A play about a gay Jesus has ignited a debate around the rights of gay men and lesbians to be openly Christian.

Corpus Christi, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Leigh Rowney, opens at the New Theatre in Newtown on 7 February as part of the 2008 Mardi Gras Festival.

It’s a modern take on the story of the New Testament, including Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and his relationships with Judas and his disciples, has been condemned by conservative Christian groups.

Rowney said he hoped a discussion about the right of gay people to seek God with an open heart and without denying their sexuality, would ensue.

Jesus Christ was not necessarily gay or even sexual, Rowney added, but Jesus did have compassion for all people.

I think Christ would have had the same compassion for people who felt marginalised from mainstream culture and who were vilified and reviled just as he was.

The journey that Christ made, and ultimately his crucifixion death, was one of the most significant events to have occurred in our world and I don’t want to diminish that in any way. But that kind of hate crime is something that 20th Century and 21st Century gay people are all too aware of and sometimes fall victim of.

The play caused uproar when it was first produced in the USA nine years ago, the Melbourne production was picketed, and 500 items of hate mail followed a Corpus Christi production in 2000.

The Anglican Bishop of Sydney, Robert Forsyth, told TheSydney Morning Herald last week that the play was unhistorical and untrue.

He said the depiction of the song of God and his disciples as gay, was deliberately, not innocently, offensive.

A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney declined to comment on Corpus Christi when contacted by Sydney Star Observer last week.

Metropolitan Community Church Pastor Karl Hand said it was frustrating that the church was still trying to interfere with the media and with free speech.

The statement by Bishop Forsyth about the play being -˜unhistorical’ seems pretty wild when there is no extant historical information about Jesus’ sexuality, the Pastor said.

As a Christian minister, I think the critics of the play are really denying the faith. We believe Jesus was really human, and that by identifying with humanity, Jesus brought redemption.

For me, seeing Jesus as a gay man is a bold statement that Jesus identified with sexual minorities, and that we too are loved by God, and can receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus. So of course the religious right are upset, the play challenges their belief that they have a special claim on God’s favour.

See Corpus Christi at the New Theatre, Newtown, 7-29 February. The show starts at 8pm Thursday-Saturday, and 5pm Sunday. Tickets are $27 full, $22 concession. Bookings: 1300 306 776.

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