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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 hope that even my brothers who are not Christians can still take something away from this analysis. We can read the resurrection narratives strictly as a literary text without trying to do theology as such. Jesus’ empty tomb, which seems to the apostles (and to many of us!) “an idle tale,” seems to affirm, mysteriously, that death and oppression can never have the last word. Queer people have had these kinds of experiences by the score, and I think it’s time that we claim this profound and concrete intuition as knowledge of our own and as a source of empowerment for queer justice-making. To put it another way, not only straight people come back from the dead.


Jesus of San Francisco

This picture of the resurrected, embodied, vindicated victim and feminist that I see in the pages of the Gospels and in my own experience, I call here “Jesus of San Francisco.” I have tried to show that queer men can know Christ as a friend and ally of our communities. The Jesus of the Gospels—the same Jesus that Christians claim God has raised from the dead—also challenges us to examine our ways of life and how we structure our communities. Christ challenges us to embrace and celebrate our feminist brothers and sisters. When we thus subvert misogyny and fear, we find Christ in our struggles for liberation. He challenges our sense of beauty and asks us to honour our bodies and our stories. He asks us to defend and shelter victims of violence against queers while rooting out the seeds of that violence in ourselves by practicing forgiveness. Above all, I believe Jesus asks us to struggle for and celebrate the full liberation of all people, precisely because he has promised, by his boundary-breaking resurrection, that it shall happen.

The point of all this is hope.  One thing I love about Jesus is that he always takes me by surprise. Right when I think I have him pegged down, when I am convinced he looks just like me, he shows me that I have in fact nailed him to the cross of my own of my expectations and pet theories. The amazing thing, though, is that he always rises again from the dead and lovingly shows me that I can never contain him, even within my best imaginings.

Even with this caveat in mind, I do feel that Jesus can be a resource for queer men and queer masculinities in several ways. First, and most fundamentally, the Jesus of the Gospels and the one experienced in the lives of queer Christians leads us to a boundary-shattering feminism, a “returning to roots” that asserts, loudly and concretely, the goodness of all members of the human family.  All human beings, and most especially the destitute and oppressed, are subjects of God’s liberating concern and love. Queer male discomfort with and hatred of women (or of minorities within queer male communities) must end if we take Jesus seriously.

Second, Jesus extends radically inclusive hospitality to outcasts, women, and children. Not only does he find his primary vocation in healing service to others, but he demonstrates solidarity with oppressed people by sitting down with them to eat. (The dinner table usually reflects the values and priorities of a given culture.[21]) “Nice” Jewish boys of Jesus’ day didn’t eat with tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers! He performs his own culturally subversive masculinity, broadening the definition from the “muscular Christian” singularity commonly articulated by the religious right. By accepting and overcoming his victimization on the cross through forgiveness, Jesus further bends the definition of masculinity out of shape. Literary theorist Judith Butler calls this bending and redefinition “proliferation of genders.” The very notion of a single ‘masculinity’ collapses because there are so many “internally ambiguous” ways of defining ourselves in relation to others. Thus, Jesus allows people to tell their own stories and to live in ways that bring personal fulfilment and justice-oriented community building.

Third, Jesus rejects all forms of masculinity that have their basis in violence and oppression. Many scholars believe that Jesus knew his revolutionary message would lead to death. Yet Jesus, in contrast to the usual violent behaviour of Roman criminals, extends forgiveness to his murderers. In effect, Jesus stopped the cycle of violence with forgiveness. Christians believe that in Jesus, God declared that there would be an end to violence, victimization, and revenge.

Fourth, Jesus models for us in his life and his resurrection concrete manifestations of hospitality and hope. Healthy queer men, I submit, can learn much from Jesus’ “eating and drinking with ‘sinners’” and his message that God is active on the side of the oppressed, dismissed, and forgotten. Doesn’t Jesus already mirror many of the things that we see in our everyday experience of queer men? When we see queer men engaged in the healing professions, when we see a friend do his best Martha Stewart impression while hosting a party, and when we see the easy welcome and powerful intensity of our bear and leather brothers, do we not see Jesus doing the same kinds of things?

Last, and most incredible to me, Jesus demonstrates that being in touch with the sacred, with God, can be a life-giving way of being that has nothing to do with bashing women, fleecing the poor, or putting people on a guilt trip. Instead, Jesus’ awareness of God’s presence, fostered by a life of prayer, led him to profound and concrete action and prophetic speaking—he not only spoke of God’s heart for people, but also challenged others to buy into God’s agenda—not, as some would have us believe, an agenda of violent revolution, hopeless nihilism, or rigid religious observance. Instead, I believe that it is  an agenda that brings concrete healing and justice to all those around us, including those who disagree with us. Jesus himself, as I’ve shown, has enough security and sensitivity to learn from a woman heretic, how to think about God! Perhaps Jesus can give us the courage to engage again with the intuitive or spiritual side of our lives as queer men that we have compartmentalized or drowned out because of the lashings that religious fundamentalism – in all its guises – has imparted against us.

I’ve presented a strong image of Christ in this essay, one with which my queer brothers may disagree for any number of reasons. Perhaps my sketch is too radical, or perhaps not queer enough. Perhaps some of my brothers may still find “Jesus of San Francisco” useless to them. But the Jesus whom I’ve experienced, who always calls me to be his friend, doesn’t have a problem with that—he’ll always be better than I can ever articulate. I suspect he is even queerer than I dare to hope. I submit that Jesus can be a resource—a re-enlivening, blurring, and subverting source—for queer masculinities. I dare to pray that Jesus may be and become this deep source for you. This Jesus, whom I find in the Gospels and in my own heart, still has me singing—even when I’m standing at the sink doing dishes. The peace of Christ be your’s.


[21] Left-wing Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan calls Jesus’ table praxis, “open commensality.”

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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