Queering the Last Supper

Our friends at The Revealer recently offered a paean to "Outing the Bible," a cover story in the East Bay Express about self-described queer theologians at the Pacific School of Religion's Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry. The Revealer's praise reached its height with this paragraph:

But what really sets this piece apart -- and should endear it to conservatives as well -- is the emphasis on God throughout. You know, what He (or She, or S/he) wants? Well, if you're not sure, you'll find yourself in excellent company here among this collection of good, wholesome, religious folk.

Who could reject an invitation to such pious, theologically fulfilling reading?

Malcolm Gay's reporting is thorough, and he shows the integrity of quoting one of the movement's leading critics, the Rev. Don Armstrong of the Anglican Communion Institute in Colorado Springs.

And there's certainly an edge in the remarks Gay gathers from leading queer theologians. Take the Rev. Jay Johnson's frustration with what he sees as the hypocrisy of his fellow clergy:

"You'll be in church study with a bunch of clergy talking about what the Bible supposedly says about homoeroticism, and they're standing there in clergy shirts that are cotton-polyester blends. And Leviticus is very clear about blended fabric: It is forbidden. Yet there they stand. Clergy! People of God! Religious leaders breaking the Levitical law by wearing blended-fabric shirts, brazenly! I cannot believe in the 21st century that intelligent people still have these arguments."

In striving to find homoeroticism in the text of the New Testament, Johnson turns to his own reverse-order rendering of Jesus' words at the Last Supper. Gay sets up the context:

Take communion. Symbolically, is there any more erotic act than taking in the flesh and blood of Christ? Or, as Johnson puts it: "'This is my body: Eat it.' I mean, come on!"

Johnson does eventually talk more directly about God's wishes for humans as he turns to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve after the Fall:

"That's got to be one of the most poignant moments in all of Scripture, when the creator of the heaven and the earth . . . is calling out from this depth of desire for the beloved. 'Where are you?'" Johnson said. "It's not just about Adam and Eve hiding from each other, and therefore the source of intimacy for themselves, but hiding themselves from their creator, who also was yearning for intimacy with them." . . .

To follow Johnson's reading, this rupture of divine intimacy in Genesis is played out again and again throughout the Bible, even though all God wants is communion with his beloved. Until finally God is forced to take decisive action, healing that rift by making his desire incarnate in the body of Jesus Christ.

"What some of the queer theologians are starting to do has the potential to radically transform what we mean by practicing Christian faith," Johnson says in the article's most understated moment. "Straight people are right to worry about what queer people are going to do to the church."

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