Monday, July 29, 2013

Martha and Mary of Bethany: Sisters or lesbian couple?

Mary and Martha by Bernardino Luini (Wikimedia Commons)

Mary and Martha of Bethany were two of Jesus’ closest friends. The Bible calls them “sisters” who lived together, but reading the Bible with queer eyes raises another possibility. Maybe Mary and Martha were a lesbian couple. Their feast day is today (July 29).

Mary and Martha formed a nontraditional family at a time when there was huge pressure for heterosexual marriage.

As Nancy Wilson, moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches, wrote in the brochure “Our Story Too: Reading the Bible with ‘New’ Eyes”:

“Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. What drew Jesus to this very non-traditional family group of a bachelor brother living with two spinster sisters? Two barren women and a eunuch are Jesus’ adult family of choice. Are we to assume they were all celibate heterosexuals? What if Mary and Martha were not sisters but called each other ‘sister’ as did most lesbian couples throughout recorded history?”

Wilson expands on this theory in her book Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures.

Biblical patriarchs have also hidden their marriages by claiming their wives were their sisters. In the book of Genesis, Abraham claimed his wife Sarah was his sister on two different occasions (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18) and once Isaac passed off his wife Rebekah as his sister (Genesis 26:1-16).

Mary and Martha are best known for the conflict they had when they hosted Jesus and his disciples. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to listen, but Martha wanted her to help her serve. Jesus’ famous answer: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42).

In another major Bible story, Jesus talks with Mary and Martha in turn before raising their brother Lazarus from the dead. During the conversation, Martha speaks what is considered the first profession of faith in Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27).

Like with most Biblical figures, the truth about Mary and Martha is a mystery. The gospels references are brief and sometimes contradictory. As a result, Mary of Bethany is identified as Mary Magdalene in the Roman Catholic church, while in Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions they are considered separate persons.

The Orthodox Church also includes Mary and Martha among the “myrrh bearing women” who were faithfully present at his crucifixion and brought myrrh to his tomb, where they became the first to witness his resurrection. Christian feminists also honor the couple and say that they probably were leaders of a “house church.”

Artists provide some beautiful paintings of the “sisters,” including the one above by Italian Renaissance artist Bernardino Luini (1480 -1532). Magic realist painter Eileen Kennedy has done a new painting of them as contemporary women. Kennedy’s “In the House of Martha and Mary” is on view at the Episcopal Cafe Art Blog. Martha stands angrily with vacuum cleaner in hand as her sister listens to Jesus.
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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Icons of Martha and Mary of Bethany and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures by Nancy Wilson





Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Boris and George: Russian saints united in love and death

Saints Boris and George the Hungarian
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. www.trinitystores.com

Protests and boycotts are growing now over Russia’s new anti-LGBT laws, but queer people such as Saint Boris are an important part of Russian history. The love between Boris, one of the oldest and most popular saints in Russia, and George the Hungarian ended in tragedy in 1015 in medieval Russia. Their feast day is July 24 -- the same day that same-sex marriage became legal in New York in 2011.

Boris and his younger brother Gleb are well known saints in Russia. They are often pictured together and many churches are named after them. Meanwhile the beloved George the Hungarian was never canonized and has mostly been ignored -- until recently.

Boris was a prince and gifted military commander who was popular with the Russian people. He was married, but he had enormous love for his servant George the Hungarian.

Slavic professor Simon Karlinsky has highlighted their gay love story in his analysis of the medieval classic, “The Legend of Boris and Gleb” compiled from 1040 to 1118. Karlinsky writes:
Boris had a magnificent gold necklace made for George because he “was loved by Boris beyond reckoning.” When the four assailants stabbed Boris with their swords, George flung himself on the body of his prince, exclaiming: “I will not be left behind, my precious lord! Ere the beauty of thy body begins to wilt, let it be granted that my life may end.” The assailants tore Boris out of George’s embrace, stabbed George and flung him out of the tent, bleeding and dying. After Boris died, first having forgiven his assassins, his retinue was massacred… Not only was the author of this story clearly sympathetic to the mutual love of Boris and George but he also seemed to realize that “the gratuitous murder of George resulted from his open admission of the nature of this love.”

Karlinsky’s text above is quoted from “Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People” and “Gay Roots: Twenty Years of Gay Sunshine.”

The man behind the murders was Boris’ half-brother Sviatopolk, who wanted to consolidate his power. He also had their brother Gleb killed at the same time.

In 1071 Boris and his brother Gleb became the first saints canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. They were named “Passion Bearers” because, while they were not killed for their faith, they faced death in a Christlike manner, forgiving their murderers. Their father, St. Vladimir of Kiev, was the first Christian prince in Russia and their mother Anne was also Christian.

The icon above was painted in 2000 by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores.

Here George is restored to his rightful place beside Boris, properly honoring this extraordinary couple and the way they loved each other.

LGBT people in both Russia and the Ukraine still face legalized discrimination. May remembering Boris and George help bring equality for people of every sexual orientation and gender identity.
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Related links:
Spiritual art supports Russia’s LGBT rights struggle (Jesus in Love)

Russian’s Anti-Gay Crackdown (New York Times)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Borís y Jorge: unidos en el amor y en la muerte
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Icons of Boris and George and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com




Monday, July 22, 2013

David Wojnarowicz: Controversial artist mixed gay and Christian imagery

David Wojnarowicz in a detail from “Painting David” by Douglas Blanchard

David Wojnarowicz is a gay artist, writer and activist whose use of Christian imagery still causes controversy more than two decades after his death. He died of AIDS at age 37 on July 22, 1992 -- 21 years ago today.

He rose from a homeless gay teenage hustler in New York’s Times Square to become a celebrated (and reviled) artist who was featured at the prestigious Whitney Biennial exhibit. A vocal critic of the church’s silence during the AIDS crisis, Wojnarowicz mixed gay imagery with religious symbols from his Roman Catholic childhood to express the holiness and intensity of gay experience. He was a frequent target of the religious right during the culture wars of 1980s.

