I’ve been trying to sort out the naked-chocolate-Jesus kerfluffle. As you probably know, the Lab Gallery in Manhattan had been planning to show a life-size figure of Jesus, sculpted out of chocolate by Canadian-born artist Cosimo Cavallaro. Cavallaro’s Jesus was to be suspended from the ceiling in a pose of crucifixion. But the U.S.-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights deemed the sculpture offensive, and called for a boycott of the Roger Smith Hotel, which houses and sponsors the Lab Gallery. In a press release dated Thursday, Catholic League president Bill Donohue fumed:
“All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don’t react the way extremist Muslims do when they’re offended — otherwise they may have more than their heads cut off [presumably Mr. Donohue is implying here that extremist Muslims cut off genitalia]. James Knowles, President and CEO of the Roger Smith Hotel (interestingly, he also calls himself Artist-in-Residence), should be especially grateful. And if he tries to spin this as reverential, then he should substitute Muhammad for Jesus and display him during Ramadan…. The boycott is on.” Link
Today, the hotel yielded to pressure and told the gallery to cancel the exhibit. The gallery’s director, Matt Semler, told the press that the Catholic League’s demands amounted to hate speech. Outraged by this, the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue announced yesterday that even though the exhibit was off, the boycott of Roger Smith Hotel is still on. And today, the BBC reports that Semler announced his resignation as gallery director [link].
Yesterday, the U.K.-based religious think tank Ekklesia offered this slightly wry commentary on the kerfluffle:
Christians in the US have been angered by the decision of a New York gallery to exhibit a milk chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ. The six-foot (1.8m) sculpture, entitled “My Sweet Lord”, depicts Jesus Christ naked on the cross. It was a Roman custom to strip naked those being crucified, and the Bible records the Roman soldiers dividing up Jesus’ clothes between them. Many will also note the statue highlights how Easter has lost much of its Christian meaning amidst the giving and receiving of chocolate eggs.
But Catholic League head Bill Donohue called it “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever”…. The Catholic League, which describes itself as the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organisation, also criticised the timing of the exhibition. “The fact that they chose Holy Week shows this is calculated, and the timing is deliberate,” Mr Donohue said….
Mr Semler said the timing of the exhibition was coincidental….
It is not known whether the chocolate is fair trade. Link
So Matt Semler probably should have realized that Holy Week wasn’t the best time of year to mount such an exhibit, but who knows if he even knew what Holy Week is. As for calling this “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever,” that sounds like an overstatement of the facts. Aside from that, I too wonder if the chocolate was fair trade.