American playwright, Terrence McNally, (Love! Valour! Compassion!), has had a scheduled run of his new play, Corpus Christi, cancelled by the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, following threats to kill the staff, burn down the theatre and “exterminate” McNally.
McNally’s play –modelled on the biblical story of Jesus– is about a young gay man, Joshua, and his sexual adventures with his 12 disciples.
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in New York has vowed to “wage a war” against any attempt to stage the play. Top playwrights –Tony Kushner, Edward Albee and Athol Fugard– have urged the theatre to reverse its cancellation, accusing the theatre of “capitulation to right-wing extremists and religious zealots”.
The depiction of a gay Jesus has been defended on the grounds of artistic freedom and legitimate historical speculation by the London-based gay rights group OutRage!. It claims that a suppressed version of St. Mark’s gospel –which remains the subject of academic dispute– alludes to Jesus having a homosexual relationship with a youth he raised from the dead.
According to the U.S. Biblical scholar, Morton Smith, of Columbia University, a fragment of manuscript he found at the Mar Saba monastery near Jerusalem in 1958, showed that the full text of St. Mark chapter 10 (between verses 34 and 35 in the standard version of the Bible) contains a passage which includes the following text. —
“And the youth, looking upon him (Jesus), loved him and beseeched that he might remain with him. And going out of the tomb, they went into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days, Jesus instructed him and, at evening, the youth came to him wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God”.
Peter Tatchell of OutRage! says there is no authoritative information about Jesus’s sexuality: “We don’t know for sure whether Jesus was straight, gay, bisexual or celibate. There is no evidence for the Church’s presumption that he was heterosexual. Nothing in the Bible points to him having relationships with women. The possibility that Christ was gay cannot be ruled out.
“Since there is no proof of the heterosexuality of Jesus, the theological basis of Church homophobia is all the more shaky and indefensible.
“Jesus was born a man and therefore presumably had male sexual feelings. But there are no references in the gospels to his sexuality. Large chunks of Jesus’s life are missing from the Biblical accounts. This has fuelled speculation that the early Church sanitised the gospels, removing references to Christ’s sexuality that were not in accord with the heterosexual morality that it wanted to promote”, said Peter Tatchell.
Faced with mounting pressure in support of McNally, the Manhattan Theatre Club has now reversed its previous ban, and has agreed to stage Corpus Christi in September.
After being staged in New York, Corpus Christi has now just completed a run as part of the Edinburgh Festival.