Now Wojnarowicz is best known for the 2010 national uproar sparked by his video “Fire in the Belly.” It uses a crucifix covered with ants to symbolize the suffering and sacredness of AIDS patients. The Smithsonian Institution removed it from exhibition in 2010 after pressure from religious and political conservatives. Protests and charges of censorship followed.

Today interest in Wojnarowicz is surging among LGBTQ scholars and artists. Last year he was the subject of two papers at the American Academy of Religion, where he was called an “outsider theologian.” New York artist Douglas Blanchard is in the midst of painting his second series based on Wojnarowicz’ tumultuous life. The 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Memoir/Biography went to the book “Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz” by Cynthia Carr, who describes him as “so ugly he was beautiful.” His comic-book autobiography, “Seven Miles a Second” was reissued in February 2013.

“By examining Wojnarowicz’s work through theological eyes, we can identify him as an overlooked source of theological reflection that is defiantly and proudly gay,” says the description for “David Wojnarowicz: Outsider Theologian,” a paper presented by Justin Tanis at the 2012 meeting of the American Academy of Religion. He teaches at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California.

Tanis discussed spiritual themes in Wojnarowicz works such as the “Untitled (Genet).” The collage angered the religious right by showing gay French writer Jean Genet as a patron saint for male prostitutes, with Christ as a heroin addict in the background. The image (plus a wide selection of his other artwork) can be seen at visualaids.org.

An hour-long video is available online with Tanis discussing “See the Holy: Spirituality in the Art of David Wojnarowicz” at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley in 2012.


See the Holy: Spirituality in the Art of David Wojnarowicz from CLGS on Vimeo.

Artist Doug Blanchard completed his first series on Wojnarowicz more than a decade ago. The paintings in his “Shadows” series portray Wojnarowicz as an AIDS martyr and Christ figure -- a modern-day man of sorrows traveling a metaphorical gay road to Calvary. “I organized them using the Hebrew Alphabet like the reading from Lamentations in the Tenebrae service for Holy Week,” Blanchard says in “The Passion of David Wojnarowicz,” a summary of the series at his blog, Counterlight’s Peculiars.

“Gimmel” by Douglas Blanchard is inspired by a famous Wojnarowicz quote: “When I put my hands on your body, on your flesh, I feel the history of that body, not just the beginning of its forming in that distant lake, but all the way beyond its ending.”

Blanchard went on to paint Jesus as a contemporary gay man in “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.” Now he has he turned his attention back to Wojnarowicz. “I'm doing a new series now that I hope will not diminish his role in AIDS activism, but fills out the picture of his life with more about his being an artist, writer, and adventurer,” Blanchard says.

Much of the raw material for the series comes from Wojnarowicz’ own journals, published in such books as “The Waterfront Journals” and “Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration.” Blanchard agreed to share some of his Wojnarowicz art here at the Jesus in Love Blog.

The young Wojnarowicz is shown as a child hiding from his abusive father in “David’s Dad” by Douglas Blanchard.

Wojnarowicz travels in the Western desert, a landscape that reminded him of his favorite Krazy Kat cartoons, in “Krazy Kat Landscape” by Douglas Blanchard.

“Zayin” by Douglas Blanchard evokes the suffering of Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992. “If I die it is because a handful of people in power, in organized religions and political institutions, believe that I am expendable,” he wrote.

For more of Blanchard’s current Wojnarowicz series, see his posts What I’m working on, Projects, More Work In My Studio and The Lazzaretto, a New Painting from the David Wojnarowicz Series at the Counterlight’s Peculiars blog.

Wojnarowicz, who created a queer fusion of saintly and sexy iconography in his own art, has now passed into the realm of where LGBT martyrs and saints dwell. A quote from his book “Close to the Knives” helps put his death into perspective:

“Transition is always a relief. Destination means death to me. If I could figure out a way to remain forever in transition, in the disconnected and unfamiliar, I could remain in a state of perpetual freedom.”
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Related links:
David Wojnarowicz: Smithsonian censors gay artist when conservatives attack (Jesus in Love)

Estate of David Wojnarowicz (PPOW Gallery)

David Wojnarowicz papers (New York University)

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This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



Sunday, July 21, 2013

Symeon of Emesa and John: Holy fool and hermit who loved each other

“Symeon and John” by Jim Ru

Sixth-century Syrian monks Symeon and John were joined in a same-sex union and lived together as desert-dwelling hermits for 29 years. After a tearful split-up, Symeon went on to become known as the Holy Fool of Emesa, the patron saint of all holy fools (and puppeteers.) Their feast day is today (July 21).

These Byzantine saints are important for LGBTQ people because of their loving same-sex bond and Symeon’s role as holy fool. In the tradition of “fools for Christ,” believers deliberately challenge social norms for spiritual purposes. LGBTQ Christians, who face insults from both sides for being queer AND Christian, may be able to relate to the motivations and experiences of the holy fools.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Symeon of Emesa and John: Holy fool and hermit who loved each other


Symeon the Holy Fool (or Simeon Salus) of Emesa (c. 522 - c.588) and John of Edessa were close friends starting in childhood, although Symeon was six years older. Both came from wealthy families. When Symeon was 30, they made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the journey home they were both filled with an irresistible desire to leave their families and join a monastery together.

They took vows in the monastery of Abba Gerasimus in Syria. The two men were tonsured by the abbot who blessed them together in an early monastic version of the adelphopoiia ceremony -- the “brother-making” ritual that historian John Boswell calls a “same-sex union.” They were referred to as the “pure bridegrooms (nymphoi) of Christ.”

