The words "Jesus" and "gay" seem to be intertwining a lot lately. We hear it from political candidates and once-famous actors and see it on T-shirts. And while the concept of the LGBT community and the life of Christ may be new to some, it's certainly something I'm very used to, having played a gay Jesus in the play Corpus Christi for the past six years.
Being immersed in the "gay Jesus play," it's actually become second nature to all of us in the cast. When I read about a T-shirt that says, "Jesus was not a homophobe," my first reaction is: "And?" But then again, I realize my world is very different from most; playing an iconic figure like Jesus who speaks to the queer community and our allies is not something one often can describe as their vocation. And our company of actors, who have traveled the world with this show over the past six years, immersing themselves in the intersecting dialogues of spirituality and homosexuality, have all learned the same thing: all He was really about was love.
Our play started humbly in a small North Hollywood church, a chapter of the MCC International Churches. None of us really knew each other, and although we had similar professional backgrounds as actors, we certainly didn't have any spiritual alliances or religious dogma behind our motives for doing this play. In fact, only a few of us even had personal spiritual or religious affiliations at all. The one thing we could agree on: we believed in the play's message of love. But even with that communion, we really only intended a nine-performance run at this humble church, and off we'd go, back into our own lives again.
But as we began the performances, we all realized something else was happening, something none of us had ever tapped into as actors, and especially not in our own personal lives: it was an indescribable feeling of connection to spirit or the universe or Mother Earth or the god Atem or whatever it is you call "that inexplicable something bigger" that one only can tap into within. And it was coming through the words of this play. As we spoke them more and more, we began to physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually embrace the message that connected us all to the piece in the first place: love. That love oftentimes penetrated the audiences who joined us, even "the most hardened, heathen heart," as one Scottish reporter mentioned in her story, and that in turn catapulted us on a journey that would change our lives forever.
As we began touring the play around the world, we never once did it for financial gain, and we still don't. In fact, we've hardly ever even been paid for this. We've only been able to continue because of the audiences we share the story with, and their donations provide the fuel to cover the necessary expenses it takes to keep the show burning its sacred heart. That organic love has been infused into every step we take along this journey. We also experienced some of the vitriol and anger that Terrence McNally experienced when the play first premiered in 1998, the week Matthew Shepard was killed in a brutal, anti-gay hate crime.
If you think a conversation that includes the words "gay" and "Jesus" in the same sentence is new now, try having that dialogue 14 years ago. I can't imagine the pain Terrence must've felt at that time, but since doing his play all these years now, I've had the privilege and honor of getting to know him, and I can tell you firsthand that his intentions were based in the purest and most innocent love that Jesus Himself embraced in His teachings. This play was ahead of its time, and the profundity of its message is only just beginning to sink into the mainstream audience.
Even still, as we started getting international attention, we began receiving a barrage of emails and threats. Lately I've been receiving a lot of emails from various groups and individuals who continually use the same phrases over and over again: "You are going to hell," "You are an abomination," "You are a sinner," and more than likely the play is called "blasphemous." I find that last one most curious, particularly because almost always these individuals have never seen or even read the play they deem to be so "anti-Christian."
One email along our journey stood out to me, though:
I want to share something God placed on my heart and that is that choosing the homosexual lifestyle is wrong. Just because God or Christians know it's wrong it doesn't mean we don't love you. God loves everyone but He hates the sin. I can honestly tell you that I lived a homosexual lifestyle for five years and the whole time I knew it was wrong. We all have crosses to bear, sometimes we may not like the cross we have been given but by no means do we go out and try to convince people that our wrongs are right or even worse exposing our children to this sexual perversion. I pray that God changes you...
When I read this email I started crying. I cried for her pain, and I cried for her beliefs that made her think she had to make a choice. But mostly I cried because I recognized that this stranger was once me. Long ago I renounced my faith and upbringing as a "perfect little Catholic boy," because I knew I was gay. The two could not intertwine. End of story. Being gay is as much a choice as the color of one's skin, yet too often people dismiss it as something one can easily be "saved" from, or something that can "change."
If being gay is considered a choice by some, here's what the choice came down to for me: happiness for myself, or happiness to please others. Innately I knew, even at a young age, that the only way I could ultimately bring happiness to others was if I myself lived a joy-filled and happy life within. So the "choice" was simple to me. Nic Arnzen, the director of the play, and co-director (with me) of the film Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, says it so beautifully in the film: "Lying is a sin. Living my life as a straight man would be a lie." The "sin He hates" is the sin of hating oneself and, in turn, spewing hatred at one another. True spirituality, and the essence of Jesus' (and all other avatars') teachings, lives in being able to make peace with internal happiness that only comes from living a pure, genuine life connected to every part of your being -- every part of your being He created. I believe this is the "Kingdom of Heaven within you" that He speaks of.
Words certainly have the power to hurt, but they also have the power to heal. After all these years of performing the play, we have taken these words of hatred and transformed them into words of empowerment for ourselves. These people shouting angrily at us, sending death threats, calling us blasphemous sinners and other vile names, have actually been our greatest teachers along our journey: their hatred has taught us to love ourselves even more. Ultimately, this is where I feel the equality we seek within our community must first begin, and this is why we continue to do what we do.
For more information about the launch of the I AM Love Campaign and the sneak-preview release of the documentary feature Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption in San Francisco April 28-30, click here.