A play depicting Jesus Christ as a transgendered woman has been performed in a consecrated and active Church of England church in Manchester. Bishops have slammed the spectacle as “contrary to Christian teaching” and “inappropriate”.
The play, ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven’, features Jesus Christ as a transgendered woman returning to modern day society. It has been written and performed by Jo Clifford, a biological man who identifies as a practicing Christian woman.
As a playwright, Mr. Clifford claims to specialise in recreating biblical stories with a “different slant”. His transgender Jesus play has caused controversy before, but he has insisted it teaches the Lord’s message and reminds the audience what Jesus was “really like”.
The production, which refers to God as ‘Mum’ and features homosexual kissing, was hosted this weekend at St Chrysostom’s church in Manchester, which describes itself as a “welcoming, inclusive and vibrant Anglican church, of the Catholic tradition”, on its website.
“St Chrysostom’s welcomes all people regardless of ethnicity, age, relationship status, disability or sexual orientation, and regardless of how much or how little faith people have”, the website adds.
However, the former Church of England Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali did not agree. He explained that, “It is quite clear from the Gospels that the identity of Jesus is male, his ‘mum’ is Mary and he always refers to God as ‘Father’, so to suggest otherwise is contrary to Christian teaching.”
Adding: “In cases in which a play is to be staged in a church building, the bishop is perfectly entitled under Church law to direct the cleric in charge to ensure the content will be consistent with Christian teaching and not offensive to the public.”
A second bishop said: “This play is wholly inappropriate for performance in a consecrated building. I am sure that many people will be looking to the Bishop of Manchester to take action, as he is required to do by Church law.”
The Bishop of Manchester told the Mail on Sunday that while he thought the venue was not entirely appropriate, he did not seek to ban the performance.
He said in a statement: “That an artistic performance is offensive to Christians does not of itself amount to grounds for seeking to prevent it taking place.
“In a richly diverse society, of which Manchester is a proud standard bearer, none of us has the right to be protected from being offended. It is only when offence reaches the level of incitement to hatred that the law properly comes into play.
“However, there are particular sensitivities surrounding theatrical performances in churches beyond what might properly apply to any other venue. The process for approving a performance in a church, together with the criteria that should inform the decision, are set out in canon F16, which is part of the laws of the Church of England.
“The responsibility clearly lies solely with the local minister, unless he or she elects to refer it to the bishop for determination.”
He added: “That I cannot support this particular performance, and have urged that consideration be given to transferring it to a less contentious venue, in no way weakens the support I and my colleagues continue to give to the transgendered members of our community and our churches, not least during the annual Sparkle weekend in the city centre.”
The play provoked protests when it featured as part of the ‘Outburst Queer Arts Festival‘ in Belfast, Northern Ireland last year. Speaking before the event, playwright Mr. Clifford defended the production and said the work was not disrespectful.
“She [Jesus] pitches a sermon and tells a few very familiar gospel stories. She has a communion, shares bread and wine with the audience, which is really a gesture of solidarity in the face of death and she gives a blessing. So it’s a very important, very intimate show.”
Explaining his reasons for writing and performing such a show, Mr. Clifford added: 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.”