There is a great deal of evidence to attest to the fact that Jesus was a historical figure who did, in fact, exist. He is mentioned by both early Jewish and Roman historians. The first Christian writings to mention Jesus are the epistles of St. Paul. Scholars agree that some of these letters were likely written only 25 years after the death of Jesus. The truth is that, although we do know some things about Jesus, there is much that we do not know. We know that he was executed at the order of the prefect Pontius Pilate. We know that he was considered a terrorist of his day by the government, blatantly threatening said government and calling himself the son of God. What we don’t know about Jesus could, well, fill a Bible.
Recently Holy Cross has been engulfed in a controversy involving certain claims made by theology professor, Tat-siong Benny Liew. This controversy involves a decade-old piece of theory written by Professor Liew entitled, “Queering Closets and Perverting Desires: Cross-Examining John’s Engendering and Trans-gendering Word across Different Worlds.” In this piece, Professor Liew theorizes that Jesus Christ may have been a “drag king” with “queer desires.” Liew’s work resurfaced due to a recent Fenwick Review article written by Holy Cross student, Elinor Reilly, who dredged up Liew’s 10-year-old theory piece, for reasons I am still struggling to comprehend.
Professor Liew’s statements set off a firestorm of backlash from countless media publications, including Fox News and the Boston Herald, to name a few. A protest was even held on Saturday, April 7, outside the gates of Holy Cross by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP), who called Professor Liew’s claims, “blasphemous.” I was there for the counter-protest and witnessed TFP members display their outrage and disgust at the very idea that Jesus may have been queer or a cross-dresser. They repeatedly referred to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church taught and expressed that homosexuality was a sin. There is not one scintilla of evidence that Jesus ever spoke about homosexuality. In fact, we do not know what type of sexual being Jesus was. We simply do not know if Jesus was celibate, or had sexual relations with men or women. We don’t know what sexual proclivities he may have had. You as a Catholic or Christian may want to believe that you know these things, but you don’t even know these things about your best friends or family, and they are living now alongside you. So there is no possibility that you can know these things about a historical figure shrouded in mystery.
So what if Jesus was a drag king who had queer desires? Why is that so horrifying to Catholics? To say that Professor Liew’s theories about Jesus are “blasphemous” is to imply that homosexuality itself is something immoral or corrupt. These reactions to Professor Liew’s claims are rooted in homophobia and nothing more. Be offended!! Be very offended if you like, but since when is being offended a reason to witch hunt individuals and demand they offer up their careers because they speculated about a historical figure? Freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas cannot be destroyed because some person is offended. We must protect the rights of individuals to express ideas that may disturb or offend. I am not speaking to hate speech but simply ideas or expressions that might offend one group.
I would like to point out that I am offended by every picture of Jesus as a blonde blue eyed man. We do know that is not true and we do have evidence of him being a Middle Eastern Jew and that a Hollywoodized version of him was created. However, you do not see me demanding that pictures of Jesus be torn to shreds or removed from churches across the world. So, clearly, people’s preconceived notions about Jesus have always been inaccurate. Who’s to say what Jesus’ sexual orientation/ identity was? The truth is: no one can.
Professor Liew holds the right to express an opinion without being vilified by those who have absolutely no evidentiary proof to counter his claims. Freedom of speech goes both ways. Professor Liew has the right to make these claims, but you don’t have the right to attack him for expressing a theory. There is nothing wrong with a queer Jesus or a drag king Jesus, and the fact that so many people find this to be so upsetting is offensive to me. But that is okay. You see, you are entitled to believing that blonde blue eyed Jesus was celibate. I am entitled to believe no one could know that. The one entitlement that no one should have is to make any LGBTQ+ person feel that they are immoral or corrupt, as that is hate and hate speech. That is the antithesis of what Jesus preached.