The ‘Piss Christ’ & the Glory of God

The Pangea Blog does not endorse this “art.” Source: Wikipedia


Written by Lawrence Garcia

The Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery in Manhattan recently managed to transform itself into a neo-Golgotha with the public display of a denigrated Christ submerged in human urine. This is Andres Serrano’s infamous Piss Christ, a photograph taken in 1987 of a crucifix baptized in the artist’s own widdle. Of course, the disclosure is on the heels of heightened global tension between Christians and Muslims giving rise to an outcry of protest across the nation. Moreover, the public airing of the photograph sharpened a host of sociopolitical differences surrounding free speech, hate crime, and religious freedom between Liberals and Conservatives and those in between. Of particular interest for this author was the Christian reaction; a quick survey of the backlash will yield statements like:

—“ANYONE who would WANT to desecrate our LORD in this Manner is a sick soul…”

—“AND, how about “Piss Mohammed?”

—“Let’s riot and burn somebody’s embassy…”

—“Now, more than ever, Christianity is under attack from without and within. We need your help to stand for Christ…”

It is, of course, perfectly natural if one is a follower of the Christ to feel a deep disgust, a churning of the stomach over such wanton sacrilege. And before we know it, we are being driven headlong on a crusade to ‘defend,’ ‘protect,’ and ‘avenge,’ the Lord’s public honor. John Calvin’s famous words seem particularly applicable, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” And yet, the emotive desire to shield Jesus from any and all disgrace, though admirable, may stem from a deep seated theological misunderstanding about the nature of the crucifixion itself.

Have we forgotten that crucifixion in the ancient world was the servitutis extremum summumque supplicium—“the supreme and ultimate punishment for slaves”—according to Cicero?[1] And no, crucifixion did not occur in a dark corner, it was carried out in crowded-public areas as empire’s deterrent against would-be rebels. Emaciated bodies, broken bones, torn flesh, exposed organs, public defecation, impaled private parts, bodies creatively strewed this way and that according to the executioner’s fancy were all features of the spectacle which is crucifixion; and such is what Jesus of Nazareth considered his hour of “glory.” “What should I say,” Jesus says about his impending crucifixion, “‘Father, rescue me from this hour?’ No, for it was this reason I came to this hour!”

How can we ever, in a thousand lifetimes, hope to disgrace such a person?—one who so claims that all that is shameful and ghastly and nauseating in the world are now and forever taken up into his own passion! We could even say—dare we say?—that David’s Rightful Heir willingly chose to be the “Piss Christ”—the loving king who for three agonizing and humiliating hours became the world’s commode. This is what Paul meant by the “scandal” of the cross, that a basin-throned Jew was now Lord of the world and that one day the refuse of society would inherit the earth along with him. Who would ever believe that?! Therefore, we need not get angry, vindictive, or even necessarily disgusted with the photograph, but rather stand in silent awe and wonder that it manages, in all of its profaneness, to capture a momentary glimpse of our Lord’s paradoxical “hour of glory.” I’ll end with words from William Willimon:

“Everything about Jesus is cruciform, shaped like a cross. The cross was not just an unfortunate event on a Friday afternoon at the garbage dump outside Jerusalem; it was the way the world welcomed the lover Jesus from day one and still does today… From his very first sermon at Nazareth, the world was attempting to summon up the courage to render its final verdict upon Jesus’ loving reach, ‘Crucify him!’”[2]

Glory be to the King who was willingly and figuratively pissed on for you and for me.

[1] Hengel Martin, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World And the Folly Of the Message Of the Cross (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 51.

[2] Willimon William, Why Jesus? (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 109.


Lawrence is the Senior Teaching-Pastor of Academia Church in Goodyear, Arizona. He is a pastor devoted to the educational growth of his congregants, and the raising up of a new generation of disciples, who will think, tell, and live out the Christian story. Lawrence is currently attending Liberty University.

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  • Kassie

    Wow. I cringed as I read, but it would be dishonest not to acknowledge the truth of this. Thanks for the insight.

