A Baptist church in South Carolina plans to remove a hand-carved statue of Jesus Christ because some congregants believe it’s too “Catholic” for their place of worship. The hand-carved, 7-foot (2-meter) statue and accompanying reliefs depicting scenes from Christ’s life have been displayed outside Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington for a decade. But in a letter to the artist, Pastor Jeff Wright said the art would be removed this week. “We have discovered that there are people that view the art as Catholic in nature,” Wright wrote in the letter to Delbert Baker Jr. A friend of Baker’s posted the letter on Facebook.”
In his own letter responding to Wright, Baker explained his vision of the art, saying it was meant to show Red Bank Baptist had a focus on Christian outreach.It should be comical -- a Jesus with a too Catholic look about Him -- but it is sad. There is no Sacred Heart which might identify this statue of Jesus with Roman Catholic piety but that is not enough to save it. What is offensive is less the look than the Jesus who is holy and righteous, who denies Himself in suffering even to death, and offers His innocent death on behalf of guilty sinners. It is the Gospel that is offensive -- offensive to our modern ears. According to their pastor, the statue and reliefs bring into question "the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church." That is exactly correct. The issue is not taste but theology, not preferences but truth.
"This is why Christ is represented as though he is stepping outside of the building, not just confined to the idleness of inner walls," Baker wrote in the letter, which his friend also posted on Facebook. "Under each arm, the reliefs depict scriptural and historical events that we as Christians believe represent the life of Christ."
While I have no stake in the whole issue, I fear it is one more example of when churches have become uncomfortable with the true Gospel and cannot live with art that speaks the story faithfully. Maybe I am wrong, and I would love to give them the benefit of the doubt, but it seems like more than simply bias and prejudice against Roman Catholics and more like some vocal folks who are uncomfortable with the Christ of the Scriptures. What is interesting is that the relief sculpture has been there for a decade but now it the time when it is being removed. The times, they are a changin, and Jesus is offensive precisely for being Jesus. In that, the Baptists are certainly not alone. While the creator was given the option of taking it down himself, it appears he refused to be party to its removal.