Recently, last July 11th, my partner, Lawrence sent me a video link and asked my thoughts about a drag performance in a gay bar where someone who seems to be dressed and presenting a dragged version of Jesus is lip-syncing “The Lord’s Prayer” or “Ama Namin.”
Then, in the evening when I was commuting on my way home, a dear friend also sent me the same link and also asked me “thoughts?”.
First of all – Gusto ko kilalanin at acknowledge that parodies of religious personalities, religious cultural elements, and language can and will ilicit feelings of discomfort and even offense. Such feelings are valid. You feel that it was disrespectful or offensive. Those are valid feelings. Naramdaman mo yung pakiramdam, therefore it has to be acknowledged. What was meaningful to you in so many levels was parodied. We can say ridiculed even.
Now secondly, we can also examine the reasons for feeling discomfort or offense. We can be critical with what we are expecting (or imposing) upon the external world in relation to the offense we felt and the event that induced those feelings. While our feelings are valid, we can also examine and scrutinize our cultural, social, political, and even historical perspectives about ourselves and our religion. Perhaps there is some opportunity for unconventional learning or unlearning.
Ang isa ngang palaging sinasabi sa MCC and MCC Holy Conversation guidelines… follow your disturbance (discomfort).
A few points to consider:
1. Religions have always been ridiculed and even outright criticized (for good reasons) in the advent of the modern and post-modern world specially in the West. But even prior to that, different religions have not only ridiculed each other but also violently suppressed and oppressed peoples of other religious beliefs and persuasions.
Initial reaction ko nga sa borsawa kong nagtanong… “Far worse things were and continue to be done in the US and Europe as a critique against religion, particularly Christianity”.
It happens all the time. It is bound to happen. Which brings me to my point number 2.
2. Jesus is a public figure. Any and all public figures are and will always be subject to ridicule, insult, and even violence. Factually speaking, he was tortured and killed for being a controversial public figure some 2000 years ago for offending religious feelings of his fellow Jews. Anything a public figure said and taught will also be subject to public scrutiny. Simply because Jesus is a public figure in a religious or spiritual context does not save him from disrespect or mockery, let alone from sarcasm or being a subject of comedy or entertainment.
Another response of mine… If Jesus was here, he would also laugh at it. I don’t think Jesus will take offense. There are far greater and serious things like corruption, injustices, and inequality that he will be offended by than a mere lip sync of his prayer and him being impersonated in drag. One common thing I have also heard and read is that spiritual leaders almost always have a great sense of humor. A Jesuit, Fr. James Martin, I think wrote about the sense of humor of Jesus and the saints.
3. A Performace:
My other reaction – it was a performance in a place and event that was intended for a performance. The lip syncing itself, while it might be uncomfortable even for some of us in the queer community who are religious, I don’t think and didn’t feel that it was performed with ill-intent nor the motivation to ridicule. It was done with great jest and humor. Fabulous actually. But even if it was intended to ridicule or disrespect, it was within their space and their event. I may feel discomfort or even offense, but it is not for me to judge or condemn. Personally, I would have a different reaction if the performance was done or conducted in an actual church space and in a church event and the intention was to insult the people praying and worshiping in the safety and solitude of their own spiritual home or place of worship.
It is not for me to accept or reject a performance that happened in a bar that I do not own nor in the event I was not present. Even if I was in the event, if I felt negatively strong against the performance of Jesus in drag, I could just leave the bar and go somewhere else.
4. Jesus, God, and Religion do not need defending: We do not need to defend God nor feel offended on behalf of God or even our religion. Again, I think God, Jesus, or the Great Spirit will themselves just laugh and might even applaud the fabulous performace. The problems of religion throughout human history are people getting offended on behalf of their version of God and acting violently as a response. The very reason why religion gets ridiculed and even disrespected is because religious people could not accept critical feedback let alone a comedic parody. Instead, they had to go on crusades and inquisitions, and countless wars because they felt “offended” by a different priest or another prophet; Because they needed to “correct” wrong religious beliefs; Because they needed to remove heresy or punish blasphemers like Jesus.
