On Monday 21 October, a video was posted on social media by a parent (Andrew Anderson from Richards Bay, South Africa) about “satanic” artwork displayed by a grade 12 pupil at Grantleigh College, Richards Bay. The artwork depicts Jesus as a clown (similar to McDonalds’ mascot, Ronald McDonald) and paper mâché sculptures of a figure with horns using torn-up pages from the Bible. The video provides very little context and none of the clarification which the pupil had posted with each piece of art.
The video went viral, igniting anger and demanding action. A protest was organised and communities across South Africa expressed their anger at the “blasphemous” art by this young student. Before the day was over, numerous newspapers ran the story as well – with different views and different interpretations.
The Times Live report included the following:
A video in which a Richards Bay pastor lambastes a KwaZulu-Natal north coast school for allowing a matric pupil to display his “satanic” artwork went viral on Monday evening. In the video, Andrew Anderson said he was horrified when he attended a school function and saw on display a pupil’s work which he believes is blasphemous.
Anderson said it was unacceptable for the young artist to replace “a clown with Jesus in the Last Supper painting and to make sculptures out of ripped pages of the Bible” displayed at Grantleigh College. The school is an independent Curro school.
In the video, Anderson called on Christians to protest at the school.
In a statement on Tuesday [22 October], the school’s executive head Andrew Norris said he was aware of the social media outcry. Norris warned social media users against making derogatory comments on the school’s Facebook page.
“Curro welcomes all comments that are constructive and contribute to discussions in a meaningful manner. However, we do not condone cyber bullying, religious intolerance, hate speech, derogatory language, misrepresentation and comments reflecting negatively on our brand on any social media pages,” he said.
The pupil responded by reiterating his rationales behind each piece (which had been posted together with the artwork on display – but which the maker of the video had made no effort to include in any way) due to the “magnitude of the resultant controversy”, after his art exhibition was “leaked” without his permission.
He explained: “The artwork in this exhibition explores the commercialisation of contemporary organised religion as well as the monetary exploitation of the faithful by greedy individuals who hide behind the guise of the Church or similar pious institutions.”
“They discuss (through the appropriation of religious imagery) how contemporary religion has become superficial. Instead of connecting with one’s faith on a deep, seemingly meaningful level and actually having the guts to ask metaphysical questions, many simply consume their religion in the same fashion as any other product,” he explained.
He said he used the clown Ronald McDonald as a symbol of “the infection of faith with consumer culture”. “Ronald McDonald does not act as a defamation of anyone’s personal messiah, instead he acts as a symbol of the abuse and the misuse thereof,” the pupil explained.
He said he did not care what people believe: “I simply want to highlight the potential risks in how they believe it. For a society dominated by an idea-driven culture, the contents of your mind are perhaps the most important and exploitable.”
He denounced the claims made against his art on social media and advised that “before anyone speak, that perhaps they think”.
The incident in Richards Bay sparked a similar reaction from Christians as the art exhibition in Israel in January this year where a sculpture of a ‘crucified Ronald McDonald’ sparked protests by the country’s Arab Christian minority.
Such incidents raise the question, “How should Christians respond to such incidents and to highly emotive social media posts?” Is it of any use to send it to as many people as possible and ignite a ‘holy anger’ in the hearts of the recipients or should there be a different response?
FIVE things to consider before you respond:
1. INSTEAD of looking through the eyes of religion, look through the eyes of Jesus
God is not nervous about how people perceive Him. And even though the artwork was religiously offensive, the concern of Christ would ultimately be for the heart of the artist and not the work itself. The art represents the artist’s journey and turmoil (one of the pieces depicts the pupil’s journey from “Christian to atheist”).
