Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Homosexuality: The Jesus Christ Superstar of its time

I am of the opinion that every man and woman who is honest with themselves has a celebrity man or woman crush, respectively. This is not to say that every heterosexual man and woman has fantasized about, um, "knowing" another person of the same sex (although I know people who would attest to such fantasies without batting an eye). All it may mean is that there at least one famous person you acknowledge as attractive, despite the fact they have the same kind of private parts as you. Mine is Seth Green -- it was uncomfortable, "is this really happening?" lust at first sight when I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer in middle school and saw his geeky, boyish, non-werewolf likeness grace the screen. Oh, Oz, I ... well ... I don't really know what this feeling is. But I can at least understand why some girls think you're cute.

When I'm hanging out with friends and/or acquaintances, as an icebreaker I sometimes like to ask people which celebrity is the object of their man or woman crush. I did this at a friend's birthday party a few weeks ago, and the question was mostly well-received and hilariously answered by the 10-ish people that were there. It's a good way to get to know a person, as well as a quick, easy way to determine just how comfortable a person is with their sexual orientation. Some people answer the question instantly, like they've been waiting their entire lives for someone to ask them, while others fumble through stuttered gibberish and flabbergasted expressions before finally, sheepishly spilling the beans. So I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when the question got around to one guy and he offered this reply, with a look on his face like humor is the eighth deadly sin: "If I were gay, I'd be celibate."

Wow. Point taken. To each their own, I suppose, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shaking my head and snickering on the inside (and maybe a little on the outside, too). I was also incredibly depressed by his curt, judgmental response, because it clearly illustrated to me how much farther we have to go before the Big Controversial Topic of homosexuality can be at least discussed comfortably by some Christians. And trust me, if the Christian church hopes to survive, we MUST engage in that conversation. The whole "Don't ask, don't tell" attitude isn't going to cut it in the long run. Our society's acceptance of homosexuality is increasing by leaps and bounds, and whether you think that's a good or a bad thing, it's not something that can be ignored any longer.

I personally think it's a great thing. I'm not typically one for denominational pride, but I don't think I was the only proud Lutheran whose heart swelled with joy upon hearing the news in August this year. That month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America narrowly passed a resolution allowing for homosexual clergy to engage in extramarital monogamous relationships. If an ELCA church decides to adopt this resolution (which they still have the option not to), the homosexual pastor there is no longer bound by vows of celibacy. Of course, this does not grant the pastor permission to sleep around -- to which I say thank goodness -- but it allows them to engage in an intimate physical relationship with one special someone if they so chose to. Frankly, it's not the LGBT community's fault they can't get married in most states, and until the fundamentalist conservative lawmakers who routinely prevent it from happening either change their minds or pass away, this resolution will have to do.

Of course, not every Lutheran feels this way. I've heard about numerous pastors who are outraged by this resolution, some so much so that they're leaving the ELCA. Many other churchgoers are abandoning the denomination for more conservative worship alternatives. And to top it all off, this resolution comes on the coattails of the emerging Reconciling in Christ movement, which advocates for churches to openly, explicitly welcome members regardless of sexual orientation, and has caused considerable controversy at two churches I'm involved with. The ELCA seems to be losing members left and right -- all we wanted to do was be a little more open-minded.

But I have a distinct feeling our open-mindedness toward homosexuality will be rewarded over the next several decades. A friend of mine who also rejoiced over the ELCA's recent decision pointed out that other denominations that made similar decisions -- namely the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ -- have more or less recovered from their initial drop in numbers. But ultimately, numbers are not what it's about. In a world where idiots like Fred Phelps grab all the headlines for propagating God's supposed hatred of homosexuals (I don't dare use that other "f" word Phelps loves so much), the LGBT community needs to know they are welcome in the church. And though I can't say I know a single church that turns homosexuals away from their services, a warm welcome is nothing if it's not accompanied by loving affirmation. Every LGBT person is a child of God, too, and they ought to be reminded of that, if not told for the first time ever.

