Bewigged in a Manger

452px-sex_worker_statue_oudekerksplein_amsterdam1 Mary as a guy in drag. A silver-shawled Joseph in leather.

Even for a city known for its artwork, windmills and bordellos, this seems a bit over the top.

OK, this is Amsterdam they are talking about --a city well-known for its liberal attitudes towards sex and drugs and its highly visible gay population. Even in Amsterdam, street theater starring a male Madonna seems like a great opportunity to explore the volatile combination of sex, religion and politics in a way that explains, rather than obscures the impact of the event.

But the Associated Press story chronicling the event mystifies more than it enlightens.

Amsterdam hosted a Christmas celebration for its gay community on Sunday featuring a nativity tableau with a male Mary in drag that church organizations denounced as an affront to traditional values.

Organizers said the event was meant to raise Amsterdam's profile as a gay capital at a time when homosexuals feel threatened.

Christians for Truth, an independent religious group, had asked the city council to cancel the ''Pink Christmas,'' event, saying it made a mockery of Christian tenets. The city did not comment.

The city of Amsterdam subsidized this event.

That's significant. It's not clear from the story whether the city refused to comment on its motives or were ever asked to explain why they would participate in an event that might be controversial.

And what are "traditional values"?

In America, that term has often been associated with Christian conservatives.

But used in the context of an European city where mainstream religious practice has been on the decline for decades, it may also suggest that the phrase embraces the entire Judeo-Christian tradition.

My guess is that this tableau vivant might pose an equal-opportunity offense to lots (though not all) Christians who find themselves in different places on theological spectrum.

But with the exception of one group, Christians for Truth, their voice is not heard. And the one direct quote we get from that group doesn't add to the story.

''By portraying Joseph and Mary as homosexuals, a twisted human fantasy is being added to the history of the Bible,'' Christians for Truth said in a statement ahead of the event.

Later in the article, event organizer Frank van Dalen gives a breathtaking explanation for the gay manger scene.

He said the Amsterdam city council sponsored the euro15,000 ($21,000) event, which he hoped would become a regular event, like the annual floating summertime gay pride parade through the city's canals that attracts tens of thousands of visitors.

''Our objective is not to be offensive. This is about visibility,'' he said.

Van Dalen pointed to a report last month that said homophobia was an ingrained problem in Amsterdam, despite the city's freewheeling reputation.

Say what?

Why would you portray Mary as a drag queen if you didn't intend to be offensive?

Let's think about that for a moment. It is possible that in Holland, Christianity is so much of a spent force that a spectacle like this was meant as an attention-getting device rather than a satire or an attack on Christianity.

But it still boggles the mind to think that subsizing two gay guys and a plastic doll to enact Christianity's Holy Family would address Amsterdam's gay violence problem.

Something's missing in this story. And it's an explanation that makes sense, rather than sensationalizes.

Sex worker statue in Amsterdam's red light district is from Wikimedia Commons

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