Love Makes A Family: Queering The Nativity

In 2009, I created my own gay and lesbian nativity scenes for the Christmas season. One had two Marys at the manger with the baby Jesus, and the other featured two Josephs with the Christ child.

I put Mary with Mary and Joseph with Joseph—just like putting two brides or two grooms on top of a wedding cake! 

Obviously this is not about historical accuracy, but I believe my nativity scenes are true to the spirit of the Christmas story in the Bible: God’s child conceived in an extraordinary way and born into disreputable circumstances. I also filmed a video about my gay and lesbian manger scenes and even made them available as Christmas cards.

Go ahead an imagine that Jesus has two mommies. According to the Bible story, Joseph was an adoptive father anyway. The Virgin Mary had Jesus without sex with a man, much like lesbian mothers who use artificial insemination.

Love makes a family—including the Holy Family.  

I got the idea for queering the crèche last year when I heard that a gay and lesbian Nativity scene was planned for the 2008 “Pink Christmas” festival in Amsterdam. Live actors were supposed to play a pair of Marys and a pair of Josephs. I had my own lesbian Christian spiritual awakening while waiting for the event.

I remembered going to a huge exhibit of Nativity scenes back when I was a young lesbian in seminary. They had hundreds of statues of Mary, Joseph and baby portrayed as every conceivable racial and ethnic identity. Not once did I consider that my own community was missing—there was no lesbian version with Mary and another woman. Nor was there a gay version with Joseph and another man.

Looking back some 20 years later, it finally occurred to me that LGBT families should be represented in the mix. I had a personal breakthrough as I realized that my mind was still trapped in heterosexual assumptions about the cast of characters at Jesus’ birth.

I imagined that the Amsterdam LGBT community would enact Nativity scenes of loving lesbian and gay families like those that I have known.

Scenes of a lesbian Madonna and her female partner with the baby Jesus have been created by artists such as Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin of Sweden and Becki Jayne Harrelson of Atlanta. But this was the first time that I’ve seen a gay Joseph and his male partner with the Christ child.

The Pink Christmas event turned out to be a disappointment to me. It featured a drag queen and a leather daddy who seemed like a parody of themselves, with no loving “family” connection to each other whatsoever. You can read my thoughts about the event on my blog

Fortunately, the Amsterdam event planted the idea in my mind for making the manger scene my own as a lesbian Christian. I feel more connected to God every time I look at the loving lesbian and gay manger scenes in our living room. My partner and I even toyed with the idea of getting two sets of Nativity lawn decorations and turning our yard into a big old queer Christmas display. Maybe next year!

I also invite others to make their own queer nativity scenes.

Rearranging the Holy Family is not as simple as it seems. Be sure to buy a set with freestanding figures. In many cases Mary, Joseph and Jesus are wedded together in one inseparable, three-headed blob. What does that say about our attachment to idealized, sanctified heterosexuality?

When you find freestanding figures, just get two standard nativity sets, then mix and match. Please email me a photo of your creation and I’ll post it at the Jesus in Love Blog. I bought identical nativity sets, but I’d love to see couples that come from different sets—a dark-skinned Mary with a light-skinned Mary, for example. 

Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including the growing number of LGBT parents and their children.

Photo by Rev. Kittredge Cherry; Adapted from a post on Jesus In Love blog

Comments (9)

I think that just accepting that God had Mary be the mother of his son and Joseph be the step-father is a better idea. You know the point of equal rights in the church isn't to change the nativity. If you had research to say a certain Biblical figure was gay or bisexual, that's different. This nativity scene might make equality look bad. We don't have to see ourselves in the Nativity. We only need to see the baby Jesus, who accepts us all. However, if someone wanted to make the shepherds a couple, I would be ok with that instead, because they wouldn't be changing the most important part of Mary, Joseph, Jesus's, and God's role in the nativity. It would also be a great way to show how different people are affected by Jesus.

With all due respect, the nativity is a myth. There may have been an historical Jesus, he may even have been born generally under these conditions, in a manger; but no rational historian seriously thinks it played out the way the myth describes it, with the virgin birth, the magic star in the heavens, the angel on the roof... If you're going to bring in "research" and start nitpicking historical details, you have to verify that a virgin birth even took place (hint: you will find that difficult, since virgins actually don't get pregnant in real life). Considering some of the other fantastical elements of this story, the notion of someone being gay is hardly among the more unbelievable interpretations.

And I'm not sure how including gay people per se suddenly harms a message of equality rather than bolsters it??? Maybe you don't feel the need to see yourself in your culture's stories and traditions, but how can it possibly be bad that others wish to?

When I was reading Kitt's blog the other day, one that included a reference to a LGBTQ nativity scene I wondered what that would accomplish. As I thought about it I realized that it would be like portraying Jesus as black or like the first time I saw a female Jesus nailed to across. Immediate impact to my understanding and to my faith. Then when I saw Kitt's nativities above, it was a similar experience for me. "Yeah someone like me could have prepared a bed for an adopted Jesus or better yet could be one who shares this gift that God has given me with the shepherds, the 3 kings, the person I meet on the bus." Instant identity that this story includes me too.

Our worry needs to be about understanding so I know what I am to share and believe it. in my gut. It's not about whether it makes "equality look bad." And, how could equality ever look bad?

What a wonderful, empowering idea! As you say, this isn't about historical accuracy but in seeing our own families in the holy narrative. What if we saw all families as holy, each child as divine, regardless of the parents' sexual orientation or gender? If we can see ourselves in the nativity, then we can understand our own sacred connection to the holy. Thanks for the inspiration!

Each child is not divine. Jesus is the ONLY-begotten Son of God. Humans are fallen and in a state of total depravity and we receive goodness only through justification, which is by faith alone, through grace alone, and in Christ alone, and not by any of our own effort or goodness. Thus, instead of glorifying ourselves and being caught up in narcissism, we should give glory to God alone.

this is awesome. Does it take away from the Jesus story if Jesus had two moms or dads? Would Jesus be less holy? Though Mary's prophetic life and Joseph's commitment are also revolutionary and wholizing, being able to see the holy reflect who one is helps heal the hurt caused by religious rhetoric. It's fun and healing to queer up stories and to wrestle with what ifs. Many thanks for creating these images!!!

In travelling around the southwest and California, as well as much of the rest of the continental USA, over the years I have seen Native American nativity scenes, Chinese nativity scenes, Japanese Nativity scenes... I've seen Pacific Islander nativity scenes.

Why are these less offensive than LGBTQ nativity scenes. If it is affirming of a culture to view the nativity in their own paradigm, it is equally affirming to MY life to view the nativity in MY paradigm.

My family is equal to any non LGBTQ family. To imply that we should not show a same-gendered holy family in a nativity because it might offend others, or slow down our march toward equality is to state that for my family, or any other LGBTQ family to dare to show themselves in public might offend others or slow down our march toward equality.

I categorically reject any such suggestion to either hide myself and my family, or to reject a same-gendered nativity.

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What is the point of queering up all this biblical stories? He had one earthy dad and one earthy mother. That's why God intended him to be born to Mary and Joesph as example of what true marriage is like Adam and Eve, husband and wife, Male and Female. Not anything else. The roman culture at this time had homosexuals, lesbians, transgender and even bisexual. Why do you think God(Christ) wanted us to be in the world and not of it. be seperate from the world. Abstain from Sexual immorality. God(Christ) loves the Queer community as well as anyone else but does not condone these lifestyle choices or any other kind of sin.

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