A controversial play depicting a transgender Jesus Christ coming back to the Earth and retelling famous biblical stories is set to show in Belfast, Northern Ireland. "The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven," as the production is titled, is slated to be performed on Nov. 15 at the Outburst Queer Arts Festival in Belfast.
Its creator, Jo Clifford, who identifies as a practicing Christian transgender woman, says the play recreates biblical stories with a "different slant." "The play imagines a transgender Jesus coming back to the world today," Ms Clifford told BBC. "She pitches a sermon and tells a few very familiar gospel stories." "She has a communion, shares bread and wine with the audience, which is really a gesture of solidarity in the face of death and she gives a blessing. So it's a very important, very intimate show."
"Obviously being a transgender woman myself it concerns me very greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us," she said. "I wanted to see if we could move away from that and make people think again." The play has been performed for a number of years and was featured most recently at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. But the play has met some controversy in the past, when 300 protesters held a candlelit protest outside a Glasgow theatre in 2009, with some claiming that the play was blasphemous.
The demonstrators sang hymns and carried placards with messages reading: "Jesus, King of Kings, Not Queen of Heaven" and "God: My Son Is Not A Pervert." Ms Clifford dismissed these claims. "People did that when they didn't know anything about the play," she said. "They assumed that it would be very offensive to the church. As a practising Christian myself, I have no interest in attacking the church or mocking the church or make fun of the church or in anyway being blasphemous or offensive."
"I simply want to assert very strongly, as strongly as I can that Jesus of the gospels would not in anyway wish to attack or denigrate people like myself." So how have Christians and non-Christians reacted to the play after they have watched it? "Christian people are generally very moved by it," she said. "It speaks very strongly to people whether they're Christian or whether they're not." Ms Clifford said the message of the play was particularly important in Northern Ireland after a same-sex marriage motion failed to make it through the Stormont assembly last week.
"I think it's very important to get across the message that Jesus of the gospels would not condone or want to promote prejudice and discrimination against anybody and to try to convey a message of compassion and love and understanding of everybody," she said. "No matter what their belief, no matter what their gender, orientation or sexuality.",