  • AmyS

    Good work.

  • Simon


  • Pat68

    What more can the world do to Christ that hasn’t already been done? That’s the message that I take away from this.

  • I was disturbed when the so-called artwork was first revealed and am equally as disturbed in this post, which was written I suspect to cull readers in the same fashion the original art was intended to cull viewers. I understand that in the culture of social media there are no rules of propriety and the value of any one post is only equal to the numbers of those who read it but still I admit to being sorely disappointed.

    • Lawrence Garcia

      Well, honestly, no it wasn’t written to “cull readers” at all. It wasn’t as if I scoured the internet looking for something sensational to blog about so as only to gain readership. On the contrary, the post was sparked on the heels of mass outcry at the recent display of the photograph; until then I was unaware of the work. However, once it had been brought to my attention, by less a gracious of an appraisal, I began to reflect on the nature of the work as an actual entry point to the crucifixion of Jesus itself. Having studied the sociological realities of crucifixion in the ancient world I realized that it actually managed to capture the dishonor that Jesus regarded as his “glory” and the scandel that a crucified messiah figure created among Jews and Greeks—precisley because it was not proprietous!

  • When this “artwork” was originally exhibited I was disgusted, not by the act of desecration itself, for really, you cannot desecrate anything that is not first sacred…and whether crucifix or flag, to the extent we hold the material object to be sacred, to precisely that extent it has become an idol to us. Rather, I am disgusted by the notion, common to proponents of “free speech” and “art” that such things only enjoy full expression in the deliberate and premeditated causing of offense. Those who defend Americans’ “right” to burn a Qur’an or caricature the prophet Muhammad, better not talk to me about their objections to flag burning or “Piss Christ.”

    But in response to the original post–which is excellent–I am struck by a lesson we have been learning in my church Sunday study of the gospel of Mark. Repeatedly in the first few chapters we have observed that Jesus touched and engaged with the “unclean,” and counter to law and culture, rather than being demeaned, contaminated, or sullied, the force of Jesus’ purity cleansed the event or person. Even the shame of the cross could not withstand Jesus’ cleansing influence. Perhaps, though Serrano certainly intended offense, in some Jesus-like way “Piss Christ” is actually an icon…

    • Lawrence Garcia

      Thanks Dan, your words are much appreciated (as I’m a big fan of your work).

  • facebook

    My first reaction was anger and it should have been Lord, ”forgive them for they know not what they do.” I am only interested in people being free to worship God in peace. I do not support worship by a group of people or support the value of any worship toward a God that calls for violence. This ”art” is supported by taxpayer money and this is what I am angry about. Yes this ”art” is supported by the 1st amendment and should be but not my tax dollars. Corky Riley

    • Lawrence Garcia

      Sure, this seems, to me, to be another issue altogether. I wasn’t really interested in the wider socio-political issues surrounding the photograph, merely the theological truth about the crucifixion that can be, so to speak, gleaned from it. I don’t support the writer, or the action, or the photograph, but I think if one examines the awful realities of which crucifixion is (and that Jesus chose that as his paradoxical hour of glory), then one can see the picture as part of the larger rejection and shaming of Jesus that was witnessed at the cross. Thanks for reading!

  • You’re going to learn to live with “free speech” if you want to continue to live in America, that’s how it works. I bet he just wanted to see the reaction it created and originally put it in honey or amber…..the title is what gets people upset which I find hilarious. “I AM CHRISTIAN, I AM MAD!” *stomp stomp stomp* like a cave man.

  • I am an artist and feel like those who put the word in quotations, “Art”, don’t fully understand the purpose of art. Art is a journey by the artist to bring their questions into a exploration using physical media. It gives an opportunity for the artist and other who engage it to the opportunity to understand reality, then more deeply, to see. Sometimes, that exploration involves a subject, like a portrait and in that, the artist and viewer have the opportunity to know and see the woman or man more deeply. Same with the mentions of exploring- art materials and styles continue to be discovered. But if something has already been explored or a question already asked by the same means, why do the same? So there will always be a something new and not seen that challenges our understanding of what is art. People reviled Van Gogh’s work.
    Art tends to shock us because it challenges what we know.
    It is hard for me to grasp what it’s like for Jesus to be carrying the sins of the world, in all of its profanity.
    This piece was and continues to be the most powerful mean by which I am able to understand a little more deeply. More than any great writing or depiction of the crucifixation or description or reading.

