Are we sure Jesus was cisgender and heterosexual?
I’m just asking the question.
We have assumed something about who Jesus was, and we have used those assumptions to batter people.
A few weeks ago Jay, Julia and I were having dinner and discussing some deep theological topic – I don’t remember what - and this question popped into my head. I began thinking about it and thinking about it, which is how I know God wanted me to discuss this with God, and with you. How do we know KNOW KNOW that Jesus was cisgender (identifying as the gender he was assigned at birth) and heterosexual (directs sexual desire to the opposite sex)?
I was going to save this post for Gay Pride month, but there is so much pain among my LGBTQ friends on Twitter around the Pope’s comments that priests in the Catholic church cannot bless same-sex unions. I think the time to publish this is now.
Some years ago as I was driving I heard an interview on NPR about Jesus and sex. This may have been around the time that The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, was published. I came home and asked Jay if he thought Jesus had ever had sex. “No.” Would it bother him if it could be proven that Jesus did have sex? “Yes.” Why? “Because that isn’t what I was taught.” Jay, for the record, has eased up a little.
So let’s start there – was Jesus a sexual being? Jesus was fully divine (son of God) and fully human (son of Mary). As someone who was fully human, I believe that Jesus must have experienced the same drives and desires of any teenage boy or young man. Whether he acted on those drives and desires we can’t know, because the Bible says nothing about it.
One thing I do believe – Jesus would not have violated the cultural proscriptions about sex, because he would have loved and respected any potential partner. He would never have had one-night stands or cheap sex, and would never have overpowered his partner to force anything. He would never have done anything to demean or injure his partner. Jesus would have cherished his own body as much as the body of his partner, and would have used sex to foster love, intimacy, and a deep connection with another person, and would not have done anything to harm someone else.
Sue Monk Kidd, in her book, A Book of Longings, explores the possibility that Jesus had a wife. This book is fiction and imagines that Jesus married a young Jewish woman named Anna several years before he began his ministry. The book focuses on Anna’s experiences, and I would have liked for the Jesus character to be fleshed out a little more, but I enjoyed the book. I recommend it if you like historical fiction and can engage your sacred imagination. Jesus and Anna do consummate their marriage, but not graphically so don’t worry about that.
I believe that in order to be fully human, Jesus had to participate in a sexual relationship - or choose celibacy, which is certainly possible, but then Jesus, in my opinion, wouldn't have really and truly understood the human condition.
Could Jesus have been other than heterosexual?
It is true that the Bible has prohibitions about homosexual behavior (See Leviticus 18 and 20). Some modern interpreters, however, believe that these prohibitions were more about setting Israel apart from other societies where rape, including by men of boys, was common. When religious ceremonies included sex, God was disgusted - and I don't imagine that the powerless in the community (women and children) had much say in the matter. The behavior that the Bible describes was more about lust and power than the consensual, loving relationships that we talk about today.
People will point to the destruction of Sodom (the root of the word sodomy) as evidence of God’s hatred of homosexual relationships. However, it is not clear that it was homosexuality and not arrogance and selfishness that condemned Sodom:
You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:47-49, NRSV)
She and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. I don’t hear anything there about sex. I do hear about not caring for the widow, the poor, and the orphan. About the sins of pride, gluttony, and sloth. About not loving our neighbors.
Somehow we have become very squeamish about sex, and it is important to us not to imagine Jesus in “compromising” positions. We prefer to think of Jesus as asexual.
Asexual people are those who have no desire for sexual intimacy. They may have become asexual through surgery or trauma or may just have no desire. This is different from celibacy. Celibate people do experience desire but choose not to act on it. I think many people prefer to think of Jesus as asexual because it is more comfortable to our squeamish selves. But guess what? Asexual people fall under the queer umbrella.
So if Jesus was asexual, he would today be considered queer.
Could Jesus have been homosexual?
According to John, Jesus’ first miracle occurred at a wedding in Cana. Jesus goes to the wedding with Mary, his mother, and several of his disciples. You remember – Mary comes to him and says the hosts are out of wine. Jesus says, “What is this to me? My time is not yet come.” Mary tells the servants to do what he says and voila! The water is now the best wine (John 2:1-11). No mention is made of a woman guest other than Mary, so I presume that Jesus did not have a wife on his arm. Who goes to a wedding with his mother and a bunch of guys? Yes, I am presuming, but still.
