January 21, 2008 / 6:14 AM / 12 years ago

Gay Jesus play angers Australian church leaders

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A controversial play that depicts Jesus being seduced by Judas and conducting a gay marriage for two apostles has been condemned by church leaders ahead of its opening in Sydney.

The Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, expressed his outrage at the plot of “Corpus Christi” on Sunday, calling the play “historical nonsense”.

“It is deliberately, not innocently, offensive and they’re obviously having a laugh about it,” he told the Sun-Herald newspaper. “I wouldn’t want to go and see it. Life’s too short.”

Set to open on February 7 as part of Sydney’s annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival, “Corpus Christi” depicts Jesus and his followers as gay, and ends with Jesus being crucified.

Despite critical acclaim, the play provoked protests and bomb threats when it was performed in the United States.

Playwright Terrence McNally received a death edict, or fatwa, from a UK-based Islamic group, which declared it blasphemous when the play ran in London in 1999.

McNally, who is gay, has said he wrote the piece to explore parallels between Christ’s persecution and the rejection he faced as a young gay man growing up in Texas.

Sydney Mardi Gras organizers describe it on the festival Web site as “a play that speaks out against inhumanity by providing a witty, contemporary interpretation of Jesus’ life” . Director Leigh Romney, who is staging the work in Australia, rejected accusations the play mocks Christ.

Rowney said that as a Christian himself, he was keen to provoke debate.

“I wanted this play in the hands of a Christian person like myself to give it dignity but still open it up to answering questions about Christianity as a faith system,” Rowney said.

Writing by Gillian Murdoch; Editing by Rob Taylor and Alex Richardson

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