Somewhere around 1991-92, my Dad gave me an 8x10" portrait of Jesus, given to him by a Mormon lady that same summer. He had been somewhere - possibly upstate New York - on some sort of business/research trip, and there was a high Mormon population. I think it was Palmyra, NY. Anyway, this kind-hearted lady told my practicing Catholic, self-professing agnostic father all about their "martyr" Joseph Smith, the hills in Cummorah with the Golden Plates, and all things Mormon.
Now, there are two things you need to know about my Dad: one, he is a now-retired history professor. He holds a PhD in American history, has written a couple of books, and probably knew far more about Mormon history than this lady did herself (but I am sure he did not tell her). The second thing you need to know about him is that he cares about as much for religion as I do for quantum physics (which is to say, not a whole lot). His knowledge of ancient and Renaissance history was, in large part, what drove him to despise Romanism, and the papacy in particular (although he faithfully attends Mass each Sunday with my mother. That's actually pretty common among Irish catholic husbands). He thinks my "Luther is My Homeboy" T-shirt (which I always wear to dinner at their house) is a riot, although attempting to discuss theology with him is a dead end.
In short, the Mormon lady made no headway. My father was not a potential convert. However, as a parting gift, she gave him this portrait of "The Savior", which he very thoughtfully passed on to me. I say that in all sincerity - I had become a Christian the year before; my Dad thought, "This lady loves Jesus. My daughter loves Jesus. I bet she'll appreciate this lovely portrait!" Of course, I thanked him; although I instantly recognized the painting as "The Mormon Jesus". I'm sure you've all seen the picture:
That portrait is as recognizable to a Mormon as the Sacred Heart image is to a Catholic (although I believe the artist was a Seventh-Day Adventist). I slipped it back into the brown paper envelope he'd carried it back to Massachusetts in, and put it in my desk drawer. I knew it was supposed to represent the Lord Jesus Christ, but....it just felt funny displaying it. It was The Mormon Jesus. How could I hang a false jesus on the wall? It felt...weird. Mormon Jesus stayed in my desk drawer at my parents' house. I don't know what became of him, but I doubt they hung it up when I moved to Bulgaria.
Now....I told you that story so that I could tell you this one.
A couple of years or so ago, a Christian online friend posted a black and white picture on her blog or MySpace page. I instantly liked it:
I love the message behind it....the embrace of Christ, Who loves us eternally, tenderly, and personally. I believe that Jesus gives hugs (and that God, as the "inventor" of love and affection, is the originator of the embrace). Besides, children were drawn to Christ during His earthly ministry. Pure speculation here, but it's quite possible that He was a hugger. In any event, I really liked the picture.
Except....there was something...disturbingly familiar about it. The style struck me as eerily similar to the artwork I had seen from a certain cult called "The Children of God" (now known as The Family International). I had first encountered CoG/TFI on the streets of Sofia, where they were doggedly pursuing young people with their colorful tracts and message of free love. I won't go into the aberrant teachings or doctrine of this cult as it is so perverse and blasphemous as to put disturbing images into your head, but if you're really curious you can Google them. CoG grew out of the "Jesus Freak" movement of the 1970's, and was led by a delusional guy named David Berg who claimed all sorts of "new revelation" from God.
This lovely drawing of Jesus hugging a girl instantly reminded me of the cult's artwork, so I found the clipart gallery where it was downloadable and e-mailed the owner. He replied that he had no idea who the artist was; he has thousands of images and, after all, it was okay to like it. It's just a picture. I was satisfied with his response, and I even used the image myself to illustrate a posting on my other blog. Recently, a Christian friend of mine started using the picture as her Facebook avatar.
Well, not long ago, I came upon an online forum of ex-Family survivors, and decided to ask. I just could not get it out of my mind that that picture so closely resembled the cult's artwork, although much searching of their online, archived publications had turned up nothing. The moderator agreed that it resembled The Family/CoG artwork, but was unsure as to whether it actually was from the cult. Well, last week, it was confirmed - by a former member of the cult:
Report this postReply with quoteRe: Is this picture Children of God artwork?The Family/Children of God has destroyed many of their more explicit publications and tried to sanitize their image, so I cannot find the publication in question (which is probably just as well). But do you see where I'm going with this? The image, which I (and many other Christian women) like presumably because of the warm, emotional response it's designed to evoke, turned out to have been produced by a cult. A cult which has promoted unspeakable heresies and practices. Ironically enough, The Family Int'l artist who produced this image (and many others) was sued for plagiarism. Not only is she following the doctrine of demons; she's a thief, as well.
by robber » Wed 14-Jul-2010 6:15 am
That picture is definitely TFI. It's by an artist who draws for most of their material named Tamar, and I think the pic is from the front of one of their mailings called 'They'll always be mine'.
So how do you like them apples?
Naturally, there's that initial "ick" factor that makes you remove the image and want to wash your hands. But the real issue runs deeper than that. As Glenn pointed out, cults can produce good (and seemingly innocent) artwork. I just scanned an LDS online gallery, and half (if not more) of their depictions of Christ are also well-known portraits on Christian sites and galleries. One, of the resurrected Lord, I have seen in churches and I swear it's Mormon Jesus in a different robe. Kinda messes with your head, doesn't it?
Not that I'm an extreme iconoclast, mind you. At least, I don't have a history of being such, for reasons I'll get into in tomorrow's post. But artwork, supposedly depicting a realistic image of Christ - symbollic or representational - from a dubious source is...weird. Just...icky somehow. If we think this through to it's logical conclusion, I think we might have to do away with portraits and "devotional" images of Christ. Does the artist's intention or Christology matter? I'm not sure. Since we cannot get into the head of another person, we really don't know what h was thinking - or who the model was, or so forth.
To be continued.....
UPDATE 7/28/10: I received confirmation from The Family International's public affairs office that this artwork is, in fact, theirs. So the "mystery" is solved:
Thank you for your correspondence. The image you are referring to was done by one of our artists, but the art is not entirely original. The girl in the picture was copied from a paperback novel found in a used bookstore many years ago (artist unknown), and our artist added the picture of Jesus. The illustration was used in a publication that was distributed internally amongst TFI membership and is not on a public domain, and so we would not be able to provide a link.
I hope that provides you with the information you need, and let me know if I can be of any further help.
for The Family International