Soon the two men went together to live as hermits in the desert near the Dead Sea, where they could practice spiritual exercises in solitude. There is no suggestion that their relationship was sexual, but they shared a life together in the wilderness with all the emotional intensity of a same-sex couple for 29 years.

At that point Symeon decided to leave his longtime companion and move to the city of Emesa in modern Lebanon.  He wanted to do charity work while mocking social norms as a “fool for Christ.” John begged him not to go. John’s passionate plea is recorded in “Symeon the Holy Fool” by Derek Krueger:

“Please, for the Lord’s sake, do not leave wretched me. For I have not yet reached this level, so that I can mock the world. Rather for the sake of Him who joined us, do not wish to be parted from your brother. You know that, after God, I have no one except you, my brother, but I renounced all and was bound to you, and now you wish to leave me in the desert, as in an open sea. Remember that day when we drew lots and went down to lord Nikon, that we agreed not to be separated from one another. Remember that fearful hour when we were clothed in the holy habit, and we two were as one soul, so that all were astonished at our love. Don't forget the words of the great monk….Please don’t lest I die and God demands an account of my soul from you.”

Even this heartfelt appeal did not change Symeon’s mind. Instead he invited John into a long, intimate prayer session as described by Krueger:

“After they had prayed for many hours and had kissed each other on the breast and drenched them with their tears, John let go of Symeon and traveled together with him a long distance, for his soul would not let him be separated from him, but whenever Abba Symeon said to him ‘Turn back, brother,’ he heard the word as if a knife separated him from his body, and again he asked if he could accompany him a little further. Therefore, when Abba Symeon forced him, he turned back to his cell drenching the earth with tears.”

Symeon went on to help the poor, heal the sick and do other good works in Emesa. In order to avoid public praise, he shocked people by deliberately acting crazy, making himself a “holy fool.”

Not long before his death, Symeon had a vision in which he saw his beloved John wearing a crown with the inscription, “For endurance in the desert.” 

Symeon and John were honored together as saints on July 21 in many ancient calendars. In the 16th century Caesar Baronius separated them and moved Symeon to July 1, but some traditions still celebrate them both on July 21.

Artist Jim Ru was inspired to paint the Symeon and John as a couple, with John’s fervent words to his beloved, “Please don’t leave lest I die and God demands an account of my soul from you.” The painting was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee, Arizona in the 1990s.
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More resources:
Symeon the Holy Fool: Leontius’s Life and the Late Antique City” by Derek Krueger (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996).

Simeon the Holy Fool (Wikipedia)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Simeón de Emesa y Juan: un “santo loco” y un ermitaño que amaban el uno al otro
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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saint Wilgefortis: Bearded woman

Saint Wilgefortis statue in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Pas-de-Calais, near Wissant, France (Wikimedia Commons)

Santa Wilgefortis” from “Queer Santas” series by Alma Lopez

Saint Wilgefortis prayed to avoid marriage to a pagan king -- and her prayers were answered when she grew a beard! This gender-bending virgin martyr has natural appeal for LGBT people. Her feast day was July 20 (tomorrow) until she was removed from the Vatican calendar in 1969.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Saint Wilgefortis: Holy bearded woman fascinates for centuries


Wilgefortis remains in standard Catholic reference works, and images of her as a bearded woman on a cross are plentiful across Europe and in Latin American folk retablos.

She probably originates more in popular imagination than in history, but Wilgefortis continues to be an object of devotion in folk religion, a favorite character in pop culture and an inspiration in queer art.

Contemporary readers have come up with many theories about Wilgefortis. She has been interpreted as the patron saint of intersex people, an asexual person, a transgender person, a person with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or a lesbian virgin.

Legend says that Wilgefortis was the teenage Christian daughter of a king in medieval Portugal. She had taken a vow of chastity, but her father ordered her to marry a pagan king. She resisted the unwelcome marriage by praying to be made repulsive to her fiancé. God answered her prayers when she grew a beard.

Unfortunately her father got so angry that he had her crucified and Wilgefortis joined the ranks of virgin martyrs. The church has promoted “virgin martyrs” as examples of chastity and faith, but lesbians and other queer people recognize them as kindred spirits who do not engage in heterosexual activity.

Saint Wilgefortis in the Museum of the Diocese Graz-Seckau in Graz, Austria, 18th century (Wikimedia Commons)

Her veneration began in 14th century Europe and grew until the 16th century, when her story was debunked as fiction. People continued to worship her despite frequent opposition by church officials. She was honored all across Europe, and in some places her popularity rivaled the Virgin Mary. Wilgefortis stayed on the official Vatican calendar until 1969. Scholars suggest that her legend arose to explain the Volto Santo of Lucca, a famous Italian sculpture of the crucified Christ in a long tunic that medieval viewers thought was a woman’s dress.

The history is explored in the book “The Female Crucifix: Images of St. Wilgefortis Since the Middle Ages” by Ilse E. Friesen., professor of art history at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. She traces the emergences of increasingly female crucifixes over the centuries, focusing on the he German-speaking regions of Bavaria and Tyrol, where the veneration of Wilgefortis reached its peak.

The name Wilgefortis may come from the Latin “virgo fortis” (strong virgin). In Spanish she is Librada -- meaning “liberated” -- from hardship and/or husbands. She also goes by a bewildering variety of other names. Her alternate English name Uncumber means escaper. In addition, she is known as Liberata, Livrade, Kummernis, Komina, Comera, Cumerana, Ulfe, Ontcommen, Dignefortis, Europia, and Reginfledis. In Barcelona (Spain), local people honor Múnia de Barcelona, a legendary saint who is similar to Wilgefortis. Her feast day day is Feb. 28.

