By Kittredge Cherry, Jesus in Love
For me as a lesbian Christian, there’s a lot to love about the Hunky Jesus contest held every Easter in San Francisco by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of “queer nuns” who do street theater for charity.
First and most important, it makes me feel like Jesus is right here with us, queer or not -- living up to his name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
Happy crowds attend the costume competition every year to see the sexy side of Jesus exposed by contestants with nicknames such as Stimulus Package Jesus, Gym Bunny Jesus and Victoria’s Secret Jesus.
The Hunky Jesus contest is packed with living, breathing gay Jesuses -- or “Jesi,” as they are called. Many of Hunky Jesus photos are wonderful, and two favorites are posted here. I put a lot of energy into promoting images of a queer Christ in order to heal the damage done by homophobes in Jesus’ name. You can see them on this blog and in my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.” The Hunky Jesi can free people who feel left out when Jesus is presented as a straight man. Maybe they can even enlarge the way some people see God.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence say that the Hunky Jesus contest is a fun way to promote the ideal of a loving God who has a sense of humor. It’s also a birthday party for their organization, which has raised more than $1 million for LGBT groups, AIDS service organizations, and other non-profits that don’t see a penny from conservative Christians.
It’s no surprise that the Hunky Jesus contest offends the religious right. But even gay Christians are denouncing it in the news media this year. Some LGBT Christians and our allies fear that such events could provoke a backlash. Political commentator Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic, attacked it as “the tired, lame bigotry of some homosexuals” and gay Catholic priest Donal Godfrey of San Francisco called it “sacrilege” at Queerty.com.
I wouldn’t go that far, but parts of it do disturb me. I decided against posting the recent 2011 Hunky Jesus contest video here because it includes nudity, the f-word and simulated gay sex. A link to the video is at the end of this article.
I’m sure that Jesus felt sexual attractions for both men and women, but the more extreme Hunky Jesus contestants express it in a hyper-sexual way that seems, well, unChristlike. Even many progressive Christians will be offended.
Still, the critics are wrong when they say that the hunky Jesus contest is hate speech against Christians. As Sister Zsa Zsa wrote in her recent defense of the event, “Offending prudes and tyrants is not our purpose, but we consider it a bit of a bonus.” In my opinion, the real purpose is reclaiming Jesus from bigots who have attacked LGBT people in Christ’s name. We are the body of Christ, ALL of us, of every sexual orientation and gender identity. The contest is also about healing the split between sexuality and spirituality. And that can get messy, very messy.
Let’s not forget that Jesus himself was accused of blasphemy. It was one of the charges leading to his crucifixion. He broke rules, hung out with prostitutes and other “sinners,” taught that God loved everybody, and got killed for it. The Christ who appears at the Hunky Jesus contest is not an object of worship, but he does remind me of the Jesus who angered the Pharisees by eating and drinking with “sinners.” In the Bible, Jesus is always trying to demystify God, comparing God to some ordinary, even vulgar thing like yeast or a poor woman desperate to find a lost coin.
Founded in 1979, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have a vision statement that says, “We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”
Surely Jesus, hunky or otherwise, is with them.
Here are additional resources on the Hunky Jesus contest:
Video of the 2011 Hunky Jesus contest
(Warning: contains profanity, male nudity and simulated gay sex.)
More photos! The photos here by Xero Britt come from the following sets:
2008 2009 2011
Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author and art historian who blogs about LGBT spirituality and the arts at the Jesus in Love Blog.
Photo credits: Brokeback Mountain Jesus and Hunky Jesus contestant by Xero Britt