Today I walked by a beautiful Church a few blocks away from our home. The doors were open, and the service had just started. I could hear singing, and see the light streaming though exquisite stained glass windows. Near the door was a welcome sign that said all were welcome with a little rainbow flag in the corner telling me that they really meant all. My husband and I could have sat down at the pews and others would have looked at us and smiled as we worshiped Christ holding hands with each other. A small part of me wanted to join just because we can, but as a whole, I still feel on the outside of Christianity despite the rainbow symbols in almost every Church doorway here. The problem is my experiences with Mormonism ruined Jesus for me, and it makes me so mad. When I was younger, my view of Jesus was simple, and it was easy to love him. I mean, if you set aside questions about the historical figure or how literally his divinity should be interpreted, and just look at his life story for the simple merits of the story, the idea of Jesus should resonate with gay men more than the heroes and gods of other myths.
Here is a man who comes out of an established religion and criticizes its obsession with rules, questions its authority, and advocates a higher more spiritual way of worshiping. He preaches compassion, mercy, and forgiveness towards groups that are disadvantaged. He encourages tender characteristics like kindness, love, gentleness, and humility, and he encourages nurturing activities like healing, community service, and comforting the afflicted. He surrounds himself with men, and (courtesy of the Catholic Church) he is devoid of the rampant heterosexuality commonly associated with the central heroes of other myths. He promises his followers comfort, peace, and eternal life. He is persecuted by the predominant religion of the region, and he associates with people largely considered social, political, and even sexual deviants. He is betrayed to the authority and is tried for crimes he isn’t guilty of, and then he is killed despite his innocence. If ever there was a figure to champion the distressed, the downtrodden, the misunderstood, or the persecuted minority, it is Jesus Christ. And as a deity he is portrayed in graceful linens, with a hero’s abs (courtesy of gay Catholic artists), and typically with unusually good hair. His followers worship him often with elaborate, beautiful clothing/settings/props, and almost always with theatrical drama. I should love his life, his story, and his followers—his is the ultimate gay man’s myth/hero/deity! More significantly, he was someone I could relate to.
But unfortunately when I think of Jesus now, my mind turns to the role he played in my faith when I was in college and trying to come out of the closet in the midst of a social war. At BYU during my last experiences in Mormonism, Jesus was used as weapon against my new identity and my future. He became the lawgiver, not the lawbreaker—one who enforces the nit picky rules of pamphlets instead of seeing past them. Now I think of him as perfection and as the perfectionist demanding my perfection. I see him as Greg Olsen portrays him, made of wax in sickly yellow light looking over Jerusalem with sad condemnation. If he offers comfort, guidance, or support, it is patronizing and hollow, disregarding what I feel or want for what I am "supposed" to feel or want. I think of him as judge, looking sternly from his picture frame over the shoulder of the Bishop who asks invasive questions and decides whether or not I should be allowed to attend classes. I think of him as the head of the Church, the voice behind Thomas S. Monson and the creeds of men—the rallying call behind Proposition 8. I think of him as being perfectly obedient, never questioning authority. I think of him as a heterosexual married man, not because there are tender stories of romance, but because he is the perfect priesthood holder. He is a patriarch, the man in charge who keeps his wife (wives?) quietly stowed away and hidden from the public. I think of him as he is portrayed in eternity, not with beautiful hair and heroic abs but as the mirror image of a more distant sci-fi, Zeus-like father, white and old and alien, with light so bright you can’t even look at him and with the great expansive, unreachable cosmos behind him.
I realize that portrayal of Jesus is not what every Mormon knows, and I’m glad. You may think of him as the way I first described him, or perhaps in a different way entirely but a way that still resonates with you, and that’s great. But unfortunately for me, I am stuck on this Jesus who isn’t very Jesus-like, and it makes me mad. With that view of Jesus, is it any wonder that I am looking elsewhere for inspiration? Is it any wonder than when I seek the divine in nature I see it in a goddess? Can you blame me when I want the majesty of a god and I turn to Apollo? Or for goodness sake when I need spiritual inspiration and have to find it in Aang the airbender, a children’s cartoon character? Some day, when I am ready, I would like to reread the gospels and try to see Jesus without all the projected baggage from my Mormon past, and maybe then I can love him the way I want to love him if not the way I once loved him. Until then I will pass the open doors of inclusive Churches and still feel detached from the Christ they worship.