not with these grand narratives, but with their exclusivity. I also thought your approach to forgiveness was refreshing. I think what I've found missing in some of the essays was a failure to question or seek forgiveness for our own transgressions against one another or understand our attackers. On the surface this doesn't sound very radical, until you realize that we ourselves are the attackers at times and that change begins with ourselves. Wow, that was a lot more than I was going to write. Anyway: Thank You!

Posted at: December 19, 2008 11:23 AM