Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Conservatives blast inclusive Christmas card

Epiphany, copyright 2003 by Janet McKenzie
Collection of Barbara Marian, Harvard, IL

Conservative Christians are raising a big stink over a Christmas card that shows a multi-racial trio of female Magi visiting the baby Jesus and his mother.

“Happy Multicultural Feminist Celebration Day,” sneers the headline of a traditional Anglican blog where nearly 100 comments are posted condemning the image as “stupid,” “faux-nouveau hipster theology” and worse.

Instead of the traditional three kings or three wise men, artist Janet McKenzie re-interprets the Magi as wise women from around the world in a painting titled Epiphany. The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, used the Epiphany image for her Christmas cards this year.

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, Texas, sent a notice to clergy and 2007 convention delegates condemning Jefferts Schori for her choice of art.

“The Presiding Bishop has done something which defies explanation,” the statement says. “This is the Christmas card she sent to Bishop Iker and presumably other TEC bishops. Given the increasing polarization in TEC (and the Anglican Communion) today, the only reason we can see for her to make this choice is that she is only interested in pushing the polarization just that much further.”

The opposition to the Christmas card is part of a larger conflict that threatens to split the Episcopal Church. See Christianity Today, for a news report that put the Christmas-card battle into a broader context.

McKenzie denies the accusations that she is trying to be divisive and rewrite scripture. “Of course this is as far from my thinking as possible,” she says. “I feel called to create sacred and secular art that includes and celebrates those systematically ignored, relegated and minimized, and for the most part that is women and people of color.”

As a lesbian Christian author and art historian, I see the controversy as a reminder of the power of art, and the continuing need for progressive spiritual images.

McKenzie put it well: “Even this gentle image of a loving Holy Mother and Child, with no agenda accept to include and honor us as the nurturing feminine beings we are, surrounded in community with other women, is still misunderstood -- even at this late date.”

McKenzie has weathered even bigger opposition before. Her androgynous African American Jesus of the People painting caused international controversy when Sister Wendy of PBS chose it to represent Christ in the new millennium. The full story of that controversy -- and more art by McKenzie -- are included in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. McKenzie’s Jesus of the People also appears on the book cover.

For more about Janet McKenzie, click to see our previous post:
Censored Christ Mother appears at last

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Top 5 queer-spirit arts stories for 2007 named

JesusInLove.org has announced its picks for 2007’s top five news stories on GLBT spirituality and the arts. Leading the list is the National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art. JesusInLove.org, an online resource center for GLBT people with spiritual interests and their allies, chose the stories based on Web traffic and attendance in real life. The video above captures the excitement and meaning of the festival. Produced by the Taos News, it presents gospel music and artwork from opening night, plus an interview with artist Janet McKenzie. She talks about why she painted a black female Jesus of the People. Here’s a round-up of the year’s top five queer spiritual art stories, based on Web traffic and attendance in real life. 1. Gay Jesus art delights crowds at National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art. More than 350 people attend the opening of the festival in Taos in May. Click here for more info 2. A mini-riot erupts in an evangelical Swedish city over gay Jesus photos by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin in August. Click here for more info 3. Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ and More by Kittredge Cherry is published to enthusiastic reviews. Click here for more info 4. A leather version of the Last Supper sparks controversy as the poster for the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco in September. Click here for more info 5. National Coming Out Day inspires dozens of videos in October, including the year’s most popular video at JesusInLove.org. Click here for more info 2007 was a fantastic year for GLBT spirituality and the arts. Thousands of people to visited galleries, read books and watched videos last year to see new images of God based on gay, lesbian, bi and trans experience. The images inspired hope -- and sometimes fear and violence. JesusInLove.org promotes queer spirituality and the arts, with an emphasis on books and images. We believe that God loves all people, including sexual minorities, and that the creative process is sacred. We hope that the new visions, especially the gay Jesus, will free people to experience the divine in new ways and lead to a more just world. Show your support by clicking below to

Friday, January 04, 2008

New Art Book Shows Gay Jesus and Female Christ

Here is the original news release for the publication of Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. It was issued on June 1, 2007, before the Jesus in Love Blog was launched. It is posted here now to ensure that people will continue to have access to it.

BERKELEY, CA -- June 1, 2007 -- Art that shows Jesus as gay or female has been censored, but now these stunning images by 11 artists fill a beautifully illustrated new art book.

Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry is packed with color images by 11 contemporary artists from the United States and Europe. Their art shines a spiritual light on justice for women and LGBT people.

An online gallery of selected images from the book has just been added to Cherry’s website, JesusInLove.org.

“Christ belongs to everyone,” says Cherry, an art historian and lesbian Christian author. “The gay Jesus and the woman Christ are here to free and empower people who feel left out when Jesus is presented as a straight man.”

The 11 artists in Art That Dares are a diverse group. They work both inside and outside the church, but all of their art respects the teachings of Jesus.

In the book, the artists tell the stories behind their images, including censorship, hate mail, violence, death threats, and vandalism that destroyed their work. A lively introduction puts the art into political and historical context, exploring issues of blasphemy and artistic freedom.

“These new images are much needed now because Christian rhetoric is used to justify discrimination against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” Cherry explains.

Explicitly queer Christian imagery in Art That Dares includes photos of Jesus with contemporary LGBT people by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin of Sweden, a 24-panel gay vision of the Passion by New York painter F. Douglas Blanchard, and the notorious “faggot crucifixion” painting by Atlanta’s Becki Jayne Harrelson. Gary Speziale sculpts a sensuous moment between a nude Adam and the new Adam, while Alex Donis shows Jesus kissing a Hindu god.

Female Christ figures in the book range from Edwina Sandys’ famous bronze crucifix Christa to Janet McKenzie’s award-winning Jesus of the People, which Sister Wendy of PBS chose to represent Christ in the new millennium. Jill Ansell and Sandra Yagi use the symbolism of the cross to explore the suffering of women.

Cherry operates JesusInLove.org, which offers spiritual resources for LGBT people and their allies. She was at the forefront of the sexuality debate at the National Council of Churches (USA) and the World Council of Churches as National Ecumenical Officer for Metropolitan Community Churches. She holds degrees in journalism, art history, and religion.

Cherry’s other books include Jesus in Love, Hide and Speak, Equal Rites and Womansword. The New York Times Book Review praised her “very graceful, erudite” writing style.

Art That Dares (ISBN 1-933993-29-4) is published by AndroGyne Press, a new queer studies press in Berkeley, CA. Ingram Book Group distributes it.

For more information, contact info@JesusInLove.org or publisher@androgynepress.com, or visit: JesusInLove.org or AndroGynePress.com.

Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More
By Kittredge Cherry
Publisher: AndroGyne Press
Paperback with color images: 100 pages
Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 inches
Price: $38.95
ISBN: 1-933993-29-4
Publication date: Sept. 1, 2007
Distributed by: Ingram Book Group