Pride Event Portraying Jesus as Trans Woman Outrages Christians

A Christian group in the U.K. has attacked a play featuring Jesus Christ as a transgender woman, labeling it "deeply distressing and offensive."

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."

In an email to Newsweek, Clifford said she was "deeply saddened" by the Christian Institute's statements towards The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven and "delighted" to have been invited for a performance by the EIS.

"The play is not offensive to Jesus or to the Christian faith," Clifford said.

"I wrote it to affirm the dignity and basic human rights of trans people everywhere, knowing that in doing so I was following the spirit of the Jesus of the Gospels, who always showed himself to be on the side of those suffering discrimination and prejudice."

Clifford went on to refer to five performances live-streamed from St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh "without causing any offense."

"To quote from the play: 'Bless you if they persecute you for being who you are; because it means you are bringing about change,'" she told Newsweek. "'And bless those who persecute you, too.'"

"'For hatred is the only thing they have; and it doesn't amount to much. And they will lose it in the end....'"

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.

Update 6/14/21 3:15 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to include a statement from Jo Clifford.

Playwright Jo Clifford performs in Edinburgh
Playwright Jo Clifford performs her play 'Eve' during a photocall for Edinburgh Festival Fringe at Traverse theatre on July 30, 2017 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images