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.
(UPDATE: 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 will be 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 protestors 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, 10/09/98)
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)
Last updated: 05/02/12