    • While art may indeed “shock us because it challenges what we know,” that does not mean that shock qua shock necessarily brings this value. Far too many who claim the title of “artist” seem unable to comprehend that “offensive” alone is insufficient to define or validate expression. Serrano, the Danish cartoonists, and the Westboro Baptist Church all make this same category error.

      Perhaps to say it more directly, truth is often offensive, but much that is offensive is not true. This distinction is all-too-frequently lost on both artists and fundamentalists.

      • Person223

        It goes deeper than that. The Danish cartoonists do not make the same error as the Piss Christ guy or the Westboro Church. There is a very specific, quite valid reason that they draw Muhammad as well as the Draw Muhammad Contest in Texas and the Charlie Hebdo bunch. It should be noted that the Charlie Hebdo people also depicted Christianity and Christian symbols in a less than flattering way. There is a pattern here. We have the 1st Amendment in the USA which recognizes our right to free speech. First of all, there is a difference between Christians and Muslims. People can put a crucifix in a jar of urine or burn a Bible. Christians will be offended. They don’t go on a murderous rampage over it. Hold a draw Muhammad contest in Texas and someone literally shows up with a gun and tries to shoot up the place. Or massacres all the staff at Charlie Hebdo.

        Back to the free speech aspect. We have a secular government in the USA. Religious people can serve in government, but government and church are not to be the same thing. This is in our Constitution because it is a lesson learned from ancient Rome and even mother England. Under sharia any secular, man made government is a sin. The Koran says as much. So why is it important that we are able to draw Muhammad? That is part of sharia. Under the guise of not being offensive to a religious group we are actually living according to a principle of Islamic religious law. This is, or should be, unacceptable in American or any western nation.

        Go over to YouTube and watch how Christians are treated in Dearborn, Michigan. Muslims can openly preach for the establishment of sharia in the west, but watch what happens when Christians simply try to hand out fliers with Bible verses on them. That’s a part of sharia as well. Christians aren’t allowed to proselytize although Muslims still can. Polls have been taken on this. Just as one example, polls of Muslims in St. Paul-Minneapolis show that significantly high percentages support sharia even in the USA. Muslims march around London with signs saying sharia for UK. Sexual assaults reach epidemic proportions when a certain percentage of any given population is Muslim. The experience of Germany over the past year shows this. Muslims taxi drivers in Halifax, Canada are doing the same although you won’t see this widely reported. Even where you see it reported it is in veiled language. The police chief of Halifax warned young women to be careful when riding in a taxi and the driver is dark skinned and bearded. Hmmmm. Even the recent assault in London the police where initially calling a terrorist attack but now are white washing it by saying it was a disturbed young man. The chief at Scotland Yard was saying just this. Former Prime Minister David Cameron says Islam is a religion of peace, as did former US President George W. Bush. If they’d just look around they’d realize how wrong this statement is. Perhaps they do, but just aren’t willing to criticize Islam publicly. Muslims are good at playing the victim. They have groups like CAIR and ISNA to back them up and literally establish themselves as a privileged class. Being above any and all criticism despite so many acts of violence committed by Muslims is just one example of this. One Muslims woman in Gary, Indiana is publicly complaining about being told to remove her niqab or leave the store. This was perfectly reasonable because of a crime problem in Gary and that the type of store this Muslim woman was in is a frequent target of armed robbers. For a disturbing example of the self-justifying style of Muslims look up the interview with the CAIR attorneys retained by the family of the guy who shot up the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. Speaking of that, it wasn’t 24 hours after all those people lost their lives at the hands of Muslims in Paris or San Bernardino that the Muslims turned themselves into the victims by talking about a non-existent Muslim backlash.

