Religion: Reflections on a Queer Christ
Submission by Julian, TNG reader
“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Many of those opposed to same-sex relationships often times appeal to the stories of God creating Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 and 2 when discussing sexuality. Adam and Eve, along with God’s commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), are trumpeted as the divinely revealed model for human relationships. This is especially frequent among those with strong Christian commitments. However, this tendency perplexes me—after all, aren’t Adam and Eve the symbolic characters who represent humanity’s fall toward violence, oppression, and injustice as we know it today? Do they not embody our inability to live well with each other and creation? If this is the case, who else in the Bible is a poorer example of what it means to truly be human—and a truly sexual being?
Contrary to this “proof-texting,” traditional Christian theology has always affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ) is the only one in whom God is fully revealed and the only one in whom human nature has been expressed in its fullness. (This point was secured through the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon). Therefore, those faithful to the Christian tradition ought to appeal to Jesus—not Adam and Eve—when reflecting on what is appropriate for human nature. However, even here, we might be puzzled by what we find.
Sadly, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life lack any details regarding his sexuality. There is no marriage, no overnight hook-up, not even a moment of masturbation; and the attempts to unearth some hidden historical Jesus behind the narratives can be dubious. Instead, the Gospels present Jesus as a celibate and almost asexual figure—in every sense of the word, he is “queer”. Since Jesus is the fullest expression of humanity and there is a lack of sexual narratives in the Gospel, some have taken this to mean that sexuality is nonessential to the human life. But, no lie, I think Jesus’ celibacy can teach us a lot about our sexuality and our relationships. (OK, I know celibacy isn’t a very popular topic these days, but hear me out).
On one hand, being celibate, Jesus refuses to claim any sexuality or human relationship as bearing the mark of Divine approval for humanity, not even marriage. However, rather than simply ignoring sexuality, in his celibacy, Jesus creates space for various sexualities and relationships to be present in God’s good future—heterosexual and homosexual, monogamous and non-monogamous, BDSM or vanilla. It is easy to forget that celibacy and asexuality are also queer, since they, too, disrupt the categories and the power dynamics of heterosexism (why is celibacy/asexuality absent from contemporary queer discussions?). However, it also upsets those who live in the binaries of gay/lesbian vs. straight, since Jesus’ queer sexuality destabilizes even that dichotomy. As celibate, Jesus affirms that no sexuality or form of relationship is held as the ideal for human life because humanity’s greatness is found in its diversity—even of sexualities—without hierarchy or rank.
On the other hand, Jesus also teaches us an invaluable lesson about the value of the individual. An individual is not just a cog in a larger machine such as the family, or society, or the nation. An individual is not a puzzle piece awaiting fulfillment when the rest of the pieces fall into line and the larger picture is complete. As the embodiment of full humanity, Jesus’ celibacy illustrates that each individual is whole—lacking nothing—by virtue of their relationship to God. Jesus gives us an ethic of self-affirmation and of loving oneself. His celibacy teaches us to see ourselves as God see us; not as a fragments of a larger picture, but as individuals—absolutely singular and infinitely valuable. As the fulfillment of human nature, Jesus’ celibacy establishes that each individual is fully human, in and of themselves; a value so great that nothing can be added to it and nothing can subtract from it. I believe this remains a powerful message, especially regarding our sexualities and relationships.
In a world bent on dating sites, romantic comedies, and how-to guides to relationships, this celibate, queer Christ reminds us that we are not halves awaiting completion by another. We are not lonely souls in need of a soul-mate or damsels in distress who need knights in shining armor in order to survive. These romanticized ideas and images seem harmless but they create frameworks for destructive behavior and abusive relationships. Moreover, talk of sex, relationships, or lack thereof can become oppressive standards in our culture (Who’s getting laid and who isn’t? Have you found “the one”? If not, when? And how are you working to find them? You’re not a virgin, are you?) Even among sexual minorities, there is still the pressure to obtain the idyllic love life, to sleep around, and make ourselves desirable by staying young, rich, and sexy. In light of Jesus’ celibacy, these questions and concerns are exposed as inabilities to love one’s own self and to value oneself as already complete. In fact, Jesus should give special comfort to LGBTQ of all stripes—offering encouragement to self-appreciation and joy.
Understood in this way, a kind of celibacy should underlie all of our sexual encounters and relationships. Whether one is married, dating, polyamorous/nonmonogamous, or celibate, our sexuality is best understood as a creative and fun act between whole persons rather than desperate attempts find completion. As queer, Jesus shows us that it is in accepting and enjoying our individuality that we can lovingly accept and enjoy [being with] others. In Jesus’ celibacy, the fullness and perfection of humanity is found not in marriage, or dating, or who we’re sleeping with, but in each individual as they are in God’s grace.
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