Jesus is being evicted from a South Carolina church, and he must be out by the end of the month.
Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington, about 120 miles northeast of Charleston, has voted to remove a statue of Christ and its accompanying reliefs after 11 years, because they are believed to be too “Catholic in nature”.
The white, hand-carved statue in question shows Christ with his outstretched and stepping out of the wall, while the reliefs depict images from Christ's life, death and resurrection.
Red Bank Baptist Church leaders sent a letter to the artist, Bert Baker Jr., earlier this month, informing him that the congregation had voted to remove the statue because it was being perceived as a Catholic icon and was causing confusion among churchgoers.
“We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms. As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church," church leaders Jeff Wright and Mike Dennis said in the letter.
Baker, a former member of the church’s congregation himself, was commissioned to make the statue for Red Bank in 2007.
In a response letter, Baker told the church leaders that he wanted the Christ statue to appear to be stepping out in a symbol of the Lord’s commission, and that the other images in the reliefs were based on basic facts about Christ's life which can be found in the Bible.
“Under each arm the reliefs depict scriptural and historical events that we as Christians believe represent the life of Christ. There should be no confusion on the facts of Jesus’ birth, life events, the miracles, His crucifixion, death and most importantly His resurrection,” Baker said in his letter.
In comments to local newspaper The State, Baker said he was “not interested in stirring the pot, but people not liking it because it looked too Catholic is crazy, man. It's been up there for 11 years."
"I don't agree with the letter, it bothers me," he added.
Rhonda Davis shared photos of both the church’s letter and Baker’s response in a Facebook post, and commented that she found it “truly sad” that the statues were going to be removed for reasons that singled out Catholics.
She called the decision “disturbing and sad that in a time when we are all needing to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ to project and reflect His love to a lost and dying world…”
In his response letter to the church, Baker said that he was “stunned that your letter both insults the intelligence of the Red bank community (as not intelligent enough to know that Red Bank Baptist Church is a Baptist church despite having a large sign stating as much) and, more disturbing, singling out the Catholic church in such a manner as to suggest that their denomination is deficient in theology and lacking in Christian core values to the point that you wish to prevent or avoid any perceived association with them.”
“In a world that is dying with prejudices, it is disappointing for (a) church that claims Christ as its head would exclude any of His followers.”
Red Bank offered Baker the chance to remove the statues himself before May 31 if he wanted to reclaim them, but Baker said that he made the statue and reliefs for the church and that it was their choice to do with them as they wished.
However, he said he hoped the art would not be destroyed and that it instead might be donated to another church or sold to support a mission.
"I was commissioned to make the sculpture, and whatever they choose to do with it is their prerogative," Baker told The State. "I just didn't want it destroyed. I don't want to take it down personally, but I hope they find another place for it."