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.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry