Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - A homosexual Australian theologian researching a new field of study dubbed "gay spirituality" has come to the conclusion that Jesus and some of his disciples were homosexuals.
Christians Thursday called the claim "preposterous" and "offensive," and suggested the researcher's own homosexual lifestyle affected his academic credibility.
Rollan McCleary on Thursday was awarded a Ph.D. for what the University of Queensland says is a "world first" thesis, after three years of research funded by Australian taxpayers.
The British-born Australian has a book coming out next month called Signs for a Messiah, which explores "the theological implications of the sexuality of Jesus."
McCleary also is an astrologer who has written about Pope John Paul II's horoscope -- and his research looks into matters such as the "star in the east" that drew the Magi or wise men to Jesus' birthplace in Bethlehem.
In a telephonic interview Thursday as he headed for his graduation ceremony, McCleary conceded that his views were controversial, but insisted they were accurate.
He uses Jesus' "astrological chart" -- the planet Uranus figures prominently, as in the case with many homosexuals, he says -- and argues that there are clues in the Bible to back up his views.
In the Gospel of John, the disciple John frequently refers to himself in the third person as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." McCleary thinks this is highly significant.
Asked whether he considered himself a Christian, McCleary replied: "I'm an Anglican, yes."
He strongly rejected the suggestion that his research might be biased because of his own homosexual lifestyle.
"You could see that either way. You could also say that heterosexual people have their eyes wide shut on the matter, that they don't want to see that Jesus would have been of gay disposition.
"You maybe have to be gay to read the signals and to see things and research things which other people wouldn't," he added.
A century ago, McCleary said, those with influence in Christianity were promoting a "muscular Christianity."
"They were even asking artists to portray a very rugged Jesus. They wanted almost a footballer [figure] to fit in with the American ideal of the times. So heterosexuals can also project their ideas onto Jesus quite as much as gay people."
He claimed his research and forthcoming book, being based on both astrology and theology, were "the nearest we can get ... to real objectivity on this."
Christians opposed to the homosexual lifestyle generally base their stance on two Biblical passages.
In the Old Testament, God tells the people of Israel: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes about "men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due" (Romans 1:27).
Asked about these texts, McCleary said references in the Scriptures to homosexuality were misunderstood or taken out of context.
"In those days they didn't have kind of concept of homosexuality as an identity such as we have it," he argued. "It has much more to do with other factors in society ... homosexuality was associated with idolatrous practices."
In the case of Paul's writings, he continued, "does everybody agree with St. Paul on slavery [or] on women wearing hats? There is such a thing as historical context."
Far from homosexuality being incompatible with Christianity, McCleary believes homosexuals have a particular inclination towards spirituality.
Homosexuals were historically used in priestly and shamanic roles, as "their nature brought them closer to divinity," he said.
Homosexuals were regarded by researchers as being "more inclined to ecstasy, they search for ecstatic experiences more, and religion has traditionally been one way of getting towards the ecstatic."
It wasn't by coincidence, he said, that in an age of declining church attendance, women and homosexuals "do tend to be there and to be supporting it."
McCleary rejected concerns about the fact he received 51,000 Australian dollars ($33,000) of public funding for his research.
"I gather some may feel resentful that such a -- to them -- way out subject was being funded, but nobody had done work on that subject. It's kind of a world first," he said.
"When I consider some of the astonishing doctorates some people do on the remotest subjects -- whereas I was dealing with a topical, relevant subject -- I really don't see how anybody could have objections [to the funding]."
Jesus' love for John
Jenny Stokes, research director for a Christian ethical action group in Australia called Saltshakers, said Thursday "the preposterous claim that Jesus was homosexual is offensive to all Christians."
She questioned the reliability of McCleary's academic research, saying it was "biased from the start since he openly acknowledges he is homosexual."
"It is one thing for homosexuals to do research into their own lifestyle," Stokes said. "However, it is a very different matter when universities - and taxpayers - are paying for research into such questionable and offensive topics. Research that is funded by taxpayers must not be based on personal bias."
Stokes also challenged McCleary's view on the disciple John.
In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, there are four words for love -- agape (spiritual, unconditional love), eros (erotic love), philia (love between friends) and storge (familial love.)
Stokes pointed out that all of the references to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" use the word "agape."
"The Bible maintains that the only approved sexual activity is within a marriage between a man and a woman and that homosexuality is wrong," she said.
"Trying to show that the Bible doesn't say that is distorting the clear meaning of Scripture. One has to ask if Mr. McCleary is investigating this topic to justify his own behavior."
Other academics have explored this controversial territory. Theology professor Theodore Jennings of the Chicago Theological Seminary has a new book out called "The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives From the New Testament."
According to a review of the book on a seminary bookshop website, the author "argues that the Bible affirms and even celebrates homosexual relationships."
The Chicago Theological Seminary website says Jennings, a Methodist, "helped initiate the gay and lesbian studies program" at the seminary.
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