“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” ~Exodus 20:4
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35 (The Message)
“I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~John 17:23 (NIV)
A dangerous precedent is being established in our nation: the destruction of historic statues. Not only is this destructive to our culture, but it is often an exercise in ignorance. The Nazis tried to transform not only the physical landscape of Europe, but the landscape of history by destroying art and monuments. ISIS destroys religious monuments. Now we see in our own nation mobs pulling down statues in an attempt remove from our memories the negative periods in our history they think should be erased. This is called “historical cleansing”. A practice that is both dangerous and insidious.
One of the problems of historical cleansing is that art is not subjective. What a monument says to one person might not be what it says to another. When there is controversy about statues in the public square then they should be reviewed and, possibly, removed. These statues should then be placed a museum, but certainly not destroyed by an angry mob. Cheryl Benard writes:
A monument is just a piece of stone or metal. The “get Robert E. Lee out of here” contingent assumes that anyone who stands before his statue will be thinking, “how noble it was to own a plantation and have slaves, I wish the South had won.” A reasonable viewer, however, is more likely to think: “How sad that so many thousands of young men had to die for this lostBenard, C. (2017, September 3). Destroying Confederate Monuments Hurts Us All — And Accomplishes Nothing. The National Interest. https://nationalinterest.org/feature/destroying-confederate-monuments-hurts-us-all%E2%80%94-accomplishes-22142
cause. Too bad that Robert E. Lee, by all accounts a brilliant man, made the wrong call. We should all learn to subject our loyalties to very careful moral scrutiny.” Instead of removing the object, it’s much better to try and shape what lesson it conveys.
What about religious art? Should churches, temples, and mosques be forced to remove paintings, mosaics, tapestries, or statues if someone finds them offensive? An outspoken Black Lives Matter activist recently tweeted,
Yes I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been.” And then later, “All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down.https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/shaun-king-jesus-statue/
Yes, Jesus was Jewish. Yes the paintings of Jesus that we are familiar with were painted by European artists. Yes, these paintings usually depict Jesus with very distinct European features. We all know this; this is not a recent discovery. Since no one knows what Jesus looked like, it is futile to try and paint a picture or carve a statue in his likeness, and if Mr. King chooses to view these pieces of art as “a gross form of white
supremacy” then that is his right. However, just because he tweeted it does not make it true. Any objective study of Western Civilization and church history will provide a more rational explanation of church artwork.
As Christians we should not be offended or angered by such rhetoric. As I considered the above tweet I thought: “What if every icon, painting, and statue representing Jesus Christ was destroyed — would it matter? What would change?” I don’t believe it would hurt the church. In fact, I believe the church would be strengthened by it.
Do not misunderstand me: I am not in favor of destroying art of any kind, from any culture. Yet we must understand that God never desired for His people to erect images of wood, stone, or metal to represent Him. Israel was supposed to represent Him. His church is supposed to represent Him.
Jesus never called for buildings and icons to represent him on earth. We are supposed to represent him on earth! Jesus prayed that his church would exist in such perfect unity that through them the world would know that God sent His Son into the earth. Our love for one another will always be our greatest witness to a world lost in sin. We represent Jesus when we live with one another in Godly fellowship, love each other with an unconditional love, extend grace and forgiveness, and provide for one another’s needs with great generosity. When the world witnesses the church of Jesus living this way, they get a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is why it is so important for us to live as the church Christ has called us to be. How we love each other and care for each other is what matters to the Lord. Imagine a fellowship of believers who are dedicated to worshiping the Lord, loving one another, sharing life with one another, generously sharing resources with one another, and building the body of Christ on the foundation of Christ-like love and sacrifice. Not only
will we experience a slice of heaven, but we will be drawing others to Christ as well!
Church architecture is incredible. Renaissance paintings are timeless. Statues are amazing in their human likeness. These are all important to Western Civilization. But we must remember that these things will not last forever. History tells the story of great civilizations that no longer exist, and it is impossible to know how many important cultural icons and relics have been destroyed by the elements, warfare, greed, and
vandalism. No building or piece of art will last forever.
One day we will be living in a “post-COVID” world. One day we will all be meeting together as the body of Christ. Do we dare try and go back to the way things were before March 16, 2020? Or do we move forward, seeking to be a church who truly represents the Kingdom of God? I believe God is giving us this opportunity to make some necessary changes in this direction. The world does not need more statues. The world needs the church to be the church. The world needs Jesus.
Your servant in Christ,