August 5, 2003
In response to a recent trend in Public Monuments in Jamaica, on Independence Day, Wed. Aug 6, 2003, I intend to go to the SE entrance of the Emancipation Park and proclaim the below, with Bible Reading, Prayer and the singing of Jamaica's National Anthem, especially the second verse, which begins "Teach us true respect for all, Stir response to duty's call . . . "
On Statues, Idolatry and Public Morality
Sculpture has again become a focus for controversy in Jamaica, because of a
Laura Facey nude group erected at the entrance to Emamcipation Park, the site
of a public protest over nude weddings in February 2000.
On the one hand, there has been much talk about how beautiful such statues
are, and how lovely and spiritual the human form is. On the other, there has
been concern over the heavily sexual (possibly even obscene) nature of the statues,
and over whether they in fact connect to the cultural core issue of emancipation,
the theme of the taxpayer-funded Park.
But also, over the past year, a somewhat more restrained but just as heavily
sexually tinged group stood in the same site ever since the park was opened,
and now sits at the location that had been planned for it in the 1960's: the
Harbour View roundabout, at the root of the Palisadoes peninsula on which Kingston's
main airport stands. So, this second statue would be the first monument seen
by visitors to our capital city.
Further, in 1999, the National University, U.Tech, commissioned a Caribbean
Sculpture Park (partially funded by taxpayers through statutory bodies), which
contains a second Laura Facey statue. So, about twenty feet from the entry to
the Chapel, aligned on an East-West axis stands a nude, Earth Mother goddess
figure, arching over backwards in such a way that her larger than life pubic
region is at eye-level for one approaching or leaving the Chapel.
Clearly, a pattern emerges.
To better understand it, we need to reflect briefly on sculpture, symbolism,
idolatry and public morality. For, given that the first and foremost challenge
of a community is to raise up its children to build a better future, societies
have long agreed that there must be a family-friendly public domain that preserves
children from a too early focus on matters that they are not mature enough to
handle. (So, for instance, our laws have long held that what is suitable and
proper for the privacy of one's bedroom is not necessarily suitable for display
in the public.)
First, let us observe that statues -- whether realistic or abstract, in the
round or in relief -- can be beautiful, and are powerfully symbolic. For, they
evoke deep associations with the defining stories and themes of a culture. But
by that same power, they can unfortunately become a moral and spiritual snare;
pulling individuals, families and whole nations into bondage to lies and demonic
passions and even destructive sensual or violent frenzies. Therefore, idolatry
has long been associated with sculptural images -- and with grossly immoral
For instance, we find in the Ten Commandments, circa 1300 - 1400 BC:
"You shall not have other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself
an idol in the form of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the
waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them . . ." [Deut.
5:7 - 9, NIV.]
This was not a prohibition on sculpture as an art form -- in Numbers 21:4 -
9 God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole so that
those bitten by snakes could "look and live" -- but equally, the same
statue had to be destroyed centuries later by godly king Hezekiah because it
had become an object of veneration. [2 Kings 18:1 - 4. NB: The Middle Ages in
Europe, sadly, provide another example of this, and the Reformers were forced
to destroy a large number of fine works of art because of such abuse. In many
of these cases, the very donors of the works personally smashed them.]
In short, there is a fundamental problem: we are easily distracted from reality
by attractive symbols, and so Paul aptly comments:
". . . since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities --
his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood
from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they
knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their
thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they
claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal
God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual
impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged
the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather
than the Creator . . . . Because of this, God gave them over to shameful [perverted]
lusts . . . . since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge
of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.
They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,
slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways
of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless,
heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those
who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very
things but also approve of those who practice them." [Rom 1:19 - 32.
Circa 55 AD.]
Paul later echoes and amplifies these shocking thoughts, as he calls for the
people of God to live above such a gutter level:
". . . you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of
their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from
the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardenming
ofd their hearts. having lost all [moral] sensitivity, they have given themselves
over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual
lust for more.
"You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard
of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.
you were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old
self, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires; to be made new in the
attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God
in true righteousness and holiness." [Eph. 4:17 - 24.]
From these two texts, we see opposed personal and social dynamics at work:
(1) ingratitude to God, leading to substituting the creature for the Creator,
thence moral coarsening and captivity to sensuality, violence and evil; vs.
(2) renewal of our minds, lives and communities as we follow the holy God in
Clearly, the question now before Jamaica is which of these divergent paths
we will choose as a nation. Let us pray that our people will choose wisely,
that our Eternal Father may once again renew his blessings in our land.