Faith Focus: No debate is a bad one

The painting of a black Jesus at the altar of St Albans Cathedral.

The painting of a black Jesus at the altar of St Albans Cathedral. - Credit: Archant

St Albans Abbey’s decision to display a painting of the Last Supper depicting Jesus as a black man has sparked controversy.

Peter Crumpler.

Peter Crumpler. - Credit: Archant

I reckon that’s no bad thing.

The Abbey has installed the large-scale artwork as part of its commitment to: “stand with the Black Lives Matter movement to be allies for change – building a strong, just and fair community where the dignity of every human being is honoured and celebrated, where black voices are heard, and where black lives matter.”

The print of a painting by Lorna May Wadsworth will be on show until October 31 at the Abbey’s ‘Altar of the Persecuted’ where visitors are invited to “lament racial injustice and pray for the victims of racial violence.”

People are responding with a wide range of views. Many have welcomed the artwork, including one local business owner who posted online: “I’m not religious, but I’m a big fan of St Albans Cathedral, its clergy and staff, and particularly the Dean, who I saw at the Black Lives Matter protest in St Albans and who’s made a great and important statement with this art.”

Another person responded: “What a thought-evoking piece of art. I love it and cannot wait to come and view it. It saddens me that racism is so engrained in our society.”

Other comments were more critical, with a typical response: “More shameless pandering to Black Lives Matter, bringing trendy identity politics into what is supposed to be the traditional church.”

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People may object strongly to the eye-catching artwork, or they may welcome it. Either way, it provokes an important debate about the role of race in our society and how Western art has often depicted Christ as being white and European.

Churches are not always in a strong position to preach about justice, racial or otherwise, but the

Christian faith teaches that we are all made equally in the image of God, and we worship a God of justice.

The Abbey has stirred up a storm, but maybe that’s the only way for ingrained attitudes to be challenged, and new perspectives formed.

Rev Peter Crumpler is associate minister at St Paul’s Church, Fleetville, St Albans.