Play Starring Transgender Jesus Draws Catholic Protests


Jo Clifford as Jesus in the play

Catholics in Northern Ireland protested a play performed this month which portrays Jesus as a transgender woman, but the playwright defended it as an attempt to make audiences “think again” about faith and gender.

The play, titled “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” was most recently performed at Outburst Queer Arts Festival in Belfast just weeks after the nation’s legislature failed to advance marriage equality legislation.

Writer and actor Jo Clifford described it as a “very important, very intimate show,” explaining to BBC:

” ‘Obviously being a transgender woman myself it concerns me very greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us. . .

” ‘I wanted to see if we could move away from that and make people think again.’ “

Audience members are quite moved, said Clifford, including Christians. The writer has repeatedly reinterpreted biblical stories to generate new ideas, suggesting the overall message of this play is clear:

” ‘I think it’s very important to get across the message that Jesus of the gospels would not condone or want to promote prejudice and discrimination against anybody and to try to convey a message of compassion and love and understanding of everybody. . .No matter what their belief, no matter what their gender, orientation or sexuality.’

Not all welcome that message as a small Catholic group protested in Belfast, as has at previous performances. Former Glasglow Archbishop Mario Conti once said that it is hard to imagine “a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs” than this play.

Clifford, however, said protesters have generally not seen the play and that it seeks neither to offend nor blaspheme because she is a Christian herself. Her point is rather to reflect on Jesus’ ministry through this “work of devotion”:

” ‘I simply want to assert very strongly, as strongly as I can that Jesus of the gospels would not in anyway wish to attack or denigrate people like myself.’ “

Clifford made a similar point in another interview, available on YouTube:

“He was talking to the victims of persecution, to the victims of prejudice and he would speak to them in a very accepting way, as one human being to another.”

In this, Clifford is correct. The Gospels reveal a Jesus who elevated people’s dignity and specifically sought out those who had been marginalized.

Catholic tradition has long embraced the arts as a means for spiritual nourishment and divine revelation, opening up the human person to themselves, to others, and to God. While I have not viewed Clifford’s play, her interviews suggest she is someone committed to creating art with devotional ends. The protesters would have benefited more by attending a show and seeing what came up in their inner life, instead of casting stones from afar.

For more information on The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, visit the play’s website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


6 replies
  1. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    I, who am in full support of LGBT persons, believe that is a silly, unnecessary and negative move for the respect and welfare of the LGBT community.

  2. Frank
    Frank says:

    I suppose that the initial instinct is to cry blasphemy. But for 2 millennia people have been portraying Jesus according to their own ethnicities and even time periods. Is portraying Christ – in whom we are neither male nor female according to Paul – with sandy-brown hair and blue eyes, or in resemblance to the artist’s patron or prince, any more heretical?

    • Barbara Cooper
      Barbara Cooper says:

      I’m thinking and feeling along the same lines, Frank. We are all one in the Risen Christ and expressing that is needed to expand our appreciation of the length and depth and exclusivity of our Creator’s love.

  3. Terrance Wagner
    Terrance Wagner says:

    I don’t judge but this is not for me. I have real devotion to the real Queen of Heaven, Mary. I have not seen nor do I want to see. Just not for me

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    Well, in the pantheon of artistic tropes representing Jesus, it’s much less shocking than Serrano’s “Piss Christ” (the crucified Jesus immersed in a jar of urine); the sadistically battered Jesus in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”; or Jesus as a face-painted circus clown in “Godspell”. (Truth in disclosure: my beloved ascended soul spouse, Jeffrey Mylett, was one of the ensemble of young actors who first created “Godspell” as a thesis project at Carnegie Mellon University, and later took it on to its highly successful film and Broadway versions.) Ultimately, I judge the underlying intention of the artist to be what really matters. And among these representations of Jesus, the only trope that I would deem gratuitously offensive is “Piss Christ” — which attempts to be shocking merely for the sake of being shocking. I suspect that Clifford’s work is much closer to “Godspell”, in its underlying intention, than it is to the other cited works. Whether it would be worth spending money to see — well, that’s ultimately a very personal decision!


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