Is There a Movie Called "Corpus Christi" Depicting Jesus as Gay?

Netlore Archive

Protesters express opposition to Corpus Christi
Jonathan Elderfield/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A decades-old viral petition aims to block the release of a movie (sometimes referred to by the title "Corpus Christi") allegedly depicting Jesus Christ and his disciples as gay.

Description: Viral petition
Circulating since: Mid-1980s
Status: False (details below)


Example #1:
Email contributed by Waddell W., July 13, 2000:

Fwd: Jesus

I Can't belive it. There is a movie that is coming out in 2001 saying Jesus and his disciples were gay! There is already a play that went on for a while,but never stopped! Maybe we can all do something!

Please send this to ALL of your friends to sign to stop the movie from coming out. Already certain areas in Europe have started to ban it from coming to their country and we can stop too! We just need a lot of signatures and you can help! Please do not delete this! Deleting it will show your lack of faith and a lack of respect for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who died for us! Please help!

PLEASE SIGN AND SEND TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW! PLEASE IF WE WORK TOGETHER WE CAN BAN THIS! PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Example #2:
Email contributed by Carol B., June 20, 2009:

Subject: Corpus Christi

The movie Corpus Christi is due to be released this June to August. This disgusting film set to appear in America later this year and it depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals! As a play, this has already been in theatres for a while. It's called Corpus Christi ' which means 'The Christ Body.' It's a revolting mockery of our Lord. But, we can make a difference. That's why I am sending this e-mail to you. If you do send this around, we may be able to prevent this film from showing in America and South Africa . Apparently, some regions in Europe have already banned the film. We need a lot of prayers and a lot of e-mails. As a Christian I want to take a stand in what I believe in and stop the mockery of Jesus Christ our Savior. At the risk of a bit of inconvenience, I'm forwarding this to all I think would appreciate it. Please help us prevent such offenses against our Lord. It will take you less than 2 minutes to pass it on.

If you are not interested, or do not have the 2 Minutes it will take to do this, please don't complain when God does not have time for you, because He is far busier than we are.

Remember, Jesus said 'Deny Me on earth and I'll deny you before my Father'


Update: In mid-2011 a documentary film was released chronicling a touring production of Terrence McNally's stage play Corpus Christi. The play does, in fact, depict Jesus Christ as a gay man. The documentary is entitled Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption.

Analysis: Every urban legend provokes an emotional response in the hearer (or reader), be it horror, hilarity, outrage or disgust.

The most memorable urban legends "hit us where we live," which is one of the reasons these apocryphal stories persist.

The emotional impact is strongest when a story takes aim at a particular audience — a warning to college-age women to beware of a supposed date-rape drug that allegedly causes sterility, for example, or rumors within the African American community to the effect that black voting rights will expire. Belief tales such as these, however false in their particulars, touch on legitimate concerns of the communities in which they circulate and may therefore be granted more credence than they deserve. Understandably so.

Christian Urban Legends

There are several long-running urban legends of this ilk among mainstream Christians. One is the claim that Procter & Gamble, the household products manufacturing giant, is owned by devil worshippers and tithes a portion of its profits every year to the "Church of Satan." Nothing, it seems, can quell this rumor, not even the accumulation of decades of disproof. Another example is the claim that atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair has lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to ban all religious broadcasting in the United States. Petitions expressing moral outrage over this nonexistent affront have circulated for more than a quarter-century in spite of the best efforts of the FCC and others to debunk the false claim, not to mention O'Hair's untimely death in 1995.

The So-Called "Gay Jesus Movie"

Another Christian urban legend more than three decades old and making the rounds in forwarded email form since 2000 claims there is a Hollywood film in production portraying Jesus Christ and his disciples as homosexuals. For many Christians this is about as offensive as it gets. Like the O'Hair story, this legend circulates in the form of a petition. Participants sign and forward the message on the assumption that they're doing God's work, when in reality they're perpetuating a falsehood.

Granted, this is an urban legend that could come true at any moment, but as it currently stands there's no evidence anywhere — not in the trades, not in the entertainment magazines, nor on the many online movie news sites — that a "gay Jesus" film is now in production or even being considered for production. Moreover, these false alarms keep cropping up despite a quarter-century of efforts to disprove them.

(As noted above, a 2011 documentary film chronicles a touring company's production of Terrence McNally's stage play Corpus Christi, in which Jesus Christ is portrayed as a gay man.)

Compare the email versions above to the following snail-mail document quoted in folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand's 1986 volume of urban legends, The Mexican Pet:

ACTION NEEDED NOW

Modern People News has revealed plans for the filming of a movie based on the sex life of Jesus, in which Jesus is portrayed as a "swinging homosexual." This film will be shot in the U.S. this year, unless a public outcry is GREAT. Already a French prostitute has been named to play the part of Mary Magdalene, with whom Christ has a blatent [sic] affair in the movie. We cannot afford to stand by and do nothing about this disgrace. It is time for us to stand up and be counted! We must not allow this perverted world to drag Our Lord through the dirt. Please Help us to get this film banned from the U.S. as it has been in Europe. Let us show how we feel!

Detach and mail this form below to the address given. Make copies and give to your friends and others.

As Brunvand noted at the time (1986), no such film was in production, no such film was scheduled for production, no such film existed, period. But that didn't stop an estimated one million Christians from writing letters of protest against its release. Brunvand further noted that Martin Scorsese's planned filming of The Last Temptation of Christ was scuttled around the same time when rumors falsely alleged that that film would depict Jesus Christ as a gay man.

Corpus Christi, the Play

Returning to more recent variants of the petition, there is now something of a grain of truth to them, namely the claim that a stage play exists portraying Jesus and the apostles as gay. Written by Terrence McNally, the play is called Corpus Christi and premiered in 1998. (A documentary film about a touring production of the play was released in 2011.)

Needless to say, McNally's theater piece has inspired a fair bit of outrage itself, not all of it based on fact, again demonstrating how rumors can supplant the truth when an issue is emotionally charged. As one reviewer observed after making his way through shouting demonstrators to attend the play:

The most electric moments in "Corpus Christi," Terrence McNally's play about a gay Jesus, come when you arrive at the theater. Across the street, Catholic protesters in white berets recite Hail Marys into a megaphone. If you approach the police barricade that pens them in, they ply you with leaflets charging that the play portrays "the Blessed Virgin screaming obscenely to St. Joseph for sexual relations" (sadly, it doesn't).

(Jacob Weisberg in Slate magazine, Oct. 9, 1998)

The reviewer's sarcasm aside, what's of interest here is how rabble rousers saw fit to invent damning claims about the production even though the facts themselves, from the point of view of everyone who was offended, were damning enough.

It's a common phenomenon, and one I daresay is well known to politicians, who often make conscious use of it to galvanize voters. It's equally well known to folklorists, who observe ordinary people not only succumbing to misinformation in the course of everyday life, but consciously resorting to it when there's an urgent issue at hand.

Human beings like to get emotional about issues. Strong feelings lift us out of lethargy, move us to action and unite us with others motivated by the same concerns. The problem is, sometimes we like this sensation too much — sometimes we like it more than the truth, and wake up to find ourselves marching to the tune of a lie.

Sources and further reading:

The Mexican Pet: More "New" Urban Legends and Some Old Favorites
By Jan Harold Brunvand (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986)