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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.

The spiritual resurrection of Christ, to me, seems far less compelling. On the surface, divorcing belief in Christ from whether his corpse revived has one advantage: it kills any Christian pretension to moral superiority; therefore we can join humbly join the rest of their brothers and sisters in struggling for a better world. But other implications of the spiritual resurrection view disturb me greatly. If Jesus’ bones really are in the ground, what does that say about the power of death? Were the writers of the Gospels (and the early Christian movement) having a collective hallucination, which gave rise to the delusion that “goodness is stronger than evil/love is stronger than hate/light is stronger than darkness/life is stronger than death?" Was the death of Jesus, the feminist and queer struggler for justice, who believed he was the liberating agent of his God, simply a twisted cosmic joke? The implications for queer justice are no better. Do queer men who work for justice in our society really deceive themselves into thinking things will get better? What the hell does “justice” mean, anyway? Won’t the homophobes and gender-enforcers win, in the end? Do we fantasize about a world that will never happen on the basis of non-existent evidence and next-to-nil probability?

I ask myself these kinds of questions all the time. I study history, critical and textual theory, and Christian writings as hobbies—some people say I’m a glutton for punishment. I participate in communal Christian worship regularly. And I also listen, when I’m able, to the intuitions of my own heart. All three of these aspects have a place for me, and the more they interact, the more convinced I am that the bodily resurrection of Christ serves as the basis for my own hope.  Jesus did not come back as a ghost, but as a transformed, glorious, and still-physical person. The mystery and wonder of this reality pervades the Gospel stories about the appearances of Jesus, as well as the letters of Paul. Jesus-scholar NT Wright, paraphrasing historian Ed Saunders, claims, “The New Testament writers are struggling to say something [about the physicality of Jesus], which they passionately want to affirm, but for which they don’t yet have language.” I submit that perhaps the resurrection of Christ can give hope to other queer men, as well. Jesus, the queer Christ, will lead us to a queer world where oppression, disease, and death have died. Christ himself will prove that he has always been a defender of queer men, against everyone who has called us unclean or consigned us to the fires of hell.

I guess, with that admission, I’ve ruled out being a full-blown postmodernist—someone who believes that grand stories or metanarratives don’t exist. Some queer men will have problems with this Christian story for many reasons. After all, they note perceptively, God-language is the ultimate power game. Isn’t the certainty I express a barely-veiled power claim that will, in fact, oppress queers who choose not to become Christians? There is a tremendous danger, they assert, in projecting our own stories outward onto the cosmos, as though our story is the only true reflection of the mind of God. They are right. These questions challenge us, especially those queer men who name the name of Christ, to exercise great humility in our knowledge claims. But the humble and defiant “incredulity” of Lyotard is itself a metanarrative based on improvable axioms, as any world-view is. The post-modern worldview tends towards nihilism (not to be confused with amorality). Nothing has fundamental meaning, claim the nihilists. Perhaps the verbal diarrhoea of much (but not all) post-modern and queer theory masks a subtle existential angst—we sense, deep in our bones, that we will never be understood, and that our temporary victories are hollow.

Despite this strong post-modern lethargy, post-modern skepticism and deconstruction makes an important point that Christians and queer men especially need to heed. The resurrection of Jesus is not an excuse to draw battle lines of us versus them on any issue. It is not an excuse to use our rhetoric as a weapon against real people to destroy their lives. AIDS is not God’s weapon against queer men. Homophobia and bashing (including outing closeted gay politicians who do not persecute queer people) are not forms of justice. And activism, whether Christian or queer, that cloaks assimilation and buying into an inflexible political agenda with the call to action isn’t worthy of the name; we should call it manipulation, instead.

Rather than rejecting metanarrative altogether with certain post-modernists, I argue that the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t give Christians—and Christian queer men—the right to oppress anyone. According to Robert Goss and other queer scholars, the resurrection is the ultimate vindication of Jesus’ message, and a demonstration of God’s very real and concrete solidarity with oppressed people. Jesus is vindicated—his message is real, his solidarity with women and queers unbroken, his victory of over death and oppression certain and coming soon! Death will not win. Empire (American, Roman, or any other) will not be able to stomp us out. Mainstream GLBT organizations that enforce the gender binary or try to squeeze all the colours of the rainbow into one mould have had their day: we do not need to be married, nor do we need to fuck without any sense of respect or hospitality, to achieve queer liberation. And best of all, our bodies and our sexual experiences have enduring value, because the body is a fluid and glorious site for interaction with the sacred, even with the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means that queer men can have confidence that all our work will not fundamentally disintegrate, even if we must deconstruct and then reconstruct it until oppression ends. Before I was born, the Stonewall Riots showed us that drag queens and leathermen could resist oppression, kick some ass, and change the world. There was a recognition—what the New Testament calls faith—that there was something liberating and right going on. The death of Matthew Shepard, horrible and ambiguous as it seemed, continued and perhaps accelerated a shift in public consciousness about violence against queer people. Trans Days of Remembrance open our minds to those who cross or blur the gender binary, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Hurricane Katrina, though devastating, catalyzed a tremendous outpouring of love to a city full of queer people, contrary to the ranting of televangelists on the Religious Right. Do we recognize these events as moments and seasons of liberation and change? Should we? Do we have the courage for this kind of recognition? Are we willing to deal with reality but refuse to conclude that our actions are meaningless? Do we have the audacity to say boldly, “We see the spirit of Jesus Christ in this,” even if people disagree strenuously with us? ... (continue reading)

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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