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How a painter became a religious movement

I鈥檓 still puzzled by Thomas Kinkade, who rose to superstardom in the 1990s by saying he was鈥攁 prophet of God? He did paintings of English country cottages.

But he had a spiel about how his paintings radiated a divine light. 鈥淢y paintings are messengers of God鈥檚 love,鈥 he told Christianity Today. And Christians bought it.

Thomas Kinkade (2011)

Off-camera, he was a fall-down alcoholic. He died in 2012 in a haze of booze and Valium. I set out to track the religious references in his story, wondering: Was Thomas Kinkade really a Christian?

Because his whole career smells like a hustle.

Kinkade鈥檚 company still presents him as a special servant of God.

An in-house documentary, An American Artist, released on YouTube in 2013, keeps up the image. He was a wonderful 鈥渇amily man.鈥 His work was filled with divine grace, etc.

A new film on the Christian hero erases the gay references

I鈥檓 looking over a forthcoming movie about Christian hero C.S. Lewis, and can鈥檛 seem to find the name of his gay best friend.

Set for release on November 3rd, The Most Reluctant Convert purports to be a depiction of Lewis鈥 early life and progress toward becoming Christian. And yet there鈥檚 no Arthur Greeves.

Typically, Christians don鈥檛 get called on their fake histories, which are often passed off as fact. But here鈥檚 the story of an erasure.

C.S. Lewis & Nicholas Ralph as C.S. Lewis in 鈥The Most Reluctant Convert

The new film purports to dramatize Lewis鈥 memoir.

In Surprised by Joy, we learn about young Lewis, called 鈥楯ack鈥, meeting Arthur Greeves, a boy who lived nearby. Getting to know each other, Jack realized that they liked the same things.

Lewis calls the relationship a 鈥渨onder鈥 and compares it to a boy鈥檚 first love with鈥

Chuck Swindoll has for decades been an iconic Evangelical cleric, with a radio show that is broadcast globally in many languages.

And for decades, his sister Luci Swindoll was along for the ride. She had a companion ministry to his, arguing that being unmarried is a valid religious choice. In the 鈥渇amily values鈥 religion, that was startling.

She died last October of COVID-19. A friend wrote to mention that she鈥檇 been a rather 鈥榪ueer鈥 presence in the religion. I spent a little while looking up her unusual story.

Luci Swindoll

At the age of 12 she decided she鈥檇 never marry.

This was horrifying to her mother. Swindoll recalls the speech she gave in her 1982 book, Wide My World, Narrow My Bed.

鈥淢other, I don鈥檛 want to get married. I want to go鈥

For Christians, she鈥檚 been a low prostitute. For Bible scholars, she鈥檚 a feminist pioneer.

She鈥檚 in the Jesus story, and Christians didn鈥檛 really know why. Why is a woman鈥攎uch less a prostitute鈥攊n the sacred book?

As I鈥檝e been catching up on Bible scholarship about Mary Magdalene, I have to laugh. She鈥檚 a spiritual quester, a feminist role model, a visionary. But Christians were too addled by misogyny to see her.

MirageMari (2021)

1. Her name tells the story of an independent, visionary woman

Say her name: Mary Magdalene. Notice what you鈥檙e not saying: a man鈥檚 name. She isn鈥檛 being defined in reference to a male family member! As Joan E. Taylor notes in a 2014 paper, her name is evidence that Mary is 鈥渁n independent woman with no connection to a man.鈥

Mary Magdalene is the story of a woman who is herself鈥攁nd who is oddly close to鈥

How hard is it to find him?

How many images of a Black or dark-skinned Jesus are to be found in the Christian world? On Twitter, I noticed, an Episcopal cleric was posting photos of one just going up in his parish. To find a Black Jesus, then, one could visit Trinity Episcopal in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

They must be many more, I thought, perhaps in unexpected places鈥攎y favorite place to find things. I went in search.

The story of an Evangelical infection

In a sermon on August 30th, John MacArthur of Grace Community Church, a key leader of the Evangelical world, said he鈥檇 caught COVID-19 last December.

For months there was speculation, but he鈥檇 denied it鈥攗ntil casually mentioning it as if an incidental detail. This is a fascinating scene in Evangelical history. I set out before me the story of a secret.

An ultra-Evangelical school keep secrets

If you wanted some pure-grade Evangelical Christianity, you might head to Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.

But they didn鈥檛 get so godly without a little Satan in there. I鈥檓 reading about the school鈥檚 queer history, and all I have to say is鈥Jesus!

Bob Jones, Jr. with student at Bob Jones University (1935; public domain; colorized)

There was a little gay drama back in 1953.

The way the school tells it, an administrator was fired for having a 鈥渟pecial friend.鈥 Or as we read in Mark Taylor Dalhouse鈥檚 1996 history of the school, An Island in the Lake of Fire, Bob Jones Jr. later recalled that an administrator named Ted Mercer had friends 鈥渨ho were all boys.鈥

A 2018 scholarly book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education by Adam Laats, has a chapter on the episode鈥攅xcept鈥

An Old Testament book finds God in an LGBT mood

Ruth & Naomi, stained glass window at St Mary, Over, Cambridgeshire (credit: Simon Knott)

If you go to a traditional Christian wedding, the bride and groom often recite some lovely words from the Bible.

The verses Ruth 1:16鈥17 have been used to marry many people.

鈥淔or where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.鈥

It鈥檚 a bit ironic, however, in that the actual context of the Bible story is a woman talking to her ex-mother-in-law.

I鈥檓 looking over the case that the relationship of Ruth and Naomi is a queer love story. Christianity already admits the words indicate a spousal story, so we can鈥檛 very well deny that.

And there鈥檚 more cues to this context. In Ruth 1:14鈥


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