5. Let us be careful what and who we label as Blasphemy: Given what we know now about religions in general and their development over time, the word blasphemy or even heresy would seem to be obsolete. Because what might be heresy or blasphemy to one person or group has been and can be a Divine Truth to another person or group.
For the other two Abrahamic religions, Christians are blasphemers, idolaters, and polytheists for believing and worshiping Jesus as God equal to God and the Holy Spirit. The very concept of the Trinity is heresy for the other two Abrahamic faiths. Eastern Orthodox Christians considers Roman Catholics as Heterodox – heretics but not so much – for the adding or changing the Creed with “Filioque”. The Christendom for most of its history even among protestants has persecuted the other two Abrahamic religions for committing the error of not accepting and believing that Jesus is God worthy of worship.
Protestants accuse Roman Catholics as idolaters and a cult. Roman Catholics one time called protestants heretics but now calls them as “separated brethren.”
Therefore, what is blasphemy, heresy, or sacrilege in today’s world of multi-religious and multi-cultural society?
If blasphemy or heresy still exist, it does so only within the religious community and only among themselves. If a Roman Catholic man goes inside a church building and dressed the statue of Jesus or Mary in drag, then that can be sacrilege and the religious community can rightfully judge and even condemn one of their own as sacrilegious.
A lip sync of the Lord’s prayer by a drag performer impersonating Jesus in drag inside a bar may not necessarily be labeled as blasphemy or sacrilege and even if someone does, do the people in the gay bar even care? Should they care?
Without thinking about it much, what say any of us Christians when we use the statue of Buddha or any Hindu God in commercial businesses like spas and massage parlors? Buddhists says that to use the Buddha statues as a decoration for business purposes are disrespectful, and yet we do not see Buddhists in the Philippines up in arms against such establishments.
Let us be careful who and what we label as blasphemous or a heretic. We are all blasphemers and heretics from someone’s point of view no matter how devout we are. Jesus himself was nailed to the cross both as a rebel against empire and as a blasphemer who offended religious feelings and practices.
Thank God for blasphemers and heretics like Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, and Martin Luther.
The one we are worshiping every Sunday and in whose name we end our prayers was a condemned blasphemer.
For the past 2000 years, Jesus have been ridiculed and disrespected in so many ways we cannot begin to imagine and discuss.
Before the pandemic, I think there was a Latin American parody series that depicts Jesus as a gay man with a boyfriend. Many years back there was an art exhibit where an image of the Sacred Heart was shown together with a dildo. Before all of this, a novel titled, “The Last Temptation of Christ” was adapted into a movie back in 1988 and that too received a lot of negative reactions and backlash. There were times and places where whenever Jesus was depicted in art other than a white European male, there were negative reactions. Recently, when George Floyd was depicted in a Pieta iconography there were Catholics and other Christians who had negative reactions.
If Jesus is who Jesus is I don’t think he will be offended by some gay guys having fun in a bar lip syncing the Lord’s prayer by a drag performer in a drag Jesus outfit and make-up more than the election of someone whose family plundered an entire nation and killed thousands of people who called them into account. Jesus would be more offended with bishops, priests, and Christian pastors who are silent with injustices and killings but who are hell-bent and will spend all effort and resources to continue the discrimination of LGBTQIA+ people.
Jesus would feel insulted with Christians praying in his name but do not care nor think about the pain oppression and suffering around them.
No matter what anyone says or does even in the most disrespectful way inside a gay bar, an art exhibit, or in a television series or movie, not a single one of those nor all of them together can make God or Jesus any less.
And if we want to be really theological about it – The doctrine of the INCARNATION – is when God became human by putting on our gendered flesh; TRANSubstantiating in the womb of a virgin – it was God doing drag with all the back-up singers and dancers of the entire company of heaven singing with all the lights and shimmering glitters, and a bright star as a disco ball above.
And not just the infant Jesus during his birth. He repeats this drag performance during the the Transfiguration on top of a mountain with two back up singers and dancers – the prophets – with lights, smokes, and a voice over. And what can we say about the Resurrection and the ascension? The greatest coming out and exit ever performed.
Jesus in drag is a visible theological statement and a spiritual testimony of who God is: Creative. TRANSforming. A lot of humor. Fabulously fleshed. Always with the marginalized inside a gay bar lip syncing a prayer.