'Homeless Jesus' statue ignites controversy in North Carolina
A sculpture depicting Jesus as a homeless man shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench, commissioned in front of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Davidson, N.C., has ignited a debate among residents and religious leaders.
Cindy Canstano Swannack, a resident of the area, called the police when she first spotted the sculpture, thinking it was a real man.
"I was concerned for the safety of the neighborhood," Swannack told WCNC News. However, a closer look at the figure revealed that it was a bronze statue.
The sculpture looks like an ordinary man except for the iconic marks on the feet, which hint at the statue's holy identity. The sculpture, a religious piece by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, was given to the church by some residents who wanted to honor a fellow church member, reports the Daily Mail.
Swannack said the sculpture sends the wrong message.
"That's not who Jesus is. Jesus is not a vagrant; Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help. We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy," she said.
David Buck, the rector of the church, disagrees.
"It's Jesus representing the most marginalized of society. We're reminded of what our ultimate calling is as Christians, as people of faith, to do what we can individually and systematically do to eliminate homelessness. Part of a faith commitment is to care for the needy," he told the Washington Times.
The church said it doesn't plan on removing the sculpture.
"It's here because it's wonderful art that reminds, with this beautiful (church) structure here, that our faith is expressed through our concern and care for the homeless. We think it's the perfect place for it," Buck added.
This is not the first time the statue has been rejected. Last year, a version of the sculpture was condemned by cathedrals in New York and Canada, but in November, Pope Francis blessed it and accepted it into Vatican City.
"The first thing he did when he saw my sculpture was pray, and then he blessed the piece. To have Pope Francis bless your sculpture is one of the most amazing experiences possible," Schmalz told CTV News.
Schmalz said he got the idea of the sculpture after he saw a homeless man sleeping on the road during Christmas time two years back. A devout Christian, he has been making religious statues for some time now.
"This piece, I love it, I feel it has a lot of mystique to it, a mystery. It's something that people understand through a process. They don't get the message right away," Schamlz says in a video explaining the concept behind "Homeless Jesus" on his official website.
"That's interesting because the idea of the Gospels were, when we see the homeless, when we see the marginalized, we should see Jesus Christ and this sculpture visually translates that," he added.
A December 2013 survey by the United States Conference of Mayors showed that homelessness in the United States increased in 64 percent of the cities analyzed. Since then, both public and private entities have been working to end the vicious cycle.
Teroy Mills Housing Services Inc. recently announced the launch of a national campaign titled "END HOMELESSNESS CAMPAIGN" saying:
"We want to use #END HOMELESSNESS CAMPAIGN to give everyone an opportunity to partner with us in our work to break the cycle of homelessness by the development of sustainable housing which will enhance the lives of families throughout the areas we serve."