Eugene Cho

the cross, statue of liberty, and power

What do you think when you see this image?  Before you read the context behind it under the image, what’s your initial reaction?

pic copied from flickr. photo by fearlessvk.

This statue was built about 2 years ago by a church in Memphis.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, the building in the background is a church.  World Overcomers is a “mega church” that includes “a school, a bowling alley, a roller rink, a bookstore and…12,000 members.”

A Memphis-area megachurch has erected a Statue of Liberty lookalike — holding a cross instead of a torch — to remind Americans of their “spiritual liberation” and to show that Christianity should guide the nation.

The fiberglass-and-steel “Statue of Liberation Through Christ” was dedicated during a July 4 carnival and barbeque at World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church. Standing 72 feet high, Liberty also carries a copy of the Ten Commandments, has a broken, gold chain at her feet, and bears a single tear on her cheek.

Alton Williams, pastor of the Memphis church, said he commissioned the statue — which required $260,000 and nearly five years to build — to declare to passersby that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

“I decree the spirit of conviction on this intersection,” Williams said during the unveiling ceremony. “This statue proves that Jesus Christ is Lord over America. He is Lord over Tennessee. He is Lord over Memphis.” [more]

And for some of you who will instantly think that should have given the money to the poor, the pastor has a response:

Some critics complain the $260,000 spent on the statue should have been given to the poor. Williams said his church gives a lot of money to charity and mission work, adding, “We believe in not only giving to the poor, but also preaching the gospel to the poor. This is more important than temporary assistance. God’s desire is that everyone become self-sufficient.”

And here’s the NY Times story on this church and the Statue of Liberation Through Christ.

And while it may be easy to criticize this church, I really don’t think we can criticize them for spending this kind of money when there around thousands and thousands of churches that spend much more money on stuff that many of us would consider unneccesary.

Is it wrong to want “Jesus to be Lord over America?”  For me, absolutely not. But then, why does this statue scare me so much?  You?

How would Seattle react if Quest built something similar on 15th Avenue to greet all the commuters on 15th Avenue?

Filed under: religion

41 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    I would agree: Jesus’ rightful place is Lord over all, whether America, Seatle, Memphis, Dallas, Berlin…

    What bothers me about the picture is the prevailing idea of a man-instituted theocracy, whether in Memphis, this country, or somewhere else. A brief perusal of church history will reveal that man instituted theocracies soon turn corrupt. I don’t want the name of my Lord disgraced in that way. So I am guitly of the sin of avoidance by association: 1) I think man-made theocracies are a bad idea. 2) This picture makes me think this church desires that. 3) I am uncomfortable with things associated with this church even though I know nothing about them. So I suppose I ought to do some looking into the situation and not just be a pendulum, trying to avoid the extreme.

  2. Megan says:

    What bothers me about the statue is that it seems to represent everything I don’t like about Christianity. I agree that God is and should be recognized as Lord over all. But I don’t think that a statue like that is an effective way to convince non-believers of that. I think many non-religious folk would see that as someone trying to push Christianity down their throats.

    The pastor talked about preaching the gospel to the poor instead of just giving them temporary assistance. But to me, that statue is empty, temporary assistance. That statue doesn’t show the love and compassion of Christ, in my opinion. Providing material aid to the poor (including working to overcome the systems that oppress people so they can be self-sufficient) shows the love of Christ far more than a statue. Actually helping people creates relationship. And that is what Christ is all about. That statue is a one-way communication that just makes the church-goers feel like they’ve done their evangelistic duty in one fell swoop while distancing non-religious people even further.

  3. Randall says:

    I’m sorry but doesn’t the Psalms talk about singing a NEW song, not pasting crosses and fishies on already created works?

    Many parts of the church (not so much with Quest, thankfully) have neglected to nurture art and artists and this statue is the result. Unimaginatinve and tasteless kitsch.

    If Quest built something similar, I’d the first one to leave the church. I’d leave flame-marks behind me a la Back to the Future.

    Don’t do it PE!

  4. Kacie says:

    I know nothing about the church, and even if you hadn’t described it, I would have been uncomfortable with the image. Michael said it well – the US is never supposed to be a theocracy. Our government is not run by the church, and it doesn’t have Christian motivations (though sometimes individuals in it do, it is not the purpose of our country). Therefore, i think it’s dangerous to tie the US (symbolized by the Statue of Liberty) to the cross, as if what the US does IS Christian, or represents the church. This creates a problem in how the church sees itself, and also a church problem in how other countries view Christianity and America.