The saint speaks for herself in singer-songwriter-pianist Rebecca Clamp's song, “St. Wilgefortis.” Clamp is originally from Cambridge, England, and moved to Helsinki, Finland. She engages in a sweetly quirky dialogue with the saint in a song and concludes:
I won’t marry a heathen
And I won’t marry a saint
I won’t marry at all
Just grow me a beard
And find me a cave
I’ll be a happy little hermit
And I’ll build a little shrine
To my dear St. Wilgefortis
Oh ridiculous
To my dear St. Wilgefortis
The patron saint of bearded ladies
To my dear St. Wilgefortis
So sublime, so sublime



The saint is presented in two incarnations -- as Wilgefortis and as Liberata -- in the “Queer Santas” series by Chicana artist Alma Lopez. The series grew out of the artist’s insight that female martyrs may have protected their virginity to the death not so much out of faith, but because they were lesbians. Lopez paints Wilgefortis/Liberata as masculine women in crucifixion poses. They look like butch lesbians, liberating themselves by rejecting feminine appearance and traditional gender roles.

Saint Liberata” from “Queer Santas” series by Alma Lopez

Wilgefortis also makes various appearances in modern literature. The critically acclaimed 1970 novel “Fifth Business” by Robertson Davies concerns a scholar researching Wilgefortis. Castle Waiting, a graphic novel by Linda Medley, features a nun from the order of St. Wilgefortis, an entire convent full of bearded women!

St. Wilgefortis in the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Loreta Sanctuary in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Curious Expeditions.

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Related links:

Uncumber or Wilgefortis (Queering the Church)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Santa Librada (Wilgefortis): Una santa Barbuda

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.




Saturday, July 13, 2013

Resurrection added to LGBT Stations of the Cross: Jesus rises with marriage equality

“Station 15: The Resurrection Of Christ” from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud

Jesus rises from the dead as the Supreme Court rules for marriage equality in a new painting that completes the series “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button.

The Tennessee artist unveiled the 15th and final painting in series last week. The first 14 paintings made their debut earlier this year during Lent, but Button waited until the Supreme Court decision before creating the last picture.

It shows the risen Christ greeting Mary Magdalene against a kaleidoscope of scenes related to the Supreme Court’s June 26 decisions legalizing same-sex marriage. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, marry each other at a wedding that finally gives legal status to their love. Edie Windsor, plaintiff in the Defense of Marriage Act case, is shown with her late partner Thea Spyer, whose bequest prompted the landmark lawsuit. Behind Jesus is text from the Supreme Court ruling: “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal….” Jesus even appears to be holding a rainbow banner.

The resurrection image provides a celebratory and suitable ending for the LGBT Stations series, which shows that Jesus suffers with LGBT people. Button juxtaposes his journey to Calvary with milestones from the last 100 years of LGBT history, including Nazi persecution, the Lavender Scare, the Stonewall Rebellion, the assassination of gay politician Harvey Milk, the AIDS pandemic, the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester, and LGBT teen suicides.

Resurrection scenes are the rarest images in queer Christian art. Button’s version makes the glorious connection between the crucified Christ coming out of the tomb to new life and persecuted queer people coming out of the closet to celebrate our love with weddings that are just as valid as any other. The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate act of God’s triumph over the forces of death and destruction. Likewise the legalization of same-sex marriage is a contemporary example of love’s victory over hate. The idea of a gay or lesbian couple getting married used to be unthinkable. It seemed as unlikely as a dead man rising from the tomb.

“The grouping of Perry, Stier, Windsor and Spier with Mary Magdalene carries with it a deep theological significance,” Button wrote in her reflection on the painting at Believe Out Loud, an online network empowering Christians to work for LGBT equality. She points out that Mary Magdalene was a trusted disciple and “apostle to the apostles” who has been unjustly stigmatized as a harlot.

“It is only fitting that Mary Magdalene would accompany the women in this painting, who together challenged systematic discrimination against LGBT people in our nation’s highest court,” Button concludes. “With faith, I pray that this image will signify a greater shift in public opinion as we move beyond baseless stigmatization of the LGBT community to embrace our diversity as a blessed gift from God.”
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Related links:

“The Resurrection Of Christ: Mary Magdalene Meets Supreme Court Plaintiffs” reflection by Mary Button (Believe Out Loud)

LGBT Stations of the Cross show struggle for equality (Jesus in Love)
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Special thanks to Colin for the news tip.

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It is also included in thee Queer Christ that series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Monday, July 08, 2013

Artemisia Gentileschi paints strong Biblical women

“Judith and Her Maidservant” by Artemisia Gentileschi

Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi inspires many with her paintings of strong Biblical women -- created despite the discrimination and sexual violence that she faced as a woman in 17th-century Italy. She was born more than 400 years ago today (July 8, 1593).

Gentileschi was apparently heterosexual, but lesbians have drawn energy from her life and art. Many queer people can relate to her battles against prejudice and sexual violence, documented in her rape trial in 1612. She can be considered the patron saint of lesbian artists, women artists, and everyone who breaks gender rules.

Gentileschi (1593–1652) was successful in her own day, but was mostly written out of art history until the 1970s, when feminist scholars rediscovered her work. Now she is celebrated in many books, films and plays, and her work is widely reproduced. Her greatest paintings include “Judith Beheading Holofernes” and “Susanna and the Elders.”

Lesbians who have created tributes to Gentileschi include painter Becki Jayne Harrelson and playwright Carolyn Gage. In the play “Artemisia and Hildegard,” Gage has two of history’s great women artists debate their contrasting survival strategies: Gentileschi battled to achieve in the male-dominated art world while Hildegard of Bingen found support for her art in the women-only community of a medieval German nunnery.

The daughter of a painter, Gentileschi was born in Rome and trained as a painter in her father’s workshop there. She was refused admission to the art academy because she was a woman, so her father arranged for her to have a private painting teacher -- who raped her when she was about 19. Gentileschi herself was tortured by thumbscrews during the seven-month rape trial, but she stuck to her testimony. The teacher was convicted, but received a suspended sentence.

