Sunday, March 08, 2015

"Jesus had two dads": in which I overthink a bit

If there's one area in which I skew politically left, it's gay rights. I'm a big advocate of gay marriage and see no reason why gay folks shouldn't be treated as just regular folks. Some conservatives gripe that homosexuals draw unwanted attention to themselves by constantly harping on and trumpeting their sexuality during gay-pride parades and such. Well... I'm not a big fan of crass, flamboyantly out-there demonstrations of gayness, but I also don't condemn such demonstrations as morally wrong or somehow out of the bounds of human rights as they're incarnated in America: as long as we have freedom of expression, then let gay folks express themselves freely in gay-pride parades or whatever.

In that spirit, I retweeted the above image from Twitter, where I'd seen it thanks to a fellow Twit who happens to be gay. The retweet was a gesture of reflexive solidarity... but within thirty seconds, I realized that the message on the church's marquee wasn't going to hold up to any amount of theological scrutiny.

In what sense is it being claimed that Jesus "had two dads"? Most traditional Christians are trinitarian, which means they take seriously the notion that God is three divine persons in a single Godhead, i.e., there is no questioning the fundamental oneness of God. You can't split God up into two separate parents. If the marquee is claiming (or more precisely, if the authors of the statement on the marquee are claiming) that The Father and the Holy Spirit are both somehow the male parents of Jesus, this assumes (1) that it is possible to split God into two separate parents (that way lies polytheism, an accusation often levied against Christians by both Jews and Muslims, who affirm the unitary nature of the divine); (2) that God and/or the Holy Spirit is sexually male, and (3) that Jesus, as a son—as an issue from a chronologically prior union—proceeded from the Father and the Spirit.

Assumption (3) sounds an awful lot like the Arian heresy, in which God the Son is considered a product of God the Father and therefore not co-eternal with him. (This violates the verses early on in the first chapter of the gospel of John, in which it is affirmed that "the Word was with God, and the Word was God."*) The marquee is that of a Methodist church; modern Methodism, as a form of mainstream Protestantism, implicitly rejects the Arian heresy.

What's more: for Jesus to have had "two [divine] dads," we'd have to make a sexist assumption about the nature of the divine, to wit: the divine is male. Such sexism would be ironic, seeing as it's in the service of a homosexual agenda, and what homosexual seriously wants to paint himself as sexist? Granted: church history itself has tilted sexist over the centuries, and God-as-Father imagery has won out over feminine imagery, despite the recent hard work of feminist theologians as they try to recover ancient notions of the divine feminine (cf. Elizabeth Johnson and her treatment of the Logos-Sophia in her classic She Who Is).

What if the marquee writers meant, by "two dads," that God the Father was one father, and Joseph was Jesus' second, albeit earthly, father? This doesn't make sense, either, because Joseph was husband to Mary. Jesus obviously had two earthly parents of different sexes.

To sum this mess up, then. Here are the three possible ways to interpret the claim that "Jesus had two dads":

1. Jesus had two sexually male divine parents.
2. Jesus had two sexually male parents, one divine and one earthly.
3. Jesus had two sexually male earthly parents.

We can dismiss (3) as completely unsupported by scripture. I don't want to descend into gay-bashing "Adam and Steve" rhetoric, but the scripture is clear that Jesus' earthly wards were Joseph and Mary. We can dismiss (1) because (1) requires sexist assumptions about the sex of the Persons of the Trinity: God is often represented, simultaneously and paradoxically, both as male and as transcending sex/gender. We can also dismiss (1) because mainstream Protestantism rejects the Arian heresy. Finally, we can dismiss (2) because scripture claims Jesus had two earthly parents (one adoptive) of different sexes.

So while I retweeted the above image out of sympathy for the agenda it represented, I really don't think the theological claim on that marquee actually holds any water or makes any sense. That's unfortunate, but queer theorists should take heart: there's an entire "Jesus was gay" school of theological thought out there, and that ought to keep folks engaged and interested for a long, long time.

It goes without saying that I've overthought this issue. The people who put up the marquee weren't aiming for theological sophistication, or even for theological accuracy: they were aiming to convince people to be more tolerant, as Jesus was, of the oppressed and endangered in our midst. When ISIS is tossing alleged homosexuals off building rooftops, I'd think that a message of tolerance would be relevant. My worry, though, is that the message, as it's worded, may be undercutting itself by being theologically sloppy.

ADDENDUM: One person on Twitter, reacting to the original tweet of the above image, jokes that the marquee "looks Photoshopped." So that's a possibility to consider as well: that this was all some sort of satire—perhaps done in the name of tolerance of homosexuals, perhaps done just to mess with a church. Still, for the joke to work, we have to consider theological accuracy. Religious humor isn't effective when it's all straw-manning.

ADDENDUM 2: When you blow the image up, it does look Photoshopped.

*The term "Word" (logos), in this instance, isn't tied to the spatiotemporal Jesus so much as it's associated with the cosmic Christ.


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