Controversy erupts over a queer Nativity scene every year at Christmastime. In 2017 the debate focuses on a semi-naked man in a Vatican Nativity and two pink-robed Josephs set up as lawn ornaments with the baby Jesus in a Los Angeles yard.
Critics attacked the gay implications of a new Nativity scene at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican this month. They blasted it as “sacrilegious,” “fiendish” and “a lobbying tool for the homosexual rights movement.” The innovative Nativity shows a semi-naked man to illustrate the charitable act of clothing the naked. It was donated by the Abbey of Montevergine, which has special significance to the LGBTQ community. According to legend, the Madonna of Montevergine miraculously freed a homosexual couple after they were tied to a tree and left to die the winter of 1256. Pros and cons are presented in the new reports reports such as:
Pro: Is this the gayest nativity scene ever created by the Vatican? (gaystarnews.com)
Anti: “Vatican’s ‘sexually suggestive’ nativity has troubling ties to Italy’s LGBT activists.” (lifesitenews.com)
Meanwhile a tweet about it from queer comedian Cameron Esposito quickly went viral. It generated a flood of positive and negative comments and news reports.
Our neighbors’ two Joseph nativity is up & I’m beaming 🎄👬 pic.twitter.com/7OKbFLU7v1
— Cameron Esposito (@cameronesposito) November 24, 2017
Another Twitter user replied with a photo of her “gaytivity scene” with two Marys and the Christ child swaddled in a rainbow flag.
Here’s my gaytivity scene with 2 Marys. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/J8itjUCOgr
— Mrs Lady (@Rogue_MrsLady) November 26, 2017
The following essay I take a deeper look at the value of LGBTQ Nativity scenes.
Queer Nativity scenes show love makes a family
By Kittredge Cherry
I create my own queer Nativity scenes for the Christmas season. One has two Marys at the manger with the baby Jesus, and the other features two Josephs with the Christ child.
I put Mary with Mary and Joseph with Joseph—just like putting two brides or two grooms on top of a wedding cake!
Obviously this is not about historical accuracy, but I believe my queer Nativity scenes are true to the spirit of the Christmas story in the Bible: God’s child conceived in an extraordinary way and born into disreputable circumstances.
Love makes a family—including the Holy Family.
Go ahead and imagine that Jesus has two mommies. According to the Bible story, Joseph was an adoptive father anyway. The Virgin Mary had Jesus without sex with a man, much like lesbian mothers who use artificial insemination. The standard Nativity scene contains many historical errors anyway. For example, the Bible doesn’t mention animals being present, the Holy Family was not white, a midwife was probably present and the shepherds visited the baby Jesus long before the magi arrived.
I first got the idea for queering the crèche when I heard that a gay and lesbian Nativity scene was planned for the 2008 “Pink Christmas” festival in Amsterdam. Live actors were supposed to play a pair of Marys and a pair of Josephs. I had my own lesbian Christian spiritual awakening while waiting for the event.
I remembered going to a huge exhibit of Nativity scenes back when I was a young lesbian in seminary. They had hundreds of statues of Mary, Joseph and baby portrayed as every conceivable racial and ethnic identity. Not once did I consider that my own community was missing—there was no same-sex version with Mary and another woman. Nor was there a gay version with Joseph and another man.
Looking back some 20 years later, it finally occurred to me that LGBTQ families should be represented in the mix. I had a personal breakthrough as I realized that my mind was still trapped in heterosexual assumptions about the cast of characters at Jesus’ birth.
I imagined that the Amsterdam LGBTQ community would enact Nativity scenes of loving lesbian and gay families like those that I have known.
Scenes of a lesbian Madonna and her female partner with the baby Jesus have been created by artists such as Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin of Sweden and Becki Jayne Harrelson of Atlanta. But this was the first time that I’ve seen a gay Joseph and his male partner with the Christ child.
The Pink Christmas event turned out to be a disappointment to me. It featured a drag queen and a leather daddy who seemed like a parody of themselves, with no loving “family” connection to each other whatsoever. You can read my thoughts about the event in my previous post “Can you imagine? A gay Nativity scene.”
Fortunately, the Amsterdam event planted the idea in my mind for making the manger scene my own as a lesbian Christian. I bought two Nativity sets and let the Holy Spirit guide me.
I feel more connected to God every time I look at the loving lesbian and gay manger scenes in our living room. My partner and I even toyed with the idea of getting two sets of Nativity lawn decorations and turning our yard into a big old queer Christmas display. Maybe next year!
I also invite others to make their own queer Nativity scenes.
Rearranging the Holy Family is not as simple as it seems. Be sure to buy a set with freestanding figures. In many cases Mary, Joseph and Jesus are wedded together in one inseparable, three-headed blob. What does that say about our attachment to idealized, sanctified heterosexuality?
When you find freestanding figures, just get two standard Nativity sets, then mix and match. Please send me a photo of your creations to share the joy. I’d love to see dark-skinned and inter-racial queer couples too.
Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including the growing number of LGBTQ parents and their children.
New blasphemy charges
Update on Dec. 21, 2016: The queer Nativity images made international news when the British group Christian Concern attacked them as a “blasphemous attempt to rewrite the Christmas story.” Sample news coverage:
Christians Slam Gay Nativity Scene, Media Overlook Backstory (Newsbusters.org)
Links related to queer Nativity scenes
Blasphemy debate on queer Nativity at Believe Out Loud on Facebook (2013) (more than 135 comments!)
Bishop Calls Nativity Scene with Two St. Joseph’s an “Attack on Christian Faith” (New Ways Ministry, 2017)
Queering Mary, Queering Christmas by Angela Yarber (Believe Out Loud)
All images are from the “Love Makes a Holy Family” series by Kittredge Cherry
This post is part of the LGBTQ Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, events in LGBTQ history, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.
Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
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