Collection of Barbara Marian, Harvard, IL
Conservative Christians are raising a big stink over a Christmas card that shows a multi-racial trio of female Magi visiting the baby Jesus and his mother.
“Happy Multicultural Feminist Celebration Day,” sneers the headline of a traditional Anglican blog where nearly 100 comments are posted condemning the image as “stupid,” “faux-nouveau hipster theology” and worse.
Instead of the traditional three kings or three wise men, artist Janet McKenzie re-interprets the Magi as wise women from around the world in a painting titled Epiphany. The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, used the Epiphany image for her Christmas cards this year.
The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, Texas, sent a notice to clergy and 2007 convention delegates condemning Jefferts Schori for her choice of art.
“The Presiding Bishop has done something which defies explanation,” the statement says. “This is the Christmas card she sent to Bishop Iker and presumably other TEC bishops. Given the increasing polarization in TEC (and the Anglican Communion) today, the only reason we can see for her to make this choice is that she is only interested in pushing the polarization just that much further.”
The opposition to the Christmas card is part of a larger conflict that threatens to split the Episcopal Church. See Christianity Today, for a news report that put the Christmas-card battle into a broader context.
McKenzie denies the accusations that she is trying to be divisive and rewrite scripture. “Of course this is as far from my thinking as possible,” she says. “I feel called to create sacred and secular art that includes and celebrates those systematically ignored, relegated and minimized, and for the most part that is women and people of color.”
As a lesbian Christian author and art historian, I see the controversy as a reminder of the power of art, and the continuing need for progressive spiritual images.
McKenzie put it well: “Even this gentle image of a loving Holy Mother and Child, with no agenda accept to include and honor us as the nurturing feminine beings we are, surrounded in community with other women, is still misunderstood -- even at this late date.”
McKenzie has weathered even bigger opposition before. Her androgynous African American Jesus of the People painting caused international controversy when Sister Wendy of PBS chose it to represent Christ in the new millennium. The full story of that controversy -- and more art by McKenzie -- are included in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. McKenzie’s Jesus of the People also appears on the book cover.
For more about Janet McKenzie, click to see our previous post:
Censored Christ Mother appears at last