        How many murders in France at the hands of Muslims before the French wake up? Someone even wrote that they are white washing the murder of the French police because they don’t want to give ammunition to “far right wing” French political parties. The right wing French political parties aren’t the ones murdering people by running them over, shooting up concert halls, etc.

        Recall that one of those involved in the Paris attack was right in Molenbeek where he had lived for years. He’d been there for months. David Cameron said that this talk of no go zones in the United Kingdom is utter rubbish, but UK police have said otherwise. Between a politician and a street cop, I know who is more likely to be telling the truth. Plainly put, a politician has much more motivation to lie than a street cop. They are establishing mini-caliphates across Europe and no one has the courage to insist on rule of law. Merkel even defends what she’s done, and it looks like Germany is descending into civil war. One thing we should know from history is that a bunch of angry Germans never leads to anything positive.

        Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim the same year he produced a film criticizing the treatment of women in Islam. One must not criticize Islam. It is part of their doctrine.

        Don’t buy this religion of peace nonsense. They are commanded to violently subjugate the non-believer. This is what is behind all these attacks in the west. The earlier, peaceful passages in the Koran are abrogated by the later, violent passages. Muslims often say that the Koran says that he who takes one life it is as if he killed all of humanity and he who kills one person is as if he killed all of humanity. A Muslim from the local mosque just wrote in with just this passage to claim that Islam is a religion of peace. This is taken out of context with the specific purpose of deceit. This passage describes how the Christians are Jews are commanded to live and it goes on to say that Muslims are not bound by this. Dishonest as can be, but such are many Muslims.

        Muhammad Ali said that Islam is a religion of peace. Many believe that with the publicity surrounding his recent death. Muhammad Ali may have been peaceful with his refusal to serve in Viet Nam, but Islam itself is not. Muhammad Ali apparently never read the Koran, or at least didn’t read it in depth and pay attention to the context of it all.

        • All of which completely ignores the point of my comment, which was that there is no positive value in deliberately causing offense, regardless of one’s right to do so. You are so desperate to prove the evils of Islam to justify your hatred, you’re responding to comments you clearly haven’t read.

          • Person223

            For the record, I did read your post entirely and what I wrote was addressing a point you missed. You, on the other hand, obviously didn’t read my post and genuinely consider what was in it. It’s not beside the point. There is a distinction between Islam and the Danish cartoonists that you entirely gloss over. I am not a hating person. That is a personal attack in lieu of logical argument, which is to say a logical fallacy. Attacking me personally instead of my argument is how people such as yourself try to shut down dissent. This is quite common. People are very handy at calling people racist or hateful when there is no racism or hate involved. You’ve made a huge assumption about me, and leveled a serious charge against my character. That says a lot about you. My whole point is that we are implementing components of sharia under the guise of good manners, and at the expense of our 1st Amendment. There is a huge double standard when it comes to Islam. When was the last time a bakery owned by Muslims was forced to choose between catering a gay “wedding” or being fined into bankruptcy as has happened to Christians in both Indiana and Oregon. I could give example after example, both historically and in present times. It’d be lost on you, and thus a waste of my time. You want to ignore the deep seated hatred of Muslims, a hatred deep seated in them because of the contents of the Koran. Read it, read it and pay attention to context.
            You’ve said deeply insulting things to me. Despite that we obviously disagree, I never leveled an insult against you. That’s the difference between someone who likes to discuss things to get at the truth of any subject and someone who insults instead of discussing something in a logical and mature manner.

          • I’m completely baffled by your comments and tone. Are you replying to my comments, or to the original post, which I did not write? I said absolutely nothing in defense of Islam … my comments were strictly around the idea that deliberate offense and/or shock dare not defend themselves as valid or artistic simply on the basis of being offensive.

            It is true that I have defended peaceable Muslims in other places and at other times; enough so that I recognize your arguments and would choose not to engage in a likely-futile attempt to address them. But since AFAIK the Disqus mind-reading functionality hasn’t yet progressed beyond beta, I don’t know how you could have tied my comments on this thread to any anchor that would merit an attack on Islam as a response.