A local pastor closely associated with Grantleigh College, Jason Currie, expressed his anguish as follows: “It has disturbed me that many Christians are more concerned about our symbols of holiness than holiness itself. This is a person, someone’s child. He is not the enemy. He is made in the image of God with a very brilliant mind and in many fields. But he has experienced a side of church we despise and are ashamed of. Yet we pick up stones to hurl at someone who is criticising the church we created. I wish he had experienced or seen the loving, redemptive, forgiving, almighty God I have experienced instead of the hollow deceit and religiosity he has come to know. While I agree with some of his art, there is much I do not. But he expresses his personal journey from religion to atheism that breaks my heart, because what he has experienced and portrays as truth, is far from the truth of God in His Word and the Lord I have experienced in my heart. People have been infuriated at his depiction of Christ and use of Christian items. To the stone-wielding Christians, consider if Jesus would be congratulating you on your defence of the Bible being torn up or on your prayers to see His prodigal son returned.”
During a recent visit to Egypt one of the Church leaders shared how he envisioned himself sitting in the eyes of Jesus and watching the world, and the people, through the eyes of a loving Saviour. He shared how his whole perspective was transformed from judgement to love – for terrorists, for Muslims, for his persecutors, for his enemies and for all who offended him and hurt him.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 gives an indication how the Lord views the artist – “it pleases Him if we pray for ALL people because He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
We cannot respond in any other way than Christ would respond. We should not take offence on behalf of Christ who is more concerned about the pupil than He is about the artwork. Yes, there is a responsibility to talk to the school principal about the incident, but we have no authority to demonise the student or a mandate to spread messages of anger and hatred.
2. INSTEAD of stirring ANGER, embrace COMPASSION
As Christians we either give life or we drain life, there is no neutral exchange. Through our posts on social media and our informal communication with friends we become messengers of hope or messengers of anger and fear. Scripture is uncompromising in how and what we communicate. Ephesians 4:29 provides a solid platform on how to communicate: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The Biblical guidelines are uncompromisingly clear: ONLY what is beneficial and helpful for building others up. It would have been a more Biblical approach to refer to the artwork by seeking prayer for the artist and not judging the artwork. It would have also been helpful to understand the rationale behind the artwork, and had some critical thought into the artist’s concerns and motivations: their perception and experience of formalised Christianity has influenced their artwork. But even a request for prayer should not have been circulated beyond the local community.
3. INSTEAD of ‘going public’, address ‘private matters’ privately
Mr Currie, in addressing Mr Anderson’s concerns about the artwork had suggested that he “engage with the school in a formal way”, only to find out that the video was posted shortly after their conversation. Even though this incident was public in Richards Bay, it was still private to the local community. There was no need to go national, or even global, by exposing issues (and people) that could have been solved by the local community. It has little value for the community outside of Richards Bay to demand repentance and action for an incident that has no bearing on their lives. Placing incidents of this nature on social media by, in his own words, an “upset” parent, becomes a source of gossip that translates into anger and serves no purpose in the Kingdom. Both parties, Mr Anderson and the school are learning from this incident. The Christian community needs to be ever vigilant to engage with the world. The question is not should we stand up for what we believe but HOW we stand that is important.
4.INSTEAD of cursing the darkness, light a candle
This remains a principle worthy of applying in all circumstances. Christ positioned His followers (Matthew 5:14-16) in a dark and sinful world as beacons of light, not as optical observers: “In the same way, we need to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.”
The 2017 movie, The Music of Silence (Italian: La musica del silenzio), based on the 1999 novel of the same name written by the tenor Andrea Bocelli, ends with these words: “Dear Veronica, my dear children, every life is a wonderful story worth being told. Every life is a work of art, and if it does not seem so, perhaps it is only necessary to illuminate the room that contains it. The secret is never to lose faith, to have confidence in God’s plan for us, revealed in the signs with which He shows us the way. If you learn to listen, you will find that each life speaks to us of love.”
If only we can learn to illuminate the ‘rooms’ that contain the hearts of the people that offend us. If only we can understand the love of a God who looked past the offence, the beatings, the lashes, the insults, the ridicule and the slander – and forgave with all He had.
5. INSTEAD of judging, weep
We have no choice but to echo the words of Christ when He said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Reading posts on social media that – intentionally or unintentionally – demonises a soul for which Christ died, should never result in judgement but in anguish.
The following words applied, should be our spiritual compass as we follow Christ:
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:19-21)
Date published: 26/10/2019
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