“Judith Beheading Holofernes”
by Artemisia Gentileschi
Gentileschi used art to express her outrage. During the trial Artemisia began painting the Biblical scene of “Judith Beheading Holofernes” (left). Judith, a daring and beautiful Hebrew widow, saves Israel by cutting off the head of the invading general Holofernes. Judith and Holofernes became one of Gentileschi’s favorite subjects, and she painted several variations during her lifetime.

Her realistic style, influenced by the artist Caravaggio, shows dramatic contrasts between light and dark. But Gentileschi usually created her own unique interpretation expressing a strong female viewpoint. The violence of Judith beheading the male general Holofernes speaks for itself. Another example is her painting (below left) of the Biblical story of the Hebrew wife Susanna and the lustful elders who spied on her while she was bathing. Although her male contemporaries painted the scene as a voyeuristic fantasy, Gentileschi presents it as a violation of the vulnerable Susanna by the predatory elders.

“Susanna and the Elders”
by Artemisia Gentileschi
Soon after the rape trial Gentileschi married and moved to Florence, where she became the first woman accepted into the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing). She had a full career, producing many paintings of powerful women from Christianity, history and mythology. She worked in various Italian cities and even spent a few years painting in London, England. It is believed that she died when she was about 60 years old in a plague that swept Naples in 1656.

Today Gentileschi’s life and work are admired by many, including artist Becki Jayne Harrelson. She is best known for her LGBT-affirming version of “The Crucifixion of the Christ” with the word “faggot” above Jesus on the cross, but Harrelson has also honored Gentileschi in her art and blog.

Harrelson offers this tribute in celebration of Gentileschi’s birthday: “Artemisia Gentileschi’s talent and mastery was equal to her male counterparts, yet because of sexism and misogyny, she was denied the recognition she deserved as a master painter until many centuries later. She also suffered sexual violence and was treated unjustly for standing up against it. Her art and life inspires me to persevere despite adversity and prejudice.”

“Tribute to Artemisia’s Judith” by Becki Jayne Harrelson, www.beckijayne.com
Oil on canvas | 36”w X 48”h

Gentileschi's story is told in a variety of movies and novels, including "The Passion of Artemisia" by Susan Vreeland.

Artemisia Gentileschi is included in the LGBT saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog because she has inspired so many lesbians with her paintings of women and her success despite gender barriers and sexual violence.
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Queer religious art resource list: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism

A rainbow of religious symbols: Latin Cross, Star of David, Omkar (Aum), Star and Crescent, Cross Pattée, Yin/Yang, Khanda (Sikh), Ayyavazhi, Triple Goddess (Diane de Poitiers). Artist Andrew Craig Williams worked his queer rainbow magic on an image from Wikimedia Commons.

Queer religious art resources from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Paganism are listed today on the Jesus in Love Blog.

The list provides dozens of links to art created throughout human history, from ancient cave paintings to the most contemporary images of today. It includes Asian, African / African-American, Australian, Celtic, Latina/o, Native American and more.

Usually LGBT Christian art is focus here, but today the attention shifts to other religions and spiritual traditions. The Jesus in Love Blog affirms the value of all faiths. The list is just an introduction to an enormous subject, so please leave comments with more suggestions.

This list took on a life of its own while I was researching it. One artist led to another and another. The lines between religions began to blur and overlap because cross-fertilization occurs between different traditions. Therefore some Christian art is included if it is expressed in a queer interfaith context.

Special thanks to Hugo Cordova Quero, adjunct faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. This list was sparked by his request for help finding queer religious art to use when he teaches an online course on Queer Studies from a Multireligious Perspective in fall 2013.

Christian scriptures on interfaith religious tolerance are relatively rare, but many Bible verses do command people to love and care for strangers. In Acts 10:34-35 Peter said, “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.”

Overview
LGBT themes in mythology and religion (Wikipedia)

LGBTQ Spirituality at Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife

LGBTQ Religion at Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife

Queer Spirituality Around the World (compiled by Marilyn Roxie)


Queer Buddhism
Kuan Yin: A queer Buddhist Christ figure (Jesus in Love)

Gay spirituality author Toby Johnson discusses Kuan Yin (or Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit) as an androgynous figure who embodies compassion in his articles “Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara” and “Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.”

Vietnamese-born lesbian artist Hanh Thi Pham refashions Buddhist imagery and precepts in her installation “Lesbian Precepts.”  More info and images:
http://cepagallery.org/exhibitions/relocatingasia/AS03.site/AS03.06.pham.1.html

Kukai (774–835), also known as Kōbō-Daishi, is a monk who founded Shingon Buddhism in Japan. He is one of Japan’s most beloved Buddhist figures, credited with everything from inventing the kana alphabet to introducing homosexuality to Japan. Kukai is shown with his male lover among the falling cherry blossoms in “Kukai” by Ryan Grant Long. It appears near the bottom of this article:
Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Long (Jesus in Love)


Queer Judaism
Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin’s “Jerusalem” photos draw attention to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim scriptures that threaten queer people. See:
http://jesusinlove.blogspot.com/2010/11/religious-threats-to-lgbt-people.html

Photos of LGBT seders and/or pride minion such as this one:
http://jesusinlove.blogspot.com/2011/12/happy-hanukkah-from-jesus-in-love-blog.html


Queer Islam
Rumi is a 13th-century Persian poet and Muslim mystic whose love for another man inspired some of the world’s best poems and led to the creation of a new religious order, the whirling dervishes. See:
Rumi: Poet and Sufi mystic inspired by same-sex love (Jesus in Love)

Sultan Malek al-Kamil captured St. Francis of Assisi on a trip to Egypt. At first they tried to convert each other, but each man soon recognized that the other already knew and loved God. Francis stayed for almost three weeks discussing spirituality with the sultan and his Sufi teacher Fakhr ad-din al-Farisi. Artist Robert Lentz celebrates the meeting of Islamic and Christian leaders as a model of interfaith dialogue in the icon “St. Francis and the Sultan” at these links:
St. Francis: Loving across boundaries (Jesus in Love)

