• Stephen Oliver B-M

The queer ethics of Jesus

Updated: Apr 20, 2018

Questioning the relevance of gender in matters of love and sexuality

Christ and the two Marys (detail) - William Holman Hunt (Art Gallery of South Australia)

Tweaking the language of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, it is not hard to see why Jesus of Nazareth was murdered. He exposed the deadly hypocrisy of the politicians of his day, (especially the bible-studying ones) - stripped them bare. Want to see the face of God? Wash the windows of the soul and look through to its intentions, sensitivities, vulnerability, attitudes and priorities. Not only is the transparent honest and loving heart the prism whereby we experience the presence of the Divine, but it is living by the pure dictates of the heart that constitutes the worship of God.

Jesus had hard words to say about the lusts of the heart but he also made it clear that before judging someone else, we should take a good look at our own lusts and worry about them. It could be that he identified lust with pornography [‘tear out your eye if it offends you’], and certainly we know he championed the dignity of women, but we also know he was disparaging of clothes. Why bother with clothes when King Solomon in all his fine arraignment was not as beautiful as the naked flower in the field? The body is more precious than how it is clothed. Love is not about making marriage oaths but about being honest, ’saying it like it is’. Love is about treating others as you would be treated, in kindness, mercy and understanding.

Though St. Paul never could strip himself of the wounds of pharisaism of the kind that crucified Jesus, in every one of his letters he pointedly asserts that the ‘Law of Love’ is the quintessential hallmark of a Christian. His attack on Christian legalism was as vehement as Jesus’ denunciations of the religious hypocrite. The Christian life should reflect the divine grace as revealed in the life and parables of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Gospels of Luke and Matthew ‘grace’ is portrayed as the kind of love that radically gives itself to another in love and that accepts and radically forgives in love.

What is queer about the ethics of Jesus? None at all except that its teaching applies to queer and straight equally. However it is the implications for traditional heterosexual marriage though that are most striking. Behind religious clothing of religious righteousness he saw the lust for power, status and money, expressed dramatically when he whipped out the traders in Temple religion. The desire to stone the woman caught in adultery was not concern for the human heart but, as with going to the marriage altar, about protecting financial assets and status. Woman was a property pawn. In marriage she was sold into servitude and expected to live for the pleasure of her husband, produce babies and enhance the dignity of her owner. The Tenth Commandment prohibited lusting after another man’s property, in particular the woman he owned.

Actually, the ethic of Jesus is really queer or questioning because, as St. Paul himself said, it has nothing to do with ethics but everything to do with Spirit. Paul endlessly reiterated that ethical rules are useless - only the possession of the Spirit of Love brings Life (eternal life!). What is so unforgivable of Queer sexuality is precisely that it is so Christian - well not Christian if that is code for sexism, legalism and the hypocrisy of its traditional mores. Jesus was not bohemian but he openly mixed with a core of sexually deviant people and was known as the friend of prostitutes. John’s Gospel suggests that he had a deep loving relationship with one of his disciples, almost certainly a male, though it could have been one of the women (Mary Magdalene?) that accompanied him in Galilee and Jerusalem. Christians are supposed to follow in the steps of Jesus as Lord, so who is doing a better job, the queer or the straight?

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