Lady Gaga -- the queer icon and pop sensation -- is setting off the Christian right again. In her new song and video, "Judas," Lady Gaga sings over and over, "I'm in love with Judas," referring to the reviled disciple who betrays Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver. Is there anything redemptive, theologically speaking, about this song and video?
For me, the answer is a definite "yes." As a queer theologian and professor of early church history, this song and video brings to mind the little-known second century gnostic Christian text The Gospel of Judas. In that text, Judas is actually the disciple who is the most loyal to Jesus and does the will of Jesus by setting into motion the events that ultimately lead to human salvation.
The song and video "Judas" also raises important questions for me about whether any one group has a monopoly on the Christian faith, and it asks us to consider who might be the true betrayers of Jesus' message today.
Lady Gaga's newest video is filled with biblical imagery. She is dressed as a Mary Magdalene figure, clinging onto a handsome biker Jesus adorned with a gold crown of thorns. They travel with 12 other bikers who wear leather jackets emblazoned with the names of the 12 apostles. Gaga, however, keeps on checking out Judas throughout the video.
Gaga has a chance to shoot Judas, but instead her gun releases lipstick, which she applies to Judas' lips. At that moment, Gaga is flooded with water imagery, and the video cuts to her washing Jesus' and Judas' feet in a bathtub. In the end, Judas kisses Jesus, setting into motion the events leading to the crucifixion. The video ends with Gaga being stoned to death.
The Gospel of Judas is a non-canonical Christian gospel that is written in Coptic and dates back to the second century C.E. The text surfaced in Egypt during the 1970s and was released in 2006 by the National Geographic Society. An English translation of the text appears on the "Lost Gospel of Judas" section of the society's website.
What is so "queer" about The Gospel of Judas is that it turns the traditional Christian condemnation of Judas on its head. Instead of being the betrayer, Judas is in fact the only disciple of Jesus who truly understands Jesus' message. In fact, Jesus laughs at the other disciples during their Eucharistic prayers for their lack of understanding.
Judas is the one who is the most loyal to Jesus; he does Jesus' will by handing him over to the authorities and in fact sets in motion the events that lead to redemption. The other disciples do not understand this, and Judas dreams that he is stoned and persecuted by them. In the end, he is misunderstood and reviled by "orthodox" Christians.
Lady Gaga's video, like The Gospel of Judas, harkens back to a time when there were many views of what it meant to be Christian. That is, the video evokes a time when pluralism and multiplicity was the norm and not the exception.
Much of the theological richness of the Christian past was suppressed as Christianity became more institutionalized in the second and third centuries and ultimately became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. What the modern-day Christian right completely ignores is that there were in fact many different strands of Christianities in the early "catholic" church.
Could it be that those of us who are often reviled as the Judases (that is, the "betrayers" of the faith) of today -- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people -- are in fact the most loyal to Jesus' message and to the "scandal of the cross"? Could it be that LGBT people understand quite intimately what it means to be crucified over Jesus' gospel values of unconditional love and the Word made flesh?
Conversely, could it be that self-righteous and pharisaical Christians such as the National Organization for Marriage, the Catholic League and the official Christian hate groups designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center are in fact the modern-day betrayers of Jesus' message of embodied love, a betrayal made worse by their pocketing numerous pieces of silver for their salaries and other financial compensation?
Could Jesus be laughing at the Christian right for having the arrogance and hubris of thinking that they have a monopoly on the cross and the Christian message?
Love her or hate her, Lady Gaga certainly continues to inspire controversy from a theological perspective. Her new song and video is no exception.
Follow Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/patrickscheng