The context was a book promotion, by its three Dutch authors, of a new book called Re-imagining The Bible For Today. It was advertised as being about engaging people from around the fringes of faith with the Bible, which was enough to drag me across to Salisbury on my scooter one slightly chilly Friday afternoon.
One of the areas they talked about in their presentation was times they had encouraged special-interest groups to question and interact with the text: feminists, environmentalists and gay groups included. I must admit my 'political correctness' alarm was ringing at this point, but the discussions actually seem to have been carefully structured and focused to genuinely provoke a different way of looking at well-known texts.
One example Bert Dicou spoke about was a time he led a discussion on the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, with a gay activist group. It seems they related easily to ideas about travelling and eating together and so growing a relationship, but one of the young men had a question: might Jesus have been gay? It seems Dicou (or maybe someone else involved) told him that he might have been. The young man found himself freed to start attending his local church, for the first time since childhood.
That has to be a good thing, surely, but I must admit the answer given brought me up short - it was, for me, such an unexpected idea. Which I guess is the idea of such discussions, they help us think the unthinkable. I find it raises two main extra questions of its own.
The first is the obvious one: might Jesus have been gay ... really?
I am not aware of anything in the Gospels which so much as hints that Jesus was sexually active: contextually it seems plausible to assume that he was not. Which leaves his sexuality - in the sense of any romantic or sexual attractions - a completely blank page. Within the constraints of what we are told, the rest we tentatively assume for ourselves. So it is genuinely reasonable to say that Jesus might have been gay - although also reasonable to say that he probably wasn't.
The other question I find myself wondering is why that 'might' made such a difference to the young man?
I suspect it could be to do with being part of a community which has long been discriminated against: an 'us and them' with Jesus assumed to be part of the excluding majority. A session engaging with Jesus as a companion and a traveller helps to break down religious preconceptions, then even just the possibility that Jesus might have been part of the young man's community helps him to see that Jesus can accept and love him as he is. The rigid boundary just isn't there with Jesus.
That simple might leaves the understanding that, for him, Jesus really was 'one of us', therefore he can be one of Jesus' followers. He is free because he understands that Jesus is free, is another way to look at it.
Either way, a good excuse for an excellent song from Joan Osborne: