Would Your Church Censor This Art?

Station 7 - Jesus Falls For The Second Time by Jackson Potts II

Ecclesia Church in Houston, Texas, whose website describes the church as a “holistic missional Christian community,” invited local artists to submit original artwork depicting each of the Stations of the Cross.

Young 10-year old artist Jackson Potts II, who has been studying photography with his photographer father for several years, was given the commission to produce a photograph showing Station #7, Jesus Falls For the Second Time.

Young Potts chose to interpret the scene by replacing the Roman soldier with a contemporary police officer, and he depicted the innocence of Jesus using a child, his own brother, to portray the fallen Christ.

The church was offended by the photograph, according to ABC News, and would not display the photograph in the church art gallery, Xnihilo.  The decision by church officials has led two gallery directors to resign, but the church did create a blog about the whole incident. You can follow all the links in the curator’s blog for further information, including links to local media coverage.

The church gave a variety of reasons for rejecting the photograph ranging from “the photograph would scare young children who trust and respect police officers” to “we felt it was provocative in the wrong way” to “[it] did not draw people closer to the risen Christ.

Which brings me to my questions:

  • If this were your church, would you have allowed the photograph to be viewed?  If not, why?
  • Is the purpose of art to convey the church’s message or the artist’s message?
  • When a church engages artists to produce artwork, should there be any restrictions on what they produce?  If so, what?

These are pertinent questions as increasing numbers of churches engage artists in producing artwork to be shown for church purposes.  Are we returning to “church art” of the Medieval period where the church was both patron and censor, or are churches genuinely interested in hearing what artists have to say?  What do you think, and more importantly, what would you have done in this situation?  Fire away in the comment section.

10 thoughts on “Would Your Church Censor This Art?”

  1. Well … hmmm …

    Not knowing what instructions were given exactly, I don’t know if I think the church was right or wrong to refuse it.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with the picture. In fact, in terms of moving the sometimes-easy-to-sterilize past into contemporary images, I think it’s very powerful.

    So, to the questions as you asked them:

    – I’d like to think so.

    – The purpose of art? To convey the artist’s message. The purpose of art displayed in the church building? To convey the church’s message.

    – There should be some standards for Biblical truth. My church uses songs written by several different members of the congregation … but these songs are checked before we use them. That same kind of thing would apply to art.

  2. Would my church censor this art? Absolutely. What does a ten year old boy know about the complexity of the gospel presentation? Obviously, from the so-called “art” displayed in your blog, not much. What kind of church asks a ten-year-old to submit art about the stations of the cross, anyway? The church made the right choice to pull the piece, given the awkward position that they created for themselves. It was stupid to ask the kid to submit in the first place. At least they recognized their error and corrected their way.

    Where in scripture does it say Jesus fell and was beaten as he walked along? Jesus was a grown-up, hardly an innocent child. And is the policeman really a symbol for the Roman army? Rome was a military occupying force, not your local beat officer.

    This “art” has the symbolic sophistication of a music video. In other words, no sophistication at all.

    Final comment: this is yet another example of adults putting children in situations for which they are not ready. The curator, with his little protest blog, has no ground to stand on.

  3. Wow, I love it. It got me thinking about that station in a new way, even after having seen countless other renditions of it. I once stayed in a Catholic center in Kenya where they had painted the stations of the cross using a modern interpretation and the guards were police… haven’t forgotten it.

    My only concern would be what kids at my church would think of it (and I’m not sure).

  4. i would like to correct a few facts:

    the Curator did not resign in protest. However two members of the Gallery’s Board of Directors did.

    The blog is not a protest blog but an official Gallery Blog (JacksonsStation.blogspot.com). it was set up because when the elders of the church told jackson his peice would not be able to be shown in the gallery, they agreed to allow it to be up on the gallery’s website. it was decided that a blog would be better because it would allow transparency and dialogue within the community about the peice.

