A Massachusetts bishop has called the notions of a New Testament scholar in his diocese “highly offensive and blasphemous,” and has called on his Jesuit college to ask him to publicly disavow his writings on the sexuality of Jesus.
Professor Tat-siong Benny Liew, the chair of New Testament Studies at the College of the Holy Cross, has published articles claiming Jesus was a “drag king” and said the relationship between the Father and Son was homosexual and masochistic in nature.
In one article, Liew said the centurion who approaches Jesus to heal his servant was actually speaking about his lover and described the relationship as “pederastic.” Liew said the biblical author affirmed the relationship, adding this “may also be consistent with Matthew’s affirmation of many sexual dissidents in her Gospel.”
Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worchester said he was “deeply troubled and concerned” that someone who authored such things holds an endowed chair at the Catholic institution.
After the professor’s controversial writings – published a decade ago – were highlighted in a March 26 article in The Fenwick Review, an independent opinion journal based at the College of the Holy Cross, an online petition calling for Liew’s ouster gained over 10,000 signatures.
A statement from school spokesman John Hill said the “decade-old work” was not intended for undergraduates and has not been assigned in the classroom.
“It was an intentionally provocative work, not a statement of belief, meant to foster discussion among a small group of Biblical scholars exploring marginalization. No one has made a complaint about the content of Professor Liew’s classes in his four years at Holy Cross,” he said.
Jesuit Father Philip Boroughs, president of the College of the Holy Cross, said Liew is a dedicated teacher, engaged scholar, and a man of faith.
“Academic freedom is one of the hallmarks of a liberal arts education. Scholars in all disciplines are free to inquire, critique, comment, and push boundaries on widely accepted thought,” Boroughs said in a statement, adding that he personally does “strongly disagree with the interpretation of John’s Gospel, as described in The Fenwick Review, and I find it especially offensive in this most sacred of all weeks in the liturgical calendar.”
McManus responded by saying academic freedom, particularly in the fields of theology or religious studies, cannot be used to “provide cover for blatantly unorthodox teaching.”
The bishop’s remarks were made in a statement published March 30 on the website of The Catholic Free Press, the diocesan newspaper.
“Clearly the biblical conclusions that Professor Liew has reached in his writings are both false and perverse,” McManus said. “I am particularly concerned that Professor Liew’s book that contains these unorthodox views is featured on display in the Religious Studies Department at Holy Cross.”
The bishop said the College of the Holy Cross has a duty to ask Liew if he rejects the biblical positions he wrote at the time, or if he supports and defends those positions today.
“If he disavows them, then he must state so publicly, so as not to create confusion about the nature of Christ,” McManus continued. “If he does not, then it is my duty as the Bishop of Worcester to clearly state that such teaching is a danger to the integrity of the Catholic faith and, in prudence, warn the Catholic faithful committed to my pastoral care that such unorthodox teaching has no place in a Catholic College whose mission is to promote and cultivate the Catholic intellectual tradition.”
The bishop said it is “particularly disheartening” for him to be addressing the issue during Holy Week, which he said would be “meaningless if we did not recognize the suffering that Jesus Christ as the God-man bore for us and that our relationship to him as Savior is the most important dimension of our Christian lives.”