“St. Francis and the Sultan” with narrative by Robert Lentz (Trinity Stores)

Gay Mohammad images were censored in 2008 from a Dutch art exhibit. Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera was forced into hiding by death threats from Muslim extremists. She says that her images are an artistic expose of Islamic hypocrisy on homosexuality. More info:
Gay Mohammad art censored (Jesus in Love)

Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin’s “Jerusalem” photos draw attention to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim scriptures that threaten queer people. See:
http://jesusinlove.blogspot.com/2010/11/religious-threats-to-lgbt-people.html


Queer Hinduism
Many Hindu saints and deities transcend sexual and gender norms. Perhaps the most popular is Ardhanarishvara, who appears literally split down the middle as half male and half female. Get info and see images at these links:
Ardhanari at Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife:
http://www.qualiafolk.com/2011/12/08/ardhanari/

Ardhanarisvara at Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ardhanarisvara

“Hindu Deities and the Third Sex” by Amara Das Wilhelm provides lots of info and images of Hindu deities, demi-gods and saints who embody the full spectrum of gender and sexual diversity, including but not limited to LGBT, queer and “third sex.” See it at the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association website:
http://www.galva108.org/deities.html

The GALVA web article comes from the book “Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex: Understanding Homosexuality, Transgender Identity, And Intersex Conditions Through Hinduism” by Amara Das Wilhelm.

Images of same-sex affection between Hindu deities and Christ (including “Jesus and Lord Rama” by Alex Donis) appear in:
What if Christ and Krishna made love? (Jesus in Love)


Queer Paganism and other spiritualities
(including Native American, Indigenous, African / African-American, Latina/o, Asian and other spiritualities)

We'wha of Zuni: Two-spirit Native American bridged genders (Jesus in Love)

Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists reimagine an icon (Jesus in Love)
Art by Alma Lopez links Guadalupe to the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin. Lopez has also done a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe as Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess who has been interpreted as a lesbian deity.

Aztec god Xochipilli is the patron of gay men:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xochipilli

Haitian Vodou has many spirits that can be considered LGBT, queer, androgynous, dual-gendered, gender-fluid or otherwise queer. For example, Erzulie Dantor is the patron spirit for lesbians and is associated with the Black Madonna. Her more feminine sister Erzulie Freda protects and inspires gay men.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DANTOR.jpg
(Note: I am working on an in-depth article about Erzulie Dantor and the Black Madonna. Suggestions welcome!)

Brigid and Darlughdach: Celtic saint loved her female soulmate (Jesus in Love)
Raised by Druids, Saint Brigid seems to have made a smooth transition from being a pagan priestess to a Christian abbess who loved another woman.

Welsh mythology includes a gender-bending queer shamanic story of incest, rape and shape-shifting with brothers Gwydion and Gilfaethwy. Their queer adventures are included in the Mabinogion, a collection of ancient Welsh myths and legends. Artist Andrew Craig Williams has illustrated, adapted, and reclaimed their story from a contemporary queer perspective:
http://www.behance.net/gallery/Blodeuben/292695
(The image of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy near the bottom was created this week specifically for inclusion on this links list.  Thanks, Andy!)

The Rabbit God from Chinese folk spirituality is considered the patron deity of the LGBT community. Info and images at Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife:
http://www.qualiafolk.com/2011/12/08/rabbit-god-temple/

Mary, Diana and Artemis: Feast of Assumption has lesbian goddess roots (Jesus in Love)
A mid-August holiday was once the festival of the Greek/Roman lesbian goddess Diana (Artemis), but it has been adapted into a feast day for the Virgin Mary.

Greek mythology has a wide variety of same-sex lovers, including Zeus and Ganymede,
Apollo and Hyacinth, and Dionysus and Ampelus. Get info and see images at:
LGBT themes in classical mythology (Wikipedia)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_themes_in_classical_mythology

http://www.gay-art-history.org/gay-history/gay-literature/gay-mythology-folktales/homosexual-greek-mythology/homosexual-greek-mythology.html

Antinous, the young male lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian (AD 76-138), was deified after drowning in the Nile and honored with many statues, which are displayed online at:
http://www.antinoos.info

Lesbian Neopagan / Wiccan spirituality is often expressed in reverence for nature and the Divine Feminine, which is embodied in goddesses. Lesbians often connect with art that has a strong female, feminist or goddess emphasis rather than specifically lesbian content. For example, multicultural goddesses and imagined saints are illustrated by Sudie Rakusin, who has created art for various lesbian projects.  See her art at: http://sudierakusin.com/ Marie Cartier is a scholar, visual/performance artist, queer activist, writer and theologian whose visual art includes goddess imagery. Her website is: http://www.mariecartier.com/

Guide to women’s Tarot cards and decks:
http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/women.shtml

Pagan artist Paul B. Rucker discusses his painting “Androgyne” in his essay “People of the Rainbow: Transgender in Magick and Ritual”:
http://paulruckerart.wordpress.com/essaysarticleshybrids/people-of-the-rainbow/

Stevee Postman mixes images from nature, mythology, Neopagan and Radical Faerie culture to create images with mystical homoerotic energy:
http://stevee.com/

Guide to Tarot cards and decks that accommodate or celebrate LGBT or alternative sexual orientations:
http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/gay-lesbian.shtml

French artists and lovers Pierre et Gilles (Pierre and Gilles) create hand-painted photos of deities and saints from various religions as well as pop icons and figures from gay culture:
http://www.denoirmont.com/artist-pierre-et-gilles-galerie-jerome-de-noirmont.html

Australian Aboriginal spiritualities include an androgynous creator god known as the Rainbow Serpent, one of the oldest continuing religious beliefs in the world. Rock drawings of the Rainbow Serpent date back 6,000 years. The Rainbow Serpent connects with the symbolism of the LGBT rainbow flag. Image and info at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_serpent

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Special thanks to Yvonne Aburrow, N.E. Francis and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus for pagan art recommendations.

