Then they came for Jesus. Amid the lawless iconoclasm following in the wake of the horrific police killing of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter vandals defaced a statue of Jesus in Whitefish, Mont., and vandals with an unknown motive decapitated and dislodged a Jesus statue at a Catholic church in the Miami area. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party is mandating that citizens who received any benefits from the government due to the coronavirus pandemic have to tear down crosses and statues of Jesus, replacing them with statues of Chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping.
These incidents of vandalism in the U.S. are acts of lawless rioters while the Chinese iconoclasm is an orchestrated state effort to quash religious symbolism. All the same, these efforts both involve a stifling Marxist orthodoxy targeting Christians. Both iconoclastic attacks have arguably been fueled by the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, though in different ways.
Pulling down Jesus in China
In China as in the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic has crippled the economy and stricken many people’s livelihoods. Christians who receive government benefits have found themselves pressured to give up their faith — or at least, strike symbols of it from their homes — in order to keep receiving aid, Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty in China, reported.
In April, the government of a town brought officials from surrounding villages together and ordered them to “remove crosses, religious symbols and images from the homes of people of faith who receive social welfare payments and replace them with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping. The officials were instructed to annul the subsidies to those who protest the order.”
A Christian in one of those villages told Bitter Winter that local officials tore down all religious couplets and a calendar with an image of Jesus in his home, replacing it with a portrait of Mao. “Impoverished religious households can’t receive money from the state for nothing—they must obey the Communist Party for the money they receive,” an official reportedly told him.
In April, a city government withdrew a disabled Christian’s minimum living subsidy and a monthly disability allowance of 100 RMB (about $14). “Officials told me that we would be treated as anti-Party elements if my husband and I continued attending worship services,” the man’s wife lamented.
Local officials removed a cross and images of Jesus from the home of a house church preacher in May, replacing those images with a portrait of Mao Zedong. “All impoverished households in the town were told to display Mao Zedong images,” the preacher told Bitter Winter. “The government is trying to eliminate our belief and wants to become God instead of Jesus.”
Black Lives Matter attacks on Jesus in America
Meanwhile, Jesus and Christianity have faced loud condemnations from the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. Last month, Black Lives Matter leader and former Bernie Sanders surrogate Sean King called for the demolition or removal of all statues, murals, and stained glass windows of “white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends,” i.e. the Twelve Apostles. He said such religious imagery was a symbol of “white supremacy” and oppression.
“Yes, I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been. In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went? EGYPT! Not Denmark. Tear them down,” King tweeted.
“Yes. All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form [of] white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down,” he added.
This attack on Christian symbols is historically ignorant. While the art depicting Jesus may be whiter than Jesus’s true skin color, that has nothing to do with “white supremacy” — pseudoscientific racism undergirding oppression that did not emerge until the early 1500s at the earliest — and everything to do with early Byzantine iconography dating back to the 500s or 600s.
Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis responded forcefully. “I’m going on record now: If they try to cancel Christianity, if they try to force me to apologize or recant my Faith, I will not bend, I will not waver, I will not break. On Christ the solid Rock I stand. And I’m proud to be an American,” she tweeted.
King shot back, claiming that Ellis was “actually” defending “her whiteness.” He claimed that her faith is “Christian whiteness” and it “needs white Jesus. It’s not about generosity or kindness. It’s not about protecting the vulnerable. It’s about whiteness itself. Attack white Jesus to her, and you attack her faith.”
Perhaps inspired by King’s remarks, Black Lives Matter activists climbed up Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Mont., last Sunday, and painted the statue of Jesus with brown skin tones. They also put flags in Jesus’ hands, saying, “Rise Up” and “#BLM,” referring to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Also last week, a vandal or vandals beheaded a statue of Jesus in the courtyard of the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in West Kendall, Fla., outside Miami. “This is an attack on the church,” Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami, told the Miami Herald. “This is not only private property, it is sacred property.” The vandal’s motive remains unclear, but the attack followed a long trail of vandalism aimed at statues across America.
Black Lives Matter and associated rioters first targeted statues of Confederate monuments in the name of toppling white supremacy. Then, vandals defaced and toppled monuments commemorating America’s heroes, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Then came Mahatma Gandhi, Union General Ulysses S. Grant, black Union soldiers, and freed slave Frederick Douglass. At this point, it seems no statue is safe — including statues of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, the Smithsonian’s recent Marxist lesson (released amid the George Floyd riots) attributed various forms of Christianity and Christian influence to a culture of “whiteness” that supposedly oppresses minorities. The Smithsonian claimed that white history is based, among other things, on “the primacy of Western (Greek, Roman) and Judeo-Christian tradition.” The “holidays” section on whiteness notes that holidays are “based on Christian religions.” Whiteness also supposedly includes the “Protestant Work Ethic” and an understanding that “Christianity is the norm,” that “anything other than Judeo-Christian tradition is foreign” and that there is “no tolerance for deviation from single god concept.”
The leaders of the official Black Lives Matter movement have identified themselves as “trained Marxists,” but the vandalism appears haphazard and not directed by the official organization. It seems unlikely the official leadership is directing attacks on Christian symbols, but some of the rhetoric condemning “whiteness” and linking Christianity to it is likely to inspire more attacks on statues of Jesus and other religious symbols.
Black Lives Matter is not breaking into people’s homes to remove statues of Jesus, but some of its leaders are targeting Christianity and Christian symbols in pursuit of a Marxist agenda of uprooting America’s heritage in the name of racial justice. This arguably echoes the Cultural Revolution in China and the Chinese Communist Party’s current efforts to root out Christianity.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.