“Corpus Christi” is a play written by an Irish Catholic named Terrence McNally, first performed on Broadway in 1998 and revived for two weeks in October. It is a controversial interpretation of the life and work of Jesus Christ, so it can be considered a part of the crazy-quilt reality of living as a Catholic in America. I emphasize “crazy-quilt” because McNally makes Jesus gay. It is part of a tendency for believers to view Jesus through the lens of our own experiences. We have Jesus as an Evangelical Rambo, slaying evil doers to save those “left behind.” There are images of an effete Jesus, robbed of masculinity and others of Jesus made into such an average-Joe as to virtually eliminate his divinity.
Controversy ensues whenever a particular image preferred among one segment of believers is publicized as so as to negate other images. In other words, if you picture Jesus as gay having sex with his apostles as is projected in “Corpus Christi,” you attack the belief of those who hold the traditional belief. However, this is not the only distortion: project a Jesus where his humanity is stifled and you undercut those with a theology of a manly Christ.
There is a fine line between making Christ more relevant and making him less reverent. This boundary has been crossed repeatedly through the ages. At different times and for different peoples, Christ has been depicted as a blond and as a black, as battered and glorious, tender and terrifying. For instance, Byzantine icons reflect the majesty of the Lord of History, while the bleeding Christ of late 15th Century Western art corresponds to a continent undergoing the Black Plague. In a sense, these images are representations of what I call “Material Theology.” But precisely because it is material, it can offend someone’s spiritual sensitivities. Pope Pius V (1566-1572), for example, wanted to put clothing on some of Michelangelo’s statues in the Vatican because the pontiff was embarrassed by nudity. Today, we expect that images of Christ and the saints be at least covered by the mantle of artistic expression.