It’s the time of year to make the claim that Jesus is gay. It seems to happen semi-annually. A few years back, a Queensland academic made the claim that Jesus had sex with his male disciples and a special relationship with ‘the beloved’ disciple, John. This year it was the turn of another John, Elton John, to raise the topic of Jesus’ sexuality, adding the new element that Jesus was a “super-intelligent” gay man.
The famous singer’s admiration of Jesus extends beyond his claim that Jesus was gay and smart: Elton admires Jesus’ compassion, naming the forgiveness of sins that Christ achieved on the cross as a key element of the Christian message, and something worthy of emulation.
This is encouraging news for those who understand that Christianity is first and foremost about forgiveness of sins, turning back to God and attempting to live in the manner that Christ exemplified.
We might disagree with Jesus, but we should at least deal with what the man actually said rather than what we’d like him to say (the church, as much as anyone else, needs to remember this)
However, the claim that Jesus was gay stretches the biblical and historical data too far. Unless we rely on the conspiracy-style argument (which runs: Jesus’ gayness is suggested by the Gospels’ suppression of any mention that he was gay), we just have to accept that a first-century Jewish teacher who spoke against porneia, the catch-all biblical term for all sexual acts proscribed by the Jewish law, could not have accepted homosexuality as a moral good. We might disagree with Jesus, but we should at least deal with what the man actually said rather than what we’d like him to say (the church, as much as anyone else, needs to remember this).
Christians do feel the pressure to adopt the emerging majority view on this—who wants to be the nay-sayer?—but they cannot bring themselves to reject 2000 years of utterly consistent Christian tradition going all the way back to Jesus for the sake of this particular cultural moment.
However, it’s blindingly obvious that the Church overall, and many Christians individually, have made a complete mess of their relationships with gay people. Let’s say it more constructively: Christians have a lot to apologise for to the gay community. Too often, Christians have hidden behind biblical texts about homosexuality in order to express their own personal homophobia and hatred. They have allowed their biblically informed views to promote unbiblical rhetoric and behaviour.
In all honesty, Christians rarely relate to gay people with anything like love, kindness, gentleness, patience and peace—the very things that are considered ‘spiritual’ in the Christian faith.
Surely it is possible for a mainstream, orthodox Christian to hold his or her view that homosexual behaviour is not encouraged in the Christian way of thinking, while at the same time being loving, kind and peaceful towards those who identify as gay. We are not talking about condescension — “Oh, I’ll be nice to you even though I think you are of the devil” — but genuine human connection with someone who lives differently from the way you yourself support.
It was the genius of Jesus that he could flex two mental muscles at the same time: he could have deep convictions about right and wrong yet extend love and friendship to all regardless. This is a lost art. Nowadays, we either stop loving those we disagree with, or in the name of love, adjust our own moral convictions.
The approach of biblical scholar Professor Robert Gagnon is the sort of thing we would like to see more often. In his landmark book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001), Gagnon summarised his 500-page study, saying, “The church should reject the notion that the only alternatives are to affirm homosexual behaviour or to hate and harass homosexuals” (p.485).
It will be a sad day for pluralistic democracies when a Christian has to claim to support homosexual behaviour in order to be thought of as loving; likewise, a Christian should hear the criticisms of the gay community in a spirit of friendship.
Gay and lesbian people are often so hurt by churches or Christians that it may take a very long time before any agreeable dialogue on the matter is possible. Elton John’s claim that Jesus is gay may not cope with much historical scrutiny, but that might be irrelevant at present, until we can find a way to acknowledge the damage that has been done and recover the art of friendly disagreement.
This article first appeared on The Punch
Dr Greg Clarke and Dr John Dickson are Directors of the Centre for Public Christianity.