Drag Performance of the Lord’s Prayer Sparks Philippines Controversy

Pura Luka Vega

A recent viral video of a Filipino drag queen performing “Ama Namin,” the Tagalog translation of the Lord’s Prayer, has led to a debate over what may be deemed appropriate religious and artistic expression.

Pura Luka Vega posted a video to Twitter of her drag performance, in which she is dressed as the Black Nazarene, a much-venerated Filipino religious image of a dark-skinned Jesus carrying the cross. She sings and dances with a crowd to an upbeat rendition of Ama Namin. According to CNN Philippines, Vega, who identifies as Roman Catholic, said that her performance was done in part to “challenge our notions of how we worship or how we sing our praise.” For Vega, this performance was a way to bring together her queer and religious identities and to spark conversation around the way LGBTQ+ individuals have been treated by religious organizations.

The video prompted varied responses, with many Catholics, including LGBTQ+ Catholics, disagreeing with Vega’s portrayal. Much of the outrage centered not on the identity of the performer, but rather on the content and context of the performance. Many argued that coupling religious elements like the Lord’s Prayer with the entertainment-focused hallmarks of drag performance like singing, dancing, and elaborate costumes disrespects the sanctity of the religious elements.

According to UCA News, Fr. Jerome Seciliano, a spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), responded to the video in a statement  which disapproved of the performance, stating:

“People should be extremely prudent in their actions, especially with regard to using elements of religion for secular purposes … dancing to the tune of a sacred and biblical prayer, with matching sacred costume to boot, is completely disrespectful not only of people and institution[s] practicing such faith but of God himself…Faith and sacred objects are not for entertainment purposes. They are useful for channeling our deepest desire to have recourse to the Divine.”

Other Catholics, while voicing support for the LGBTQ+ community, agree with CBCP that a drag show is not the place for religious elements like the Lord’s Prayer. Froilan Nagruso, an LGBTQ+ Catholic from the Philippines, told UCA News, “We believe that being gay is not contrary to being pious. ‘Ama Namin’ [Our Father] is not meant to be part of a dance event where people bang their heads or jump like Lady Gaga. The Lord’s Prayer demands respect from every Christian.”

Geraldine Roman, the Philippines’s first transgender lawmaker, further questioned the motivation of this performance. Roman affirmed that there are many faithful members of the LGBTQ+ community seeking to serve God and the church, and wondered, “What is this event’s contribution to our fight for LGBT rights?”

In response to these criticisms, Vega affirmed that her performance was a faithful expression of her own religious experience and her way of bringing attention to LGBTQ+ issues.

“It is my experience and my expression of having been denied my rights,” Vega said in a press conference. On Twitter, Vega elaborated on this point, mentioning the various ways that Christianity and the Bible have been used to harm the LGBTQ+ community. “I just want to create a narrative that despite all of these, Jesus, as the embodiment of God’s love for all, does not forget about the oppressed, including the LGBTQIA+ community,” she said.

Queerness, Vega later said, is her way of praising God, and drag is her way of expressing that. 

When we think about the myriad ways that people express praise and worship God, certainly these are not limited to quiet, solemn prayers murmured in a church pew. Praise of God erupts from the heart and can take many forms: dancing, singing, laughing, crying, shouting and, yes, perhaps even drag. The conversation sparked by Vega’s performance prompts important questions: what forms of worship do we deem too unfamiliar to be acceptable, and how do we begin and continue to recognize the sacredness of LGBTQ+ expressions of faith?

—Phoebe Carstens (they/them), September 16, 2023

1 reply
  1. Thomas William Bower
    Thomas William Bower says:

    I have not seen the video, but we each pray in our own way and it is no one’s business but between God and me. To anyone who has seen Good Friday service with Stations of the Cross sometimes with individuals actually nailed to a cross in various Latino/a communities, these are real presentations that press true passion beyond the comfort of others not part of their heritage, but that is what brings them closer to God. Think of St. Francis being given the stigmata. We need more prayer and fewer people judging how others pray.


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