To put it another way, I think social acceptance of homosexuality is the Jesus Christ Superstar of its time. Debuted in 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical theater adaptation of the canonical Gospels, beginning with Judas' anxiety over the "buzz" surrounding Jesus and ending with the Messiah's crucifixion. Doing some research for this blog post, I became pleasantly reminded just how awesome this Andrew Lloyd Webber-penned production is. I nodded my head in 5/4 time and wished the female vocalists singing on "Everything's Alright" would whisk me away siren-style to some blissful abyss. I giggled impishly to hear people screaming during Jesus' righteous ruckus in "The Temple," completely disrupting the corrupt marketplace it had become. I felt chills consume my entire body at the end of "Judas' Death," when the traitor's ranting is abruptly overtaken by that eerie chant: "Poor old Judas/So long, Judas." I wept uncontrollably to hear Jesus' final words in "The Crucifixion," accompanied by terrifyingly atonal vocal harmonies and noises no God-made piano should ever make. In my always-humble opinion, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of history's greatest creative interpretations of that Superstar we all know and love.

But naturally, not everyone thought so. I wasn't there to witness it, but from what I understand Jesus Christ Superstar caused quite an uproar upon its release. I'm sure at least some of this was the responsibility of those reliable knee-jerk reactors toward anything remotely religious in pop culture, comparable to contemporary Christians who protest the Harry Potter series or The Da Vinci Code just because they exist. But some of what I know about the initial controversy sounds warranted -- though it's actually quite Biblically accurate (disregarding its use of modern slang, of course), Jesus Christ Superstar more or less portrays the Son of God as an outrageous political rebel first, the Messiah second. From a theological standpoint, this is a little upsetting since Jesus had no illusions of taking down the Jerusalem Temple or the Roman Empire during his lifetime on this Earth. And while the song "Superstar" is a great tune, lyrically the sudden return of Judas before Christ's crucifixion seems a bit odd, if not downright unnecessary: "Tell me what you think about your friends at the top/Who'd you think besides yourself's the pick of the crop?/Buddha, was he where it's at? Is he where you are?/Could Mohammed move a mountain or was that just PR?" Um, OK. Have we been mistranslating the Greek the whole time? Because I'm pretty sure none of that's in the Bible.

But that was then, and this is now. When I saw Jesus Christ Superstar back in late 2004 at the Gammage Auditorium, I went with some folks from my church. And we weren't there to picket it -- we were there to watch it and enjoy it for the wonderful piece of Biblically inspired theater it has always been. And today Jesus Christ Superstar (along with its more Scripturally accurate but musically inferior counterpart, Godspell) has become a staple of church community theaters all over the world. Still, I'm sure there are certain Christians out there who want to wring Andrew Lloyd Webber's neck for daring to unleash this musical on the Earth. From what I understand, Jesus Christ Superstar is still banned in South Africa. But with all things considered, so what if Webber took a few liberties with the Bible? In the end, the message is still basically the same.

And on that note, the church is still the church regardless of the minister's sexual orientation or relationship status. Yes, the Bible does say some not-so-nice things about homosexuality, and I'm the last person to advocate for any part of Scripture to be omitted, but for the literal love of You-Know-Who, read them within their context! For one thing, a lot of this same-sex condemnation was a reaction against ancient pagan rituals, at least one of which entailed an old man penetrating a young boy in public. Additionally, about the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis -- how would you feel if a group of people knocked on your door late at night and threatened to anally rape you? Sounds pretty horrific regardless of the victim's sexual orientation; I don't blame God for getting pissed.

But above all, the books of the Bible were written in a time and place where growing the family tree was of the utmost importance. Gay or straight, if a couple couldn't produce a son, they were nothing. And in this day and age, I think condemning the childless is completely unfair; in addition to homosexuals, you might as well condemn bereaved parents, barren women, sterile men, the romantically challenged and -- gasp! -- people who simply don't want to have children. Even if you disagree with me and think homosexuality is the horrible sin the Bible says it is (which it may very well be), is there anyone in ministry who isn't a horrible sinner at least some of the time? Out of Awesome God's list of bad notes, we've seemingly isolated certain ones we've heard to be more dissonant than all the others. But these bad notes are all equally sour and, if one tries hard enough, equally forgivable. Regardless of their musical resumes, no one should be barred from listening to or performing "The Word" if they feel so inspired -- NO ONE.

