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Melee breaks out
over queer Jesus

Melee breaks out
over queer Jesus

A melee broke out last week in Jonkoping, Sweden, after a group of fundamentalist Christian young people set a fire outside a celebrated photomural exhibit that portrays Jesus as gay.

"Ecce Homo," by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, reimagines Christ's teaching and Passion in the context of late 20th-century gay life, including a rainbow pride procession into Cana and an adoration by leathermen. In the most controversial image, which prompted the European Parliament to cancel its tour of the series, a well-endowed nude Jesus is baptized by an appreciative John the Baptist in a backlit swimming pool.

The show's content has led to threats against the work and its creator. In the latest, a group of young people torched a poster August 12 promoting the exhibit at Jonkoping Kuturhuset, the Local newspaper reported.

Staffers intervened, and as many as 30 people joined the fight, according to news reports.

Jonkoping is known as a center of evangelical Christianity.

Wallin, an out lesbian and former photojournalist, has said she was inspired by the deaths of several close friends from AIDS.

"I realized what a great responsibility the church assumes when it issues statements about homosexuals," Ohlson told Wired magazine. "We still live by the morals and ethics of the Bible."

"Ecce Homo" toured Europe widely after it premiered in Wallin's native Stockholm in 1998. At times Ohlson was given police protection from the resulting threats. One mural was destroyed by a protester wielding an ax, the Reverend Kittredge Cherry told, but Ohlson was able to re-create it from the negative.

The Church of Sweden has largely supported "Ecce Homo": Its decision to display the images in Uppsala Cathedral led Pope John Paul II to cancel his planned audience with Swedish Archbishop K.G. Hammar.

Ohlson has moved on to other themes, but renewed interest in "Ecce Homo" is due largely to Cherry, an American art historian and former Metropolitan Community Church ecumenical officer who features the images in her new book, Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.

As a result of the book, Cherry told, Ohlson is "now starting to get hate mail from the United States," where "Ecce Homo" has never been shown.

"The violence is showing the need for artwork such as this," Cherry said. "So often it's Christians versus gays, when in fact Jesus taught love toward everybody."

Some of Ohlson's "Ecce Homo" images can be seen at (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)

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