            So I repeat my question … did you read MY comments, which were not in any way a defense of Islam, but rather an attack on the notion that deliberately offending people — however much the right to do so is protected under the First Amendment — is in any way a laudable exercise?

          • Person223

            Boiled down to the essentials: One group kills people because it says to do so in the Koran, the other draws cartoons. Christians can see piss Christ and shrug it off. People draw Muhammad and Moslems go nuts and murder or attempt to murder people. Yet you say I’m hateful, the Danish cartoonists are hateful yet you don’t say that about the people who murder others over a drawing. Islam is not a religion of peace. This has been demonstrated time and time again. They are a threat to anyone but Muslims, are even a threat to other Muslims. Anyone looking at the events in Germany should realize this. This is just round two for them.

          • Person223

            And your statement, boiled down to essentials, is that we should obey portions of sharia. It is what you are recommending. Suppose we started killing people if we decided it was wrong to draw George Washington. Would that be right of us? Muslims are literally out to subjugate us, and that process begins by things that seem reasonable such as refraining from drawing Muhammad. Again, I say you should look at the experience of Christians in Dearborn. Muslims are allowed to openly proselytize for the establishment of sharia, Christians are arrested for merely passing out flyers with Bible verses. Look at what has happened to certain neighborhoods of London, England and Paris, France, Look at the violence which is happening on a weekly basis or more.

      • Person223

        To put it in a nutshell, the whole of Islam is fundamentalist. I hesitate to even call it a religion, and only do so because that is the usual term. It is more like fascism disguised as a religion.Even more, the Muslims take things above and beyond what all but the most fundamental of the fundamentalists of other religions do. Buddhists get in fist fights in Viet Nam once in a great while, and even more rarely will actually engage in terrorism. These occasions are very rare. Christians are commanded to live in peace with their neighbor, Muslims are commanded to violently subjugate the non-believer. They do not even get along with other sects of Islam. Just look at the whole Sunni-Shia disagreement that so often becomes violent. They are at each others throats unless there happens to be Jews or Christians around to kill. I just read an account of someone who converted from Islam to Christianity. Many Muslims are saying he wasn’t a Muslim because he was from the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. This sect does believe in all the standard doctrines of Islam such as the 5 pillars. If the Muslims achieve their goal of establishing sharia worldwide, it sounds as if this sect would be one of the first to be murdered for heresy in their caliphate. If you think I’m kidding, watch the discussions Muslims have on UK news programs about their opinions of those who don’t think sharia should be established in the west. Look up a guy named Anjem Choudury who says all non-Muslims should be killed. Look at the following story at the UK newspaper the Daily Mail about how a Muslim tried to win a seat in Parliament in a dishonest way. It was uncovered by one Tommy Robinson, a very courageous guy who ought to have a statue next to Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square, and this Amin might have been Prime Minister otherwise.

        The new Muslim mayor of London has already done some shady things. Then there is Khizr Khan who said Trump didn’t understand the US Constitution while Khan himself proved he didn’t understand it. Furthermore, Khan has proven connections to the Muslim Brotherhood although that fact is getting little coverage in the press. From there I could get into ISNA but I’ve gone on long enough. Brigitte Gabriel explains it well in this video, and I’d just add that it should be obvious after watching it why Obama pulled our troops out of Iraq in 2011 despite warnings of the bloodshed it would cause.

        Muslims aren’t to be trusted. One last thing I’d add. Winston Churchill warned about Muslims, specifically about the rabid ways of the Wahhabi sub-sect of Sunni Islam. Many, many things can be learned from Winston Churchill’s writings on everything from Islam to Russia and the USSR to India. He had incredible foresight. He had that figured out better before hand better than most of us can all these years after the fact. He had better foresight than we have hindsight.

  • Disableme

    Lawrence thank you for the the thoughtful article. I wrote an article several months ago concerning evangelical piety and art or pop culture.