  5. Jennifer says:

    The picture made me laugh because its such a mixed metaphor.

    Part of the liberty that the statue stands for is that everyone has freedom of religion. So, to place a cross in her hands seems to undo that message.

  6. beattieblog says:

    my initial response was: a little tacky. I wonder how the locals have reacted.

  7. 1120kat says:

    I have to agree with Kacie and Michael – the whole point of the liberty of the USA is to have freedom, and a driving factor for many of the founders of our country was specifically religious freedom. I have many issues with this, though I know nothing about the church except what you described. The money used to build that, to build the building, to fund the BOWLING ALLEY, ROLLER RINK, etc….There are bowling alleys and roller rinks in most communities, especially a metropolitain one such as Memphis….why not pour the money you’ve spent on building your own, into the community by getting together there? Being a Christ follower means going out and being with others, others who don’t necessarily believe what you do, who are different from you, who wouldn’t come to your roller rink just because you built it. Support your community with your actions and your funds – a HUGE part of Christ’s love for people involved community.

    Which brings me to my next issue – “God’s desire is that everyone become self-sufficient.” I want to know where this is stated in the Bible? God’s desire is quite plainly pronounced as being that people are dependent on Him. If we are to truly be dependent on Him, then we’re not self-sufficient. Again, part of Christ’s example of this was living in community, involving the people around you in each other’s lives, and sharing highs and lows, the love of each other for who we are, not what we believe. The ‘temporary assistance” this pastor talks about shows that he’s only looking at the materialistic portion of the action, and not seeing that the actions of serving others is indeed a manfiestation of God’s love for everyone, and can open the doors to sharing His love with the people they serve.

    I’m sorry, this ended up being incredibly long. I can’t imagine being in a church where the leadership held this view of things.

  8. Dan Hauge says:

    Ugh. For me, it was initially a picture of this nation’s idolatry with regards to itself. I know the intent is to show the U.S.A. ‘under’ the authority of Christ, but I still think the image speaks too much of Christ and the nation intertwined. Kind of the ‘God bless America . . . and no one else’ message. Christ’s kingdom is separate from the U.S. and its values are often in opposition to those of the U.S.A., and I believe the church needs to understand that better.

    As I read more, I actually just got more upset. Particularly with his attitude toward the poor. Yes, preaching the gospel is important. But often, when people jump to saying ‘Jesus wants people to be self-sufficient’, that seems to be a code for ‘the church doesn’t need to support structural change that affects poverty–just preach them the gospel’. I do not know for sure if that is the pastor’s attitude, and I may be reading too much into it. But there are too many factors that indicate to me a church with some skewed priorities. Speaking with and for the poor, addressing issues of structural justice, and coming out against materialism are inherent parts of the gospel, in my opinion.

    Also, it is true that many other churches may use much more money for more superfluous things. But I don’t think that bars us from raising criticism on this church or any other, as long as the criticism is done with a humble acknowledgement that I also fall way short in how I prioritize my own finances. We do not have the right to make final judgments on the hearts of other believers–at the same time, I think it is legitimate to raise the question, of any church, including our own: why do we really need this? Are we being stewards of our wealth according to gospel values? How can we be held more accountable? How we use our money is just as open to (humble) critique as how we steward our sexuality, or our graciousness to other people, or anything else that the Bible addresses.

  9. blake says:

    my initial (and continued) reaction? reminds me of constantine’s vision before the battle of milivan bridge when he saw the sign of the cross and heard a voice say, “by this you shall conquer.” we all know what happened after that.

    it’s seems like we’re the new rome these days and we use “jesus is lord over all” as a means by which to conquer. that’s what a lot of people take evangelism to mean now. which is ironic considering what that phrase originally meant. i’m just afraid we’re repeating the mistakes of the past by using abusing christianity and perverting into a form of overzealous nationalism, dare i say imperialism.

  10. Ben says:

    I don’t think it’s appropriate since the SoL is representative of the government, the people of the country of the United States. The SoL is not an accurate representation of the body of Christ.

  11. johnmccollum says:

    Eugene,

    Long-time listener, first time caller.

