Originally published in The Advocate, May 25, 2006.
While the Catholic Church denounces The Da Vinci Code’s central conceit, that Jesus was married, other secrets about the homoerotic aspects of Jesus’ life are also worth exploring.
For many of us who have always cast a suspicious eye on why biblical scholars, theologians, and ministers do not have a clue about the real life of Jesus, Dan Brown’s best seller turned blockbuster movie, The Da Vinci Code, sheds an illuminating light on the hysteria that maintains the mystery.
And the mystery is that there has always been an open secret about Jesus’ sexuality that not only attacks the pillars of Christianity but also profoundly plays into the oppression that women—as well as LGBT people—face today in both church and society.
And that open secret about Jesus’ sexuality—suggesting that he was gay or married, not that the two are mutually exclusive if Jesus was on the down low—point to the “culture war” issues we are wrestling with today, namely the institution of marriage, women in the church, and gay clergy.
The debate about Jesus’ sexuality takes him from his mother’s womb to his tomb. The Christian depiction of Jesus as a lifelong virgin who had no sexual desire and who never engaged in sexual intercourse raises anyone’s suspicion, because by today’s standards, Jesus’ homosocial environment of 12 men suggests, according to the law of averages, that at least one out of the bunch was gay.
Given the nature of compulsory heterosexuality in Jewish marital laws during Jesus’ time, Jesus might have been forced to be on the down low.
Encrypted in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper is a spiritual and sensual narrative about both sacred feminine and homoerotic aspects of religious life. And while many Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals find Da Vinci’s sensuous painting blasphemous, Da Vinci’s gay male homoerotic subtext pries open the door to the quality of the Roman Catholic Church that gay men find both rabidly homophobic and ravenously homoerotic.
When asked in 2002 during the Catholic Church sex scandal why so many gay men are attracted to religious life and the priesthood, Mark D. Jordan, professor in the religion department at Emory University and author of The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism, told The Boston Globe:
“Homoeroticism is written into the Catholic imagination and its institutions. Many gay believers feel a strong calling to the priesthood or religious life. The call doesn’t seem to deny same-sex desires; it seems instead to complete them. It is a call to act out your manhood against social expectations, outside heterosexual marriage and in the company of other unmarried men.
“They are promised an exchange of their ‘disordered’ identity as outsiders for a respected and powerful identity as an insider. They want to remain in the beautiful, sexually ambiguous space of liturgy. They are drawn to public celebration of suffering that redeems [and] they want to live in as gay a world as the Catholic Church offers.”
And let’s not forget the theological significance and homoerotic overtones in ritual kissing that was a vital part of worship during the early centuries of the Christian church, as passing the peace with a hug or handshake is a vital part of worship in today’s Christian churches.
Kissing on the lips was a way of binding a community together, and it always followed the communal prayer, the Eucharist, or rites of baptism and ordination. And it was permitted only among those of the same gender.
While homophobia in today’s Christian churches is antithetical to the early church, so too is the denigration of the sacred feminine.
It is unlikely, given Jewish marital customs, that Jesus was not married, and he probably was assigned a wife long before he became an itinerant preacher and met male and female disciples on the road.
Even if Jesus didn’t have sex with males or females, he did tap into the forbidden zone: his sacred feminine. The sacred feminine is not only the life force tied to women’s ability to produce new life but is also the power of the erotic that African-American lesbian poet Audre Lorde depicted as “a source within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.”
Our sexualities are the expressions of who we are. They are a language and a means to communicate our spiritual need for intimate communion—both human and divine. They’re our self-understanding through which we experience the world.
However, the hysteria that surrounds Jesus’ sexuality forces us all to see the walls erected in our society and in our churches, walls that prohibit us from living freely in our bodies and force some of us to live on the down low.
These walls not only contribute to the false socialization of who we are as male and female, but they also contribute to the false spiritualization of who we are as the body of Christ.