tisdag 1 juli 2008

Gay Jesus

The Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Willin has prepared a series of photographs, one of them depicting a Last Supper with Jesus and a group of what appear to be transvestites. The figures are arranged in a reconstruction of the Leonardo mural.

The exhibition has been controversial. Pope John Paul cancelled an audience with the Protestant Archbishop Hammar of Uppsala for supporting the exhibit – which has been touring for ten years – and allowing it to be shown in churches across Sweden.

Speaking as a gay man who is also a Catholic, I find the pictures in bad taste rather than offensive but I would not bother to go and look at them. I can understand, however, why some Christians would definitely be offended. They do not conform to the imagery that people are familiar with.

But what is the artist actually trying to say? If the message is that Jesus came to save sinners, that is not unorthodox - on the contrary. My own parish, being where it is in the centre of Brighton, has more than its share of gay men and women who attend the church. We are made perfectly welcome. It is also make clear that we, like everyone else, married or single, straight or gay, should be attempting to live chaste lives. We do not always do this successfully but the Parish Priest is available in the confessional daily at 10.30. It can be embarrassing but the forgiveness of the Lord is there if there is a sincere desire to do better in the future. As for "gay marriage" - if anyone wants one they can get it done quietly at the local registry office, and there may be a good reason as there can otherwise be problems with the British inheritance laws.

But there are many depictions of Christ. That of Jesus with his disciples at the Last Supper does not show them as marginalised people. The image that does is the one in the stained glass window above, showing Mary Magdalen using her hair to anoint the feet of the Lord with nard contained in an alabaster jar, her emblem, here shown on the right hand side of the image. Mary Magdalen, the archaetype of the repentant sinner, is the patron saint of our parish. If the artist made herself more familiar with Christian imagery she would be able to make her point more forcibly without causing unnecessary offence.

See for yourself and make up your own mind

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