The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, a one-woman show by Edinburgh-based transgender playwright Jo Clifford, features Jesus as a transgender woman in the present day. Critics have praised the stage production for reimagining a more tolerant world through its depiction of Christianity’s message of love.
A Pride-themed virtual event by the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS), a major teachers’ union, is set to host a variety of LGBTQ artists. The line-up includes Clifford, who will perform two extracts from The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven.
The Christian Institute, a non-denominational Christian charity that advocates for “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom,” released a statement denouncing the EIS for featuring Clifford in its event.
“This play deliberately re-imagines Jesus as a trans woman and puts words into his mouth that he never said, misrepresenting him,” The Christian Institute’s education officer, John Denning, is quoted as saying. “That’s deeply distressing and offensive for many Christians who value him and his teaching above all.”
“It is hard to see how a teaching union justifies using the subscriptions paid by its members, many of whom are themselves Christians, to promote this play.”
In its statement, The Christian Institute has also referred to Clifford—a trans woman—as “a man who identifies as a woman.”
Newsweek has contacted Clifford for comment.
While it has attracted positive reviews, The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven has long elicited anger from Christian groups. The vitriol has led to protests outside theaters and, according to Clifford, an onslaught of transphobic abuse and death threats. Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia reacted to the play by stating it was “hard to imagine a greater affront to the Christian faith.”
The play’s performances in Brazil, which starred trans actor Renata Carvalho, was met with packed venues and backlash from Christian groups in the country.
Natalia Mallo, the Brazil production’s director and translator, said performances were met with protests, death threats directed at the cast and crew, and her car tires slashed. Carvahlo told The Guardian that after a venue’s last-minute cancellation, the play was staged in a “semi-derelict space where we performed by torchlight.”
In 2017, a local judge granted an emergency injunction to block the play’s performance in São Paulo state. The São Paulo Court of Justice later ruled the injunction unconstitutional.
In 2018, then-deputy Jair Bolsonaro—today Brazil’s president—called out the play by name when he tweeted: “Who is interested in portraying the image of Christ as a transsexual? Is this freedom of expression? Is it art? And culture? Our repudiation and protest. God save Brazil.”
According to data compiled by the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (ANTRA), a Brazilian activist organization, 175 trans women were murdered in the country in 2020, representing a 41% increase in killings since the previous year.
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