"What If Jesus Was Gay?" by Bryan McPherson (photo collage by Douglas Sullivan)
When folk musician and sometimes activist Bryan McPherson wrote the controversial song "What If Jesus Was Gay?" he did it in response to the 2003-2004 debate making the rounds in Massachusetts over the legalization of gay marriage and the predictable opposition from overzealous religious groups. To his surprise, it has been resurrected again in the aftermath of the November 2012 election that marked a turning point in gay rights as three states, Washington, Maryland and Maine, legalized gay marriage, and another rejected a gay marriage ban.
When I asked him if he was surprised by the renewed interest and frequent requests for the song at his shows, he admitted that it was awkward that anyone even remembered it after eight years, saying, "I'm always surprised when people, you know, resonate with my songs," but adding, "Songs tap into some kind of truth... human struggles and truths."
And this truth raises an interesting question: What if Jesus was gay? We're talking about a single, 30-something-year-old Jewish man surrounded by 12 other men who worshiped him and followed him everywhere during a time in cultural history when Jewish men at that age would have been married with kids. Yet, Jesus and his disciples were all single and well past the traditional age of marriage, walking around like their own Chippendale's dance troupe just making the rounds. It isn't much of a stretch to imagine that Jesus was single, because he was, shall we say, a friend of Dorothy's, walking on water and rescuing lost souls notwithstanding.
And if this were true, if that one simple change in Christian dogma were believed, taught as a possibility and considered as one of many interpretations in a book full of contradictions, would it change for the better the entire course of the debate, fostering tolerance, acceptance and inclusion? Or would Christianity disappear forever, leaving Jesus flapping in the wind as just another snake-oil salesman who betrayed the "straight" masses, marked as the greatest sinner of them all with a front-seat ticket to Hell? What would intolerant religious folks do if they no longer had this one thing to hate?
I'd like to believe they'd be relieved the fight is over, relieved they no longer have to cling to the vitriol eating at their hearts, relieved they can move on and focus on efforts of love, like tending the sick and feeding the poor. As we celebrate Jesus' birth and the hopeful message it instills, I'd like to believe humanity is capable of being better than our most basic fears and prejudices and would embrace this new perspective of their most beloved hero, for no other reason than the fact that it would finally give them permission to do the right thing.
"Are you gay?" I asked Bryan McPherson, whose music projects a Dylan-esque emotion and urgency that comes from the deepest recesses of his soul. "Is this why you wrote the song, that you'd experienced bigotry personally?"
He paused for a moment, and I worried that I may have overstepped a line. But after a beat he explained, "I don't identify as gay," adding, "I don't identify as straight either."
As we celebrate the holidays, Jesus' birth and good will toward men (and women), I'd like to believe that at some point in my lifetime, those identities won't even be part of the conversation.