Outrage over 'Jesus as a transgender woman' play
Published 12/11/2015 | 10:54
Furious Christian leaders have demanded that the screening of a play featuring Jesus as a transgender woman be stopped.
The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven is set to be shown on Sunday at the Outburst Queer Arts Festival.
The story - which involves Jesus returning to the world as a transgender person - has sparked fury in the past, with hundreds turning up to protest against it in Glasgow.
It was written by Jo Clifford, who describes herself as a practising Christian and also a transgender woman.
She claims to have recreated Biblical stories with a "different slant".
The play imagines a transgender Jesus coming back to the world today and taking part in a communion, even sharing bread and wine with the audience.
Ms Clifford will not be performing the play in Belfast. Instead, a recording of a previous performance will be shown and a live question and answer discussion with Ms Clifford will take place afterward.
"It's a very important, very intimate show," she said when she previously defended the play.
"Obviously being a transgender woman myself it concerns me very greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us.
"I wanted to see if we could move away from that and make people think again."
However clerics from a number of different churches across Belfast have urged that the performance be cancelled.
In a letter to the Belfast Telegraph, the Rev Tim Anderson, rector of St Elizabeth's Church in Dundonald; Pastor Stuart Crooks from Dundonald Baptist Church; Rev William Press from Knockbreda Church; David Luckman from Crosslinks Ireland; and Trevor Johnston from All Saint's on University Street warned that the show will give offence.
"The traditional teaching of the church, expressed in its historic creeds, clearly portrays Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God," they wrote.
"As the Bible says, he is 'the exact imprint' of his Father in Heaven (Hebrews 1.3) and the good news of the Christian message entirely depends on this unique and unchangeable relationship.
"Although in his incarnation he is male, the New Testament is very clear that his death upon the cross is for all. All have sinned and all can be redeemed through faith in him, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, social class or any other human distinction.
"There is therefore no need for any other Jesus."
They went on to write a presentation of a transgender Jesus will "not only be regarded as offensive by Christian believers but also by Christ himself".
"The performance will therefore cause great offence and for this reason we respectfully urge that it may not happen," they wrote.
Rev Press told the Belfast Telegraph he felt disturbed by the description of the plot of the play.
He said it would be extremely regrettable if the play was not cancelled, but felt a protest would be unlikely.
Pastor Paul Burns of the Adullam Christian Fellowship Church said though the recording of the play "shouldn't be shown in Northern Ireland" he said his independent church won't be protesting at what was a "money-making" enterprise.
"I don't feel the need to protest," he confirmed. "Christianity stands on its own and we know the story of Christ and that he is coming back, and is neither a transvestite or gay.
"To protest is only to attract attention for something that is trying to make money, and in relation to the placards and protests it generates - it's just what they want.
"They want publicity and no doubt the opposition of Christians will be going to help this."
The Queer Arts Festival has defended bringing the play to Belfast and said it will not be cancelled.
"Jo is a celebrated playwright with a transgender history who has written an uplifting piece of work that explores and celebrates her own Christian beliefs," said festival director Ruth McCarthy. "We're delighted to welcome her this weekend to share it with our audiences.
"While I recognise that there are people in Northern Ireland who oppose the idea of LGBTQ people celebrating their own religion in a way that is inclusive and embracing, Outburst is a celebratory and joyful event, so we prefer to concentrate on the hope, support and warmth that Jo's work brings to Belfast."
Jesus Queen of Heaven has met controversy in the past, when 300 protesters held a candlelit protest outside a Glasgow theatre in 2009, with some claiming that the play was blasphemous.
Issues surrounding same-sex marriage sparked consternation in the Assembly only last week when the third proposal to legalise it in Northern Ireland failed.