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Transgender Jesus play could offend, says bishop

19 February 2016


Transgender “Light of the World”: a scene from The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, written by and starring Jo Clifford

Transgender “Light of the World”: a scene from The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, written by and starring Jo Clifford

A PLAY that depicts Jesus as a transgender woman is “not the slightest bit sacrilegious”, and is “very much grounded in the Gospels and the stories Jesus told”, its author said this week.

The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, written by and starring the transgender playwright Jo Clifford, was performed on Sunday at St Chrysostom’s, Manchester, as part of the Queer Contact Festival.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that there were aspects of the play “which to my mind stray beyond the challenging into territory that many reasonable Christians will find offensive”.

“That I cannot support this particular performance, and have urged that consideration be given to transferring it to a less contentious venue, in no way weakens the support I and my colleagues continue to give to the transgendered members of our community and our churches,” he said, in a statement issued on Sunday.

A trailer for the play depicts Jesus saying: “I love my Mum. And I am the daughter of God and almost certainly the son also.”

Ms Clifford, a regular churchgoer since childhood, said on Tuesday that it explored “whether or not the prejudice against LGBT people that is so often expressed by traditionalist churches actually has any foundation in the Gospels, and the answer is no. There is nothing in what Jesus actually said or did during his lifetime that supports this. In fact he was always reaching out to victims of prejudice.”

The reaction from the audience, including members of the congregation, had been “extremely positive”, she said. “People who do not see the play, particularly traditionalist Christians, tend to be very hostile and that always changes when they actually see it.”

A former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, criticised the play in the Mail on Sunday.

The play is a sequel to God’s New Frock, a play Ms Clifford wrote after studying the Old Testament. All people tried to relate the Gospels to their own experience, she said: “That is the way the parables can speak to us, and that is the way that Jesus intended them to be. . . I am not doing anything outrageous or unusual. The only thing a little bit different is that I am a transgender woman.”

Dr Walker had been “under a lot of pressure”, she said. “I really appreciate that he has been resisting that pressure to close the play down. . . There is a lot in my play that challenges traditional views of who Jesus is and what he is about, but I always take care to write and to express myself in way that is not supposed to gratuitously cause offence. I am not interested in that at all.”

In his statement, Dr Walker argued that there was an “honourable tradition” in which “suffering Christians have looked to the doctrine of the Incarnation and sought to depict Jesus as one of themselves”. He went on: “Whilst the performance of a drama which imagines how Christ might look as a member of the transgender community is both challenging and well way from the historical person of Jesus, it can still represent an important truth that he who took on human flesh is their Lord and Saviour as much as anyone else’s.”

There were, he said “particular sensitivities surrounding theatrical performances in churches beyond what might properly apply to any other venue”, but responsibility for approving a performance lay with the local minister.

The Rector of St Chrysostom’s, Canon Ian Gomersall, was unavailable for comment this week.

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