The Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, has condemned the “secular iconoclasm” raging in the United States, epitomized by Shaun King’s call for destruction of images of a “white” Jesus.
“In recent weeks, we have witnessed the vandalizing and toppling of statues around the country which depict Confederate leaders, Christopher Columbus, Saint Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key, and anyone else deemed to be offensive to the vandals,” writes Bishop Donald J. Hying. “Even a monument recognizing the service of the first all-volunteer Black regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War was defaced in Boston.”
“This dynamic reached another stage on June 22 when Shaun King, a Black activist, publicly encouraged the destruction of ‘white’ statues and other artistic depictions of Jesus Christ, labeling them as forms of ‘white supremacy,’” Bishop Hying laments.
The bishop goes on to note that Shaun King’s call for the destruction of “white” artistic depictions of Jesus, reflects historical ignorance as well as misplaced passion.
“In the Catholic Church, every culture, country, ethnicity, and race has claimed Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary as their own,” Hying observes. “Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego as a mestiza, African art depicts Jesus as Black, Asian depictions of the Blessed Mother, too, take on similarities of both bodily appearance and, often, cultural garb.”
“In this context, are white representations of Christ and His Mother inherently signs of white supremacy? I think not,” the bishop continues. “Because the Son of God became incarnate in our human flesh, does not all of humanity – every race, tribe, and tongue – have the spiritual ability to depict Him through the particular lens of their own culture?”
“In the face of Mr. King’s comments, as a shepherd of the Church, I cannot remain silent,” the bishop declares. “I need to denounce such a call to violence and destruction.”
“Our statues, pictures, stained-glass windows, churches, icons, and devotions are holy to us,” he continued. “They remind us of God, His love for us in Christ, and the nearness of the divine.”
“The secular iconoclasm of the current moment will not bring reconciliation, peace, and healing,” he concludes. “Such violence will only perpetuate the prejudice and hatred it ostensibly seeks to end.”
In place of mindless violence, the bishop proposes a national discussion.
“How illuminating and healing it would be if we had a national education effort to understand our history in its totality, have respectful discussion about the proper way to commemorate people and events, such as Christopher Columbus, the European colonization of the Americas, the tragic suffering of slavery, the Civil War, Confederate leaders, the Founding Fathers, and the evangelization of our continent and then make measured decisions about statues, buildings, and memorials,” he states.
“If we allow the commemorative and visual history of our nation to be destroyed by random groups in the current moment of anger, how will we ever learn from that history?” he asks.
“A statue of Christopher Columbus was erected in the North End of Boston by proud Italian-Americans in the 1920s as a sign of their ethnic heritage,” Hying notes. “Two weeks ago the statue was beheaded by vandals.”
“Should certain statues be placed in museums or storage? Perhaps,” he concedes. “Should we let a group of vandals make those decisions for us? No.”