There is also mention – five times – in the book of John about the disciple whom Jesus loved (bold is mine):
One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him;
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”
Clearly at least one of the disciples understood that the relationship Jesus had with one of them was uniquely close. It is my understanding that no one has been able to determine who the disciple whom Jesus loved was. Some say John, as it was his gospel. Some would say that perhaps it was a woman (Mary Magdalene?), except that when Peter turned and saw the beloved, he was the one who had reclined. Clearly the disciple Jesus loved was a man. Could this love have been sexual in nature? Would it be so out of bounds to think that Jesus needed someone special to soothe him, listen to him, croon to him?
I thought it would be good to read the gospels to see if Jesus ever did say anything about homosexuality – he didn’t. Paul did, but remember he never met Jesus – he became an apostle while persecuting Jews who followed the Way after word began getting out that Jesus, who had been crucified and resurrected, really was the Son of God.
I did discover this, though, which I had never noticed before, in Matthew 19:11-13. Jesus is talking with his disciples about whether it is good or not good to marry:
11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (NRSV)
It is right there! There are eunuchs who have been so from birth. The Bible doesn’t equate eunuchs with homosexuality or gender fluidity, but it makes sense to me that ancient mothers, fathers, and young men who were not developing as their peers were would be considered eunuchs. It makes sense to me that in Biblical times young men who appeared to be more feminine than their peers, or who weren’t interested in courting or marrying would be misunderstood and perhaps considered eunuchs - an acceptable rationale, at the time. Young women who seemed more masculine and weren’t interested in marrying and having babies, would be misunderstood as well, although I don’t know of a feminine word for eunuch (I looked it up but only came up with a book written by Germaine Greer in 1970).
So Jesus himself said that some “eunuchs” are that way from birth. Can we extrapolate that to the entire LGBTQ community? I think we can.
Wow. If you are still reading . . .
I am not saying that Jesus was not cisgender and heterosexual, although I think I’ve made a pretty good argument that he may not have been. I am saying that we have assumed something about who Jesus was, and we have used those assumptions to batter people. We are behaving just like the Sodomites – not the homosexual men that have been spat upon and murdered (have you watched The Miniaturist on PBS yet?), but the people of Sodom, who sat in judgement of others and considered themselves above them.
I never thought about Jesus' sexuality until that night at dinner and after hearing that radio interview, and I probably won't again after this post is published. It doesn't matter to me - what does matter about Jesus is the man he was, his divinity, and the things he said and taught. Also, of course, his great love and sacrifice. It also matters to me that we stop hating some people for who they are, where they live, what they look like, how they worship, and who they love. It matters to me that the Pope's words caused deep pain to some people I care about.
We need to stop trying to make Jesus be like us, and work harder on making ourselves like Jesus.
If you are cisgender and heterosexual, please spend some time in prayer, reading the Bible, considering who Jesus was and not who artists, theologians, you and/or your pastors and/or the church patriarchy have made him out to be. Reflect on what you really KNOW and what you only think you know. Repent where you need to, and learn to see the humanity – and God – in every other person you encounter. I will do the same.
If you are lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer – I see you. I hope that this post may give you some things to think about, and perhaps a new way to receive the love of Jesus Christ. I hope that you will believe again, or finally, or that you will discover that Jesus/God/Holy Spirit truly loves you, just as much as Jesus/God/Holy Spirit loves me. I sincerely apologize for the times my assumptions fed into the patriarchal behaviors that harmed you.
It strikes me that perhaps the reason that Jesus' sexuality is never discussed is because Jesus knew how we would use it to divide and conquer each other. Perhaps the Biblical writers really wanted each one of us to be able to see ourselves in the story - both the good guys (Jesus and the disciples) and the bad guys (Pilate and the Romans). There is a little of both in each of us. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. He did say a lot about hypocrisy. The Bible is quite clear that we should not judge others. Can we all try to be a little more like the man Jesus was?
We need to stop trying to make Jesus be like us, and work harder on making ourselves like Jesus.
Crucifix of the Malatesta Temple. giotto-di-bondone-crucifix-of-the-malatesta-temple-1317-trivium-art-history.1200x0.png (1200×1721) (arthistoryproject.com). Accessed March 18, 2021
Merriam-Webster. Asexual | Definition of Asexual by Merriam-Webster (merriam-webster.com). Accessed March 18, 2021.
Merriam-Webster. Heterosexual | Definition of Heterosexual by Merriam-Webster (merriam-webster.com). Accessed March 19, 2021
Sampey, Morri. Do asexual people belong in the LGBT community? Of course. | Opinion | thevermilion.com. Accessed March 18, 2021.
Wikipedia contributors. "The Bible and homosexuality." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Mar. 2021. Web. 19 Mar. 2021