    I had the same reaction as many of the other commenters: it’s tacky, it’s wasteful, it’s strategically misguided. My biggest problem with the statue and the pastor’s commentary is that it’s dishonest.

    Inherent in the call to “return” is the inaccurate assertion that America as a nation ever dwelled in or with Christ in the first place. To which halcyon era would this pastor like the nation to return?

    To the days of slavery? Of genocide? Of Jim Crow? Of Japanese internment? Of race-based zoning practices? Of unjust wars? Of manifest destiny? Of an institutionalized, inbred and inculcated sense of white supremacy?

    We all need to TURN to God. To suggest that doing so would entail REturning to any previous version of America is one of the gravest stumbling blocks to true repentance that I can imagine.

  12. Jan Owen says:

    It just looks weird to me. I don’t have a well thought out , spiritual answer but it seems a bit creepy and – to be honest – I doubt I would attend church there, even as a believer. I think that says alot.

  13. John Scott says:

    I think the fence around the statue speaks loud and clear to the people driving past:

    “We want you to see Jesus and turn from your terrible sinful ways (…you America-hating heathens!), but don’t come too close (because then we – the church – would have to love you & join together with you and your struggles)”

    Ugh…Christians can be so dense sometimes…

  14. Anni says:

    my first thought is that this is so tacky. why can’t christians be original in what we do? what is there about us that tries to take things that are fine in and of themselves and yet we want to ‘christianize’ them. this is a desecration of the original.
    does anyone actually think that people driving by this statue will turn their thoughts toward Jesus? won’t it actually just make them turn their thoughts away from God and crazy christians? it just seems to confirm all the worst in us… how sad that though the intent may have been for good, i don’t think they’re achieving it.

  15. BEW says:

    I think the church’s name pretty much says it all.. World *Overcomers* Outreach Ministries Church.

    Remember when Jesus chose not to enlist the help of legion of angels?

  16. eugenecho says:

    So, what I’m hearing you folks say is that you won’t be donating to Quest Church’s fundraising efforts to create something similar in front of our church???

    Yes, I agree with all of you.

  17. Randall says:

    @johnmccollum

    one of the best responses I’ve ever read to the “return to a Christian nation” statement. Love it. Hope you call again soon.

  18. Aaron says:

    Initial response: it strikes me as one of the “America = Christian, Non-American = non-Christian” type of statements. I think maybe this is the reason it is scary.

    Delayed response: If the message is as America these are the things we need to hold on to, then its a good message.

    As to the pastors reason of not helping the poor, the pastor says ““We believe in not only giving to the poor, but also preaching the gospel to the poor.” I think this is the way the steriotypical church responds to these issues. Give and preach. Its the idea that if we give you something, you have to listen to and agree with what I say because you owe us. We do not need to understand your needs or struggles or your past or who you are, we gave you a plate of food, now listen up. Ultimately, I think this statue may look nice or be a nice little landmark their Church is proud of…. but I dont believe that it will move the Kingdom of God forward (although, I dont discredit Gods ability to use it in some way).

    To me its no different then if I bought a bunch of billboards and wrote nice messages on them like “Repent”.

    I have a lot of issues with Churches in general. One of them is the cost of buildings and programs and salaries. Most Churches spend the majority of their money on maintaining the Church, not blessing others with their resources. I think this is an example of that. At the same time, I understand you have to have a building and pay a pastor and their are expenses…. ultimately I think things are made to flow outward from the Church, not JUST a Church sustaining itself and its members.

  19. Clint says:

    I don’t like Christian bumper-stickers, t-shirts, or even how marketed the cross is. The message isn’t too bad “Return to Christ.” I think the problem I have is with the word “return.” When were we, as a nation, with Him that we would have to return now? Our founding fathers were Deists that called themselves Christians (much like the population today). I think the authorial intent is more along the lines of politicizing the gospel…”speak out against gay marriage, picket abortion clinics, and vote Republican.” I might be wrong though. Its sad that that has become what people think of when they hear the word “gospel.”

    BEW: I think the name is a bit cheesy also (I would prefer a name that highlights the beauty and sufficiency of Christ, not His people), but I don’t think it is wrong to call genuine Christians “overcomers” since the Holy Spirit said the same thing (1 Jn. 5:4).

