Monday, April 15, 2013

Jesus Christ, Still a Figure of Controvery

Many years ago, the iconic writer and broadcaster Pierre Berton wrote a book entitled The Comfortable Pew. Yapdates gives the following summary of the book, commissioned by the Canadian Anglican Church in 1965.

... the author accuses the church of forgetting its main identity and what it first stands for. Broadly speaking, there are two main issues with church. Firstly, the church has become institutionalized in the sense that it is more concerned about conformity and keeping the status quo. Secondly, the church is in danger of being fossilized because of its inability to stay relevant to the people and the society at large. Both of these contribute to the crisis of the church.

Those who visit my blog regularly may be aware of how highly cynical I am about institutions. Whether we are talking about bodies that exist to protect us, educate us, spiritually revitalize us, represent us politically, etc., all seem to inevitably fall victim to a kind of self-promotion, complacence, conservatism and careerism that ultimately subvert their primary purpose. Indeed, such decay was probably best explored in Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class.

I couldn't help but think of these things yesterday when I read a story in The Star entitled Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches.

Sculptor Timothy White created a piece depicting Jesus as a homeless person, an outcast, sleeping on a bench:

It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.

Despite [the] message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Initially it was enthusiastically embraced by the rectors of the two churches, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, feeling that it might be too controversial or vague. The artist was told that “it was not an appropriate image.”

I can think of no more damning an indictment of institutional cowardice than the previous sentence. But perhaps the last word on how the message of Jesus has been so distorted and perverted over time should best be left to Wood Guthrie:


  1. Matthew 25:40 The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

    1. A most appropriate citation, Dan. A pity that it has been forgotten by so many.