  5. Thanks for your corrections and I have made them in this blog post. The comment about a “protest” blog came from a commenter, but is noted. This makes for interesting discussion, and I hope your church will reflect on the junction of art and church for future events.

  6. This is definetly what our children need. THE TRUTH! Never hide the eyes of your children from the truth. I only wish there was someone who cared enough about me when i was a child (age 5-18) to teach me sex, drugs, alcohol, (i was an addict of these by 12 yrs old)were killers of my soul. I thank God daily for His Son who cared enough to die for me. I wouldnt be here. Instead i was allowed even in my schools. Shameful! Satan is cunning, but God is Righteous, Halelujua!
    Sister in Christ,

  7. A church, or any organization that commissions art, has the right of refusal. If they didn’t, the artist could do something ridiculous like have a naked Jesus being beaten by a shapely, naked woman with a police officer’s hat. An excuse for something inappropriate, in other words.

    In general, any artistic expression that is intended merely to shock people isn’t a sign of artistic sophistication. It’s a sign of immaturity. Regardless of the age of the artist.

  8. I honestly find this to be a powerful, symbolic piece of art, especially from a 10-year old. It’s not intended for just initial shock value. I feel like it’s presented more as a way to really get you to think about the problem at hand. So many people see the fallen image of Jesus carrying the cross and don’t think twice about it. But to see this image as a symbol of that event is truly thought-provoking, and hopefully spiritually inspiring. I can’t say for sure one way or another whether or not my church would attempt to censor this, but I find it to be an excellent work, regardless.

  9. Sorry for the late post-

    The photo is certainly inflammatory, which I think is one valid function of art, as long as it’s toward a good goal.

    How to judge? I would ask, Does the photo hit home for the artist and the community of viewers? Does the image of the cop hitting the child ring true (at least debatably) to how things work in our society?

    I can’t really know because I’m not a part of that church, but I would think this kind of art would only be really appropriate if (1) the artist or those close to him were victims of societal oppression, or (2) the image was self-critical toward the artist or his/her community.

    On the other hand, the victim in the photo leaves me a little cold. The image of the white child, taken presumably with an expensive camera and offered for display at a church that has its own arts center, doesn’t do a very good job of representing any widespread experience in our society. On the contrary, the police generally do a very good job of protecting the interests of middle class white folks in the public square.

    If he were being beaten by an angry father in a nice suit, it would strike a chord, since that’s something we do––we abuse our own families, while everyone else perhaps looks on. Or if the kid was black, the photo would challenge our legal system for making life worse for black kids–something that would fit very well with Christ’s passion. If we replaced the kid with a full-grown black man, it would really hit home. Whether we agreed or not, those would at least reflect how many people understand our society to operate.

    But again, with a white kid, I just don’t see what it’s really supposed to be claiming in Houston, Texas. I know Jesus used a child as the symbol of vulnerability, but middle class white society has really turned that on its ear. If the kid was a different race, or somehow obviously poor, it might be different. But middle class kids are often some of the least vulnerable people around, at least when it comes to settings like a police beating.

    On the second question, I imagine the people in the background are a rough cross-section of people the artist knows, so there’s the potential for self-criticism. And yet, if the artist is from a white-collar family, then the photo really seems to do more to make the cop the scapegoat for societal violence, than to do any genuine self-critique. Cops would no doubt be angry at this portrayal, and I think they’d have every right to be unless the artist was either a cop him/herself or else a victim of police violence.

    So I can’t speak to the artist’s experience as a 10-year-old, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t show this at my church. I think it would be more likely to make us feel self-righteous than it would challenge anything.

  10. Now I’m rethinking my comment. Maybe the idea of a cop hitting a child like this is so foreign to our experience that it can only stand in as an allegory of the beating of Jesus, so it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t ring true to our experience.

    This would give the photo a clearer religious message (which is obviously its goal), but it wouldn’t really use Jesus’ passion to help on reflect on the weak that are abused in our society. I’d prefer a work that could do both at the same time, but obviously the 10-year-old is entitled to do it the way he wants.

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