  20. DanW says:

    I’d just like him to unpack this statement a little more: “This statue proves that Jesus Christ is Lord over America. . .”

    How does the statue *prove* anything? It may make a statement about something, it may show the world what you believe, it may cause people to stop and think (or run away shrieking in horror at the sheer tackiness), but it doesn’t *prove* anything. Unless the statue has power in and of itself, in which case it has ceased being a statue and has been turned into an idol or some kind of talisman. Considering his “decree of the spirit of conviction,” I’m thinking he’s actually leaning the latter route, and therefore he’s already guilty of breaking the “make no graven images” commandment.

  21. david says:

    apparently mr. williams (the pastor) has also said “Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans’ embrace of sin.” these circus antics give him zero credibility in my book. as an african american with a predominantly african american congregation, it’s hard not to fault him for such a ridiculous distortion, and this statue appears to be the latest sideshow attraction. america cannot “return to christ” until american “christians” do- such hypocrisy (of which we are all guilty) is detestable to jesus.

  22. piratessa says:

    As a non-Christian that is also a member of the military, thats just a slap in the face…and I answer it the same way I answer the Westboro Baptist Church fruitloops…

    You are welcome that men and women of all religions, nationalities, ethnicities and sexual orientation are willing to put aside many of their Constitutional rights to put on a uniform and defend your right to stick your proverbial foot in your mouth and offend a good portion of them.

  23. 3mily says:

    my reaction: “that’s an eyesore, purchased at some remainder sale of yard ornaments”

    my second reaction, as a ‘resident alien’: “that would never happen in Canada” (true or untrue, rightly or wrongly)

    my third reaction: “when will people figure out that borders are completely incidental man-made political constituencies that are completely unrelated to the transcendant reality of Christ?” Col 3:11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

    basically, the cross is sufficient. anything else strikes me as heading towards idolatry.

  24. johnmccollum says:

    ““We believe in not only giving to the poor, but also preaching the gospel to the poor.”

    What does that even mean? This pastor’s statement gives lipservice to an integrated view of the Christian vocation, but fails to embrace either the nuance or the power that lies within. In fact, I think he means the opposite of what he appears to be advocating.

    In other words, I think he’s saying, “YOU want to feed the poor, but WE want to do the real work, which is to preach at/to/among them.”

    Preach the gospel or live the gospel? Faith or works? Grace or truth? Respiratory or pulmonary? Social justice or evangelism? Reason or emotion?

    One of the blessings of post-modernity is that many of us are no longer slaves to a binary, either-or mindset that posits thought and action as opposite ends of a spectrum upon which each of us must stake a balanced position. I, for one, refuse to choose between false alternatives.

    I want it ALL.

  25. chad m says:

    let’s see…. i followed your instructions and didn’t read the context before writing this, so here’s my thoughts…

    i just finished reading Jesus for President my Shane Claiborne and Christ Haw and think they might have a few things to say about this image. or they just might vomit. my first reaction was: idolatry at its finest. however, i guess the only redeeming quality i can see is that there’s no symbol more liberating than that of the cross of Christ. but i think it gets ridiculously lost and confused when it’s joined to a symbol representing the United States, let alone any country.

  26. Quix says:

    It seems frankly a little scary to me as it provides a visual representation of the cultural movement which believes America should be a Christian nation as opposed to a nation which treats all religions with respect.

    It also reminds me of the appropriation of the flag and the cross in recent years to serve as the logo of a specific political ideology as opposed to the United States of America and Christianity both of which are far greater and broader than just the Christian conservative movement.

    The statue also diminishes the symbol of the cross as it makes it simply a symbol of national pride when Christianity should be above national concerns and concerned with the good of the downtrodden no matter where they are whether it be the United States of America, Britain, China, or Iran. The Christ should serve as a universal symbol of compassion and charity not as a symbol of one wing within one nation. Christianity should be bigger than that.

  27. Quix says:

    er… “The cross should serve as a universal…” not the “The Christ”, though I suppose in someways that fits too.

  28. johncfa says:

    I’m an atheist, and this picture disturbs me for the sake of all religions. I don’t have a high view of organized religions primarily because of instances like this, where people try to place their religion on such high ground. Religion is a personal matter, and it should be kept that way. The reason we have so much conflict in the world is that so many people decided to put so much faith into their leaders, be it religious or governmental (sometimes both), and stopped thinking critically about what they are doing and who they are following.