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This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Jemima Wilkinson: Queer preacher reborn in 1776 as “Publick Universal Friend”


Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819) was a queer American preacher who woke from a near-death experience in 1776 believing she was neither male nor female. She changed her name to “the Publick Universal Friend,” fought for gender equality and founded an important religious community.

It’s appropriate to consider the Publick Universal Friend around July 4 for Independence Day. In 1776, the same year that America issued the Declaration of Independence, Wilkinson declared her own independence from gender. This fascinating person died almost 200 years ago today on July 1, 1819.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Jemima Wilkinson: Queer preacher reborn in 1776 as “Publick Universal Friend”


Wilkinson is recognized as the first American-born woman to found a religious group, but is also called a “transgender evangelist.” The breakaway Quaker preacher spoke against slavery and gave medical care to both sides in the Revolutionary War.

Wilkinson was 24 when she had a severe fever leading to a near-death experience. Upon waking she confidently announced to her surprised family that Jemima Wilkinson had died and her body was now inhabited by a genderless “Spirit of Life from God” sent to preach to the world. She insisted on being called the Publick Universal Friend or simply “the Friend.” From then on, the Friend refused to respond to her birth name or use gendered pronouns.

Seal of the Universal Friend
(Wikimedia Commons)
The preacher and prophet known as “the Friend” defies categorization. The Friend has been labeled a “spiritual transvestite” and is on lists of “famous asexuals” and “a gender-variance Who’s Who.” As a gender nonconformist whose life was devoted to God, the Friend fits the definition of a queer saint. The androgynous Friend was many things to many people.

Jemima Wilkinson was born to a Quaker family in Rhode Island on Nov. 29, 1752. She showed a strong interest in religion while growing up. On Oct. 13, 1776, the Sunday after being reborn, the Friend gave a public sermon for the first time. Quaker officials rejected the Friend as a heretic, but s/he went on to preach throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

The Friend blended traditional Christian warnings about sin and redemption with Quaker pacifism, abolitionism, plain dress and peaceful relations with Native American Indians. Women had no legal rights in the United States, but the Friend advocated equality of the sexes. The Friend was a firm believer in sexual abstinence.

People were drawn not only to this progressive message, but also to the Friend’s forceful personality and genderbending appearance. S/he rejected standard women’s attire and hairdos for a unique blend of male and female. The Friend commonly wore a flowing black male clergy gown with female petticoats peeking out at the hem. The Friend’s long hair hung loose to the shoulder. The rest of the Friend’s outfit often included a man’s broad-brimmed hat and women’s colorful scarves.

The first recruits were family members, but the Friend soon attracted a diverse group of followers, including intellectual and economic elites as well as the poor and oppressed. Known as the Universal Friends, they upset some people by proclaiming that the Friend was “the Messiah Returned” or “Christ in Female Form.” The Friend did not make such claims directly.

The Friend founded the Society of Universal Friends in 1783. Members pooled their money and started a utopian communal settlement in the wilderness near Seneca Lake in upstate New York in 1788. As the first settlers in the region, they cleared the land and became the first white people to meet and trade with the Native Americans there. By 1790 the community had grown to a population of 260.

Hostile observers put the Friend on trial for blasphemy in 1800, but the court ruled that American courts could not try blasphemy cases due to the separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution. Thus the Friend was a pioneer in establishing freedom of speech and freedom of religion in American law.

Like other isolated utopian communities based on celibacy, the Society of Universal Friends dwindled. The Friend “left time,” as the Universal Friends put it, on July 1, 1819 at age 61. The organization disintegrated within a few years of the founder’s death.

The Publick Universal Friend continues to fascinate people today. One of the most authoritative biographies of this mysterious person is Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend by Herbert A. Wisbey Jr. In recent years the life and work of the Friend has been examined by feminists and LGBTQ scholars, including gay historian Michael Bronski in his Lambda Literary Award-winning book, A Queer History of the United States.
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Related links:
Chapter on Jemima Wilkinson from “Saints, Sinners and Reformers” by John H. Martin (Crooked Lake Review)

The Assumption of Jemima Wilkinson by Sharon V. Betcher (Journal of Millennial Studies)

Scherer Carriage House (permanent museum exhibit on Jemima Wilkinson)

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Related links:
Books on LGBTQ American history:

A Queer History of the United States” by Michael Bronski

Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Jim Downs

Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.” by Jonathan Katz


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Top image credit: Jemima Wilkinson / Publick Universal Friend (Wikimedia Commons)

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Monday, July 01, 2013

Pauli Murray: Queer saint who stood for racial and gender equality

Pauli Murray by Laurel Green

Human rights champion and queer saint Pauli Murray is a renowned civil rights pioneer, feminist, author, lawyer and the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her feast day is today (July 1).

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Pauli Murray: Queer saint who stood for racial and gender equality


Murray was arrested and jailed for refusing to sit in the back of a segregated bus in Virginia in 1938 -- 15 years before Rosa Parks became a national symbol for resisting bus segregation. In 1941 she organized restaurant sit-downs in the nation’s capital -- 20 years before the famous Greensboro sit-ins.

She was attracted to women and her longest relationships were with women, so she is justifiably considered a lesbian. But she also described herself as a man trapped in a woman’s body and took hormone treatments in her 20s and 30s, so she might even be called transgender man today.

Murray was approved for trial inclusion in the Episcopal Church’s book of saints, “Holy Women, Holy Men” in a 2012 vote. Usually the Episcopalians wait until 50 years after a person has died before making granting sainthood, but for Murray the church set aside the rule and approved “trial use” of materials commemorating her now.

