I had my own blog for a few years. When I started I promised myself, ‘no low hanging fruit.’ By that, I meant no clickbait posts; no commenting on the scandal of the day; no poking-in-the-eye-with-a-stick of the latest evangelical scandal or rape culture politician. Maybe I’m breaking that promise with this post. You, gentle readers, can let me know what you think.
A local, progressive new church start is having a Hunky Jesus Contest on Holy Saturday at a Phoenix gay bar. How many triggers can be in one sentence?
First, some background… Read about Rebel and Divine UCC here: rebeldivineucc.org
Read about their founding pastor Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim here: Echo magazine story
Read about some push-back they’ve received about this event here: Hunky Jesus Contest Event Page
Read about the San Francisco festival that inspired Rebel and Divine here: www.thesisters.org
Read about the United Church of Christ’s Open and Affirming designation here: www.ucc.org/lgbt/ona.html
Does Hunky Jesus offend you? What does it even mean to be offended? If you’re offended by someone or something, what response are you expecting? What does it mean to understand Jesus as fully human? What is our relationship to our bodies? How do we see sexuality with the eyes of faith? Questions like these and more have been swirling around in my head over the past week. And I admit that when I looked at the Facebook event page and saw a comment “maybe I’ll get nailed,” I winced. Ouch.
I don’t have any answers. But I do have these reflections and I’m staying in the conversation.
1. I don’t get to tell a marginalized group how to proceed with their struggle.
I’m straight. That status comes with certain privilege. I won’t elaborate (you can Google it), but let’s just scratch the surface by noting that none of my friends feel anxious about how to explain to their children my relationship with my life partner. I can be an ally, an advocate, a friend… but I can’t fully comprehend the struggle LGBTQ people experience. Maybe I know how to do things that are helpful to their cause. Maybe I can offer my gifts and resources. But I can’t say, “Gee, that’s offensive. Be patient and be on your best behavior. Equality will come in time.” I can’t say, “Wow. Hunky Jesus… why would you be deliberately controversial like that?” I can’t say, “But this will hurt your cause among people who are actually supportive! This might mean a set back for gay rights!” I can’t say any of these things EVEN IF I MIGHT BE RIGHT.
2. Ministry can take place in lots of different settings. I trust life and the Spirit of God.
Imagine a setting in which a young gay man can feel comfortable, a setting in which he can mock the church that wounded him as a teen if he chooses, a setting in which he might be able to have a significant conversation with someone about the hope of Easter. That setting might look a lot like Hunky Jesus. There’s a delightful United Church of Christ congregation in a retirement community not far from me. They probably won’t be hosting a Hunky Jesus contest and it probably wouldn’t be an appropriate choice for them. But for Rebel and Divine UCC, this event (it is raising money for their work, by the way, which supports homeless and at-risk teens and young adults in many ways) is coming out of the conversations happening in that faith community. I trust God: that the Spirit can move in any setting, that what looks like foolishness to many is God’s wisdom in disguise, that it’s precisely when we feel most uncomfortable that we are growing the most.
3. There’s a distinct possibility that churchy folk take our holy days too seriously.
I’m totally guilty of this. When my youngest child was in a church preschool, her shiny happy Easter party was on Maundy Thursday. I protested; this is a solemn day for communion and foot washing. I wasn’t thrilled with pastel eggs and candy on that particular day. But today I remember the words of Amos:
I hate all your show and pretense -
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.
So the hangups about Hunky Jesus on Holy Saturday don’t trouble me much.
4. There’s a story to be told about the church, about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, about the pain and shame people of faith have heaped on the gay community.
I was just 10 years old when Ronald Reagan was elected to the Presidency. I picked up on the mood of the country, even then. Our years-long national upheaval was coming to an end: Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis. All that we were putting behind us. The AIDS epidemic was just not part of Reagan’s Morning in America. As a teen, I went to a youth conference with church. A preacher told us that babies come from their fathers only. That’s why, he said, Jesus could be Mary’s baby and still completely sinless. That bit of crazy was easy for my United Methodist group to scoff at… wrong biology, at the very least. But when that same crazy preacher told us that AIDS was God’s punishment on gay people, we didn’t laugh that off. I had a bumper sticker circa 1988 that said ‘Fight AIDS, Not PEOPLE With AIDS.’ It’s painful to remember just how radical a notion that was. The church behaved badly back then: refusing funerals and sacraments and pastoral care to dying people. Gay men who are now in their 40s and 50s have watched their friends, lovers, partners, and mentors die. It’s no wonder then, that so many, many people associate religion with suffering and fear and shame. Can we who have never felt the church turn its back on us accept that maybe Hunky Jesus can open the door to healing for someone? If that’s a possibility, isn’t it worth any discomfort or offense on our part?
5. Healthy sexuality and reverence are profoundly connected.
When I trained as an Our Whole Lives facilitator, we did an exercise that helped me see this connection more clearly. We separated into two groups. Neither group was aware of the other’s assignment. One group wrote on newsprint the words they associated with a healthy, loving sexual experience. The other group wrote on newsprint the words they associated with a spiritual experience. Expanding, beautiful, hopeful, fun, profound, acceptance, love, energy, holy: THE SAME WORDS APPEARED ON BOTH LISTS. I didn’t make this up. It’s the way we were created.
Now all of this reflection doesn’t mean that I would feel comfortable at the Hunky Jesus Contest. I have to assist the Big Rabbit in her deliveries to my own kids that night, so I probably won’t make it down to the bar. But everyone there – Jesuses and judges, angry folks and curious folks, Rebel and Divine people and Kobalt’s regulars – will be in my prayers.
Peace to all.