    Religion’s place is in your heart and home, not everyone else’s. If people didn’t try to push things like this (or any other form of dogma) down other people’s throats and make it seem like there was only one solution, we would be living in a much safer, nicer world for all of us, no matter what our beliefs are.

  29. Leah says:

    it reminds me of “Head of State” where the politicians kept saying “God Bless America…and no one else!” scary.

  30. brandonsneed says:

    It looks like an idol.

    When did Jesus ever say anything like “Look at the cross” or “Display the cross” or anything like that?

    Everything he ever did, and everything he wants from us, stems from love.

    This does not speak love. It speaks demand. Man’s job is not to demand anything of anybody.

    • Ladarius says:

      Well, whateva I think it is great. i think we need more stuff like this. I know it might have cost alot of money, but I think it is cool because the Lord Jesus Christ Has really blessed the United States. I think it shows great gratitude and passion for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And it signifies that no matter if we’re in Memphis, Tennessee or New York City, New York the Lord has blessed ue tremendously so I beg to differ with your dumb comment for this structure.

  31. Charlene Farber says:

    You do not need to spend money like this to build something like this!! There are much cheaper alternatives to using God’s money…and where in the Bible does it allow Man to use the Church’s money like this?!

  32. Sue says:

    And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why people hate the Church.

  33. eugenecho says:

    Uhh, I wish we had some folks that disagreed with the majority if not all of us on this. Would have made for a good discussion.

  34. Randall says:

    I think this statue is indefensible.

    As for a good discussion, how about we talk about a Christian artist who’s doing excellent work – those doing mediocre, derivative kitsch need no more attention.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19833395/

  35. disquiqui says:

    my initial reaction : Wow…nice photo-shop technique

    my initial contemplation : in the era today,… “certain” people will see this picture as a reminder of their “heavenly” calling; while other people will much likely view this as a example of show of christian extremism over nationalism , become intimidated, and probably will react with much more extremism. hence undermining

    After reading : thankfully its located inside a church complex, thus making excusing more easier that this statue is merely a motivational thingy for the spiritual realm rather than political.

  36. Bret says:

    Lets actually put some scripture on this post:

    Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty
    2 Cor 3:17

    THE SPIRIT of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound –Isa 61:1

  37. […] way behind on blog reading, but here’s a couple of good ones that I’m catching up on: Eugene Cho and Rob with his hognose and Don Johnson on sin and joie de vin and Bob Robinson on creativity. And […]

  38. Randy says:

    I know this is old news, but still, as a Memphian I wanted to answer a couple questions:

    It’s not located “inside the church complex” as disquiqui said. It’s at the corner of a major intersection on Winchester Rd.

    As to the local reaction there was a sizable group of people here that realized it was a tacky, expensive eyesore that didn’t really push any coherent message of faith. They were pretty much ignored, although they got in a few words in letters to the editor in the local rag.

    This part of the country is religious to the point of hysteria, and this is only one of the more obvious signs to outsiders. If you drive through Memphis on I-40 you’ll see 3 large crosses for Bellevue Baptist, the tallest of which reaches 150 feet. People here are vocal about their beliefs and there is very little sympathy for anyone who is not an extreme Christian.

    As a side note, the neighborhood is essentially Hickory Hill, which has been suffering from an economic downturn over the last 25 years or so. Most of the legitimate businesses have all left leaving only the typical vultures who prey on the poor. World Overcomers decided that instead of making a serious effort to get that neighborhood out of poverty, or to counsel them away from payday loans, Escalades, and the thug life, they would spend a fortune making a political statement.

    On its face, this is a monument to everything that’s wrong with this city. But because Memphis is teeming with the uneducated and unemployed it is an easy place to pass off a fake message of faith.

  39. Jonathan L. says:

    Forgive me, I’m not from the South, or anywhere relatively close to the Bible Belt, but…

    I could have sworn there is something in the Bible about showing that God is Lord over (in this case) America not by what you build but by what you do, e.g feeding the poor, not building Lady Liberty holding a cross and telling poor people “God wants you to become self-sufficient.”

    Am I wrong? It seems to me like Alton Williams should read a bit more scripture. It’s people like him that have made me turn away from organized religion.

  40. Daniel says:

    One of the most un-American statues out there.

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