COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A Baptist church in South Carolina that made headlines for voting to remove a hand-carved statue of Jesus Christ that the congregation deemed to be too Catholic is headed to a new home.
The hand-carved, 7-foot (2-meter) statue and accompanying reliefs depicting scenes from Christ’s life have been displayed outside the front entrance of Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington for a decade. But church members voted last month to move it.
The Rev. Jeff Wright, the church’s pastor, would not tell The Associated Press when the statue will be taken down but said it is going to another church.
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, Wright said.
“This is not a denomination issue, it’s a church decision,” Wright said. “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?'”
In a letter to the artist Delbert Baker Jr., Wright wrote that the statue and reliefs bring into question “the theology and core values” of the church.
“We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms,” the letter read.
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.
Catholic churches of that era were especially apt to have ornate buildings, Fink said. In addition, he said, Baptist churches aren’t as likely to have pictures of the Virgin Mary or other traditional religious displays. That might explain the confusion at Red Bank Baptist Church.
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 said.
“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,” Fink said. “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 (32 kilometers) west of Columbia in one of the most conservative parts of the state just wants to move forward and find a home for the statue and reliefs.
“I don’t have any animosity against the Catholic denomination at all or the people that are fussing about this,” Wright said. “The statue has served its season. The church is making changes physically; this is the time for it to come down.”