By Elizabeth Day
The first openly gay Anglican bishop has sparked outrage for suggesting that Jesus might have been homosexual.
The Rt Rev Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church of the United States, said that Jesus was an unmarried, "non-traditional man" who did not uphold family values, "travelled with a bunch of men" and enjoyed an especially close relationship with one of his disciples.
Traditionalists have suggested that the Bishop should be ‘struck down by thunder and lightning bolts’
His comments, made in a recent address at the Christ Church of Hamilton and Wenham in Massachusetts, have enraged traditional Anglicans who have suggested that the Bishop should be "struck down by thunder and lightning bolts". Bishop Robinson, whose consecration in 2003 triggered a schism between evangelicals and liberals in the worldwide Anglican Communion, was giving an address entitled "Homosexuality and the Body of Christ: Is There a New Way?"
In answer to a question from the congregation about how the acceptance of homosexuality could be squared with the scriptural emphasis on redemption for sins, the Bishop replied: "Interestingly enough, in this day of traditional family values, this man that we follow was single, as far as we know, travelled with a bunch of men, had a disciple who was known as 'the one whom Jesus loved' and said my family is not my mother and father, my family is those who do the will of God. None of us likes those harsh words. That's who Jesus is, that's who he was at heart, in his earthly life.
''Those who would posit the nuclear family as the be all and end all of God's creation probably don't find that much in the gospels to support it," he said.
David Virtue, an evangelical commentator who runs the influential conservative Anglican website, VirtueOnline, called the comments "rubbish".
He said: "It is appalling deconstructionism from the liberal lobby which will spin even the remotest thing to turn it into a hint that Biblical figures are gay. It is so utterly preposterous to imply that Jesus's relationship with John was homo-erotic, but twisting the truth is the only way these people can get scriptural justification for their lifestyles. Can you imagine Calvin, Luther or Erasmus saying something like this? It is a wonder that thunder and lightning bolts don't strike Bishop Robinson down."
Mr Virtue also said that passages in which Bishop Robinson compared the loneliness of being gay to a black person being called "a ******" were "deeply offensive". The comments came at the end of a sermon in which Bishop Robinson dispensed with his notes and spoke freely of his experiences growing up as a homosexual. In one passage he recalled a Playboy magazine being handed around his classmates and realising that it was causing them "a whole lot more excitement" than it was for him.
"I was terrified in high school, especially dreading the 10th grade [for 16-year-olds] when we would go into a gym class and have to go into the showers and I was absolutely terrified that I would get beaten to a bloody pulp if something happened in the showers that might indicate in some way that I was erotically attracted to boys my own age," he continued.
"It was a very lonely place to be. At least if you're black and you're called a ******, you can go home to your mother and father and say, 'Oh my god, they called me a ****** today', and the parents have had the same experience. But a young kid growing up terribly fearful that he or she might be gay can't go home to the parents because of the consequences."
Bishop Robinson, who married his partner, Mark, said that he had come to reconcile his sexuality with his faith and could feel "God's light and God's life ooze over me like warm butter".
Canon Chris Sugden, a spokesman for the evangelical organisation, Anglican Mainstream, said: "He's really selective in what he's addressing. He makes no mention of Jesus's teaching on marriage, for instance. And he does not acknowledge that nowhere in the text or in ancient literature is there any suggestion of any form of sexual impropriety among Jesus or the disciples. Jesus broke the cultural traditions of the time and has women mixing with men in public and having them teaching. Those of us who put scripture as a priority are called on to obey the scripture even when that is in conflict with our culture.
"Bishop Robinson is saying that the culture has moved in his direction and that it's all becoming accepted, so he's looking for ways to interpret scripture to support that instead of realising that scripture asks us to do the unpopular thing and stand against the prevailing culture."
This is not the first time that it has been suggested Jesus might have been gay. In 1977 Mary Whitehouse, the moral campaigner, brought a private prosecution against the Gay News for publishing a poem by Professor James Kirkup called The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name. The poem depicted a centurion's love for Christ and the newspaper was fined under the blasphemy laws.
Mike Barwell, a spokesman for Bishop Robinson, said: "Jesus was a non-traditional person who broke all the rules and hung out with all the wrong people. Anything else that people infer from the Bishop's comments is all speculation."