Others have written extensively about her many accomplishments, but material on Murray’s sexuality is hard to find. She did not speak publicly about her sexual orientation or gender identity issues, but she left ample evidence of these struggles in her letters and personal writings.

Pauli Murray (Wikipedia)

Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray (November 20, 1910 – July 1, 1985) was born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Durham, North Carolina. She became aware of her queer sexuality early in life. In Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White, historian Anne Firor Scott explains:

“In adolescence Murray began to worry about her sexual nature. She later said that she was probably meant to be a man, but had by accident turned up in a woman’s body. She began to keep clippings about various experiments with hormones as a way of changing sexual identity…. In 1937, at the initiative of a friend, she had been admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York, and during her stay there she examined her worries about her sexual nature in writing, and said that she hoped to move toward her masculine side... . She continued for years to discuss the developing medical literature about hormones, thinking they might help her. She discussed the possibility of homosexuality with doctors; she knew that she was attracted to very feminine, often white, women, and she knew as well that… she was not physically attracted to men. This conflict would continue for the rest of her life.”

Murray’s queer side is discussed in many books, including American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism by Nancy Ordover and To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done For America by Lillian Faderman, and in the play “To Buy the Sun: The Challenge of Pauli Murray” by Lynden Harris.

A graduate of New York’s Hunter College, Murray was rejected from the University of North Carolina UNC Chapel Hill’s graduate school in 1938 because of her race. She became a civil rights activist. In the late 1930s Murray was also seeking psychological help and testosterone implants from doctors in an effort to “treat” her homosexuality by becoming more male.

Eager to become a civil rights lawyer, Murray was the only woman in her law school class at Howard University in Washington, DC. She graduated first in her class in 1944, but was rejected by Harvard because of her gender -- even though President Franklin Roosevelt wrote a letter of support for her after Murray contacted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Instead Murray studied law at the University of California in Berkeley. She wrote numerous influential publications, and NAACP used her arguments in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that ended racial segregation in U.S. public schools.

Her ongoing frienship with Roosevelt is described in the 2016 book, “The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice” by women's studies professor Patricia Bell-Scott.

In the early 1960s President John Kennedy appointed Murray to the Commission on the Status of Women Committee. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin on civil rights -- and criticized the 1963 March on Washington at the time for excluding women from leadership. In 1965 she became the first African American to receive a law doctorate from Yale. A year later she co-founded the National Organization for Women.

Instead of retiring, Murray launched a new career at age 62. She entered New York’s General Theological Seminary in 1973, before the Episcopal Church allowed women priests. She was ordained in 1977. She celebrated her first Holy Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC -- the same church where her grandmother, a slave, was baptized.

After a lifetime as a human rights activist, she drew on her own experience to preach a powerful vision of God’s justice. It can be difficult to locate Murray’s sermons in books. Eight of Murray’s sermons can be found in the readily available book “Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons, 1850-1979,” edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas. Sermons by Murray in the book are Male and Female He Created Them (1978), Women Seeking Admission to Holy Orders as Crucifers Carrying the Cross (1974), Mary Has Chosen the Best Part (1977), The Holy Spirit (1977), The Gift of the Holy Spirit (1977), The Dilemma of the Minority Christian (1974), Salvation and Liberation (1979), and Can These Bones Live Again (1978).

In a 1977 sermon recorded in the hard-to-find Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings, she said:

It was my destiny to be the descendant of slave owners as well as slaves, to be of mixed ancestry, to be biologically and psychologically integrated in a world where the separation of the races was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States as the fundamental law of our Southland. My entire life’s quest has been for spiritual integration, and this quest has led me ultimately to Christ, in whom there is no East or West, no North or South, no Black or White, no Red or Yellow, no Jew or Gentile, no Islam or Buddhist, no Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic, no Male or Female. There is no Black Christ, no White Christ, no Red Christ – although these images may have transitory cultural value. There is only Christ, the Spirit of Love.

Murray died of cancer on July 1, 1985 at age 74. Her best known book is Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family (1956), her memoir of growing up as a mixed-race person in the segregated South.

The image of Pauli Murray at the top of this post is part of the “In the Spirit of Those Who Led the Way” series by North Carolina artist Laurel Green. She creates digital artworks in conversation with more traditional media.

“Pauli Murray” by Angela Yarber

A new icon of Pauli Murray was painted for the "Holy Women Icons" series by Angela Yarber, an artist, scholar, dancer, minister and LGBT-rights activist based in North Carolina. It is one of nearly 50 color images of her folk feminist icons included in her 2014 book "Holy Women Icons." Her colorful icon shows Murray with a closed eyes and large heart inscribed with the words:

“When her throat grew weary,
Her heart pulsed a song of hope,
Of justice, of equality,
Unconstrained by the binaries
That bind.
Authentically free.”

For more info on Yarber, see my previous post "Artist paints holy lesbians and other women."

The trial use commemorations of the Episcopal Church include this new prayer:

Liberating God, we thank you most heartily for the steadfast courage of your servant Pauli Murray, who fought long and well: Unshackle us from bonds of prejudice and fear so that we show forth your reconciling love and true freedom, which you revealed through your Son and Our Savior Jesus Christ.

Pauli Murray image from Holy Women, Holy Men on Facebook celebrating saints in the Episcopal Church, produced by the Paradoxy Center at St. Nicholas Church.

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Related links:

Pauli Murray profile at LGBTHistoryMonth.com

www.paulimurrayproject.org

Pauli Murray Named to Episcopal Sainthood (duke.edu)

Paul Murray bio (Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina)

Queering Iconography, Painting Pauli Murray” by Angela Yarber (Feminism and Religion Blog)

Convention OKs continued trial use of ‘Holy Women, Holy Men’ (Episcopal News Service)

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.