A hand-carved, 7-foot statue has been displayed outside the front entrance of Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina, for a decade, but church members voted last month to have it removed.
In a letter to Delbert Baker Jr – the man who created the statue and accompanying reliefs depicting scenes from Christ’s life – the Rev Jeff Wright, the church’s pastor, wrote that the whole kit and caboodle bring into question “the theology and core values” of the church. The letter said:
We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms.
Wright made clear that:
This is not a denomination issue, it’s a church decision. We are removing it to end some confusion. Some people have seen it, guests that have been here and have asked, ‘Why is this on the front of a Baptist Church?’
And he emphasised:
Wright said another church is about to give Jesus a new home, that church members meant no harm in the decision – and the attention has turned what was a simple church issue “unfairly” into a social justice issue.
I don’t have any animosity against the Catholic denomination at all or the people that are fussing about this. The statue has served its season. The church is making changes physically; this is the time for it to come down.
Religions have been divided over religious iconography for more than 500 years as artists adorned buildings with elaborate stained glass windows, paintings, and statues, said David Fink, assistant professor of religion at Furman University.
There are noticeable physical similarities in the Red Bank church’s statue and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, historically one of the most Catholic countries in the world, Fink added.
It’s hard to identify one feature that makes it Catholic, but even the existence of a statue of Jesus is unusual at a Baptist Church. There may not be a clear rationale in play here. They may just want to be a little more clear in their branding.
Wright said his church, about 20 miles west of Columbia in one of the most conservative parts of the state, just wants to move forward