This all being said, I know for a fact some people like the guy I mentioned earlier in this post will continue denying the inevitability of celebrity man or woman crushes. But Christians who maintain that staunch, vow-of-celibacy attitude toward homosexuals -- in clergy or otherwise -- will have a hard time being taken seriously as church for the next generation. It'll be a cryin' but justified shame if their uber-traditional renditions of "The Word" are forgotten, usurped by the common crowd's much-too-loud chorus of "Hosanna, hey sanna/Sanna sanna Hosanna/Hey sanna Hosanna." God bless the Christians who realize Jesus Christ Superstar wasn't a heresy, but a slightly updated version of "The Word" all along.


  1. First of all, I agree that people like Fred Phelps should be soundly denounced by...well, everyone. As Jesus said, the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself, which is what the Church is supposed to be doing, and it doesn't matter who the person is.

    Second of all, I got a little confused at certain points in your article. You seemed to bounce back and forth between the issues of homosexuals in leadership and homosexuals in the Church as if they are the same thing, and it made some of your arguments come off odd (to me anyway).
    One good example was the second to last paragraph.

    You point out, correctly, that our church leaders are all still sinners. However, generally when a church leader sins he either repents and learns, or (in more extreme cases) he is caught and forced to step down. Very few churches would knowingly tolerate a leader who commits adultery, lies, or embezzels church funds, etc. By the same token, IF homosexuality is a sin (and you admit it might be), then why should it be more tolerated in leadership than any other sin? The only way for homosexuals to credibly work in leadership is either if they are celibate, or if homosexuality isn't a sin (which takes us back to the original debate).

    However (back to my original point), just because someone isn't "fit" for leadership doesn't mean you don't want them in the church (which is how I read the last sentence of your paragraph). There are plenty of people I've met in church that I love and respect, but I don't want to see them in a leadership role.
    People on the anti-homosexual side of the argument are often seen as being too "black and white." However, people on the pro side sometimes have the same problem in that they see any rejection or questioning of homosexuality in one aspect of the church as a rejection of homosexuals in general. It might help the debate if both sides were a bit less touchy. :)

    Third and last, my same-sex celebrity crush would probably have to go to Christian Bale. Although I also have to give a nod to Seth Green, as he is awesome. :)

  2. Thanks for reading, Justin!

    Yeah, Fred Phelps is pretty much an awful example for humanity in general. It's sad to think so much of the LGBT community sees his tirades and thinks that's what Christianity is.

    You make a very good point, and looking back over this article, I do kind of bounce back and forth between homosexual Christians and homosexual ordination. At the risk of committing heresy, I will go out on a limb and say homosexuality is not a sin. Paul's condemnations, in particular, occurred in a time and place when homosexual monogamy was more or less unheard-of. And Leviticus ... well ... it's certainly an essential document to the Bible, but when was the last time you saw Lutherans follow up a potluck with a good old-fashioned burnt offering? I don't think it's fair to hold the LGBT community to these standards which, in my opinion, are not universally, timelessly applicable. Homosexuality is not just a "lifestyle choice" -- in many cases, it's been proven to be genetically inherited, not to mention common among more than 1,500 different animal species. I don't see any harm done in a mutually agreed homosexual relationship, and if homosexuals were allowed to get married in most states, this argument would not be nearly as ardent as it's become.

    And yes, Christian Bale is pretty handsome, especially in a bat suit. :9

  3. My celebrity man crush is Alan Rickman, but NOT as Severus Snape from the Harry Potter films.

    As far as celebrity female crushes go, there are many... But Bryce Dallas Howard has really caught my attention this year. It's too bad she'll probably never get a chance to meet me.

    --Nick Greenwood

  4. Hahahaha, Nick, yes, Alan Rickman is quite the stately gentleman ... I think my favorite role I've seen him in was as Judge Turpin in Tim Burton's version of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." No one does merciless deadpan quite like he does.

    Yeah, I agree that Bryce Dallas Howard is pretty adorable -- I have a weakness for redheads. But my top celebrity female crush is by far Zooey Deschanel. Combine natural beauty with an offbeat personality and a beautiful singing voice, and my entire being suddenly liquefies. Freaking Ben Gibbard (like I had a huge chance of even meeting her).